For the Nets, going future is a slow and steady race

MarShon

It’s a bit odd for a team to come out and state their commitment to player development, which is a no-brainer along the lines of a chef saying food preparation is important. Improvement from within is the most efficient way for a team to get better, obviously, and yet P.J. Carlesimo stated it as one of the reasons why he wasn’t asked to return as the Nets coach, raising the confused and probably self-answering question of what Brooklyn’s young talent was doing for all those months.

What’s significant and revealing about the whole conversation, though, is that there should be any finger pointing at all within the team about the process. Player development is something of a communal effort where every rung in an organization’s hierarchy has some level of involvement, including the player in question. You only need look at the Chicago Bulls, who ended Brooklyn’s freshman trip to the playoffs, to see the trickle down effect. It’s easy to watch Jimmy Butler blossom in the postseason and wish we could be saying the same things about MarShon Brooks. Brooks, after all, was taken five spots ahead of Butler in the 2011 draft. They’re both wings, so it’s not unreasonable to think their draft day fates could have been reversed. How is it their professional trajectories have been very much opposites?

Hindsight makes Butler’s ascension almost predictable. Heading into the draft, Butler’s history of succeeding against the odds was well known. More to the point, Butler also entered the draft as a tough-minded, capable defender, exactly the kind of player Coach Thibodeau prefers. The need was clear to the eye: John Paxson drafted a player who not only happened to be a noted self-starter, but who also happened to fit his coach’s style.

The Butler example isn’t a shot at Billy King or MarShon or anyone else, but it does offer a contrast to Brooklyn’s issues. Mirza Teletovic was brought over from Europe as a stretch four noted for his outside shooting. At the time of his signing, the Nets didn’t have a backup center on their roster, and Andray Blatche was a long way out on the horizon. So Mirza prepared himself to play center in the NBA, bulked up and lost much of his feel on the perimeter. By the time he shed the weight, it was mid-season, and the battle was all uphill.

While MarShon Brooks has flashed the ability to score in numerous ways in his two seasons with the Nets, he’s also proven himself to be a one-dimensional player at this stage. Penchant for taking and making off-kilter twos, he’s an off guard who can’t shoot (just 1-14 on corner 3s this season) or defend—a combination that tends not to last long in the league, especially since there are already so many primary scorers ahead of him in the rotation. Tyshawn Taylor is being groomed as a backup point guard, which is made all the more difficult by the fact he more frequently played off the ball at Kansas. The raw ability has always been there, but it takes time to learn to run the point at any level, let alone the NBA.

For a variety of reasons—shaky fit, poor communication and unfair expectations among them—all three players were almost doomed to stumble this season. It wasn’t solely the coaches or the GM but the system itself that failed, lacking a unified ethos in regards to how the team should play after the top of the rotation. When talking about the Nets coaching search, it’s important to think about what type of environment each candidate could instill, and whether his system could be fully accepted at every level of the organization.

On this criterion alone, Jerry Sloan would seem the ideal candidate given his astonishing track record. We already know about Deron Williams. What about Andrei Kirilenko (28th overall in 1999) and Paul Milsap (47th overall in 2006)? Carlos Boozer and Mehmet Okur both took big leaps forward after they moved to Utah, and that’s before scratching the surface of the cast that surrounded John Stockton and Karl Malone: Byron Russell, Greg Ostertag, David Benoit, and more. Brian Shaw has received credit from Paul George and Lance Stephenson for their development, but that’s looking at the situation through a skewed prism. As a head coach, it’s unlikely he’d be working one-on-one with players in that capacity. It’s impossible to know whether Shaw will give young guys consistent run, but the Triangle offense is noted for maximizing the (sometimes marginal) talent of the players on the floor.

The Darko situation being what it was, Larry Brown has generally been willing to give young players a shot: Tim Thomas and Larry Hughes both earned significant playing time as rookies, and Tayshaun Prince was an afterthought in his first season until the playoffs, when he became an integral part of the Pistons’ attack. If you’re a tough player who excels at doing the dirty work you have a shot at impressing Brown, but his history betrays a lack of patience with those who need a little more time incubating. Lionel Hollins is something of a strange case. In January 2009, he inherited a young roster that experienced little success and has since nurtured them into a legitimate postseason force. Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and several others have blossomed under Hollins’ reign. Still, only two players the Grizzlies have acquired via the draft since 2008 are still with the team: Darrell Arthur (’08) and Tony Wroten. Lottery picks OJ Mayo, Hasheem Thabeet, and Xavier Henry failed to stick in Memphis, while Greivis Vasquez emerged as a solid point guard following his trade to New Orleans.

We’re mostly just speculating at this point, since the coaching search is early and all we can figure is that Phil Jackson is absolutely not coming, ever. Again, it won’t just be the coach that matters. Did Avery Johnson or P.J. help themselves by failing to reach the team’s first and second year players? Of course not, but it wasn’t entirely their fault.  While it’s possible one of the above rumored candidates—or whomever the team ultimately hires—can spark the team’s developmental program, any change will have to come in the form of a more philosophical bent. With their early proclamations of aiming for the conference finals, the Nets haven’t shown much patience in the Mikhail Prokhorov era. Are they finally willing to accept and embrace incremental progress that is the hallmark of player development?

Nets 106, Bulls 89: Starting history the right way

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The gist of it

What sequence best summed up the narrative redemption of Brooklyn’s Game 1 victory over the Chicago Bulls? A Barclays Center standing ovation preempting a Deron Williams runner at the end of the first half to push the lead to 25 points? Deron streaking for a breakway two-handed reverse jam in the third, tabling any talk once and for all that he’d dropped a step during an up-and-down tenure with the Nets thus far? Andray Blatche, attempting to intercept two passes intended for his teammates—and actually catching one of them? For everyone who hadn’t caught a Nets game, it was all there: the unclear home crowd proven strong, the uncertain superstar made good, the individualist gunner holding onto a few endearing bad habits. All of it congealed into a runaway success, a blowout win over one of the Eastern Conference’s mainstays over the last few years.

