The Brooklyn Nets are no stranger to December changeups.
Avery Johnson was fired in their first December in the borough, following a 14-14 start to the 2012-13 season. Jason Kidd assigned Lawrence Frank to “daily reports” nearly one year later on December 4th, 2013, roughly around the time Nets management reportedly considered firing him. ‘Tis the season for (coaching) change.
Let’s not start any rumors here: even with a tumultuous 14-16 start, newest coach Lionel Hollins isn’t going anywhere. Ditto for his rock-solid, and mostly hand-picked, assistants.
But with the calendar year winding down, Hollins freely admitted that it was his perspective on the team had changed, that Brooklyn’s skill level & basketball IQ was not as “broad” as he believed.
“I thought coming in that we had some pieces that were capable of scoring a lot of points, that we had a high basketball IQ, that we had a high skilled basketball team, but that turned out not to be as broad as I thought it was,” Hollins said before the team’s 107-99 win over the Sacramento Kings. “It was narrow. We have some guys that have high basketball IQ. They have high skill level, but for whatever reason, we haven’t gotten all that we — or I should say, all that I — anticipated that we would.”
Hollins had a selective memory about the team’s preseason expectations.
“I didn’t hear anybody say the win-now thing,” Hollins said. “But I always want to win.”
Nobody picked the Nets as championship contenders, not after falling in the second round to the Miami Heat and losing Paul Pierce & Shaun Livingston to free agency. But Hollins and Billy King at least expected the team to compete for a top-four seed in a weak Eastern Conference. With two months gone, and the Nets sit three games below .500, befallen by injuries and an underperforming bench that now includes two of their three stars, Brook Lopez and Deron Williams.
The team as a whole is in dire straits. Prior to the Kings game, they ranked seventh-worst in the NBA in offensive output, posting 100.4 points per 100 possessions, per the NBA’s statistical database. They’re among the worst-rebounding teams in the league, and only hit 14 shots in the restricted area per game, fifth-worst in the league.
“We just haven’t shot the ball as a team as well as I thought that we could, and that’s hurt us in a lot of games where we just don’t make shots,” Hollins added. “Then we haven’t been able to finish around the basket. (And) defensively, we haven’t been able to be as good as I think we need to be in order to win.”
Brooklyn’s stars are at the core of the team’s issues.
Williams, who has come off the bench for three straight games following a low-grade calf strain, has notoriously struggled with balky ankles and shaken confidence in his three seasons in Brooklyn. It’s something Hollins acknowledged, unsure of how to fix the issue.
“Confidence is something that’s inside you and your belief in what you can do,” Hollins said. “There’s players that are supremely confident, no matter what the game looks like, and there’s other players that, when it’s not going well, they tend to back up, and that’s just part of human nature. How you manage that, I don’t know. … I thought Deron started off extremely well, playing well. And as time has gone on, his shooting percentage has gone down, but he still is able to score and get to the free-throw line.”
Lopez, who missed roughly two weeks with a lower back strain and suffered a “mild right midfoot sprain” in preseason, has struggled to re-integrate into Brooklyn’s offense in four games off the bench since his return, even putting up his first scoreless game since the first two weeks of his rookie season Saturday night.
“Brook’s been hurt a couple times and hasn’t been able to fully get back to the way he wants to be,” Hollins added.
There could be good news ahead. The Nets have improved drastically in the second half of seasons in each of their last two years; with P.J. Carlesimo leading the Nets to a 35-19 record following Avery Johnson’s oust in 2012-13, and the Nets going weird with a small/long hybrid lineup last season, finishing the season 34-17 in the calendar year of 2014. There’s room for hope in a core that’s still nowhere close to 100%, and still taking down teams like the Sacramento Kings, a solid Western Conference team.
But it looks like, after two years hoping for championship contention, the Nets once again are headed to undershoot their expectations. With a core that has struggled to gel and is perpetually on the trade block, it might be a sign that the Nets are ready to begin anew. Whether or not it happens with the same group of players is anybody’s guess.