Can the Nets Tank Something That’s Already Been Tanked?

So the common theme surrounding the New Jersey Nets is that after shipping out Rafer Alston, Sean Williams and Eduardo Najera, they’re not even close to being done with their roster makeover. According to numerous league sources, Josh Boone, Tony Battie, Trenton Hassell and Bobby Simmons could all be shipped out at any time, provided the Nets get what they’re looking for in return (younger players who won’t put in a dent in the cap flexibility for the summer). Heck, ESPN’s Chad Ford suggested that even Devin Harris could be on the block if he nets the team a superstar.

But looking at more realistic roster scenarios, ESPN’s Marc Stein recently suggested the Nets are trying to dump their veterans and free up roster space for “fresh blood from the D-League.”

Whenever I see firesales of this magnitude it seems to indicate one thing – a team is tanking the season in an effort to secure a top flight pick in the draft. The fact that the Nets appear more interested in importing D-League players, who they can likely sign on super short-term 10-day contracts, in favor of winning a few more games with some of their veterans, is a clear indicator that they’ve officially given up on trying to salvage any respectability this season.

Or is it? There’s one huge whole in this logic that must be considered for fans and spectators who criticize the “tank” strategy. The Nets have been incredibly awful with their current mix of young up-and-coming players and veteran, playoff –tested guys. At 3-34, is there really any reason to believe the Nets are a better team with Rafer Alston and Eduardo Najera rather than Chris Quinn and Kris Humphries?

The Nets are in a unique situation that a “tanking” strategy could actually make them better. What’s better for a team that’s currently built around five 20-something guys in Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian and Chris Douglas-Roberts (provided they’re not on the block too)? Picking up players for their bench who have been overlooked for playing time in playoff towns like Miami and Dallas, and filling out the roster using D-League guys who are trying to prove that their NBA-caliber? Or having a veteran guy like Alston who only seemed to succeed in New Jersey at alienating the immature young-uns like Terrence Williams and CDR. Eduardo Najera was supposed to bring toughness and grit off the bench, but he couldn’t keep his body from breaking down long enough to be an example for anyone.

In hindsight, the Nets “tanked” their season on June 25 when they shipped Vince Carter to Orlando for Lee, Battie and Alston. While I’m not criticizing the trade after the fact, 37 games of 2009-10 Nets basketball has demonstrated that Carter was the glue that held this roster together last season. While Brook Lopez and Yi Jianlian have improved in VC’s absence, Devin Harris has regressed and players like Courtney Lee and CDR are looking more and more like complimentary “rotation” guys, rather than NBA starters.

So while it may seem desperate to now turn to the Quinn’s and the D-Leaguers of the world, I do think this is a sincere attempt by the brain trust to make the Nets into a better team for the last half of the season. Rumors that the front office could make a play for one of the big free agents to be in order to retain their Bird Rights this summer so they can be resigned at a premium are further proof that the organization hasn’t given up yet.

Will it work? Well I guess that depends on what your definition of improvement for a 3-34 team is. The Nets seem well positioned regardless of who’s filling their bench, to have the best shot an NBA team can have at the #1 pick in the draft this season. But it’s possible that injecting this roster with some young, hungry players, could help salvage this team from all-time 9-73 infamy.

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