Derrick Rose or no Derrick Rose, that’s nothing to take lightly considering how quick Nets fans were to worry about this game. The franchise’s first playoff effort against a team coached by the NBA’s equivalent of General Patton, injuries be damned, considered an underdog even though they held the higher seeding? Maybe there was only so much a free “HELLO PLAYOFFS” t-shirt could inspire. But the Nets didn’t just come strong against the Chicago Bulls—they destroyed them, leaping out to an early first quarter lead and holding steady throughout the way, nearly forcing a 30-point deficit before the hapless Bulls were able to stem the bleeding in the fourth quarter.

Consider how they scored. With Joakim Noah hobbling around on a bum leg, Brook Lopez was nigh unstoppable against Chicago’s traditionally fortuitous interior defense, making nearly half of his shots and going perfect from the line. Deron Williams was a quick-footed revelation, shooting outside and inside along with that metaphorically and literally emphatic transition dunk. Gerald Wallace had his best game in months, missing just two shots while playing his brand of insistent defense that seemed to peer pressure the referees into not saying anything whenever he came crashing into a Chicago player. Joe Johnson had a relatively quiet effort but he picked up the scoring load when Deron and Brook were out, pacing things and settling a second unit that often struggled to get in a rhythm this year. Reggie Evans scored with his left hand at least twice.

It was an all-around performance, with the Nets shooting 57% against the vaunted Thibodeau defense missing a few steps from its typically crisp execution. You knew the Bulls weren’t defending Deron and Brook with Nate Robinson and Nazr Mohammed, nor was Carlos Boozer good enough to drive the Chicago offense by himself. They never challenged, really, and the game was basically basketball pornography until the fourth quarter: every shot made, every player getting his own, every HELLO PLAYOFFS t-shirt proudly stretched over outfit and a few whipped through the air by the Barclays faithful. It was great to watch, and if the Bulls can’t get any healthier over the next few days, this might not be the hotly contested series predicted by so many NBA pundits. What a way to kick off franchise history.

Observations

° Loved how those Brooklyn black and Chicago red uniforms played off each other; I remarked that the two squads seemed like warring factions of White Stripes backup dancers, hooping for the right to stand directly next to Jack and Meg. (I assume this might’ve been a dilemma during some mid-00′s MTV award show.)

° This might scan as heresy, but Joe Johnson had such an easier time getting his points when he was playing with the second unit that the Nets might consider using him as more of a bench asset. He’s their best iso scorer, regardless of your unreasonably positive feelings re: Andray Blatche, and it might be better if he’s able to conserve his energy for when the reserve offense needs to get going. Then again, what do I know? This was a blowout, so maybe however they were playing tonight doesn’t matter in the long run.

° So nice to see a redemptive game from Gerald Wallace, who got a big Barclays chant with every risky decision that turned out well, a far cry from the efforts of a few weeks and months ago when he couldn’t have been shooting worse if you’d fixed him a brain parasite. He gave the Nets a transition element that they’re sometimes lacking—if he keeps it going, their offense will be a lot more enjoyable to watch.

° The YES Network showed a stat saying that Deron Williams and Isiah Thomas are the only players in NBA history to average at least 20 points and 10 assists in their first three playoff series. Lest you forget that Deron was a beast in the postseason with Utah, he had this game.

° At times, Joakim Noah just looked like he should’ve been benched altogether. He played just 13:27, with the Bulls riding a Boozer-Gibson front court that did absolutely nothing against Brook.

° Appearing at what’ll be his first and hopefully not last Nets playoff series, soon-to-be-former minority owner Jay-Z was wearing what appeared to be a leather hat with a diamond-studded strap. Let’s see Mikhail Prokhorov pull that one off.

° Speaking of Prokhorov, he gave a speech before the game started that roughly translated to, “We will bathe in the blood of our enemies.” Very inspiring stuff.

° Troll gaze: defeated.

° Andray Blatche in the playoffs. We did it, everyone.

Call the radio right now / Deron Williams just put it down

From our buddies over at The Brooklyn Game, here’s a shot of Deron’s immaculate two-handed dunk in the third quarter. There’s a statement!

Up next

Game 2 on Monday night. Let’s hope the team keeps it going.

Away from Washington, Andray Blatche & JaVale McGee reinvent themselves

BlatcheMcGee

For those of us lucky enough to have the option of mobility, there’s a moment when you realize you need a change of scenery: a new job, a new city, a new social circle. The rhythms of your everyday life are too convenient, the interactions too typical—nothing has changed and it seems unlikely that they will, so perhaps it’s just better to move on and try somewhere new.

I’m thinking about this adult phenomenon as the Nets head to Denver tomorrow night, where two former Washington castaways—Andray Blatche and JaVale McGee—will play against each other in a radically new context (not for the first time, I should note). A year ago, they were both underachieving Wizards prone to goofing off, inconsistent play and the occasional fistfight, poster children for the perils of throwing young talent together and expecting things to automatically jell. Now, they’re indispensable bench elements of two playoff teams: McGee the game-changing transition weapon there for the block or alley oop, Blatche the instant offense capable of remapping shot charts with his unconventional but somehow effective shooting selection. Statistically, both players are having their best years ever, with career-high player efficiency ratings and improved numbers across the board. More importantly, they’ve been decoupled from the expectation of being a franchise player. No longer are they judged against the idea of what they might be, but against what they’re capable of right now—which, as it turns out, is plenty.

