We’re 51 games into the Nets season at the All-Star Break. Going around the horn on where the Nets stand:
High Point: best of the first half:
Zach Fisch: The win against the Spurs on December 3rd. The Nets gutted out an overtime win against the defending champs, their first win of the year over an above-.500 team. Afterward, Gregg Popovich predicted, “as the year goes on, Brooklyn is going to be a monster.” That day, it felt like the Nets just might get it together.
Sean Flattery: December 30, 2014, last game of the calendar year, a 96-82 win in Chicago over the Bulls. At this point, the Nets were teetering around .500, but with few wins against top-tier opponents. They went on the road against one of the conference’s best teams and shut ‘em down cold. Great win.
Benjamin Nadeau: December 26th, 2014: Brooklyn’s huge comeback win against Boston. The Nets showed grit and determination and whole bunch of other clichés that they haven’t shown the rest of the year. It culminated in Jarrett Jack’s first of many huge shots this year. It was so different from these Nets, and that’s what made it one of their greatest wins in a while.
Judd Olanoff: This, because of the crossover, the irrepressible high-skip down the court, and the extended secret handshake celebration with Alan Anderson.
Oh, and the shot itself was nice, too: It capped an unlikely comeback win over a quality team, in a season that could use more triumphant moments like it.
Anthony Pignatti: February 2nd, 2015: Brooklyn’s 102-100 win over the Los Angeles Clippers, 1-Thou-Wow Shuffle style. It was one of the few times this season the Nets successfully executed a play down the stretch, as Jarrett Jack buried a midrange jumper over DeAndre Jordan’s monstrous wingspan to put the Nets up 2 with 1.3 seconds remaining.
His celebratory dance was just the cherry on top.
Low Point: worst of the first half:
Fisch: The Nets following up a 39-point loss to the Clippers with a 35-point loss to the bottom-dwelling Jazz. It was just the fifth time in NBA history a team suffered consecutive blowouts of 35 or more.
Flattery: Low point of the season: Los Angeles, January 22nd. The Nets played a nationally televised game on ESPN. Scoreboard at halftime: Clippers 70, Nets 35.
Nadeau: January 9th, 2015: Brooklyn hits rock bottom vs. Philadelphia. They lost against a team actively trying to lose. In Brooklyn. Lifeless. Ominous. Excuse me, I have to throw up again.
Olanoff: This pretty much covers it (c/o YES Network):
Pignatti: January 9th, 2015: 76ers steal one in Brooklyn, 90-88 on Noel’s dunk. The Nets once led by 13 points and the final possession looked like this against a 5-win club. Tough to swallow. This was one they let slip away, and Brooklyn kept plummeting below .500, further down the weak Eastern Conference standings.
The first-half Nets MVP is…
Fisch: It’s tempting to say Jarrett Jack after his recent hot streak, but he still has the worst net rating of any rotation player by a fairly wide margin. For lack of a better option, I’ll hand it to Joe Johnson. Not withstanding his January slump, he has been consistent, stable, and reliable—or exactly what they’ve come to expect from Joe Jesus.
Flattery: Mason Plumlee. After a slow start coming off the bench, Plumlee gave the Nets a much-needed lift filling in for the injured Brook Lopez, and energized the team with his high-flying dunks. As a starter, he’s averaged 13 points and 7.9 rebounds while shooting 64.8 percent.
Nadeau: Jarrett Jack, I guess? Everybody on Brooklyn has had their lapses in judgement, effort and skill, but Jack has taken those struggles and turned them into moderate success. He’s hitting some of the shots that Joe Johnson was forced to make time and time again last year. The Nets have looked much better in late situations when the ball isn’t forced into Johnson’s hands, and that’s largely thanks to Jack.
Olanoff: Jarrett Jack. An anchor in an ocean of instability, he’s stepped valiantly into an unanticipated lead guard role. He’s logged tremendous minutes, far more than he bargained for as a backup earning $6.3 million, and you never get the sense that he takes his foot off the gas. He creates offense from nothing with his mid-range jumpers and floaters in the lane, finds bigs in the pick-and-roll, and takes care of the ball. If not for Jack, the Nets would be way worse off, which is a scary thought.
