The Whining King

The National Basketball Association, like any other professional sports league, is star driven. No star in the NBA is bigger than LeBron James and the Brooklyn Nets learned last night that an army of men is no match for a superhero. There are some deniers out there who stubbornly insist that Kevin Durant is better, but after his Game 5 performance, it’s crystal clear that James is simply unstoppable if he chooses to impose his will on the offensive end of the court.

I am not part of the paranoid population of NBA fans who believe the league conspires to help the Miami Heat win. They are a great team and things tend to break their way.  Do the greatest players tend to get calls in their favor? Of course they do, but hasn’t that always been the case throughout the history of sports? Isn’t that the biggest perk of having star power?

Would referees tolerate behavior like this if it was coming from JR Smith?

Would referees tolerate behavior like this if it was coming from JR Smith?

What irks me as a fan is seeing the double standard that exists with how officials treat LeBron. Whether it’s the verbal complaining, throwing his arms in disgust, or taunting his opponents with stare downs and slow walk-bys, James rarely faces any repercussions for his actions. Would officials react differently to the excessive histrionics if they were coming from Nate Robinson or Rasheed Wallace?

Considering the league claimed last year that were cracking down on flopping, I don’t recall James ever getting warned by the higher powers. Surely he takes his fair share of contact from opponents, but he also delivers it as well. A thrown elbow or lowered shoulders seldom results in an offensive foul, and if a charge is called, take notice on how he shows up the referee who blew the whistle. Can you imagine what his high school teachers experienced if they marked him wrong?

 

This seems like the one time officials acted accordingly:

 

In all my years following the sport, I do not recall Michael Jordan whining to the extent that King James does. I understand that superstar status creates a giant ego and from that comes the “your shit doesn’t stink” mentality, but at what point does the sense of entitlement and blatant disrespect for officials get you into some sort of trouble? Do officials even threaten LeBron to calm down or else?

LeBron was placed on a pedestal at an early age.

LeBron was placed on a pedestal at an early age.

Is this the product of being told that you’re the greatest since you are in high school? He is old enough now to realize that his bratty behavior reeks of immaturity. Is this the message to send his biggest fans – young kids and teenagers? When role models act this way what type of effect does this have on kids’ behavior towards people of authority – parents, teachers, referees, etc.? For someone who seems to know how to represent himself favorably off the court, it’s quite ironic how he conducts himself on it.

When it’s all said and done, I believe that LeBron James will go down as the greatest basketball player of all time. As for now, it’s time to for him to grow up…..

…and for officials to show some backbone.

 

Zero Tolerance Policy

I promised I wouldn’t do it, but I just can’t help myself. After last night’s disappearing act, how can I ignore the latest in the Deron Williams saga?

What made last night so frustrating was that the Nets had a legitimate chance to steal the game and even the series. Had Williams scored a basket or two, the landscape and outcome of the game probably would’ve been completely different.   Obviously, players have off nights shooting, but to not score a single point is unfathomable. I thought we had seen it all with our once prized point guard, but clearly I was wrong.

Fans are sick of watching as well.

Fans are sick of watching as well.

I am not even labeling Deron a great player anymore, because he isn’t. To say that he is slightly above average is a more accurate classification, because every good performance is matched by a lackluster one. What infuriates me is that even average or below average players will compete and battle. If your jumper isn’t falling, then find a way to get to the free throw line. Drive on your opponent and draw some contact. The bottom line – be aggressive!

What’s ironic is that the man currently coaching the Nets was a player who could get away with not scoring because he knew how to make his teammates better. Think about it! Could the New Jersey Nets compete and win with Jason Kidd scoring only 5 points on 2-6 shooting? They did because he still impacted the game in other areas. Can these Brooklyn Nets win if Deron is 4-13 from the field for 10 points? From what we’ve seen over the past two seasons, you can’t say “yes” with any conviction. Now how are we supposed to defeat the two-time defending champions when our max-contract player puts up a donut in the scoring column?

