RUTHERFORD, N.J. — When asked if he thought the team could still work with their current core of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, and Joe Johnson, Nets general manager Billy King was non-committal.
“We’ll see,” he said simply, closing a 15-minute conversation with the media Monday afternoon.
Since the Nets jumped the river and landed in Brooklyn, they’ve built their roster — and identity — around those three players. But despite the core sticking around, the Nets have struggled with continuity: Williams, Johnson, and Lopez have only played together in 93 of a possible 198 games, including the playoffs. Only Mirza Teletovic, who is now in the last year of his contract, has stuck around with the three since the move.
Williams acknowledged that Lopez’s injuries hurt the core’s continuity, adding that having four coaches (including interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo) since they moved to Brooklyn elongated the process.
“It’s three new systems in three years, so we’re just kind of, we’re starting all over,” he admitted.
“I try to build a system around them,” Hollins said, before making a crack about his team’s rebounding struggles. “I never come in and try impose something that guys can’t do, because I saw that in L.A. with Pau (Gasol) and Dwight Howard. You just can’t do it.”
Though King said repeatedly that he had faith that his team could turn their season around, as they have in the past two seasons after slow starts, and that he wouldn’t “make a move to be making a move,” he also admitted that the team might need “tweaks” to fix their current issues.
“We’re on the phones, we’re talking to people, but there’s nothing imminent,” he added. “This group has proved that they can play good basketball, and so it’s at this point, it’s up to them to figure it out, how to play better.”
King is no stranger to the trade market: he’s made seven in-season trades since joining the Nets franchise and multiple draft-day and offseason trades, including the two blockbusters that brought Johnson, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn in back-to-back seasons. But any move would likely be minor, with the Nets lacking significant trade chips.
The Nets have begun the season 6-9, and are currently in the midst of a 2-7 spell. They have yet to win a game against a team with a winning record.
“We’re not a good rebounding team right now,” King said. “I think that (tends) to hurt your defense. Because when you’re not rebounding the ball as well, you make a great stop, you don’t get a defensive rebound, it hurts you. So that’s an area that we struggled last year, thought we could get better this year, but it’s still a hole.”
The Nets rank eighth-worst in the league in rebounding, grabbing 48.8 percent of available rebounds, according to the NBA’s statistical database. The biggest culprit is Lopez, who is a notoriously poor rebounder: with him on the floor, that number drops to 47.4 percent, which would rank only above the historically bad Philadelphia 76ers. Lopez himself has averaged just 5.2 rebounds in 28.8 minutes per game. King challenged Lopez to be a better rebounder, but wasn’t rushing the timeframe.
“I think Brook is getting better,” King said. “As the doctor said, it’s just going to take him time. Remember, he missed all of last year and he was immobilized for about four months on the left foot, where he just couldn’t do anything with it, so once a guy, some guys come off of reconstructive surgery, it takes them a while just to get timing down.”
Hollins & King each said they spoke about Lopez often.
“What I want Brook to do is not undoable,” Hollins said. “I didn’t say I wanted him to go average 15 rebounds a game. But don’t play 28 minutes and have three. Everybody thinks I’m upset at Brook. I’m just trying to help Brook grow.”
King responded to criticism of Lopez, who has struggled since returning to the floor after missing nearly all of last season, and to the idea that Lopez clashes with Lionel Hollins. Hollins has said repeatedly that he wants Lopez to be better in most aspects of the game, which King agreed with.
“He’s gonna push him, because his job is to push him, to continue to coach him,” King said. “Not say, ‘OK, take it easy.’ His job is to push him. He’s coaching. That’s coaching. I was with one guy in Philadelphia, Larry Brown, and who coached in Indiana, he was on guys every day. That’s their job. A good coach, their job is to push guys.”