A Case to Stay the Course for the Nets

It’s difficult to advocate staying the course when the ship is sinking, but for the New Jersey Nets, it may be their best option.

At practice yesterday, the topic du jour for beat writers and columnists was whether or not head coach Kiki Vandeweghe, who’s also still the GM of the team, would consider any potential upgrades for the roster via trade. There are certainly some high profile names readily available, including Tracy McGrady who seems to have played his last game with the Houston Rockets, and Nate Robinson, who’s permanently glued to Mike D’Antoni’s bench in New York.

But Kiki’s plan is to stay put, unless he can acquire any future “assets” that would add to the Nets core, which as currently constituted includes Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Courtney Lee, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Yi Jianlian. Of course, the other goal in all this is to maintain their salary cap flexibility headed into the summer, when a number of high impact free agents will hit the open market.

“We fought hard and obviously sacrificed a lot to maintain the cap space,” Vandeweghe said. “Right now it would be silly to do anything to turn back that [plan].”

This is the right strategy. While the Nets are going to continue to struggle this season, and could possibly approach having the worst record in NBA history if they don’t start winning some games soon, it’s highly unlikely anyone the Nets could acquire right now would make enough of an impact to turn this season around in any meaningful way. Meanwhile, if they acquire a long-term piece, it could end up costing the team in salary cap space this summer when there are likely even better players available, and if they acquire an expiring contract, like McGrady, it’ll likely cost the Nets a piece or two from their core. The only palatable (and thus, unlikely) trade scenario, would be if a team like the Raptors, was willing to unload their marquee free agent-to-be. The Nets could hypothetically acquire Chris Bosh and then be in the best position to offer him the most money and resign him this summer. It’s a risk that’s unlikely to come to fruition as why would the Raptors trade Bosh if they’re in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt?

As much as it hurts, what the Nets need to do now this season is evaluate and evaluate some more, to help determine who is actually a core player on this team, and who’s roster filler or less going forward. The Nets have certainly done a lot of losing this season, but because of injury, they’ve yet to do it together. The only really had their five key guys together for the first two games this season. Even with Yi Jianlian back and looking like a budding superstar the past three games, we haven’t seen him do it with Chris Douglas-Roberts and his 14 shots a game mixed in. Meanwhile, Yi’s success seems to be coinciding with a slide from Brook Lopez, so it’s impossible to know how these five guys can coexist if they’re never healthy enough to play together.

Of course, it’s possible that Kiki and company get slammed by the fan base and the media for doing nothing, and letting this season get further out of hand. There will be talk about all of the empty seats at the Izod Center, and how owner Bruce Ratner has put a lock on the team’s wallet until Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov presumably takes over. While there is some truth to these claims, it doesn’t change what the 2009-10 New Jersey Nets were all about headed into this season – riding out this storm with the promise of better times ahead.