I am fully aware that I tend to speak in hyperbole at times, but I have to ask the following question: Can Deron Williams return to this team if he is a complete no-show and the Nets are swept out of this round? I realize that his contract is practically impossible to move, but figuratively speaking, how can he return to Brooklyn? His reputation seems to be on the brink of irreversible damage with the collective Net fan base. Even his most loyal supporters have begun to sour on him. I can only imagine what Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Kidd truly think of him.

If all of this is attributed to his ankle, then the problem needs to finally be addressed once and for all this offseason with the surgery that seems to be put off constantly. I would be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt if he showed better body language and a competitive spirit. Even if his level of play has dropped off, he could still inspire and lead his teammates. Although these are intangible qualities, they are quite visible to anyone watching.

To Met fans, his strikeouts were only entertaining in the movie, Rookie of the Year.

To Met fans, his strikeouts were only entertaining in the movie, Rookie of the Year.

Although it is a different sport, there’s a player who comes to mind when I think of Deron Williams now – Bobby Bonilla. If you recall, there was much excitement when the New York Mets were able to sign him away from Pittsburgh, where he was a major part of the Pirates’ success. Once he arrived in New York, his production fell off dramatically making him unworthy of the lucrative contract that he signed. Aside from being a colossal disappointment on the field, Bonilla’s brief tenure was marred with antics that made him unlikeable to virtually every Met fan. Finally, the organization had enough and after three years, they shipped their overpaid, underwhelming, and unpleasant “star” to the Baltimore Orioles.

Although Deron is not overtly obnoxious with fans and media the way Bonilla was, there is no denying that his aloofness rubs people the wrong way. He just seems to give off the “asshole vibe” and considering his track record with coaches, it makes you wonder if his teammates think highly of him.

If these are the final days of the Nets’ 2013-14 season, I can only imagine what Mikhail Prokhorov is thinking. Considering the owner’s willingness to spend and eagerness to win a championship, this two year experiment by Billy King has produced unsatisfying results. Prokhorov demands results, and when they aren’t delivered sweeping changes are made.

With the negativity surrounding his play, it wouldn’t surprise me if Prokhorov insists that King (or whoever the next general manager is) do whatever it takes to eventually move Williams’s contract. It certainly won’t be an easy task, but if Gerald Wallace was dealt, so can Deron. The Nets would obviously have to take back a bad contract and/or include a future pick, but nothing is impossible. Perhaps there is a general manager out there who believes a change of scenery may right the ship.

Remember when this was supposed to be the beginning of D-Will's resurgence?

Remember when this was supposed to be the beginning of D-Will’s resurgence?

After three and a half seasons, disappointment is an understatement. When we acquired him, I was ecstatic that the Nets were getting an elite playmaker that would pump excitement and positive energy back into the franchise. Who could have predicted that this would end up as more of a soap opera than the entire “Melo-Drama”?

What’s most alarming is that the perfect mentors (Kidd, Pierce, and Garnett) seemed to have failed in their efforts to transform Deron into the player he needs to be. If these three future Hall of Famers with championship pedigrees couldn’t do it, then who can?

Assuming this ends as bad as it feels right now, then maybe it’s time for a breakup.  This relationship is no longer healthy for anyone involved.

It’s Time to Remember the Forgotten Man

December 20, 2013

Does that date bring back any memories? Well, it should. It was the night the Brooklyn Nets lost an embarrassing game to the lowly Philadelphia 76ers, 121-120 in overtime. The loss dropped the Nets to a 9-17 record and to add to the misery, All-Star center Brook Lopez suffered a broken foot which would end his season. The Nets season appeared to be officially over with their best offensive player on the shelf for the remaining 56 games.

brook lopez foot

Arguably, the lowest point in the early going of the season.

