An Adult is Now in Charge

This time around, the red carpet wasn’t rolled out. The press conference didn’t need to take place on the main stage within the Barclays Center. The press room would suffice. After all, this event was about substance, not style.

In hiring Lionel Hollins, the Brooklyn Nets went in a different direction from where they were a year ago. The organization took a risk with Jason Kidd and was ultimately burned by the player the fan base had grown to love. It appears now we have someone who wants to be here and this isn’t just a stepping stone for the next quick promotion.

In listening to Hollins speak during his introductory press conference as well as the sports-talk radio circuit, one thing is certain – he exudes professionalism. He showed his appreciation to front office and clearly respects the roles of his bosses. He admitted to being humbled by being out of the NBA last year and you can tell that he is genuinely grateful for the opportunity to coach this Nets team.

It took a few years, but the Nets finally appear to have their leader.

It took a few years, but the Nets finally appear to have their leader.

You get the impression that the Nets won’t have worry about being embarrassed by the actions of their new leader. I am not referring to the misdemeanor charges unrelated to basketball, but the shenanigans Kidd displayed last year – the abrupt reassignment of Lawrence Frank, “Soda-Gate”, and then the attempted power play against Billy King which ultimately cost him his job.

With Hollins the Nets now have a coach who has paid his dues throughout his coaching career including: assistant roles, interim tags, and brief stints with the USBL and IBL. He admitted to being low maintenance and was embarrassed by the billboards and attention drawn to his hiring. He is a man who knows who he is and declared that it isn’t about him, but the players.

I believe I’m a leader.”

A year ago, the Nets saw the need for a heart transplant when the Chicago Bulls eliminated them in a decisive Game 7 on their own home court. The trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce was in theory supposed to fill this void and make the Nets a tougher team. It helped to some degree, but there is definitely room for more growth.

With any organization, sports or not, the tone is always set from the top. Your identity comes from your leader. It’s no wonder why the Bulls or Spurs seem to play the same no matter who’s on the roster. In Hollins, the Nets have a coach whose goal is cultivate a tough mentality and develop leadership qualities within the players. After all, his Memphis team’s mantra was “Grit and Grind”. Should Pierce and Garnett return to Brooklyn, Hollins would have two representatives on the court and in the locker room who will help him carry out his mission.

Throughout the last few weeks, Hollins has been unfairly labeled as someone who’s unable to adjust his style of coaching and that his system is antiquated by today’s standards. Since his hiring, he has made it clear that it was the Grizzlies personnel which dictated that slower pace of play. It was what made them successful, and I am sure very few people in Memphis were unsatisfied with the results. He also cited that in Vancouver they played more up-tempo with Mike Bibby and Shareef Abdur-Rahim on a roster which also included Bryant Reeves.

Hollins admitted that having a year off allowed him to view the game differently and in assessing the team, he wants to play at a quicker pace in comparison to how the Nets played last season. He even referenced that his former mentor, Cotton Fitzsimmons, always said that “you can never have too many shooters”.

For Nets fans fearful that his hiring means the end of Mirza Teletovic, think again. This roster has the ability to stretch the floor with their outside shooting and if Hollins is true to his word, it’s unlikely that he will try to shove a square peg into a round hole.

Nets fans can only hope Hollins can elevate Brook Lopez's game as he did with Marc Gasol's.

Nets fans can only hope Hollins can elevate Brook Lopez’s game much like what he did with Marc Gasol’s.

An old-school coach doesn’t necessarily mean to a return to the Avery Johnson era. Johnson’s micromanaging ways earned him the nickname “The Little General” or “The Little Dictator” to the players who weren’t as fond. It didn’t bode well that the “dictatorship” comment came from the likes of Dirk Nowitzki.

Hollins may be tough and demanding but there seems to be a difference between him and Johnson. Where Johnson was a type-A personality, Hollins doesn’t seem rigid to that extent. His former players admitted the difficulty of his training camps, but they understood the purpose and saw the benefit. To me, Hollins is that tough teacher you had who expected a lot and held you to a high standard, but you respected him for it. For some players on the Nets roster, that type of leader can hopefully bring out their best and further develop their talents.

Lionel Hollins may lack the pizzazz of Jason Kidd, but it appears the Nets are in a better place today than they were yesterday. Their new head coach wants to do just that – coach. He doesn’t appear to be the type that will let jealously control his actions, something we saw in Kidd when first-time head coaches (Steve Kerr, Derek Fisher) received more lucrative contracts and Stan Van Gundy was fully empowered in Detroit.