Both players came to Washington on the tail end of the Gilbert Arenas years, when the team’s ceiling had already been hit without the ownership’s realization. They were given big minutes and expected to play a big part going forward, but any sense of continuity was upset by the chaos of coaches coming and going, teammates getting suspended, and an imprecise, constantly redefined rebuilding plan. Were they expected to be veterans and mentor new Wizards like John Wall and Jan Vesely? Were they still works-in-progress? Did McGee deserve a big contract? Did Blatche deserve his? The situation seemed increasingly tense, with McGee’s mother memorably calling out the team for how they were coaching her son (a biased perspective, of course, but it’s not like her comments were out of line). Eventually, they were both given away: Blatche was amnestied, while McGee was unloaded in a multi-player trade to Denver.

It’s hard to get athletes to go on the record about how they really feel about a former team: There are too many things at stake, whether it’s social standing or a future contract, and the media has a long history of blowing things way out of proportion. However, Blatche has been increasingly candid after an initial reticence; he’s talked about his motivation to screw the Wizards salary cap, and even showed up to a Washington radio show to get chewed out something fearsome by the understandably bitter hosts. ”I’m trying to move on,” he said. “You know, it’s kind of hard to move on,” he said a moment later. Eventually, some enterprising reporter will get the story of how things really went down in a way that holds everyone accountable: player, coach, owner, organization, fanbase and whoever else. Still, it might take a while.

A few days ago, a spectacularly edited mixtape of high level high school prospect Andrew Wiggins’s senior season was dropped on the Internet, prompting Internet effusion over what might be if he weren’t limited by the NBA’s age restriction. While I’m wary over how pro ready we can deem a player based on his ability to crossover laughably overmatched 14 year olds, I feel like the more important question is judging how ready any teenager is to take care of himself. How ready for adult life were you at 18 or 19 or 20? Maturity is situation dependent—it’s not something that grows apropos of nothing, but from the specific experiences and lessons any particular person will go through.

“Duh,” you remark, but I’m not sure if there’s enough sympathy for how young players who haven’t had that mental transition are thrown into the machine. Blatche was drafted out of high school, while McGee left college after his sophomore year; I’m about the same age as them, but they’ve been working as millionaire employees of a multi-billion dollar industry for a combined 13 years. How did they handle it? It’s easy to laugh at the image of a Kwame Brown (another Washington castoff) who throws his suits in a corner, but who was telling him to do otherwise? Andrew Wiggins isn’t Kwame Brown or McGee or Blatche, and he could be very well ready to handle such adult considerations. But watching players like DeMarcus Cousins or Tyreke Evans struggle to get it together says something about the importance of where one’s formative adult experiences take place, and it’s little coincidence that McGee and Blatche perked up as soon as they got out of Washington.

I can’t speak to the frustration of being a Wizards fan and watching them plateau year after year, but I’m inclined to be sympathetic to any young adult’s journey toward maturity. Again, sometimes you’ve got to move on before you can move on, if you get what I mean—and pardon my inner sap, but it’s nice to see two undeniably entertaining and talented players finding their place in the league.

Welcome to Brooklyn’s Finest

BarclaysCenter

Photo by Flickr user shizukokato

Don’t believe what you’ve read. Brooklyn isn’t solely filled with bespeckled, plaid-decked millennial hipsters equipped with artisanal cheese cloths and custom-painted synthesizers, trawling the land for the trendiest place to brunch and lamest band to make fun of. Not simply because Brooklyn is a century-plus old borough with loads of history that existed long before the popularity of the fixed gear bicycle, but because the modern Brooklyn is such a diverse, sprawling space home to hundreds of thousands of people spread across dozens of unique neighborhoods, many of whom would never be found on an episode of “Girls.”

I bring this up because I’m also an outsider to Brooklyn, having spent most of my life in Chicago before moving out here after graduating college. Along the way, I’ve thought a lot about the nature of relocation and how the modern transplant can avoid becoming an ungrateful interloper insensitive and uncaring of his surroundings, because there’s more to calling oneself a Brooklynite than living in Brooklyn.

Basic civic duty, such as patronizing local businesses, attending community meetings, actually talking to your neighbors, and so forth—those things are important. But there are other things that can drive shared interest between strangers, and sports—with their power to inspire emotion and unite like-minded individuals—are one of those engines.

Surely, the owners of the Brooklyn Nets had something like this in mind when they relocated the team from Newark to Atlantic Yards. Our blog name comes from one of them, Jay-Z, who owns just a percentage of a percent but most embodies the “Brooklyn above all” ethos that the team tried to cultivate by specifically taking aim at the idea that the New York Knicks were the biggest game in town. There hasn’t been a team in Brooklyn since the Dodgers, and there’s a particular onus on them to succeed given the messiness in securing the rights to build the stadium—something that hasn’t escaped the criticism even though the construction is long over—and the hullabaloo over their importance to the borough. (If only Jay-Z could take a personal interest in everything!) But though the team has been around for less than a year, it’s already coded in the borough’s DNA. The renamed subway station announcing exactly where the Barclays Center is; the proliferation of local businesses represented amongst the stadium’s food vendors; the slick black-and-white color scheme that’s cooler than cool—they’re natural extensions of the neighborhood, and will seem more and more normal as time goes on.

All of the gourmet hot dogs in the world wouldn’t matter if the team wasn’t any good, though. Visualizing the local pandemonium that might ensue if the Nets won the title is fun enough. Figuring out how it might happen is another issue. The season is almost over, so we’ve gotten a little bit of perspective on how the team performs and might be expected to perform. So far? It’s a bit of a mixed bag. They’re currently in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, and have looked alternately dominant and hapless at different points throughout the year. But disappointment over P.J. Carlesimo’s rotation restlessness, Deron Williams’s fitness or the team’s defensive inconsistency should be partially mollified by a roster with plenty of legitimate pieces and an assertive ownership run by Mikhail Prokhorov that’s staked out a plain commitment to making sure the team succeeds.