Pignatti: It has to be Jarrett Jack — and who would have guessed that during the offseason? He’s done most of what Nets fans were hoping to see from a surgically repaired Deron Williams heading into the season. Jack completely changed the flow of the offense, often running high pick-and-roll sets with Plumlee which lead to a Jack floater/midrange jumper or a high percentage look in the paint.
Trade Talk: of the “Big 3,” who stays?
Fisch: All three. No one is taking Deron Williams off their hands at this point. Billy King seems unwilling to accept any of the lowball offers he has been getting for a suddenly resurgent Brook Lopez. Johnson’s massive salary makes the cap math difficult with most teams; the Hornets may be interested, but their proposed deal reeks of desperation. Of the three, Lopez is the most likely to be dealt—his cap figure is the easiest to move, and he may actually return some value from a contender.
Flattery: With the emergence of Plumlee, the Nets can afford to listen to offers on Brook Lopez. He’s been terrific of late and Hollins has warmed to him a little, but the Nets will sell while the stock is high. Joe Johnson’s tag is too heavy and D-Will’s stock is too low. They stay put.
Nadeau: Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. As much as I want them to blow it all up, Billy King is trying to save his job in the process. I fully expect Lance Stephenson to join Brooklyn, drive Lionel Hollins to insanity and Prokhorov to sell. We are in the darkest timeline.
Olanoff: Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Their value is just too low and their contracts too rich to fetch sufficient return value. Lopez is a different story: he’s strung together a recent stretch of good health and productive basketball, his $15.7mm/year deal is moveable, and now is the time to sell high, especially if King can get an athletic, young wing and a bruising rebounder in return. It would be sad to see Lopez, the longest-tenured Nets player, leave, but the experiment has run its course.
Pignatti: Deron Williams for one simple reason – his contract. Williams is owed in excess of $20 million per season through 2016-17. A 30 year-old with that contract is near-impossible to move. Couple that with his injury history and significant decline in play, it would be extremely difficult for Billy King to convince a team to take him off Brooklyn’s hands. While Brook Lopez (injuries) and Joe Johnson (contract size) are salary-cap handcuffs themselves, they’re much easier to move considering their (albeit subpar) on-court productivity and Brook’s age.
Dunk Contest: Mason Plumlee should…
Flattery: The Golden Double Stuff: Start from left side of the floor, ball in left hand. While leaping to dunk ball with left hand, teammate lops ball for him to catch and dunk with right hand. First left, than right. One leap, two dunks.
Nadeau: I tweeted this at him a few nights ago, but it would be a crazy missed opportunity to not bring Beer Girl back into the fold. Blindfold her, give her a tray of beers and let Mason dunk over her! It’s so genius and simple that it’ll never happen.
Olanoff: This is a no-brainer. Saturday night at Verizon Center in Washington, Plumlee barreled into waitress Delia Barr’s tray of seven beverages, creating an epic mess in the front row. The timing couldn’t be more serendipitous. Plumlee should call Barr to apologize, then invite her immediately to the dunk contest to be his teammate. She can hold up the same tray of drinks overhead, for Plumlee to jump over, Dwight Howard/Nate Robinson-style, capped off with a reverse dunk. All sponsored by Anheuser-Busch.
Bonus points if Plumlee makes the dunk and consumes one of the drinks after. Double bonus if he makes the dunk and consumes the drinks before.
Pignatti: I don’t expect Mason Plumlee to have a great showing at the dunk contest. Over the last decade, the dunk contest has dissolved into a mix between popularity and creativity, neither of which Plumlee brings to the table. With that said, here’s something I think he could actually pull off and wow his Brooklyn home-crowd with: an off-the-backboard to himself one-handed Vince Carter-esque forearm in the rim throw-down – all while rocking #15’s jersey. Brooklyn itself may not be able to fully grasp the nostalgia that long-time Nets fans would admire, but it would pay homage to the greatest dunker of all time.