The Nets are now led by someone who had to take the long road to accomplish what he has. He has earned the opportunities presented to him rather than simply getting what he wanted on demand.

The Nets may have lost Kidd, but they’ve replaced him with an adult in Hollins.

Experience Should Count

The professional sports world is a unique industry. In any other profession, a resume featuring a track record of success is usually what gives you an advantage over a neophyte vying for the same job. Apparently that’s no longer the case in the NBA, as it’s become a place where experience is something that can be used against you.

Fans better get used to seeing not only ties but pocket squares.

Fans better get used to seeing not only ties but pocket squares.

Once the messy divorce was finalized with Jason Kidd, the Brooklyn Nets’ fan base seemed torn as to who would be the best man for the job- Lionel Hollins, Mark Jackson, and George Karl to name a few. All three are veterans who have achieved success over the years; however, each of them seems to have a blemish or two that discredits their coaching abilities.

As it appears that Billy King has found Kidd’s successor in Hollins, many Nets’ fans fear that this has disaster written all over it. Here are some of the things that I’ve read on the Twittersphere:

  • “This will be the second coming of Avery Johnson.”
  • “His style won’t work. He focuses too much on defense.”
  • “He is too old-school.”
  • “It won’t sit well with Deron and others.”
  • “There goes any chance of landing Durant in 2016.”

What’s ironic is that the same people who are trashing Hollins for being a tough, defensive-minded coach are probably the same people who put Tom Thibodeau and Jeff Van Gundy on pedestals. The last time I checked, those two weren’t exactly the types that place emphasis on offense and behave like Rex Ryan with their players. There’s no denying that Hollins is accomplished leader who experienced tremendous success with the Memphis Grizzlies, but for some fans out there it seems as if the Nets would’ve been better off by bringing Kiki Vandeweighe back.

Consider his last three regular seasons in Memphis:

Season

Winning Percentage

2010-11

0.561

2011-12

0.621

2012-13

0.683

There was steady improvement from one year to the next, and the Grizzlies’ success carried into the playoffs. In those three postseasons, Hollins led his teams to an 18-17 record, not bad against the “Group of Death” also known as the Western Conference. As the eighth seed in 2011, the Grizzlies stunned the top seeded Spurs in six games only to take the Thunder to seven games in the conference semi-finals. In 2013, Hollins guided Memphis to the Western Conference Finals where they were swept away by a superior San Antonio team.

Is Hollins the perfect coach? Of course he isn’t, but who is? There is only one Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich. Hollins is a very good coach and is most likely an upgrade over our previous leader. It’s not a sexy hire but the Nets are better off with substance over style.

As Colin Cowherd recently alluded to following the NBA Draft, we tend to be critical of things we are familiar with. Perhaps that’s why teams shun four-year American college players and opt for the unknown foreigners. We obsess over their flaws and what they can’t do rather than focus on what they can do.

As for Hollins, we do know that he has had success in player development, especially with centers and power forwards. This would bode well for Brook Lopez, whose game still has room for growth, as well as Mason Plumlee.

As Tom Lorenzo mentioned in this article: http://www.netsdaily.com/2013/5/14/4329634/lionel-hollins-grizzlies-nets-head-coach-contract, Hollins is not exactly a players’ coach but his guys would “go to bat for him”. You would have to assume that savvy veterans like Joe Johnson, Andrei Kirilenko, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce would respect his approach and support his vision.

I don’t get the impression that Hollins is another Avery Johnson. If you recall, Johnson was labeled a micro-manager and would often clash with his point guards. This dated back to his days in Dallas with Devin Harris and continued in Brooklyn with Deron Williams. Hollins may be old-school in his approach but to me he resembles that tough teacher you had who demanded a lot but you respected him for it. Watch this video and you will see his sideline demeanor, how he communicates, and how his players admire him as a person and coach.

I’ve heard the concerns that he won’t be able to coexist with Williams. Well, the Nets tried pairing their franchise point guard with his golf buddy as coach and that didn’t work out the way we all envisioned it, did it? This dismisses the notion that Deron needs a players’ coach to be effective. His best years were under the direction of Jerry Sloan, who was not exactly the “warm and fuzzy” type. The key for Deron is to be healthy and hopefully the surgeries he had this offseason will finally allow him to be just that.