Absent a tangible chance to win the championship this year, fans should be able to take solace in the next thing: being able to enjoy a competitive team backed by an attractive market and management acting in good faith.  This is admittedly an optimistic take, as a cynical eye could disregard “hoping for the best” as a good way to stay in the cellar. (I’m a Cubs fan, so I know how that works.) But what, really, does negativity accomplish but suck the fun out of something that’s meant to be play, not work? It bears repeating that winning and losing isn’t the only point of paying attention to sports, or else 99% of fanbases would be left permanently depressed at the end of the season as their team failed to win the championship.

That’s not to pretend that getting upset over a loss or personnel move isn’t a natural reaction. Still, Brooklyn’s Finest will endeavor to be an argument for caring rather than cynicism; for realism instead of pessimism; for respecting the fine line between being passionate and being unreasonable. There’ll be the typical day-to-day stuff—who got injured, what got said, why someone didn’t play, and so forth. There’ll be basketball analysis—duh!—talking about Brook Lopez’s interior defense and the function of Keith Bogans, among subjects. In the bigger picture, we’re going to feature a blend of original reporting and perspectives to explore why basketball isn’t just basketball—it’s culture, and there’s plenty to experience about Brooklyn by paying attention to the Nets. It’ll be a learning experience, but hopefully you’ll join us for the ride.

Nets Sign Andrea Bargnani for No Good Reason

The Nets announced today that they have signed Andrea Bargnani to a two-year deal for the veteran’s minimum, with a player’s option for the latter season. This move won’t kill the Nets, but it is 100% indisputably absurd, given Bargnani’s lack of skill, upside, durability, fit and basketball I.Q. among many other things. 99 out of every 100 days I will be reasoned, search for nuance, explore every side to every story. That one day is when the team I cover signs Andrea Bargnani against all that is logical and sacred in this beautiful game.

Clearly, I’m not happy. I made that evident when I first learned about the news and took to Twitter. But because I’m proud to say this blog carries with it strong analysis and owes it’s readers in-depth coverage, I’m going to share both my hasty (though accurate) all-caps tweets and an explanation of why I said those things. Let’s begin.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

YOU WERE DOING SO WELL BILLY KING. WHY. WHY.

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The Nets were having a really good offseason, at least considering where they stood coming in. Billy King got rid of Deron Williams’s contract and crafted a much younger and more athletic roster. This is especially the case in the frontcourt, where through the draft the Nets picked up uber-athletic power forwards Cory Jefferson and Chris McCullough in back-to-back years. Brooklyn has also taken fliers on Thomas Robinson and Willie Reed, two relatively young big men with upside.

Despite all this, they signed Andrea Bargnani. Let’s continue.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

YOU GUYS WERE GETTING YOUNGER AND MORE ATHLETIC AND YOU SIGN AN OLD INJURY-PRONE GUY WHO CAN’T JUMP OVER A CREDIT CARD.

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Old? Bargnani is going to be 30 once the season begins.

Injury-prone? He hasn’t played a 70-game season since 2010. He played in 29 games last season, 42 the year before.

Can’t jump over a credit card? Okay, maybe this one was harsh.

Seriously, though, Bargnani moves like he’s in quicksand and doesn’t have much verticality in him anymore.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

HE’S LITERALLY THE LAST PLAYER ON EARTH HOLLINS WOULD HAVE WANTED. IF HE TAKES ONE MINUTE AWAY FROM A YOUNG BIG HE’S ALREADY NOT WORTH IT.

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Lionel Hollins likes defense. Bargnani doesn’t play any. As for taking minutes from young bigs, well, the Nets have trailed behind nearly every other team in the “young, developing player” department for years now. After collecting a great deal of them this summer and possibly moving towards rebuilding, it’s really not the time to be giving a washed up veteran minutes that could be going to raw, young big men that need development through in-game experience.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

HE DOES NOTHING WELL. SORRY, HE DOES PLAYING REALLY BADLY WELL.

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Bargnani’s not a good basketball player. Maybe two years ago it made a little sense for Knicks fans to be saying that he could bounce back from some down years, but it’s become the norm now.

He’s averaged over two assists per-36 minutes just twice in his career. His vision is atrocious and he simply doesn’t look to move the ball. His rebounding rate has eclipsed 10% three times in his career, he’s not going to help on the glass at all. He’s primarily a “floor spacer” on offense, but three-pointers have made up under 25% of his field goal attempts in four of the last five seasons. When he shoots from deep, he connects on 30.2% of them over the past four seasons. Half the time he can’t even threaten defenses with the long ball because he stands around in the long-two area. His usage rate over the past four seasons, and throughout his career, is consistent with that of a team’s secondary scorer. Defensively, he doesn’t move, can’t do much when he gets to his spots and doesn’t communicate. The only good he’s done on the defensive end is allow centers to try and post him up and stand his ground pretty well.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

THE KINGS WERE THE ONLY OTHER TEAM THAT WANTED HIM. THE KINGS. THE KINGSb

  • 33 Retweets

  • 22 likes

The. Freaking. Kings.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

POSITIVE NOTE: ALL THE BRICKS HE’S GOING TO THROW UP WILL HELP THE NETS BUILD THAT NEW PRACTICE FACILITY.

  • 44 Retweets

  • 33 likes

Silver linings, folks.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

HE’S A “FLOOR SPACER” THAT CAN’T SHOOT THE THREE. YOU NEEDED THREE-POINT SHOOTING AND INSTEAD TURNED TO A LONG-TWO ADDICT.

  • 22 Retweets

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We went over that.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

BARGNANI FITS IN WITH THE NETS WELL IN ONE AREA: HE’S ITALIAN AND GETS TO LIVE IN BROOKLYN.

  • 44 Retweets

  • 99 likes

More positives!

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

HE WAS ONE OF THE WORST PLAYERS ON A 17-WIN TEAM LAST SEASON. TRAVIS WEAR WAS BETTER. LOU AMUNDSON TOO.