It’s always darkest before the light, and when the morale among the organization and fan base was at a low, Jason Kidd found a way for the Nets to overcome this devastating setback. With the insertion of Shaun Livingston into the starting lineup and shifting Paul Pierce to power forward, the Nets changed the composition of their team. In doing so, they were able to salvage a once hopeless situation and achieve a 35-21 record without Lopez.

Many in the sports world claimed that the Nets decision to play “small ball” was the solution to their early season struggles. The term “small ball” is misleading because in actuality the Nets don’t play a quicker brand of basketball. Make no mistake; this isn’t 2002 all over again where Kidd is leading a fast break alongside Kerry Kittles, Kenyon Martin, and Richard Jefferson.

Even without Lopez, the Nets still play at a slower pace offensively. Deron Williams rarely pushes the ball and there is still a heavy usage of half court sets in which Joe Johnson or Pierce operate on the low block or elbow. It seems like the only time when the Nets get out and run is when Livingston or Andrei Kirilenko create a turnover leading to a fast break opportunity.

With the team’s success since the New Year, many pundits and fans have insinuated that perhaps Lopez was part of the problem and the team would be better off without him. These are the people who state that if he can recover from his surgically repaired broken foot, Billy King should look to deal him in an effort to accumulate future assets. At the end of the day, if trading Lopez or any player for a lucrative package of future draft picks and young players presents itself, then you have to consider what’s best for the future of the team. However, to dump a former All-Star player with tremendous offensive ability for fifty cents on the dollar is foolish.

How many centers can score as effectively from near or far?

How many centers can score as effectively from near or far?

Now I know what you’re all thinking – he slows down our pace, he’s a black hole, and our offense lacks creativity with him playing. As I mentioned earlier, this group doesn’t play with a torrid pace, and who says that all five players need to run the floor? Was Todd MacCulloch or Jason Collins a part of those Kidd-led fast breaks?

Perhaps the reason why our offense lacked cohesiveness earlier this season was because an inexperienced coach wasn’t sure what the team’s identity was and throwing it down low to an effective, efficient scoring seven-footer was the easy thing to do. Now that Kidd has gained a season’s worth of experience, he should know how to properly integrate Lopez into this lineup.

If you’ve been watching these playoffs, it is apparent that we’ve sorely lacked a presence in the post for offense and defense. I am not saying Lopez is an elite rim protector, but there’s no denying that he has improved drastically over the past few years and has become a respectable shot blocker. Does his rebounding still need to improve? Yes, but we already knew that!

Many in the sports media have declared that the NBA has changed and that you don’t build around a center anymore. Although this is true, these playoffs are once again proving that the pace does slow down and scoring in the half-court is still essential. The Nets showed in Game 1 against Miami and in the Toronto series that they miss Lopez’s offensive prowess. When the outside shooting isn’t falling, efficient inside scoring is the perfect remedy. Unfortunately Andray Blatche isn’t consistent, Mason Plumlee is too limited, and Kevin Garnett seems more comfortable away from the rim.

Moving ahead, Lopez shouldn’t be the focal point on offense but his skill set still complements players like Johnson well. Think about how he can dominate in the paint but also stretch the floor with his outside shooting. The key for him is to not hold onto to the ball too long and become better/quicker at passing out of the post.  I trust that with his offensive creativity, Kidd will be able to devise a system that will maximize everyone’s strengths, including Lopez’s.

Wouldn't this be a welcome addition to the Nets' defense in this postseason?

Wouldn’t this be a welcome addition to the Nets’ defense in this postseason?

At the end of the day, an accomplished 26 year old center who can score 20 points consistently is still a valuable asset. Actually, it is a luxury. He has always been a team guy, and even if the coaching staff designs fewer touches for him offensively, I don’t expect his ego to get in the way. It’s a shame that his injury occurred because I think playing alongside Garnett for an entire season would have improved many elements of his game.