For those out there that feel this ends any chance of Kevin Durant or other players signing with Brooklyn in the future, might I remind you of the summer of 2010 when we all had front row seats to both the Knicks and Nets striking out in their quest to win the free-agency sweepstakes. You can plan for the future but at the end of the day, you cannot predict what’s exactly going to transpire. There is just too much uncertainty and to bank on someone like Durant coming here two years from now is foolish. How did that go with LeBron and Dwight Howard? Build a winner and let the rest take care of itself. A successful ball club in the biggest market with the best arena will be enticing to free agents.

The Nets may have jumped into the swimming pool this time around without making a splash, but for a franchise that just got burned you can understand why. Assuming Pierce resigns and both Williams and Lopez return healthy, there’s no reason why the Nets cannot pick up where they left off last year and compete in the East.

Maybe the sky isn’t falling after all and the Nets got the guy they should have hired twelve months ago.

 

All Kidding Aside

Shocked? Angered? Embarrassed? Disappointed?

It was just over a year ago that many Brooklyn Nets fans, including myself, were jubilant over the hiring of Jason Kidd to be our next head coach. Although he had no experience in that role, fans alike were confident that our greatest player would figure things out quickly and be a success. After all, this was one of the most astute basketball minds to ever walk onto the court.

Then there were the elements of nostalgia…

If you’ve been a fan of the Nets as long as I have then you will certainly know that there have been more downs than ups. We aren’t a franchise rich in glory like the Los Angeles Lakers or Boston Celtics. The Kidd Era was our Golden Age and hiring him was a trip down memory lane. The team may play in a new state, but this move connected the present and future to the past.

Nets fans were thrilled to have Kidd leading them into the future.

A year ago Nets fans were thrilled to have Kidd leading them into the future.

People may cherish Drazen Petrovic, but the Nets only accomplished a first round appearance as the six seed in back-to-back seasons. With Kidd, the Nets advanced to two consecutive NBA Finals, which was truly a remarkable feat considering they were perennial cellar-dwellers. The fact that they lost to superior opponents doesn’t diminish the achievements of those Nets teams. Without him, the Nets would never have had those experiences, and for that reason he was adored by the fan base. Now you have to wonder if any fan will ever view him in a favorable light again, which is sad because Kidd was our iconic player. He was our Michael Jordan, our Karl Malone, our Reggie Miller.

I will be the first to admit that I was blinded by his greatness on the court and tended to look the other way with the transgressions and negativity associated with him. The fact of the matter is Jason Kidd clearly has a checkered past with a documented pattern of behavior – clashes with coaches as well as multiple arrests involving domestic abuse and driving while impaired. We were naïve to think that something like this wouldn’t happen again.

In a way he is a walking paradox, a selfless player who’s actually a selfish person. The player who was known for assisting others was the same player who led a team mutiny against his college coach, Lou Campanelli. The player who was a joy to watch was the same guy who had issues with Dick Motta in Dallas and Scott Skiles in Phoenix. The player who was the ultimate teammate was the same guy who abandoned his team while faking a migraine in an effort to get traded or receive a new contract.

There is no denying Kidd is a serial coach killer. Don’t believe me just ask Campanelli, Byron Scott, Lawrence Frank, and now Larry Drew. Plus you can’t forget about Jason Kidd! Yes, Kidd was able to get himself dismissed from Brooklyn, and assuming he ultimately gets the power he desires in Milwaukee, the coach who succeeds him there will most likely be on borrowed time as well.

Speaking of Scott, it was always preposterous that a coach who led his team to consecutive NBA Finals was fired the following season while his team was in first place. Yes, the Nets were underachieving (22-20) at the time he got fired but is it safe to assume that a cohesive, veteran group could have finished the 2003-04 season with a 25-15 record under Scott? Was it really all of Frank’s leadership that prompted a 14-game winning streak the moment he took over? Could things have been different had the superstar point guard been happier? Maybe, but we’ll never know.

If you recall, Kidd was openly critical of Scott’s work ethic and preparedness when he was in charge. What’s ironic now is that Kidd is “intrigued with the higher-paying, lower-workload life of an executive” according to Adrian Wojnarowski. It’s funny how things turn out sometimes.

Two of Kidd's biggest victims.

Two of Kidd’s unfortunate victims.