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Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention his +/- numbers. The Knicks were outscored by 17.5 points per 100 possessions with Bargnani on the floor last season. They only got outscored by 8.2 with him on the bench. No other Knick had worse numbers. Note, this is the team that won 17 games last season and consistently played: Travis Wear, Lou Amundson, Ricky Ledo, Cole Aldrich, Jason Smith, Lance Thomas, Quincy Acy… you get the picture.

His 2014 numbers weren’t much better. Opponents had a 6.2-point leg up on the Knicks per 100 possessions with Bargnani in the game. The Knicks had the advantage by 1.4 points with him out. Bargnani wasn’t the absolute worst in this occasion, but still at the very bottom alongside Shannon Brown and Beno Udrih.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

AND YOU GAVE HIM A PLAYER OPTION. WHY. WHY?!

  • 11 Retweet

  • 33 likes

A partially guaranteed one-year deal would have made this easier to swallow.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

You know, I’m not even mad anymore because I’ve decided this is an undercover tank jo- WAIT NO DRAFT PICK. SHOOT.

  • 22 Retweets

  • 22 likes

That would have made sense.

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David Vertsberger

@_Verts

TWO NIGHTS AGO I CLEANED UP HUMAN POOP, LAST NIGHT I GOT DUMPED. TODAY IS WORSE BECAUSE I HAVE TO COVER ANDREA BARGNANI.

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I think we should wrap up there. Again, this won’t destroy Brooklyn’s season so long as Hollins doesn’t play him 30 20 10 any minutes a night. But boy is this a humbling way for King to end an otherwise positive and fruitful offseason.

Lou Williams’s Potential Future and Fit With the Nets

Add the Brooklyn Nets to the list of teams that could be interested in free agent guard Lou Williams, according to RealGM’s Shams Charania. Reportedly joining the Nets as suitors for the Sixth Man of the Year’s services will be the Sacramento Kings, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, and Toronto Raptors, who traded for Williams last summer and saw him average a career-high 15.5 points per game in his second year removed from ACL surgery. Charania goes on to say that Williams could seek a “three-year deal in the range of $27 million or four years for $35 million”, which could present issues as to any pursuit by the Brooklyn Nets once free agency opens on July 1st.

Williams’s expected asking price would require some salary cap maneuvering from general manager Billy King, with the team limited to the taxpayers mid-level exception. A massive pay cut might not be a great career strategy for a 10-year veteran with an ACL tear in his medical history, but he could still force his way to Brooklyn if he could convince the Raptors to work out a sign and trade. Toronto would have to take back the last year of Jarrett Jack’s contract as the basis of any sign-and-trade scenario, plus some combination of Bojan Bogdanovic (a probable non-starter for the Nets) or Sergey Karasev and perhaps Earl Clark’s non-guaranteed deal, to get to Williams’s desired average annual value of eight or nine million dollars.

Sign and trades are traditionally difficult to pull off due to the variables (and emotions) involved, and this hypothetical would depend on Toronto’s willingness to reunite with Jack, in lieu of any draft pick sweeteners from the Nets (at least not until 2019). Williams would also have to be convinced that a sign and trade with Brooklyn would present his best earning potential, over the seemingly unlimited cap room of the Lakers or Knicks. Whereas those rosters are pretty decimated and dependent upon some success in the NBA Draft and in free agency to overcome bottom-five finishes last season, the Nets at least offer a solid infrastructure of veteran talent, while providing just enough playing time and playoff opportunities to maybe merit a meeting this July.

The Nets’ decision would come down to sacrificing rotation players, if not actual young talent, to bring in Lou Williams on a multi-year deal. Jack played well in Deron Williams’s injury absence but inconsistently for other stretches of the season and, at age 31, doesn’t figure into the team’s long-term plans. Mason Plumlee and Bojan Bogdanovic might be the two untouchables of their under-25 talent, though the sub-million dollar deals of Markel Brown and Cory Jefferson may make their ability to match salaries negligible, and worth more to the capped-out Nets as far as depth purposes. Earl Clark’s contract can be waived to save a million-plus, and it’s unsure if Karasev piques Raptors GM Masai Ujiri’s interest, after two seasons in the NBA spent with two different organizations.

Though he’d have to share the point guard position with his namesake, Deron, Lou Williams would find plenty of shot attempts and late-game opportunities if with the Nets next season. He’d instantly replace Jarrett Jack’s 12 points and 28 minutes per game and serve as a similar second-unit scoring option, but with a superior three-point stroke and ability to get to the free-throw line. Even while playing with Deron Jack often handled the ball and initiated offense as the lead guard, and though Lou posted a higher usage rate last season, he suffered a huge dropoff in his assist percentage as he regained the accuracy on his jumper. Williams also managed to cut his turnover rate by a substantial margin from his 2013-14 season and turned the ball over nearly nine-percentage points less than Jack, while outpacing him in PER, true shooting, and win shares.

Lou Williams’s ability to score buckets off the bench should again place him directly in the conversation for Sixth Man of the Year next season, if healthy and in the right situation. Toronto head coach Dwane Casey found success by putting the ball in his hands and letting him operate out of isolation situations from the perimeter, where his quick-trigger jumper and subtle head fakes allowed him to set his career-best in free-throw attempts and shoot 34% from three. He played in 60 games in 2013-14 with the Atlanta Hawks and largely struggled with his jumper and in adapting to (then-rookie) head coach Mike Budenholzer’s Spurs-ian offense in coming off of his ACL injury. In Lionel Hollins’s first season as Nets head coach he instituted some advanced play sets that tried to get the ball moving to generate open shots, but had no problems with relying on his vets (particularly Joe Johnson) to get a good shot when the game grew late. Lou could play off of Deron Williams as a spacing threat in dual-point guard lineups that would get killed defensively, but he should have full run of a Brooklyn bench unit that struggled to score points last season once Brook Lopez was promoted back to the starting lineup.