Lopez has become a forgotten man when the Nets turned around their season, but now that he is visible on the bench during these playoffs, we are reminded of what he can bring to this team. He is our homegrown player who suffered through the losing and finally got to taste success last year. He deserves to be a part of a winner.

Just remember – you can’t spell Brooklyn without Brook.

Enough About the Money!

Fresh off of their thrilling first round victory over the Toronto Raptors, it is obvious who the Brooklyn Nets’ most valuable player was in that series – Joe Johnson. With the inconsistencies of Paul Pierce and Deron Williams throughout those seven games, Johnson was the one constant who Brooklyn could rely on. It’s pretty remarkable that he averaged nearly 41 minutes on the court and scored at such an efficient rate.

MPG PPG FG% FT% 3FG% RPG APG
40.9 21.6 51.8 82.4 39.1 3.6 2.7

Cynics are always quick to point out that he is grossly overpaid and claim that his contract is amongst the worst in the league – if not THE worst. Yes, his statistical production doesn’t match up with his annual income, but to say that the Nets aren’t getting anything for their money is a joke. It’s not like what the Knicks have with Amare Stoudemire.

Smaller wings don't stand a chance against the Nets' smooth operator.

Smaller wings don’t stand a chance against the Nets’ smooth operator.

When he arrived in Brooklyn, his role was always supposed to be a complementary piece next to Brook Lopez and Williams. With the additions of Pierce and Kevin Garnett, Johnson’s offensive role would continue to diminish. However, even with all of the star power on this team, Johnson is still the guy who the Nets want to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line.

What makes Johnson unique and underappreciated is that his game  isn’t “sexy”. He doesn’t wow you with freakish athleticism and you’ll never see him playing above the rim. Nope, that’s not Joe. To the casual or younger fan his game may be too “boring” which is unfortunate because it truly is a thing of beauty to watch when he is on.

Johnson’s game is more suited for fans with an acquired taste – post up fade-aways, running floaters in the lane, and the methodical dismantling of opponents in isolation sets. It may not be dynamic, but you can’t deny that it is smooth. If Joe was a boxer, he would be the type who would win a 12-round decision in which he surgically picked apart his foe rather than score a quick knockout.

With all of the criticism over his contract, it’s possible that his skill set is somewhat underrated to the collective NBA fan base. Teams continue to agonize how to defend him, evident with what we just saw in that Toronto series. Assign a smaller player to cover him, and watch Joe use his size and strength to get to the paint. Use a bigger forward, and Joe will use his slick dribbling to get around and create an open look. At this point, it’s pick your poison for the Nets’ opponents.

No time left against the game's best shot blocker - no problem for Joe Cool

No time left against the game’s best shot blocker – no problem for Joe Cool

Of course, his most impressive attribute is his ability to stay cool in the most pressurized situations of the game. For two years now, Johnson has proven that when the game speeds up for everyone else, it slows down for him. At this point, the sample is big enough to dismiss the notion that his knack for being clutch is fluky.

Fans around the league and members of the media will continue to mock his lucrative contract, but the truth is when the game is on the line, the ability to execute is priceless. These are skills that you cannot teach or develop in a player. You either have them or you don’t.

It’s a shame that his stealth demeanor and/or annual salary may be preventing some people from truly appreciating his craft. Aside from LeBron James and Kevin Durant, no player is worth over twenty million per season. Is it Johnson’s fault that the Atlanta Hawks offered that money? What would you had done if it was offered to you?

You aren’t named to seven All-Star Games without having the talent to validate the honor. There aren’t many players around the league who play the game the way he does, and I believe his move to small forward this season will allow him to continue to play at a high level for years to come. Even when he loses some of his athleticism (not like he’s fast to begin with), Joe will be that old guy at the playground schooling the younger kids.

Those who are fixated on the balance sheet are missing what type of asset he is on the basketball court. If you feel so compelled to bring up the dollars, then it’s only fair to admit that Joe is “money” when it really counts.

