My brief foray into mild optimism

The Nets lost tonight and last’s night’s games, both by five points, under these circumstances:

  1. Shelden Williams starting at center for the injured Mehmet Okur, who’d started for the injured Brook Lopez
  2. Johan Petro playing backup center for the now starting-occupied Shelden Williams, who’d been filling in for the injured Mehmet Okur
  3. DeShawn Stevenson starting at small forward for the injured Shawne Williams, who’d started for the injured Keith Bogans, who’d started for the injured Damion James
  4. Sundiata Gaines playing backup point guard for the injured Jordan Farmar
  5. MarShon Brooks shooting 6-16 on a not-100% toe away on the 2nd night of a back-to-back
  6. Andre Emmett, a D-League shooting guard signed to replace the aforementioned Bogans, as the first guy off the bench

Okay, now that that’s out of the way:

The Nets are a bad team right now. Telling you that doesn’t really require much analysis. You could point to any number of factors; the team’s win-loss record, the (healthy) roster outside of Deron Williams, the fact that Johan Petro starts basketball games, their defensive numbers and ability, they all paint the same story with different brushes: that the Nets, at this point, aren’t going anywhere but the lottery. That’s expected without Brook Lopez, but it’s tough to expect career-worst seasons from Shawne Williams and Anthony Morrow, season-ending injuries to Damion James and newly acquired Keith Bogans, additional ailments to MarShon Brooks, DeShawn Stevenson, Mehmet Okur, and as a result, an 8-23 record after this most recent eight-game skid.

There are certain keys to basketball, keys I’ve mentioned before. Score at the rim, defend scoring at the rim. The Nets simply don’t have anyone big enough to contend with legitimate centers at the rim. No basketball-minded soul would argue that Lopez is a defensive stalwart, but a 7’1″ height and 7’7″ wingspan alone make him more valuable than the vertically and wingspanally stunted (relatively speaking) Kris Humphries, Shelden Williams, and Jordan Williams.

Score on the perimeter, defend three-point shooters. The Nets can score on the perimeter, but that scoring’s cancelled out by the wide open holes they leave for opposing teams to bomb back. The Nets allow a league-worst 39% from opponents from deep, and given the way they distract themselves defensively (TVD!), it’s no surprise.

Defensively, the Nets don’t communicate on screens, both on and off the ball, until after the fact. Deron Williams often throws passes to the few empty spots where holes are unintended. Other than Humphries, boxouts are nearly nonexistent. Atrocious transition defense is atrocious. Spacingislimited, providing a nice contrast to attendance.

Offensively, the Nets currently rely solely on a shark in a kiddie pool, one who’s admitted preferring a role as a “blend-in” guy, and they’ve got no other choice.

Not yet, anyway.

Because with every loss comes the reminder that, injuries or not, this isn’t the team the Nets planned for, nor is it the roster they’re planning on beyond this season. This is a playbook thrown together in a span of days for a team changing lineups weekly. Avery Johnson’s vision does not include Shelden Williams as a starter, no matter how many prosaic platitudes cross his lips. With bad teams coaches play good people; as a human, Petro’s as nice as they come.

Much like last year and the year prior, this is another awkward stopgap in the rebuilding process, one unlike any team in the NBA. They’ve got a superstar who’s arguably the best job creator in NJ — first Stevenson, then Okur, and now Andre Emmett – and he holds the franchise’s future in the palm of his hands. Stay and they’re kings, leave and they’re jesters. They’ve got a record rapidly heading towards the top of the Anthony Davis chase, injuries or not (joke’s on them, they’ll never catch the Bobcats). They’ve got a franchise- and league-altering trade or free agent pickup hanging in the balance, waiting for their second-best player to return and the clock to strike March 1st.

This eight-game losing streak feels like death, 19.6% moreso because of the shortened season. But climb down from the cliff; it’s another short-term stretch in a long-term vision for a unique franchise, yet again on the outside looking in at relevance. The marathon thrill of the chase is no different.