Needs to Play, Coach, to Win

After watching the Nets get pulverized into a pile of jelly during their West Coast road trip last week, Wednesday’s night victory against the Clippers has made me a bit greedy.

The next three games for the Nets are all against struggling Eastern Conference teams –Washington Wizards, Philadelphia 76ers and Detroit Pistons. Unless this organization really doesn’t give a hoot if they set the record for most losses in a season – and they should, because as a fan, I want nothing to do with this record, and the players clearly don’t either – than Kiki Vandeweghe needs to coach these games to win.

By “coaching to win,” I mean Kiki needs to follow the successful blueprint carried out on Wednesday night, when the Nets played five guys for the last half of the fourth who were basically, the “hot hands.” Their age, experience and contract value was irrelevant.

With Devin Harris and Courtney Lee already out because of injuries, the Nets featured a lineup in crunch time that consisted of one starter from opening day – Brook Lopez. Yet, Keyon Dooling, Kris Humphries, Jarvis Hayes and Terrence Williams all did various things earlier in the game, or during their last big run in the fourth quarter, that warranted the playing time. Hump was the Nets most solid offensive option all game. TWill was doing so many great things without scoring, he had to stay on the floor. With about 3 minutes left and the Nets clinging to a 7-point lead, Hayes and Dooling both made key jump shots to help the team pull ahead. And most importantly, all five of these guys were defending the entire game.

Does this mean I think the Nets are a better team with Harris, Lee, Yi and Chris Douglas-Roberts on the bench? No. Because there’s no way of knowing at this point if guys like Hump and TWill can play like they did on Wednesday on a consistent basis. But what we do know about Wednesday was that Yi was struggling mightily on the defensive end, which got him into foul trouble and after a quick start, Chris Douglas-Roberts disappeared again offensively. So Kiki did what any decent coach is supposed to do – try something else and stick with it if it starts working.

The old cliché’ is the definition of insanity is doing something over and over again and expecting different results. That’s been a perfect summary of the Nets season so far. While the organization’s logic is shielded by the mantra “we’re developing youth,” I can’t imagine these players are developing any winning habits if the coach is not holding them accountable for their bad play. If Yi is 2-9 from the field and getting torched by guys like Amare Stoudamire and David West – Kiki needs to sit him on the bench. If Courtney Lee is 1-6 from three and is losing shooters on the perimeter, the same. Ditto for CDR when he checks himself out of a game for whatever the reason is.

Because quite honestly, with the historical ramifications this season is presenting us, I think force feeding playing time to guys regardless of their in-game performance just because they’re barely old enough to buy a drink is a poor organizational philosophy. If the Nets were playing like just another bad team, on pace to win 20 games this season – sure. Because at least then these guys are getting a taste of what winning basketball feels like 25 percent of the time. But not when the same players are put on the floor 35+ minutes a game every night to be a part of infamy.

And as luck would have it – it was two young guys in Humphries and TWill that carried the Nets down the stretch on Wednesday. So the organizational philosophy was still being followed – it just didn’t involve some of the younger players the front office seems to favor.

At this stage of the season, the organization needs to start being more discerning. This whole coaching thing ain’t easy. You can’t just pick the same guys and play a shirts and skins game in the NBA. Not when you’re on pace for the worst record in NBA history. You play the hot hand. You make decisions that demonstrate that players need to be held accountable. You coach to win. Because nothing develops a player better than confidence and winning.