Do the Nets Need a Heart Transplant?

It’s only been three games – including one game where the team blew a 16-point lead in the fourth quarter, and another game where they game up 123-points to a team that was missing two of their top scorers – but there’s already some buzz in the Nets locker room about “trust,” “toughness,” and “heart.”

The catalyst for all this were comments by Chris Douglas-Roberts Saturday night, who believed the team didn’t retaliate properly after he was slammed to the floor in the second quarter on a dunk attempt.  “You have to protect each other,” CDR said. “It’s an unwritten rule. You protect each other. Later that night on Twitter, he wrote similar comments about the team needing to commit hard fouls.

In a report by Al Iannazzone in the Bergen Record this morning, more Nets echo these sentiments.  Here are some of their quotes:

“I think people are afraid,” center Brook Lopez said of the defense. “It’s a team effort. [But] some guys are afraid that the help won’t be there.”

And here’s some more from Courtney Lee:

“That definitely has to do with trust,” defensive-minded guard Courtney Lee said. “You have to have trust in your teammates that they’ll have your back. If you’re out there pressuring the ball and the pick-and-roll comes and you’re a little late, you have to have trust that the help man is going to get the roll man so the big man can stay out a little longer.

When I first read the CDR quotes Saturday night, I was a bit annoyed and was ready to dedicate a post about him calling out his teammates, but I thought better of it. While there isn’t a lot to praise about the Nets defensive performance Saturday night, I do feel they made some attempts to get the Wizards back for the CDR foul. Specifically at the 5:01 mark in the third quarter, Gilbert Arenas had a free path to the rim, and Eduardo Najera came up on from behind and grabbed him by the shoulders to prevent the layup. Arenas didn’t crash to the floor in a heap, but the message was sent, so much so that Brendan Haywood starred to jaw with Najera after the play, who just smiled back and shook his head.

With that said, based on Iannazzone’s report, it’s certainly alarming that the team is already at the point of publicly questioning each other, specifically on the defensive end. Maybe they’re going to use theses words as a  rallying cry headed into tonight’s matchup against the Charlotte Bobcats. But I’m not as sure about that.

In watching the first three games, I’ve seen a Nets team that can’t shoot with any consistency and one that exhibits poor fundamentals on the defensive end. On the offensive end, those open shots currently being missed by guys like Courtney Lee and Devin Harris (when he was healthy), are either going to the fall, or they won’t. There’s not much to coach there. But on the defensive end, I see a team that keeps making the same mistakes. Lawrence Frank called the performance “putrid” Saturday night – so what is he doing to fix it?

For example, the perimeter defense is still an atrocity. Why does this keep happening? Look at the 8:04 mark of the third quarter Saturday night. It’s an example of a defensive miscue that keeps happening night after night after night with this team going back to last season. The Wizards have the ball in the post, and the Nets just start collapsing, giving Brook, or whichever big man they have on the floor, one or two help defenders. Meanwhile, Gilbert Arenas, one of the league’s best shooters, is lurking in the corner behind the three-point line. By the time the ball is kicked out of the post to Arenas, Rafer Alston has sunk so far deep into the post on help, he can’t even get back to the corner fast enough to get a hand in Arenas’ face. These are defensive rotations that I hope the coaching staff is working on every single day in practice. And if they are, they need to spend even more time on them, because this group of players just isn’t getting it.

A lot was made about Andray Blatche’s 30 points on 15-18 shooting Saturday night. While he hit a ton of open jumpers, the guy also abused Yi in the post throughout the evening, getting Yi in the air on numerous occasions before setting for his shot. Now, I realize that teaching Yi footwork and one-on-one defense is headed in the direction of “lost cause,” but is Yi committing so early because he lacks heart or trust, or because he’s just a poor defender to begin with?

So, while it’s easy to start questioning the heart and toughness of the Nets, what I’ve witnessed is the obvious – this team just isn’t very good right now. They’re making the same mistakes on defense and they are not shooting well enough to make up for it. The root cause of that is the coaching and talent-level of your roster, not some imaginary intangible exhibited by guys like David Eckstein and Chris Andersen. If the Nets want to sit in the locker room after getting their rear ends handed to them and start questioning each other’s heart to motivate themselves, that’s fine, but I believe the frustration is being misdirected. They need to start concentrating on how to stop history from repeating itself, and if they’re physically unable to do that because of their lack of talent, they need to get used to getting blown out of the water by teams that hit their open shots with the frequency of the Wizards.