 

 

 

How Will the Day be Remembered?

February 24, 2011.

This date was the moment that the New Jersey Nets reentered the basketball conversation in the New York Metropolitan area. After swinging for the fences to acquire Carmelo Anthony and missing, Billy King came through for the organization when he traded for Utah Jazz point guard, Deron Williams.

This year especially, there hasn't been much to smile about.

This year especially, there hasn’t been much to smile about.

Many believed at the time that acquiring Williams was actually the better move for the team. With the Jazz, he was an All-Star caliber player who consistently produced elite statistics while leading them to successful regular seasons and playoff runs. There was great debate as to whether he or Chris Paul was the best point guard in the NBA.

Trading for Williams seemed to be the better transaction, because it was following the same recipe for success that was used a decade prior when the team swapped Stephon Marbury for Jason Kidd. After all, a “superstar” playmaker has the ability to elevate the performances of the players surrounding him. This attribute was what made Kidd so special in leading the Nets into championship contention, and it was believed that Williams would replicate this quality.

Kidd was unique in that it was never about him on the court.

Kidd was unique in that it was never about him on the court.

With the Brooklyn Nets’ 2014 playoff existence teetering on the brink of extinction, this once prized acquisition is in danger of being labeled as a complete bust. Williams’s inconsistent, underwhelming performances coupled with his deteriorating health and aloof demeanor has held back the efficacy of this Nets team. When you’re allocating maximum money for mediocre production, the end results can be crippling to a team’s success.

There have been many theories as to why Williams has fallen off since his arrival to the Nets. I am in the belief that his health has played an issue, but his mental makeup is just as much at fault. Even when he is at his best, he doesn’t appear to inspire his teammates or fans. There seems to be that lack of connection. To me, Deron Williams is the “Anti-Kidd”.

As I have written before, Jason Kidd was such a unique superstar in that he could dominate the outcome of a game without a gaudy stat line. If you’ve been a Net fan long enough, then clearly you recall those nights when a 7-point, 6-rebound, and 9-assist performance could heavily influence a game in the Nets’ favor.

Nets' players had no choice but to follow Kidd's lead.

Nets’ players had no choice but to follow Kidd’s lead.

Why were the Nets so successful under Kidd? They played a style of basketball that got everyone involved. Over time it wasn’t shocking to see players like Todd MacCulloch, Aaron Williams, or Mikki Moore make significant contributions. Even with inferior talent at times, Kidd was able to put everyone in a position to succeed. His style of play at both ends of the court was inspiring and infectious. He was the ultimate leader who led by example. Kidd’s hustle, heart, and determination captivated and electrified the fans as well. He may not have been outspoken verbally, but Kidd let his actions do the talking on the court.

In the few years that he has been a member of the Nets (both in New Jersey and Brooklyn) has Williams provided the same impact as Kidd? How about a similar impact? I’m aware that their styles of play are different; however, the primary task for any point guard is to facilitate the teams’ offense and set the tone. They are the ones who dictate the tempo and control the flow of the game.

You could make the claim that Williams is more physically gifted than Kidd ever was, but what Kidd lacked in athleticism he made up with intangibles and court awareness. He wasn’t afraid to fight for rebounds and chase down loose balls. If the opportunity presented itself, he would attack the heart of the defense. He not only played smart but fearless, and with great natural instincts. In a sense, the point guard in this Nets-Raptors series whose personality and approach to the game resembles Kidd’s more is Kyle Lowry’s.

Kidd was the ultimate gamer. He was willing to put it all on the line and do whatever was necessary to win. Why else do you think “Soda-Gate” occurred this year? If a game presented him with lemons, he found a way to make lemonade. He just knew how to win regardless of the circumstances.

Unfortunately, these are not qualities that Deron Williams seems to possess, at least not from what we’ve witnessed the past few years. If things aren’t going his way, his negative emotions are quick to reveal themselves. Think how many times you’ve seen Deron exude passion or heart (verbally and nonverbally) on or off the court. Would it be safe to assume that you would struggle to compile such a list?

