clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Pundits take on ‘punting’ controversy but sanctions appear unlikely ... other than from fans

Pundits have their say on Nets decision to rest players Wednesday. They didn’t like it.

Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

The Brooklyn Nets decision to sit four players, then pull three others on Wednesday continues to have ramifications, although it appears the most severe sanctions — a fine or some other sanction — appear unlikely. That’s because, despite new language on load management, “everyone does it” will probably save them any further embarrassment.

Should it? On Friday, more than one pundit had their say on the issue while the Nets stayed quiet, certainly the best move from their perspective. Mike Vaccaro of the New York Post set the critical tone in a column posted Thursday night. In it, Vaccaro noted that indeed everyone does do it, but that doesn’t mean the fans have to be pleased with things. He interviewed several Nets fans who plunked down a not insignificant amount of money to see their favorites battle the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo. They were not pleased, although one figured some players would be rested. It was after all a back-to-back. But the wholesale nature of the “punt” upset them and some swore they wouldn’t return.

While the Nets kids — five members of the Long Island Nets plus 23-year-old Trendon Watford — put up a total of 78 points and played an entertaining game for three quarters, there was no Cam Johnson, no Spencer Dinwiddie, no Dorian Finney-Smith, no Nic Claxton. Then, in a twist that got even more attention as well as head-scratching, Jacque Vaughn pulled Mikal Bridges, Cam Thomas and Royce O’Neale after the first quarter. It was, the head coach said, an “executive decision” meaning a corporate one presumably made by Sean Marks. It was also, ultimately, a white flag. Vaccaro wrote:

The Nets were caught Wednesday night. They were caught and called on the carpet for the fact they rested a gaggle of regulars against the Bucks at Barclays Center, then pulled Mikal Bridges, Cam Thomas and Royce O’Neale after a quarter. The JV actually played the Bucks even for a while before accepting the inevitable 144-122 bludgeoning.

Explained the Nets, in the voice of coach Jacque Vaughn, forced to take the hit for what was obviously an organizational decision: “I’ve got to think short term and long term and make executive decisions for the betterment of the group. It’s unfortunate tonight that they just got to the point where we’re putting them in harm’s way by putting them out there tonight.”

It was a D-minus moment from an A-plus person, but even as he said it two things were obvious: one, a decision like this isn’t left solely in the hands of the coach; two … well, everyone does it.

The Nets obviously needed some rest. Brooklyn is in the middle of a tough stretch. Wednesday night was their fifth game in the previous seven days and they had six more coming in the next 10 — including a four games in six nights road trip that begins Friday night — before they jet off to Paris on January 8 for a game three days later. (Indeed, the schedule has been squeezed because of the Paris trip.) Moreover, the injury and illness bug has hit them fairly hard. They rank sixth in the league in games lost. Before the game, Vaughn also said that some players “didn’t reveal they were dealing with sicknesses” on the recent West Coast trip. And not all fans were unhappy. Some liked seeing what the draft picks and two-way players could do in an NBA setting.

Still, as Vaccaro pointed out, the Bucks fielded their entire team “despite being in the middle of a stretch in which they play seven of eight on the road.”

Evan Barnes of Newsday also checked in with his thoughts and suggested that the Nets may have chosen the wrong game to sit so many players. The Nets did something even more extreme in December 2022, resting eight players in a game against the Pacers and won behind Thomas’ 21-point explosion in the fourth quarter. That game was in Indianapolis, though, against a team that wasn’t a contender. This time, it was at home in Brooklyn (with a near record crowd of 18,199) against a serious contender who the Nets had played close in their previous faceoff. In that context, the white flag seemed unnecessary and aggravating to say the least.

Wrote Barnes:

[D]oing it Wednesday sent a bad message. The Nets played the Bucks close at home in November, albeit with Simmons, who currently is injured.

Yes, the Bucks won nine of their previous 11 games before Wednesday and yes, the Nets were 6-12 (now 6-13) against teams over .500. But long odds or not, the games should always be decided on the court, not a spreadsheet. A win could’ve become the signature game this team needs while hovering around .500.

Instead, it signaled a concession before tip-off...

The Nets’ biggest mistake wasn’t angering Bridges or resting players. It was doing so against a contender and conceding another opportunity to measure up. It’s still just one game out of 82, but it deserves criticism, even if the rest was warranted.

Barnes argues there was no violation of league rules and the chances of any sanction appear to be nil. However, the Nets were fined $25,000 after the win over the Pacers “for failing to comply with league policies governing injury reporting.” The fine was levied five days after the game in that case.

C.J. Holmes of the Daily News thinks the Nets were right in doing what they if only they did because they wanted a look at their young players who wound up playing 140 minutes.

Wilson’s motor was on display at both ends of the court for almost 30 minutes. Fans watched him haul in 10 rebounds (seven on offense), make all 11 of his free throw attempts and finish with a team-high 21 points. How else would they understand what he is capable of if Vaughn did not give him a chance to compete?

Brooklyn, he argued, is a development team that needs input on its young players as it heads into the February 8 trade deadline.

Bridges’ public criticism of the way things were handled is the more concerning aspect for a lot of fans. He’s the face of the franchise and his decision to publicly criticize the organization was so out of character that it raised both eyebrows ... and the possibility that there are other things he’s not happy with. Insiders say that’s not the case, that he just wants to play while Vaughn has to look at the larger picture. It’s a natural conflict.

Also on Friday, another aspect of the controversy emerged when ESPN and the Post reported on a sports betting angle. The issue was the “props” on Bridges statistical performance. Bettors who put down money on Bridges hitting certain numbers lost out when he was pulled early. Others more savvy foresaw the possibility of him sitting and bet the under.

Wrote ESPN’s David Purdum:

The Nets’ approach to resting Mikal Bridges while keeping alive his consecutive games streak turned into an edge for savvy bettors Wednesday and caused sportsbooks to abruptly halt betting on the Brooklyn star.

Sportsbooks took down the betting options on Bridges’ statistics, including points, rebounds and assists, within approximately 90 minutes after the Nets announced that three starters would be rested Wednesday against the Bucks.

As for the organization, they’d like to move on, get healthy, keep competing ... and survive the onslaught of the coming schedule. If the rest doesn’t work? Stay tuned.