One Year Later, Where Do Things Stand?

I was pretty panicked about the state of the Nets a year ago. And I still contend I had every reason to feel that way. The superstar defensive stalwart center the team had been chasing all year had just opted to finish the season in Orlando while indulging in a bowl of his “favorite candies” (I think at this point, it’s become a prerequisite for every rant of mine to mention Dwight Howard ACTUALLY being bribed by candy to waive his opt-out clause – good luck with this clown LA). On the same day, the Nets traded their lottery pick (with minimum protections) for a month-long rental of a nearly 30-year-old player who’s nickname was “Crash” based on his reckless, bone-crunching style of play. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez were expected to become free agents – unrestricted and restricted respectfully. And the team’s best player under contract going into the following season was a toss-up between a one-dimensional gunner (Anthony Morrow), or an all-offense, no-defense rookie who had lost the confidence of his coaching staff (MarShon Brooks).

Remember all that from a year ago? Obviously, the daring dreams and aspirations known as the “Brooklyn Nets” did not actually go up in smoke as I had feared. But I also don’t know if I’m in a position to look back at the events of 3/15/12 and laugh at myself for being irrational. There are still some inherent problems that are not going away, and the negative repercussions from the decisions made last y ear are still reverberating in how the team is constructed today, and will be built going forward.

Let’s review, shall we? The “Dwightmare” officially ended last summer when he was traded to the Lakers, thereby ending any chance of uniting long-time friends and conspirers DWill and Dwight Howard. In an effort to get DWill to stay with the organization, the Nets acquired arguably the league’s most toxic long-term contract in Joe Johnson. Gerald Wallace opted out, but signed a four-year extension while the Nets 6th pick was used by Portland to select Damian Lillard, the presumptive Rookie of the Year (and yes, I understand he’s a point guard and the Nets had no use for him, but it certainly debunks Billy King’s “we only like three players” theory about the draft). It’s also worth noting that Wallace is in the midst of the worst year of his career and he’s on the wrong side of 30. Lopez was resigned to a “mini” max contract and has been healthy and was FINALLY named an all-star this season. He still struggles to consistently rebound, can’t defend the pick and roll, and is currently playing for a coach who randomly likes to sit him during crunch time. Just saying. Meanwhile, Brooks, the one player who I saw as a guaranteed positive coming into Brooklyn, still can’t get out of the coach’s doghouse, regardless of whether it’s deserved or not.

All of these factors add up to a team that’s currently good but not great. A team that can feast on the NBA’s worst (except Monday night in Philadelphia) but wilts before its best (or just good). A team that with a little bit of luck, might survive into the second round of the NBA postseason, but is far from an Eastern Conference title contender with a black hole playing PF, a struggling veteran at SF, and three other stars whose games seem to come and go inexplicably.

And while watching a better than average team play basketball 82 times a year (plus the playoffs) is infinitely better than the past few years of Nets seasons, it’s also not lost on me just how emotionally devastating the events from last year still remain. Prior to 3/15/12, the Nets had seemingly constructed a master plan to go from also-ran to title contender overnight: pair off a top 3-5 PG with the league’s best center and defender and compliment with role players and a few other pieces acquired via trade or the draft. Despite Howard’s struggles in Los Angeles, it still seemed like this plan was the “Blueprint for Greatness” Mikhail Prokhorov was touting when he first bought the team.

And there’s no changing the fact that despite the dramatic improvements made to this franchise last summer, the dream of a clear path to the NBA Finals was extinguished exactly one year ago. With the way this current assembly of players is over the salary cap, any improvements that can be made to this organization are minor at best. Maybe a better coach can guarantee this team a top-four seed next y ear in the Eastern Conference. Maybe a healthier Deron Williams can get to the team to 50 wins. Maybe some of the team’s younger players like Mizra Teletovic, Brooks or Toko Shengalia prove themselves to be worthwhile (and affordable) rotation players, eliminating our need to trade bad contracts like Kris Humphries and Wallace, for potentially worse contracts down the road. But absent of LeBron James and Kevin Durant ripping their knees to shreds tomorrow, these are not improvements that will put the Nets over the edge. Instead, all I’m left with is the vision I had of this team prior to a year ago today.