The path to Lou Williams signing with the Brooklyn Nets this summer could be a difficult one due to the Nets’ consistent presence in luxury tax territory, but it’s not impossible considering the sign-and-trade option. Nets GM Billy King is familiar with Lou’s game going back to his days with the Philadelphia 76ers, where King selected the high schooler with the 45th pick of the 2005 Draft, and it’s unclear how much the Toronto Raptors want to invest in their backcourt after re-signing Kyle Lowry last summer. There’s a possibility that the relationship between Lou Williams and his former GM increases the likelihood of a sign and trade, just as there is that Charania’s rumor is based solely off of that connection and not on actual insight into the Nets organization. The Brooklyn Nets would surely love to add a scorer of Lou Williams’s ability to their 2015-16 squad; it’s that whole financial aspect that will (ironically) present issues this summer.

What Deron Williams’s Contract Bought

Boy! What a difference three years makes! After signing a five-year, $98 million dollar max deal back in 2012, Deron Williams gets bought out at $27.5 million dollars out of the $43 million dollars remaining on his albatross… I mean contract.

What makes this picture even worse is that the Brooklyn Nets got an overweight, out of shape, oft injured point guard that found a way to alienate himself from an entire organization for their money.

It doesn’t get better, folks.

Now, Williams is gone from an organization that was going to have to bring him off the bench (If Brooklyn was smart) to the team that he almost left for in the first place in the Dallas Mavericks who has a starting spot waiting for him. Oh by the way, there’s a two-year $10 million dollar contract that will serve as the cherry on top.

Talk about a new lease on life if you are Deron Williams. He leaves one organization who had his bags packed at the airport for a franchise who think he’s a Hall of Famer compared to Rajon Rondo.

Sure, Deron Williams was supposed to be the east coast version of Chris Paul. Sure, the Nets was supposed to be getting one of the top two of three-point guards in the NBA. This was supposed to be start of a major push for owner, Mikhail Prokhorov’s to buy a championship in five years so he could stay a bachelor.

There are women all over Russia thanking Deron Williams right now.

MAESTRO! Cue the organ for wedding music!

But seriously folks. If you are a Brooklyn Nets fan, I get it. Deron Williams will look like the biggest fraud in Nets franchise history. (Remember, Benoit Benjamin played for the Nets too!) Deron Williams might be the laziest star player in Nets history. (Umm, Derrick Coleman anyone?) But let’s all look at the bright side of this scenario. Deron Williams and his humongous contract was not paid off in vain.

So this is for Joe Johnson, who put the team (I now believe Williams) on blast for selfish play at the beginning of the season…

“It’s just kind of what it is. Defensively, we help from time to time, offensively, I just think guys kind of exhaust their options and then when there’s nothing else for them, then they’ll pass it when they have to. For the most part, we’ve been very selfish.”

For Paul Pierce who basically smacked Deron Williams upside the head to ESPNBoston.com’s Jackie MacMullan before the playoffs…

“Before I got there, I looked at Deron Williams as an MVP candidate,” Pierce said. “But I felt once we got there, that’s not what he wanted to be. He just didn’t want that. I think a lot of the pressure got to him sometimes. This was the his first time in the national spotlight.  The media in Utah is not the same as the media in New York, so that can wear on some people. I think it really affected him.”

Okay Pierce might have been right. Outside of one game in the first round series loss against the Atlanta Hawks, he ran the point so badly, I bet Billy King was looking for Kenny Anderson for help.

Which leads us to Lionel Hollins, who was reportedly in a situation where he and Williams had to be separated last season during an argument by The New York Daily News to sum up Williams’ play like this…

“not a franchise player anymore.”

Well I’m going to tell you fans a fact that you, these guys and especially Mr. Prokhorov ($27.5 million dollars is still a lot of money!) needs to hear…

The contract was necessary… all of it. You wouldn’t be in Brooklyn without Deron Williams signing it. You can thank him every time you walk into the Barclays Center and look at the season ticket holders.

If you remember, the Nets (then in New Jersey) mortgaged their future trading Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, the start of the exodus of first round picks in 2011 and 2013 and cash. At the time, Deron Williams was not a guaranteed lock to resign.

They needed Williams to stay to make the move to Brooklyn easier. Everyone remembers the pre-Jason Kidd and post-Jason Kidd eras in New Jersey. They stunk and the move to Brooklyn made basketball and financial sense. “The curse of Dr. J” was a way of life in the Garden State.

No business works with some marketing power. Remember Jay-Z and his so-called ownership? The way it was played up, he had an office next to Mr. Prokhorov. He had billboards all over Brooklyn. In reality, he owned less than one percent. If Deron Williams had left and went to Dallas in 2012, by a show of hands, who would have spent money on those expensive tickets just to look at Beyoncé not sing for a couple of hours? Okay, besides me?

How about that new arena right smack in the middle of Brooklyn? There was a “Develop, Don’t Destroy Brooklyn” movement that could have easily turned fans off. They had to get on board as well. The New Jersey squad that did not make the playoffs the year before was not the greatest selling point for a city council to use.

You have to have a player to get behind. At the time, it was Deron Williams.

So the Nets had to get some quality players to show Williams that they were committed to winning. So the Nets traded for Joe Johnson and took on his contract which at that time was the worst in the NBA. Now the Nets had the highest paid backcourt in the NBA at the time.

Then the next summer, Brooklyn went out and got Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in a draft night trade that sent so many first round picks out, fans will forget the meaning of the lottery. Then Paul Pierce was not re-signed and went to Washington. Garnett was traded at the deadline to Minnesota.

All of this wheeling and dealing has amounted to one playoff series win and one player left in Joe Johnson. That and millions of dollars shelled out in salary cap penalties.

