BROOKLYN, NY. — David Foster Wallace’s essay A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again details the author’s trip on a luxury cruise liner through the Caribbean, a week-long excursion so packed with decadence, extravagance, and pamper that by the end Wallace felt a sense of dread due to the oppressive nature of the fun he was told he was having.
Now imagine that cruise, instead of sailing from beach to beach in the Bahamas, was embedded in the cement that connected Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Tropical, oceanic views are replaced with Atlantic Mall and Vanderbilt railyards, glowing sun with a bitter January chill (and that’s just inside the arena).
The Brooklyn Nets fell to 10-25 Wednesday night after their eighth consecutive home loss, this time 91-74 to the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors. It was the second-fewest total points the Nets had scored in a single home game since occupying Barclays Center in 2012, and the 573rd time in Nets franchise history the team shot below 40 percent (39.7%), nearly 100 more than their nearest competitor in futility since the league began tracking game-by-game field goal percentage. The team holds the third-worst record in the NBA, just 2.5 games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers, and it matches their third-worst net rating, outscored by 6.7 points per 100 possessions.
Further imagine that the crew on the aforementioned cruise had to continue to act as though they were breezing somewhere between Belize and Cozumel, despite plain evidence to the contrary. Without that sense of suspended disbelief, passengers might recognize the quagmire they were stuck in, so the entertainment had no choice but to double down further on non-stop show, without a second of time or inch of space wasted. So the dancers dance and the lights flash and the t-shirt cannons fire and the referees blow their whistles and the players, in the words of Lionel Hollins on too many occasions to count, “go out and play.” The passengers, too bemused to boo or cheer, either follow along with the basic cues or don’t bother to feign interest, even as experts across the country wonder aloud just what the hell’s going on inside that ship. It’s a strange push-and-pull between what the product asks of you and the product itself.
“How do you turn it around?” Hollins asked of himself. “You have to start winning. You have to play better, you have to execute, you have to defend, you have to rebound. That’s how you turn it around.”
Despite the impetus to keep the party moving, some members of the crew bent character just a bit.
Transcript of Joe Johnson’s answers following 91-74 home loss to the Raptors: pic.twitter.com/d3EIIPYcyH
— devin kharpertian (@uuords) January 7, 2016
The Nets fell to 1-12 in games decided by 10 points or more, and were blown out by a team that shot 4-for-22 from three-point range and recorded more turnovers (17) than assists.
And yet, there’s no pressure to right the ship immediately. Pressure implies expectations. The Nets have none. The Nets have some quality NBA players in Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez, and young cast-off prospects like Shane Larkin and Thomas Robinson. They also have two promising rookies, both injured. But beyond Lopez hitting a 20-point benchmark (24 points, 13 rebounds against the Raptors) and Young snagging another double-double (18 on the season), there’s no boxes to tick off.
Without pressure or rationale, what remains is hope. “We knew that we would have to work through some things (before the season started),” Lopez noted. “It hasn’t all gone as planned. You know, you said multiple times, it’s up and down, so you just got to stay strong. We’re still confident that we can right this and go on a little run.”
But as of now, the Brooklyn Nets aren’t just bad, they’re aggressively uninteresting. They do not attack the basket and do not shoot three-pointers: they’d be the first team this millennium to rank in the bottom-2 of the NBA in both three-point rate and free throw rate. They rank third-worst among NBA teams in scoring points per possession and tenth-worst in preventing them. There is no one capable of concocting a highlight at any given moment, no reward for losing in the form of high draft picks, and no readily apparent way to improve substantially until free agency while maintaining future flexibility. Their two highest-paid and highest-played players are Johnson and Lopez, who can produce but rarely amaze. They are a staff meeting in the conference room about the dress code, or a stranger showing you his nephew’s baby pictures.
This isn’t Nadir; we’ll do it again. Like November, this is not the time to panic, but the result of it, like a Caribbean vacation is the result of months of scrapping and saving and praying for sun. The next step could come at any moment, but it likely won’t come until mid-April, when the season docks and the captains need to answer for the disarray.