  1. Dear Mark,

    i have been reading articles on this site for quite some time and this review of the Nets is the best and most candid by far.

    i agree completely–except that the team realizes thatTELETOVIC does not have it defensively to make it big time–i was sitting at the last home game next to one of the Nets founding fathers so to speak–all i kept hearing was that he was way too slow!!

    too bad- i hoped that he would have been better

    anyway congrads on a well written,thoughtful article that is not full of useless statistics!!!

  2. Mark,

    one other comment–at this point in time-the powers at be know they cannot get past Lebron
    thats why no moves were done by the trading deadline-getting a player that will make them a little better is not going to get this team past Lebron BUT i do think they will try to figure out this summer how to
    get a star big man to give Lebron a hard time driving and make him a jump shooter like Dallas did to him in the nba finals 2 years ago!!

    in my mind the only big man with the POTENTIAL to do this is Dwight Howard!!

  3. I was very skeptical of Billy King’s hire when it occurred because the moves and signings he made in Philadelphia were baffling to me.
    However, Once Dwight Howard signed his extension, there was not much the man could do. The promise of this greatness you were expecting was not the failure of the NEts, but of Howard himself. In the aftermath, I feel like King has done a heck of a job thoughtfully putting together a team that has as high a ceiling in the Eastern conference as any other team not named the Heat.
    The Joe Johnson contract is a bear, but the Nets don’t mind being over the luxury tax, so it is not that big of a problem. Joe actually has a game that ages well and will contribute throughout the length of the contract. The Wallace deal is a head-scratcher, but they say it helped Deron sign here, so I will roll with that. At least Wallace is not a punk and is easy as hell to root for. Maybe he can find the guy who taught Jason Kidd to shoot.
    Brook is a top-flight center, despite his flaws, and is also easy to root for.
    I feel like the Nets were certainly invested in the plan you speak of, but it did not come to fruition through no fault of their own.
    I have enjoyed the Nets more this year than I have in at least six seasons. Just because we don’t expect a championship from them does not mean we can’t be satisfied with what they have done. Heck, if they had a head coach who understood anything about the NBA game, the Nets would be sitting pretty with the second seed in the East. I have had some awesome moments watching the Nets this season from all of Joe’s game winners, to Deron’s ridiclous 1Q vs. the Wizards, to seeing them beat the Thunder, and my favorite…..being in the Garden as Joe made the place go quiet. This season sure as hell beats coming home from Work on Wednesday night to turn on the game and see my team get waxed by the Raptors by thirty points on their home floor…..which is the way last season ended.

    Also, I think I would find it hard rooting for Dwight Howard.

  4. i’m so tired of hearing simmons and others bemoan the wallace deal; d-will needed that vet and JJ just to resign. period. sure, king should’ve top-8 protected that pick in the deal, but maybe portland understood the d-will situation and wouldn’t budge. it is what it is.

    as bad as our contracts might seem, at least we’re not saddled with older, completely broken and overpaid players, like the knicks. even if we can’t get out of the second round for the foreseeable future, we’re better than that squad, which makes me feel a certain degree of warm and fuzzy.

    there’s also a solid chance that hump will turn into something positive next year as a tradable asset. a good number of teams will be positioning for free agency and trying to get in under the cap. between his $12M contract, brooks, our euro-stashes and #1 picks, we do have flexibility. plus, prokhorov will always greenlight the purchase of first round picks, so maybe the championship isn’t coming next year or the year after, but we’ll be moving in the right direction. and as a 32 year-long nets fan, that works for me.

    remember: this is the first year of not only this team playing together, but having the draw of a huge market + top notch arena + rich owner. worse case scenario is that we’re stuck with our core four until 2015-2016. none of them are/will be anywhere close to worse than some of our past players at those positions.

    the sky is still the sky.