The 2008-09 season was an era of great transition for the New Jersey Nets, as they moved away from being a perennial playoff contender into a rebuilding team that was more focused on stockpiling assets like younger/cheaper players, draft picks, and veteran contracts that were set to expire before the much bally-hooed “summer of LeBron” in 2010. Right before the 2008 NBA Draft, the Nets traded fan favorite Richard Jefferson for the underachieving Chinese import Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons. After this deal, only Vince Carter remained as part of the vaunted “big three” of VC, Jefferson and Kidd.
It also is a personal favorite season of me in an odd way. The play of Devin Harris and Brook Lopez gave me hope that despite what the pundits were saying, the Nets were well set headed into 2009-10 and beyond. Guess it goes to show how little I actually know about basketball!
Anyway, the Nets had a strong draft, grabbing Lopez and PF Ryan Anderson in the first round, and Chris Douglas-Roberts in the second. During free agency, the traded cash considerations for veteran PG Keyon Dooling to back-up Devin Harris, who was acquired at the trade deadline the season before in the Jason Kidd blockbuster.
With their young nucleus of Harris and Lopez, and the veteran leadership of VC, the Nets were a surprise team through the season’s first three months, hovering around the .500 until the middle of January. Harris’ play in the first-half of the season (21.8 points, 6.5 assists) made the Kidd-trade look like a lop-sided affair in the Nets favor, while Carter seemed to embrace his veteran leadership role, hitting numerous game-winning shots and reportedly evolving as a locker room leader. Harris was selected to his first all-star game.
But a five-game losing streak in the middle of February, pushed the Nets towards the back of the pack, and injuries started to mount, most notably to Harris and Yi. A second five-game losing streak in March sealed the team’s fate, putting them at 30-44. They finished the season 4-4 and stood in 9th place in the Eastern Conference with a 34-48 record; making it the second consecutive year the team didn’t make the playoffs.
Brook Lopez – Originally projected to be a top 5 pick, the Nets were thanking their lucky stars when he fell all the way down to 10th in the 2008 draft. Lopez was superb his first season, yanking the starting spot away from Josh Boone and looking like a soon-to-be double-double machine, averaging 13.0 points and 8.1 rebounds. Of course, the scoring would get better in years to come, but about his rebounding …
Yi Jianlian – Perhaps one of the most divisive Nets in recent memory, the “next Dirk” struggled out of the gate, but seemed to be putting it together through the first five games in January (15.8 points, 46% shooting) before a broken finger, derailed his progress. He lost his starting spot by the end of the year, and shot a putrid 16% in his final four games in April off the bench.
Jarvis Hayes – Was a steady bench piece, shooting 39 percent from three in 74 games (one start). He also was a good locker room guy who was one of the better Rod Thorn bench signings in his tenure in the front office.
Keyon Dooling – With Harris suffering from durability issues throughout his career, the Nets needed a steady floor general and shooter to step in. Dooling went on to start 18 games that season, and averaged a career high 9.7 points per game.
Ryan Anderson – One of the bigger late first round steals of the 2008 draft. In the 30 games he started in 08-09, Anderson was the three-point shooting stretch four Yi never amounted to. Too bad Anderson was traded to the Magic the following summer.
Three pretty significant shots/games for the Nets in 2008-09:
Nov. 21, 2008 – Nets 129 @ Toronto Raptors 127 (OT), Vince Carter game-winning alley-oop dunk.
Jan. 2., 2009 – Atlanta Hawks 91, Nets 93 (OT), Vince Carter game-winning three.
Feb. 23, 2009 – Philadelphia 76ers 96, Nets 98, Devin Harris game-winning half court shot.
News and Notables:
- Brook Lopez’s 17.94 PER his rookie season was higher than eventual rookie of the year Derrick Rose (16.05).
- In his 30 starts, Ryan Anderson only played 9 more minutes per game (24.8 vs. 15.8) compared to his time as a reserve.
- While Devin Harris has developed a reputation for putting up big nights against his old-team Dallas, in 08-09, Harris score more points against the Knicks (33.5 ppg) than any other team.
- Harris’ April was indicative of the direction his career was headed the following season, as he only average 12.3 points and 5.7 assists in the month. He also was a dreadful 10% from three-point land.
- Bobby Simmons fooled us all into thinking he had more gas in the tank for his career, shooting 45 percent from three in 08-09.
- One of Thorn’s biggest FA busts was Eduardo Najera who only appeared in 27 games, averaging 11.8 minutes per game.