It’s a shame that our franchise’s beloved player has decided to burn his bridges with the organization that bent over backwards for him. As a player they treated the Kidds as the “First Family of the Nets”. Management bolstered the roster in signing friend Rodney Rogers as well as trading for Dikembe Mutombo in an effort to challenge for a title and satisfy their star.

Kidd responded to these efforts by flirting with the Spurs shortly after they eliminated the Nets in The Finals, putting fans and management on edge that the team’s savior would leave them. In the end, Kidd resigned with the New Jersey but his “loyalty” forced Rod Thorn into signing a defective Alonzo Mourning.

Ten years later when the Nets signed him to be their head coach, the organization went above and beyond to make sure that Kidd’s transition would be a smooth and successful one. Aside from handing him a star-studded roster, Mikhail Prokhorov’s spending spree extended to the bench where Kidd was given the green light to recruit his former coach and friend in Lawrence Frank to serve as his top assistant and mentor.

Despite the fact that he was the highest paid assistant, Kidd disposed his most trusted advisor not even twenty games into the season. Talk about a convenient scapegoat, just like those darn neckties. For someone that was supposed to be vital to Kidd’s transition, Frank was tossed away in humiliating fashion – reassigned to writing daily reports which sounded like a position more suited for someone breaking into the coaching profession rather than an established, respected coach.

We should have known better, but our fond memories blinded us from the reality of Jason Kidd. His monotone voice, even-keeled demeanor, and passive-aggressiveness in front of the cameras never suggested the fits of rage that have occurred behind the scenes. The facts are he does have character issues which have resulted in multiple arrests.  He has shown to be cold blooded with a lack of regard of how his actions affect others.  Could you say his extreme anger, jealousy, and thirst for power are sociopathic? It can’t be a good thing when your actions resemble something along the lines of either Patrick Bateman from American Psycho or Frank Underwood from House of Cards.

jason kidd mug shot 1jason kidd mug shot 2jason kidd drunk club

As a life-long fan of the Nets franchise, this certainly was a kick to the groin; however, I am proud that the organization didn’t cave into Kidd’s prima donna demands. I’d rather learn the truth of my once favorite player than see a team further enable and spoil an unqualified employee. The alternative wouldn’t have felt any better.

Kidd always had the gift of seeing things develop before they actually did, and obviously he envisioned himself sitting in a corner office in the near future rather the sidelines. Had he just been patient and achieved great results in his role as a coach, he would have eventually graduated to a more prominent role with them.

The Bucks will give Kidd what he wants, but it’s only a matter of time until he ditches Milwaukee for the next thing, history says so. Perhaps by that time most of the league will finally learn what they are getting with the future Hall of Fame point guard. This is who he is and it’s foolish to think that he will change.

Kidd always had something special in New Jersey and it was supposed to continue in Brooklyn. The face of the franchise is now one that fans want to forget as his legacy will now and forever be tarnished. He may now have the money and power in Milwaukee but it’ll be unlikely that he’ll earn the respect from his peers or fans around the NBA.

As this news broke late Saturday night, one thing is for certain – Jason Kidd was definitely left with egg on his face during Sunday brunch.  He will have even more if things don’t go according to plan with his new team.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Glass is Half Full

Since the season ended in disappointing fashion, there has been much discussion that the 2013-2014 Brooklyn Nets’ season was a colossal bust. After all, they did spend an unprecedented amount on payroll only to last five games into the second round. From afar, the end results were inadequate considering the star-studded lineup, but in actuality there was a much to like about the season as a whole.

Raise your hand if this image made you believe at the time that the Nets were going to win the 2014 championship.

Raise your hand if this image made you believe at the time that the Nets were going to win the 2014 championship.

Although the payroll figures were astronomical, the salaries of some players didn’t match the level of production nor expectations. Did Deron Williams produce like a max level point guard? Were Kevin Garnett’s averages of 6.5 points and 6.6 rebounds worthy of 12 million dollars? Was the 14.6 million allocated for 17 games of Brook Lopez the way Billy King envisioned it?

Yes the final bill was expensive, but in reality the Nets were paying more for what they were actually getting. To assume that spending top dollar for talent is a guarantee for success is foolish. In a bizarre way, the Nets were perhaps the most high-priced, unlikeliest underdog that the game has ever seen. Even though it ended with a bad taste in our mouths, the season could be deemed a success considering how it started.

