In his most recent column on Nets Insider, beat writer Al Iannazzone comprehensively looks at the many factors that have led to an 0-13 start for the Nets. There are some things mentioned that we’ve heard before: Bruce Ratner’s interest in real estate rather than winning basketball, poor drafting, like passing on Gilbert Arenas for Brandon Armstrong or Danny Granger in favor of Antoine Wright, injuries to a bunch of key players this season, and not doing anything to provide quality depth this year after trading away Vince Carter.
However, there were two points in particular in Iannazzone’s column that caught my eye. First, the Nets’ propensity to go “small” with their lineups:
You can win a game or two by playing small, but you won’t win regularly unless you have the perfect mix. The Nets don’t and the past two years have gone small too much. This season, coach Lawrence Frank has been forced to play that way at times because of the injuries, but the Nets aren’t a good rebounding team. They need their best rebounders on the floor late in games because they give up too many late offensive boards. That’s all about heart and will and the Nets just have to keep guys off the boards.
Then, for something even more alarming, the idea that the Nets tend to play “not to lose,” which is always a surefire sign of a losing ballclub:
They’re playing not to lose instead of playing to win. They don’t know how to win yet. The Knicks were picking-and-rolling them to death yesterday and then after a timeout late, the Nets knew it was coming and yet David Lee made the pick, rolled and scored to put the Knicks up four with 1:44 left. The Nets also gave up two big offensive boards late. They come out slow every third quarter and it seems to set them back mentally. When Dwyane Wade fumbled the ball on Nov. 14, Trenton Hassell should have grabbed it but was afraid he would be called for a reach against a superstar. All of that and not getting a shot off in both games against the Sixers when the Nets lost both by three are marks of a team that can’t get out of its own way.
I tend not to get caught up in columns like these, because they’re usually crafted by people who don’t follow the team day-in and day-out, but Iannazzone is a beat writer who has covered the Nets since 2004, so I think his opinions and observations carry a little more weight.
Both of these points come down to coaching and preparedness. The “wildcat” offense that Lawrence Frank talked about in preseason, has been a definitive flop, in large part because without a playmaker like Devin Harris running it, there’s not enough speed and versatility on the court to make up for the lack of height and strength. Meanwhile, Frank is obsessed with pigeon-holing Bobby Simmons at the four, when a guy like Sean Williams is proving to be a better option (more on this tomorrow).
As for the “playing not to lose” thing, it’s interesting that Iannazzone mentions the Wade shot, because after watching it a few times last weekend, I still don’t understand how after losing the ball for a second, he was still able to get that shot off. Meanwhile, the Nets have had a number of close and late situations, two of which ended without even getting a shot off against Philadelphia, and one other instance on opening night against Minnesota, where the team played so tentatively on the final play, they ended up getting beat on an offensive rebound anyway.
Yes, it’s easy to beat up on an 0-13 team, and it’s even easier to rewrite history and talk about how the Nets catered to Jason Kidd too much, or should have retained Kenyon Martin on a max deal (was he really worth it given his injury history?). But still, Iannazzone makes a number of good points that go beyond the “Nets are too injured” excuse. It appears to me that a legitimate case is starting to be made against Lawrence Frank, so this is going to be fascinating to watch, even if the Nets continue to lose games.