Change I Can … Just Change Already

I'm getting so desperate, I'll take ANY kind of change.

As the timeless Sam Cooke song goes, “A Change is Gonna Come.” That mantra might be true for those Nets fans who believe a trade of some semblance – for Carmelo Anthony or someone else – is imminent. I’d like to use some space on the blog today to implore the Nets ownership and front office that change HAS to come. And now. After the team experienced what may have been their worst loss of the season on Saturday at the hands of the putrid Minnesota Timberwolves, I think it’s safe to say that the current assembly of talent known as the 2010-11 New Jersey Nets is just not working. And if the team is serious about being an NBA title threat in five years, some chairs on the ship need to be rearranged or thrown overboard now, before those that remain become so overwhelmed with the stench of losing that they can’t recover (if last season didn’t already do that to some – I’m looking at you Brook Lopez).

Before you accuse me of overreacting, let me throw out there that yes, I realize that for the past month or so the team has been fighting the injury bug with Anthony Morrow, Damion James, Quinton Ross and now Jordan Farmar all going down. And yes, I realize that at 9-25, this team is improved from last season. But these are only mild positives compared with the laundry list of negatives which is now adding up. Because if you look at the numbers, the Nets are not only a lot less talented than most of the league, they also have a large assortment of underachievers – which is a bit of a surprise when you consider that one of Mikhail Prokhorov’s first major investments was to build a first class coaching staff centered around Avery Johnson and three assistants who spent time in the first captain’s chair at some point in their careers.

As a unit, the Nets currently rank in the bottom half of the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency (26th and 18th respectively). Meanwhile if you compare the team’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) at each positions with their opponents, the Nets are only better than the opposition at one spot on the floor, point guard, and the differential is a mere +.1 which could shift in the other direction at any moment (the differentials elsewhere are: -2.6 at SG, -5.7 at SF, -.9 at PF and -1.7 at C).

The negative differential at the C position is especially unnerving when you consider that Brook Lopez was being touted before the season began as the team’s lone “untouchable” and one of the league’s best centers. With Lopez getting the bulk of the playing time at the position, the onus is on him to be one of the strong spots on the floor. That just hasn’t been the case this season.

Meanwhile, in addition to Brook Lopez, Stephen Graham, Travis Outlaw and Troy Murphy, all players who have worked their way into the current rotation, are all on pace to register the worst PER’s of their careers. The Outlaw and Murphy numbers are the most drastic. Outlaw, a player who is averaging more than 10 field goal attempts per game and more than 30 minutes each night, currently has a PER of 9.25. That ranks him 47th out of 59 qualifying players according to ESPN. Murphy, a player who has never finished with a PER under 15 –league average – since his rookie season, has found himself mysteriously in Johnson’s doghouse and is putting up a PER of 6.46 as a result, good for 74th out of 75 qualifying players, according to ESPN.

While my judgment is obviously clouded by my fandom, I just don’t think the Nets should be this bad. Johnson and company have now had two months and change to start getting this roster to gel and the combination of injuries and just terrible individual play has made this team look like they’re regressing. This current path can’t continue. With a few extra days before this week’s first game tomorrow, I would hope to see some dramatic changes with the current rotation of players. Meanwhile, Billy King has to start searching for fixes via the trade route that don’t involve the Denver Nuggets’ roster (or at least issue them a hard and fast deadline and an ultimatum on the package). Pushing the resolution until the trade deadline won’t do anyone any favors. The worse this team looks, the less likely Anthony will agree to sign here, while the team’s own first round pick, which they will inevitably have to ship out along with Derrick Favors, will only sink lower into the lottery. And  it’s starting to feel like a season of development is being lost for players like Lopez and Harris (provided both of them are even here after the dust settles on this inevitable shake-up) and the organization is doing nothing for their already battered image by having another pitiful season on the eve of an NBA lockout.