So what was there to like about it?

The biggest success of this season was that the Nets have found their head coach in Jason Kidd. Of course things didn’t look too promising prior to New Year’s Day, but patience did pay off. How many other head coaches, especially a rookie, could right the ship when the season appeared on the brink of disaster? Ten games under .500, tension in the locker room, and losing your best offensive player would have been the kiss of death for most teams. Just like what he was able to do as a player,  Kidd’s innovative personality was able to figure out a winning formula.

In the process, the Nets developed toughness and resiliency, which we all know was sorely lacking from the season prior. Ask yourself, would this team recover from the poor start and Lopez’s injury had Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries been on the roster? Yes, having Pierce and Garnett helped in this department, but don’t discount the impact Kidd had as well.

Some were upset with Kidd’s rotations in the postseason, but from his body of work as a both a player and coach, I expect him to improve from this experience. From his leadership, the team was able to rally to force and win a Game 7 on the road in front of a hostile Toronto crowd. I don’t think last year’s squad would have been up for the challenge. Do you?

Make no mistake, this is now Joe's team.

Make no mistake, this is now Joe’s team.

Another thing to like about the season was that the Nets have finally appeared to have found their identity. This has been a constant issue dating back to last year, but now it is apparent that this is Joe Johnson’s team. He may not be the vocal leader that people want, but his cool demeanor on the court perfectly aligns with Kidd’s from the sidelines. Even with Lopez’s return next year, the offense should continue to operate through the talented, versatile Johnson.

There’s no denying that player development was certainly a positive that came out of this season. This was most notably seen in Mirza Teletovic, Shaun Livingston, and Mason Plumlee.

Prior to this season Teletovic barely had a role and was viewed as nothing more than a three-point shooter. Unable to crack Avery Johnson and PJ Carlesimo’s rotations, Teletovic was usually inserted into the first minutes of the fourth quarter only to be promptly yanked off the court following a missed shot or two.

Under Kidd’s leadership, Teletovic was given an opportunity and showed the type of impact he could have on a game. Aside from his outstanding shooting, he also proved that there are other facets to his repertoire. Teletovic showed that he can score by putting the ball on the floor and improved his rebounding skills as well. What was most impressive was that he demonstrated a lack of fear of the big stage and relished the opportunity to challenge LeBron James.

Although last season’s offseason was highlighted by the blockbuster trade with Boston and the signing of Andrei Kirilenko, the additions of Livingston and Plumlee proved to be just as valuable. Some will remember Plumlee’s disappointing showing in the postseason; however, he did show tremendous growth during the regular season and should improve with more experience. Both he and Livingston (assuming he resigns) would provide the Nets with quality role players to complement their core.

Mirza's shooting and passion at times conjures up memories of another beloved Net.

Mirza’s shooting and passion at times conjures up memories of another beloved Net.

To judge the entire playoffs as a bust is not a fair assessment. After all, Brooklyn won a playoff series without the home court advantage against a team that was evenly matched up against them. To the casual fan, the Toronto Raptors may lack the cachet, but an educated fan would recognize their capabilities.

After sweeping the season series only to lose in five games, many fans were left disappointed with the outcome against the Heat. To me, the experience was frustrating in that the Nets were competitive and in a position to possibly win each game with the exception of the series opener.

If you consider that they were able to go toe-to-toe with the two time champions while getting inconsistent, sub-par production from Williams and Garnett, being competitive was quite an accomplishment. To beat a team like Miami, you need to be firing on all cylinders and unfortunately the Nets weren’t. Perhaps a steadier performance from Williams would have extended the series further.

In the end, the Nets and their fans got the opportunity they wanted all along. One would have to assume that playing close, competitive games against the NBA’s best would be a quality learning experience as well as a good measuring stick for where they currently stand as a team. Yes it was humbling, but maybe a healthy comeback from Lopez, a return from Pierce, and improved play from Williams can be the difference if these teams meet again next year.

It took a little time, but Kidd is once again their confident leader.

There’s no one else who should be leading the Nets.

Was it a bummer that the season had to end? Of course it was, but think about how unsatisfying it would have been had the Nets lost against Indiana and they never got the opportunity to face the team we were supposedly built to dethrone. A championship wasn’t won, but hopefully this experience was a stepping stone for next year and beyond.

At least now they have the right guy leading them into the future.

 

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.

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.