A swagger and passion Net fans aren't used to seeing.

A swagger and passion Net fans aren’t used to seeing.

At this point in time, it is very unlikely that we will ever see the consistent, stellar play from Williams that he showed in Utah. The brilliance may show up in spurts every now and then, but unless his health and confidence are fully restored, the Nets most likely have an asset that will continue to depreciate at an alarming rate.

If Williams’s ankles are going to limit his athleticism for the remainder of his career, then it is up to him to reinvent himself. When Kidd had microfracture surgery to repair his knee, he found a way to change his game. It was during that time when the run-and-gun style subsided somewhat and he became a more consistent jump shooter in a half court offense.

Deron’s career is at a fork in the road. With his expensive contract, the Nets are most likely stuck with him until its expiration, like it or not. The Nets have done their part to surround him with the type of talent that trumps what Kidd ever had during his tenure with the team. It’s time now for him to adjust his game and attitude to make this work and lead them forward.

Tonight will be a big night in Brooklyn. It’s do or die for these Nets, most notably Williams. Many fans have soured on him during these past few years and failing to show up tonight and fight to keep the Nets’ season alive may inflict irreversible damage on Deron’s reputation.

Hopefully for everyone’s sake, February 24 won’t be remembered for the wrong reasons when it is all said and done.

 

 

Hoping for the Deron of Old

Here we go again…or at least that’s how it feels.

With the series deadlocked at two games apiece, tonight’s pivotal Game 5 between the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors at the Air Canada Centre could determine who will eventually advance to the next round. As noted prior to the series, the most significant matchup I felt was between the two point guards – Deron Williams and Kyle Lowry. In the games in which the Nets have won so far, Williams has asserted himself and dictated the flow of the game. Unfortunately, Nored  (the bizarro Deron) has also made an appearance in this series. [Which Passport is Williams Bringing?]

Although the statistics are virtually identical throughout the first four games, there just seems to be a difference between the type of impact Williams and Lowry bring to the court. By simply looking at the tale of the tape, you would assume that Williams would win this matchup; however, what Lowry lacks in physical attributes, he is able to make up with non-quantifiable intangibles. Lowry plays bigger than his 6-foot, 205 pound frame, as he attacks the basket and fights for rebounds. What’s more impressive is that he has been hobbled by injuries and is still producing.

Player PPG APG FG% RPG
Williams 17.8 5.5 39.3 2.0
Lowry 18.3 5.0 40.0 5.5

As a Net fan, I am actually jealous of what the Raptor fan base has in their point guard. Lowry’s gritty, blue-collar style emanates heart and passion to the rest of his teammates. He knows exactly how to play to and electrify the crowd.  Lowry seems to embrace the underdog role and doesn’t back down from anyone guarding him or the spotlight.  His opponent on the other side of the court appears to consistently flip-flop between being aggressive and uncertain.

deron illinois

His leadership at the collegiate level almost made him a champion.

Is Deron simply not a leader? This has appeared to be the case since the move to Brooklyn, but if you consider his track record dating back to college, his floor generalship (or lack thereof) in a Nets’ uniform contradicts what he once demonstrated.   This is what has made his tenure with the Nets so maddening.

During his junior season at the University of Illinois, Williams helped lead The Fighting Illini to the 2005 National Championship Game where they eventually lost to the University of North Carolina. His team, which also featured Dee Brown and Luther Head, began the season 29-0 and ended up with a record of 37 wins with only two defeats. Brown earned first team All-American honors, whereas Williams and Head both were named to the second team.

Some may forget that in the Elite Eight matchup with the University of Arizona, the Illini found themselves trailing by 15 points in the final four minutes. It was Williams who led the comeback to force overtime and eventually win. Against a stronger North Carolina opponent in the title game, it was Williams and Head who rallied Illinois back from a big halftime deficit before coming up short in the end.

