Those who thought the drama surrounding the New Jersey Nets would come to an end once they snapped their historic losing streak to start the season were seriously mistaken.
Instead, some recent comments and actions by select members of the roster have shed an ugly light on a situation that now falls on the shoulders of Kiki Vandeweghe– there may be a legitimate divide between some players, most notably, the veterans, and the Nets’ younger players.
Rafer Alston has been the source of a lot of these comments. After last night’s mind-numbing loss to the Golden State Warriors, where the Nets looked flat, and at points, lazy and effortless throughout the second and third quarters against one of the league’s most uptempo teams, Alston told reporters that he was disappointed in his teammates for not doing more to support each other:
“It’s mind-boggling sometimes when you don’t see the guys behind you doing that,” he said, after the Nets fell to 2-20. “That’s more hurtful than anything, is to not cheer your teammates on who are out there trying to get the job done. That’s the way I was taught to do it: Play together and root for your teammate, whether you’re in the game or not. The good teams do that. They stay together, no matter how the game is going.”
This statement comes on the heels of Terrence Williams’ recent issues, which includes “tweets” that put down the organization and its fans, and then staying out late Monday night and missing the bus to practice on Tuesday.
When Alston was first asked by reporters about TWill’s tweets, he said that the rookie isn’t seeking advice from the team’s veterans but rather “guys in their first and second year, who don’t know.” Keep in mind, it was one of those second-year players, Chris Douglas-Roberts, who last Wednesday, after the Nets hit their historic 0-18 mark, called out the bulk of his teammates for playing “soft.”
This is all a far cry from early October, where veteran Jarvis Hayes organized an open practice that was attended by players young and old. Obviously, a steady diet of losing will change a team’s outlook. However, this rift creates a very interesting dilemma for the Nets organization: if they’re stated goal is to develop the team’s core this season (which by all accounts, it is) can they teach them to behave like professionals, without costing them valuable game time development? For example, while I think the benching of Terrence Williams is justified, you can’t expect to teach him how to better read NBA defenses, and make more accurate passes, if he’s not getting into actual NBA games.
Personally, given the roster the Nets are working with, I would rather see the team lose 60 games in a relying on their youth, even if it means looking dreadful for most of the season. If this team eventual starts playing to their potential, they’ll probably end the season on a much stronger note than they started. It’s better than the alternative, which is probably losing an equal number of games playing the veterans, but never demonstrating any kind of long-term improvement as a unit. Guys like Alston, Keyon Dooling and Tony Battie, have all peaked in their abilities.
Secondly, while I appreciate Alston’s desire to be a leader on this team – I mean, he’s the last person I expected to want to play this role considering how quick Houston and Orlando were to dump him when they had the opportunity – heart, grit and sideline clapping don’t win games as well as better jump shooting and team defense. Guys from bigtime college programs like Chris Douglas-Roberts, Brook Lopez and Terrence Williams have never experienced losing to this level before and need to adapt. The intangible stuff Alston is referring too is only peripheral if the Nets can’t figure out how to win games first.
This is not to say I’m endorsing the Nets young core to act like a bunch of spoiled brats. Instead, Kiki and the front office need to take a close look at the roster they assembled so they can determine if this team is just going through growing pains, or if they have a collection of players that just don’t know how to win together. They can’t just throw a bunch of athletic archetypes together and hope something sticks. They need to determine if chemistry is really an issue here, or is this a case of a vocal minority running their mouths or Twitter accounts.