Every once in a while, I will take a look at the Nets organization and give you my opinions on where we are and what I think we should do. This is called State of The Nets.
I know coming in that this isn't going to be a popular post. Reading the comments here, in forums, and on other Nets blogs I get the feeling that most Nets fans aren't happy with the direction we are taking. I disagree with these fans' feelings.
Aging middle of the road teams have a tough decision to make. Do you stay put, happy with making the playoffs as a bottom seed every year? Do you try to add the missing piece and make a run? Or do you get younger, retool, and overhaul your roster? For years after making our back-to-back NBA finals run, we kept trying to add the missing piece to our big three, while not really concentrating on the draft. The New Jersey Nets kept making the playoffs, but they never added that ONE player that put them over the top.
Realizing that this aging core (Richard Jefferson, Jason Kidd, and Vince Carter) wouldn't get them to the ultimate prize, Kiki and Rod Thorn decided to blow everything up (slowly over 2 seasons) and rebuild. In my eyes, the rebuilding process is broken down into two parts. First you develop a core of young players. Once you develop that core, you build on top of it and add missing pieces. Despite what people may think, the Nets didn't start rebuilding last season. The Nets rebuilding process began on February 19, 2008 when the Nets traded Jason Kidd for Devin Harris and a couple first round picks. Next on draft night 2008, the Nets traded away Richard Jefferson for Yi (a lottery pick the previous season), in addition to drafting three solid rookies in Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson (now with the Magic), and CDR. Then this offseason the Nets made another big draft-day trade shipping away Vince Carter (as well as Ryan Anderson) for Courtney Lee and expiring contracts. Sure, we could have kept Vince Carter for next season and add a 4 and took a run at the playoffs, but with a great offer on the table (I think in a few years we will be praising the front office for this trade - I also think that Rod was looking to shop Vince Carter all season and was waiting for the perfect deal. I mean look at the Grizzlies who ended up giving their superstar away for nothing...I am rambling now) and the team already in rebuilding mode, why give up the chance to get younger? Then the Nets drafted Terrence Williams to complete their young core.
I need to stop and digress real quick. A word that I hear from Nets fans almost daily is cheap citing every move we make as a salary dump. However, if you stop and think about it, this naturally happens when you rebuild (I am talking strictly on the court - there is no excuse for what is happening on the court). Seriously, think about it. When you get younger, you are acquiring players who are usually still playing on their rookie contracts while dumping veteran players and their (more often than not) bloated contracts. Anyway, back to rebuilding...
Remember my easy two-step method to rebuilding. After you get the young core, you need to add a piece here or there to get your team back in the playoff hunt. This is the most important step in my opinon. What better year to attempt to add pieces to your roster via free-agency than 2010, especially when you are flush with cash? I am not even talking about the big three right now, even if we can't land one of those guys, there are a ton of solid free agents coming out in that class. So when we hear about trading for Carlos Boozer (or going after Big Baby - to a much lesser degree) I cringe. Why give up our perfect opportunity to complete the rebuilding process?
Rebuilding is a lengthy process. It usually takes teams a few years of drafting to develop a young core comparable to the core that we have here in New Jersey. Memphis has been rebuilding longer than us, and it seems like they just now have developed a young core. However, this next step is key. Let us look again at the Bulls. They had one of the best young cores (and I think they still do) in recent memory, but they still can't find that one piece to put them over the top. They tried signing Ben Wallace, but that didn't work. They traded for guys like John Salmons, Drew Gooden, and Brad Miller but they still seem to missing that one guy. The Hawks are a team that did it right. They added guys like Mike Bibby, Joe Johnson, and Zaza Pachulia to young players like Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Marvin Williams and now they are one of the better teams in the East.
I guess what I am saying is that despite the bleek outlook for the upcoming season, we need to stay the course. We are right on track (perhaps even ahead of schedule) to get this team back to the playoffs. I think most Nets fans see us saving money for 2010 and think "We are not going to land LeBron James, Chris Bosh, or Dwyane Wade so what is the point?" I am not saying it wouldn't be great to have one of those guys, but I would be just as happy adding two guys like Dirk and Andrei Kirilenko (both are free agents next year). All teams face the point where they need to decide to rebuild or not. The Nets realized that they needed to do, and they are well on their way to being competitive relatively soon.