Following the impressive tournament run, Williams entered the NBA Draft and was selected third overall by the Utah Jazz. By his second season in Utah, the Jazz had clearly found their replacement for John Stockton.

Under their new point guard’s leadership, the Jazz compiled a 206-122 regular season record from 2006-2010. In addition, they experienced great success during that four-year period in the postseason, mostly due in part to Williams’s performance. The peak for the Jazz during those postseasons was advancing to the Western Conference Finals in 2007 before losing to San Antonio.

Postseason Games Played PPG APG FG%
2007 17 19.2 8.6 45.2
2008 12 21.6 10.0 49.2
2009 10 24.3 10.2 45.0
2010 5 20.2 10.8 41.4

Interestingly, three of the four teams that defeated them went on to win the title – Spurs (2007), Lakers (2009 & 2010). The Laker team which eliminated Utah in the 2008 semifinals ultimately lost to the Celtics in the NBA Finals.

So what was the point of bringing up all of this history?

Clearly Deron Williams has proven that he can be successful and lead his teams beyond the first round. Those Utah teams featured a talented roster, but keep in mind that he was early in his career and never had the supporting cast that surrounds him now in Brooklyn.

In last year’s postseason he played admirably against the Chicago Bulls evident by the following statistics during that seven game series:

PPG APG FG%
20.6 8.4 42.5

The obvious blemish was that his team failed to advance past an opponent who was decimated by injuries and reliant on inferior talent. Having the home court advantage in that decisive seventh game went for naught and the season ended in disappointment. Being the leader of the team, the onus fell mostly on Deron Williams as he was the quarterback of that Nets team and that position assumes the responsibility for both the good and the bad.

Deron once showed that he can carry an NBA team deep into the playoffs.

Deron has showed already that he can carry an NBA team deep into the playoffs.

With the exception of the first half of Game 1, most of this series against Toronto has featured the Deron who Brooklyn fans feared would show up. Whether it was the missing those two late free throws in Game 3 or failing to execute a fluid fourth quarter offense in Game 4, Williams is once again showing that he may not be fit to lead this team deep into this postseason.

When you shell out a maximum contract for a player in professional sports, there is a certain level of consistent production expected. These players are supposed to be your building blocks – your foundation – your constants. Surely everyone has an off night, but it just seems that these mishaps always seem to find Deron Williams.

For 98 million dollars, the Nets organization believed that they were buying a reliable franchise player to lead them towards a championship. As of this moment in time, Williams may just be the most expensive x-factor in all of sports. [The Little Engine That Should].

Trust me when I say that I do not take pride in writing about this topic one bit.

Even with a supremely talented roster from top to bottom, equipped with championship experience, the fate of the Brooklyn Nets still lies in the hands of the same player who once lead his collegiate team to the national title game and his former NBA team deep into the post season.

There isn’t a lot of time for Deron to figure this thing out. His team needs him to bring his A-game from here on out consistently, not intermittently. He’ll say the right things off the court about “needing to play better”, but it’s time for Deron to let his game do the talking.

After all, actions always speak louder than words.

 

 

 

 

What’s Really at Stake for the Brooklyn Nets

I recently appeared on the Robin Lundberg show on ESPN Radio New York (98.7 FM) as his “Fanalyst” and debated with him the relevancy of the Brooklyn Nets franchise.

The Robin Lundberg Show    (about 43 minutes in)

My main argument to him was that the New York media as a whole has not given the Nets the respect that they deserve. All attention has been paid to the arrival of Phil Jackson, his drama with owner James Dolan, and the speculation as to whether Carmelo Anthony will remain with the New York Knicks’ organization. Coverage of the Nets has seemed like a mere blurb in comparison. I get that this is predominately a “Knick-town” and these are juicy items to discuss, but should the bulk of radio shows’ content be dedicated to a dysfunctional franchise that is currently not playing meaningful basketball?