Does this change your mind about Deron Williams and his contract? It should. Granted all of the people mentioned above have issues with Williams. The fans will boo Deron Williams out of the Barclays Center when he returns. But his signature on an over bloated maxed out contract started it all and brought the Nets back to some relevancy when they needed it most.

Nets-Bulls: Predictions, quandaries & tears

bulls_nets_576_2

Here are our official predictions for the first round of the playoffs, where the Nets take on the Chicago Bulls in a series that’s already been denigrated as “unwatchable” around the Internet by everyone who doesn’t like watching Nate Robinson do the basketball equivalent of running into a wall. But how little they know! There’s so much to look out for and wonder about as things get underway. These are things that matter to us, and things to wonder about as Brooklyn hosts its inaugural playoff run.

Joe Johnson will make or break this

I like Joe Johnson a lot—his name rolls nicely off the tongue, he never betrays too much emotion until it’s absolutely necessary, and his hair is very nice (or so I’ve read). His first year in Brooklyn has been a bit up and down, though—still capable of flashing the offensive omnipotence that’s earned him so much cash over his career, he’s been just as likely to fade within the flow of the game and miss a lot of his shots. But the Nets are like 10 games over .500 when he scores 20 or more points—a small enough sample size considering how many times he hasn’t done that this year, but better than they’ve done with Deron or Brook scoring the same. As Buddy Grizzard wrote last month, Joe doesn’t have the best performance in win-or-go-home playoff games, but he’s also been fairly good in clutch situations this year. Whichever Joe shows up will dictate how the team does.

Which Chicago defense are we getting? 

Tom Thibodeau won’t win the Coach of the Year award but there should be some special dispensation to acknowledge what a bum task he had this season, assembling a workable NBA rotation out of what was, by season’s end, a roster that awarded considerable minutes to working stiffs like Nazr Mohammed and human gumball machines like Nate Robinson. Despite considerable time missed by their starters, the Bulls still managed a season-long defensive efficiency that ranked in the top five, largely because of Thibodeau’s patented man-on-wire defense that apparently works even with non-factors like Robinson and Marco Bellinelli getting out on the court.

But they’ve fallen off over the last few months as Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson have continued to miss games because while the suffocating philosophy is still there, dudes like Mohammed and Marco Belinelli simply can’t move fast enough to have the same impact. Then again, the Bulls still beat the Nets a few weeks ago without Noah and Gibson. The real factor may be Carlos Boozer, who was missing in Brooklyn’s only win during their season series. Like all things, we’ll have to wait and see.

How will the Barclays crowd respond? 

Yes, we’ve had a very pricey and public stadium opening, the cultural cachet of watching Jay-Z watch a few games in person while texting on his phone, all the artisinally cured celery relish you could hovel into your maw, etc. But do Brooklyn fans know how to cheer for a playoff team? There’s a proper rhythm in rooting for a basketball team—preemptively rising to cheer when someone takes a three, throwing verbal grenades when an opponent is at the line—but sometimes an incessant roar is the most effective motivator. Watch the Oklahoma City crowd, for example, how they work every possession into a collective seizure, and imagine how nice it’ll be if the Barclays crowd can rise to the occasion. Those free t-shirts have to inspire some kind of communal rage, right?

(whisper voice) Derrick Rose…?

There’s no logical reason to think Rose is coming back—Thibodeau has sounded ambivalent about his recovery process, and the shame-flinging Tweeting hordes probably have no ability to further rejuvenate a bum leg. But gosh, wouldn’t that be the most narrative-y of narrative-y events were it to happen? The Nets, struggling to close out a resilient Chicago team dinged and flecked with injuries, when all of a sudden their absent MVP roars through the United Center tunnel to provide a spiritually restorative boost. Sure, Rose hasn’t played a meaningful game of basketball in a year and coming back to face a point guard as strong and fast as Deron Williams isn’t the easiest test. But what if? Sadly, I think that’s all Chicago fans can muster as an argument until further notice.

(Though if you want to risk a small amount of money to make a large amount of money, the Bulls are at 60-to-1 odds to win the championship. What if Rose comes back? I’ll stop.)

Gerald Wallace will be back, or he won’t

We like Gerald Wallace, too, because he tries hard and means well, and we’re sentimental enough to care about that. But if he’s trying to break out of a season-long slump and show he’s regained some confidence, it’s now or never—not as though there’s some declarative line between regular season performance and the playoffs, but there’s at least anecdotal evidence to show that some players “bring it” on the bigger stage, right? We should hope for that—a perpetual state of “bringing it” that will justify Gerald’s contract going forward, and show that he can be more than a defensive wrecking ball.

I will cry no matter who wins, loses

Oh, the problem of being both a Bulls and a Nets fan. Can’t they just fuse into a super-team to take on Miami? PG: Deron Williams, SG: Joe Johnson, SF: Luol Deng, PF: Joakim Noah, C: Brook Lopez, Bench: Carlos Boozer, Taj Gibson, Reggie Evans, C.J. Watson, Jimmy Butler, Andray Blatche, Gerald Wallace. Doesn’t that work?

Trending in Brooklyn: 2015 is Terrible

If you thought being a Brooklyn Nets fan was hard in 2014, well, the new year hasn’t exactly been any easier. Let’s take a look at why:

Everything About 2015 Has Been Awful

Here are a few unfortunate trends from 2015 so far. I would love to go into more detail on each one other than just bullet points, but if I were to do so this piece might not be published until 2017 or so.

