The Brooklyn Nets season ended unceremoniously Friday night, with a 111-87 loss in Game 6 against the Atlanta Hawks. Despite two surprise wins in the playoffs, it forced the Nets to look internally at their flaws.
After a 38-44 season, the Nets need to improve their raw talent, though the road is narrow. They expect to do little in free agency beyond trying to retain their own players, armed with only the mid-level exception. If they lose Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez, they might even have a sliver of cap room, but losing those two players would be a much bigger loss than anyone they could sign with a few extra million.
The Nets are also stuck with poor draft position. The Hawks own the rights to their first-round draft pick, swapping picks the Nets as agreed to in the Joe Johnson trade, giving them the 29th pick in the first round. They also have the 43rd pick in the second round, and money to purchase more second-rounders. They bought the rights to three second-rounders last year, picking up Markel Brown, Xavier Thames, and Cory Jefferson.
It’s rare to get a franchise-changing player with the 29th pick or beyond: for every Tony Parker, there are ten players that never pan out.
“We need a good player,” Hollins said Saturday, putting extra emphasis on the word “good.” “We need good players, and if one of them develops into a franchise player, that’s better. But to go out and try to draft a franchise player at No. 29, I think we’re drafting, and then whatever the second round draft pick is, that’s a little far-fetched.”
Hollins demurred at the suggestion that the Nets need a “franchise” player, citing successful teams that function without one, and said what most already thought: the player who was brought on by the Nets to be the franchise player five years ago would not play that role.
“He’s not a franchise player anymore,” Hollins said of Deron Williams, who did not speak with the media Saturday, despite being requested. “He’s a good player, he’s a solid player, but I don’t think he’s a franchise player anymore. That’s just my opinion. He’s a good player. I’m proud of the way he’s bounced back and played, and there’s so much pressure on him to be a franchise player. Everybody talks about a franchise player, and we need to have a franchise team.
Hollins added that he saw potential in Lopez as a franchise player, though the 27-year-old would need to improve substantially.
“I think when you look at Brook, I think that you can think about him that way (as a potential franchise player),” Hollins said. “He has some limitations. When I say limitations, I think that if he developed his post game, he could be a franchise player.
“But I don’t want to put that pressure on him, to say that if he doesn’t do that, he isn’t. I’m just saying that potentially with size and athleticism and the whole nine yards, from an offensive perspective. But there’s a lot more that goes into a franchise player than just skill.”
Hollins’s old-school style clashed with Lopez at the beginning of the year, though Lopez said his relationship with Hollins grew more positive over the course of the season. “I think it just took a while to adjust to each other,” Lopez said.
“I think coach at the beginning of the year wanted him to be like Marc and Z-Bo and beat people up inside, but that’s not Brook,” Young said, though it should be noted that Young joined the team in February. “We have to surround ourselves with dogs on the court that’s gonna beat guys for him.”
Young only played with Lopez for two months, but sees him as a building block for a championship-caliber team, if he’s surrounded by the right players.
“Brook is, when healthy, is one of the better centers in the league, scoring, rebounding, altering shots, blocking shots,” Young said Saturday. “He’s a guy that can do a lot. He runs the court well. He knows how to get inside position. He knows how to score in a variety of ways. I call him a finesse big man.”
Lopez has always been a talented post scorer, with a variety of one-on-one moves to create space or loft soft hooks over the defense with his massive frame and wingspan. But he’s never been a great passer: this past season, Lopez he averaged fewer than one assist per 36 minutes for the first time in his career, and he averaged just four assists per 100 possessions used, the worst number in the NBA.[note]Minimum 50 games and 20 minutes played per game, per NBA.com.[/note] When it comes to passing, he doesn’t stack up well in a comparison with top NBA big men:
The irony, of course, is that Hollins may never coach Lopez again. Lopez has a player option for next season, and if he declines to exercise it, will be a free agent. “I don’t even think about that,” Hollins said. “That’s part of the game. We’ll have some players on our team.
“Who? I don’t know. I would love to have some of those guys back, but if they choose to go elsewhere, that’s their choice, and that’s what free agency is all about.”