On the other hand, we have an organization that currently features two future Hall of Fame players in Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce as well as All-Star talents in Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. When asked, Lundberg agreed that if the Knicks were in the current situation as the Nets (with the same players) there would be significant buzz dominating the airwaves throughout the city.

Imagine the publicity the Knicks would get with this type of star power.

Imagine the publicity the Knicks would get with this type of star power.

Lundberg’s final opinion on the situation was that the relevancy and interest in the Brooklyn Nets is still growing. This is still just the first round, and what will help them most will be a second round matchup with the Miami Heat. If they were to make noise or even pull off the upset in that series, the growing process, both nationally and (more important) locally, would be accelerated.

Well, with the chance to take a commanding 3-1 series lead against the Toronto Raptors, the Nets let their fan base down. Despite falling behind by as many as 17 points in the first half, the Nets clawed their way out of the massive hole to find themselves with the lead during the early moments of the third quarter. With the Raptors clearly rattled and unable to execute their offense, the Nets were in prime position to stretch their lead and deliver the knockout blow.

During the same time that Toronto missed their first seven field goal attempts and 14 of 15, Brooklyn saw their fundamental skills abandon them. The Nets shot an unacceptable six of twelve from the free throw line, which made me wonder if Mr. Whammy was secretly working for the enemy. They also committed six turnovers during the quarter.

That's not Raptors' red under that Brooklyn jersey, is it?

That’s not Raptors’ red under that Brooklyn jersey, is it?

Although the game was tied entering the fourth quarter, things just didn’t feel right. As we know, basketball is a game of runs and a team can quickly recapture their shooting touch. As the Raptors were unraveling during the third frame, the largest deficit they faced was five points. Failure to build upon that two-possession lead came back to haunt them as it allowed Toronto to hang around until they regained their composure. It was a golden opportunity for the Nets and they squandered it.

Now it is a best of three series with Toronto having the home court edge. The Nets have already proven in this series that they can go into the Air Canada Centre and come out victorious, but it won’t be an easy feat from here on out. Credit the Toronto fans for creating one of the most hostile environments for visiting teams. With thousands of people intensely cheering inside and outside of the arena makes it feel as if an entire nation is behind them, like what was depicted in Rocky IV.

With the Raptors evening up the series, I would expect the fans to be even more rabid than usual now that their team will host two of the next three games, if necessary, with the opportunity of advancing to the next round. The Nets have created this situation for themselves and will now have to show whether they have the intestinal fortitude to survive and advance.

Some fans are holding onto the hope that experience will prevail over youth and athleticism. It took a game but the Raptors have seemed to overcome their playoff jitters. Although there is championship experience on this Nets’ roster, there is also talent whose post-season experiences have resulted in underachievement and disappointment.

I know Pierce and Garnett will be ready for the challenge and expect Johnson to be cool under the pressure, but as usual the fate of the Nets hinges upon the performance of Williams. A first round exit for these Brooklyn Nets would be devastating to a fan base that was expecting a deep playoff run following all of the positivity once the calendar flipped to 2014.

The time is now for the Nets to seize the moment. Lundberg was right when he said that Nets have the arena and the uniforms, now they need the basketball team. If they ever want to take over this city, it starts in these playoffs. After letting down the borough last year on their home court against the Chicago Bulls, the Nets have a chance to make good on their slogan “For Brooklyn”.

Will this signature moment have gone for naught if the Nets don't advance to the 2nd round?

Will this signature moment have gone for naught if the Nets don’t advance to the 2nd round?

A lot will be at stake for the Nets over these next few days. If they desire to one day be equals with their Manhattan rivals, then they can’t come up short once again.

In life, you only one chance to make a first impression and consecutive postseason failures may just be too damaging to their Brooklyn brand.

They may never get this opportunity again.