  • The Nets are 3-11 in 2015, compared to 15-16 in the 2014 portion of the season
  • The Nets have not won a single game in Brooklyn in 2015
  • Brooklyn is shooting an astonishingly bad 27 percent from three in 2015, down from an only kind of bad 34 percent in 2014
  • Both the Nets’ offensive and defensive ratings have been notably worse in the month of January, and they combine for a net rating of -10.5
  • In 14 games in 2015, Brooklyn has eclipsed the 100-point barrier only four times
  • Brooklyn has lost its last three games by 85 combined points
  • In 2015 the Nets offensive rating has plummeted to 94.3 during the fourth quarter
  • Brooklyn’s defensive rating has also been worse in the fourth, giving up 106.5 points per possession in January
  • All of these numbers could have potentially been even worse if the game against Portland wasn’t postponed

The Nets have only one more game left in January, and it’s against the 31-15 Toronto Raptors. Let’s just try to get through that and hope that these awful numbers are a January thing and not a 2015 thing.

Mason Plumlee. Still Good at Basketball.

Despite the team’s struggles Mason Plumlee has continued to improve his numbers over the last several games, and is now shooting 67 percent with averages of 14 points and seven rebounds in almost 27 minutes per game in his last 10 contests. I wrote on Plumlee’s improved play in my last Trending in Brooklyn column, but I’m doubling down this week for two reasons:

  1. Plumlee is still playing well even when nearly every Net has shot the ball worse than their seasonal averages lately
  2. I must find at least one positive thing to write about in order to retain my sanity, and well, there’s just not a lot of positive Nets things to pick from.

But seriously, check out the field goal percentages of the team over the last 10 games:

Screenshot 2015-01-29 22.58.20

Click to enlarge. Green text signifies a player’s last 10 games stats being better than their seasonal numbers. Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference

Of the 13 players that have logged minutes, Plumlee is one of only four players to be shooting above his average for the season, and he’s blowing that number out of the water. He’s shooting 59 percent on the season, and if he can keep up his pace from the last month he could finish the season with a field goal percentage in the 60s for the second season in a row.

January Has Not Been Kind to Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson is shooting only 37.7 percent for the month of January, which marks his worst shooting month since January of 2009* when he was a member of the Atlanta Hawks. His three-point percentage is all the way down to 31 percent as well, and he’s been unable to make up for the poor efficiency by getting to the free throw line. Johnson has shot only 24 free throws in January, compared to 38 and 40 in November and December, respectively (with the same number of games played in each month. As a result his scoring is down to only 14 points per game in the month, and if the Nets are to break out of their recent slumps they’re going to need Johnson to bounce back.

*Not including October months with only one game played.

Recap: Brooklyn Nets 105, Toronto Raptors 89

It was the best of games, it was the worst of games. It was the play of wisdom, it was the play of foolishness. And I saw my reflection in the snow-covered hill, ’til the landslide brought me down. Whoops, I always mix up my Dickens and my Fleetwood Mac.

This Brooklyn Nets 105-89 loss to the Toronto Raptors was a mixed bag of a game. Sometimes you reach in the bag and you pull out a candy bar, such as a wonderful, fluid fast break where Deron Williams drives to the lane and kicks to Joe Johnson on the wing, who then fizzes a ball to Mason Plumlee under the basket. Another time you might stick your hand in the bag and find the corpse of a mouse, like Joe Johnson’s late-game isolations, or Deron’s wild turnovers in the fourth quarter when he decided he was done attacking the lane.

It’s possible the presence of rapper Drake in the building for Drake night piled mounds of pressure onto the shoulders of the Nets and they couldn’t help but be smothered by it. I mean, how menacing is this:

Drake

Despite having a cartoon character rooting against you as well as the Raptor mascot (oooh, Drake burn), the Nets started very well, something they’ve done a lot of this season. Brooklyn shot 59.1% in the first quarter and had moments of movement, passing, and hustle for the first three quarters. The Raptors weren’t laying down though, they were just starting to peek in the window…

Window

Don’t worry too much though Brooklyn, you’re safe in this room with your iso-sets, mid-range jumpers, and sluggish defensive rotations. Dinosaurs can’t open doors…

OpeningDoor

OH NO!

The Raps came roaring in that room, got to the rim, and took what they wanted. There was no T-Rex deux ex machina lurking offi-screen to save the Brooklyn Nets, who only managed 16 points in the fourth quarter.

The only consistently bright light in this strobe light of a game was the quickly-improving Mason Plumlee. Without Brook Lopez, Plumlee has seemed livelier, and it’s showing in his numbers. Mason scored a career-high 23 points versus the Raptors on 9-13 shooting and added 8 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 blocks. Of course not everything can be good, so he was only 5-11 from the free throw line (after starting 2 for 2). Plumlee was staying ahead of the Raptors, but just barely.

MasonMotorcycle

Unfortunately every other Brooklyn Nets player faded as the game went on. The only real explanation is that their childhood fears of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park came rushing back once they saw the cartoon raptor on the front of Toronto’s throwback jerseys.

Players like Mirza Teletovic and Joe Johnson started strong, but all but disappeared in the fourth quarter. They finished with 14 and 17 points respectively, but had almost no impact in the section where Toronto took the game. Other players, like Bojan Bogdanovic, never showed up. Bojan finished 1-5 for 3 points in 17 minutes.

BojanScared

Bojan does look pretty scared there.

Ultimately I found Deron Williams to be the most frustrating of the Brooklyn Nets. Early in the game Deron was getting to any spot on the floor and making good things happen. Sometimes it was a snappy pass, sometimes a floater, but almost always good. By the fourth quarter, Williams wasn’t even attempting a drive, settling for skip passes from the perimeter. It was the best of times with 11 points, 3 rebounds, and 7 assists and the worst of times with 5-15 shooting and 5 turnovers.

DeronSurrounded

What makes this particular game so frustrating is that there were plays, runs, and even quarters where the Nets looked like a talented, coherent basketball team. Then they saw their reflection in the glistening eyes of those Raptors and fell apart, just like they’ve been doing all season.

I’m so mad and sad and disappointed that I couldn’t even settle on an extended metaphor for this article. Instead I’m all over the place and fading here at the end, which just seems fitting.