Less Dollars Makes More Sense

Less Dollars Makes More Sense

As I woke up Sunday morning an emotional hot mess, I realized that I wasn’t alone. No I am not referring to my insomnia-suffering pregnant wife, but a significant portion of the Brooklyn Nets‘ fan base. Brooklyn’s decision not to resign Paul Pierce to what appeared to be a bargain price of $5.5 million per season is what triggered these feelings of frustration, confusion, and anger amongst many.  After all, these are Mikhail Prokhorov’s Nets.  We don’t look at price tags when we go shopping.  At least that’s been the mentality we’ve all grown accustomed to. After letting it sink in, the decision to let Pierce walk started to make sense.

The decision not to retain their veteran leader contradicted the philosophy in how the Nets have done business since leaving The Garden State.  This wasn’t a gradual change but a complete one-eighty shift overnight.  The Nets don’t appear willing to spend at will anymore and are preaching fiscal responsibility.

It is my belief that what upsets many Nets fans was not the decision to let Pierce walk without making an offer, but the trade made with the Boston Celtics a year ago.  At the time the Nets felt they were a player or two away from seriously contending for an NBA title.  They went all in when they mortgaged the future for a chance to add Kevin Garnett and Pierce to the roster.  Those two were going to provide the necessary leadership and experience that would elevate Brooklyn into the upper echelon of the league.

It was an enormous risk, yet many were thrilled at the time.  Remember, hindsight is always 20/20.  No one could have foreseen the bad luck the Nets would endure throughout the season in the injury department.  Clearly finishing as a sixth seed only to last five games in the second round was not what Billy King and company envisioned when the “Boston heart transplant” became official.

The championship pedigree was only able to elevate Brooklyn to the 2nd round.

The championship pedigree was only able to elevate Brooklyn to the 2nd round.

To now switch to a corporate philosophy of being more financially responsible makes you wonder why the deal was even made in the first place.  From an outsider’s perspective, they got caught up in the moment with their “All In” campaign. It’s as if no one considered how this deal would shake up in terms of costs for the 2014-15 season and beyond.

Irresponsible? Yes, but once again, a chance to go for it now certainly made fans excited. Now the Nets organization and their fans can only hope that this deal doesn’t become the NBA equivalent to the now infamous “Herschel Walker Trade”, when the Minnesota Vikings paid the Dallas Cowboys a king’s ransom which provided Dallas with the future assets to assemble their dynasty during the 1990s. Walker’s tenure with Minnesota was certainly a disappointment and the lopsided deal won’t ever be forgotten by football fans.

Although it is doubtful that any Nets officials will admit that the trade with Boston was a colossal failure, their actions now seem to reflect that sentiment.  It’s a harsh reality to accept, but perhaps the ownership and management realized that this team with Pierce is not on a championship level.  Could they compete in the East? Yes.  Could they contend for a title? Probably not.

Like anything else in life, you can’t dwell on past mistakes and must remain focused on the future.  There is no doubt that the deal was a mistake and will only make the Nets the punch line for jokes by sports pundits and fans for years to come.  The key is not to compound any problems, and maybe signing Pierce could’ve been just that.  Did you know that if the Nets had signed Pierce to the exact contract offered by the Washington Wizards, it would have cost the franchise $22M, or about the same salary as LeBron James?  Now be honest with yourself, would adding Pierce make the Nets a legitimate contender for the upcoming season?

Yes, Piece was productive and played a key role in helping the Nets salvage their season and advance to the second round of the playoffs, but he is also turning 37 this year.  What happens if Father Time really catches up with him this season?  He had his signature moments during the regular and postseasons, but he also had those forgettable ones too. How much of a disaster would it be if the Nets are paying an excess of $20M to a player who struggles to defend his opponent and his scoring production continues to plummet?  It was Branch Rickey who famously said, “Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”

Obviously there was no trade involved with Pierce’s departure from Brooklyn.  Had they resigned him where would he play?  He did look old and slow while manning the small forward position during the first half of the season.  Would it be ideal to play him alongside Brook Lopez as a stretch four, and if so who’s rebounding? Can’t the Nets get the same 13 point, 5 rebound production from Andrei Kirilenko and/or Mirza Teletovic?

Perhaps an extended role for Teletovic can yield similar production.

Perhaps an extended role for Teletovic can yield similar production.

I totally get that it’s not our money and Mikhail Prokhorov’s bank account seems unlimited, but I am willing to bet that you don’t become one of the wealthiest men in the world by overspending for depreciating assets.  As much as he wants to win, owning a team is still a business and I doubt that he or any other owner would be accepting of losing substantial money.  No one can accuse him of being cheap as he spent upwards of $190M this past year, something the sports world hadn’t seen since George Steinbrenner.  The difference is the Yankees made a profit, whereas the Nets recently lost $144M according to recent reports.

Trust me when I say that I am just as much disappointed that this deal didn’t work out and the Nets have appeared to have dug themselves a hole in terms of the future.  It may seem that they opted for Jarrett Jack over Pierce, but perhaps it was more about obtaining a young asset in Sergey Karasev.  They have given away a lot in recent deals, so recouping some youth seems to be a top priority now and will hopefully help them retool for the future.

The trade ended up as a bust and although it’s not easy, it’s time to turn the page.  As a fan, I appreciate the efforts made in recent years but I respect the change in direction.  Successful organizations don’t operate the way the Nets have in recent years.  Hopefully the Nets have learned their lesson and will make more sound, responsible decisions moving forward.

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.

The Nets Now Know That “There is No Tomorrow”

So they say that life imitates art.

In the next few weeks, the Brooklyn Nets will be returning to the postseason for a second consecutive year, and although seedings are still being determined, they seem destined to face the Chicago Bulls once again. For many Nets fans, this potential match up is unsettling, especially with Chicago owning the home court advantage. Many would prefer a series with the Toronto Raptors, foolishly expecting them to be a “deer in the headlights” with their lack of postseason experience. The reality is, either of these opponents will be a formidable challenge for the Nets to overcome.

The Nets recent success, or lack thereof, against the Bulls has created anxiety that they will once again be eliminated by their arch nemesis. The popular opinion by many is that a first round exit would be the mark of a disappointing season, considering the hype and expectations entering it.

Hopefully after last night’s thrilling victory in Miami, which saw a shorthanded Nets team sweep the defending champions, confidence amongst fans should be very high. After all, the Heat were playing extremely motivated with the East’s top seed still at stake and payback still owed for the Nets’ previous three wins. Some will downplay the victory by mentioning that Miami was without Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem, but keep in mind that the Nets were playing without the services of Kevin Garnett and Andray Blatche.

This isn’t 2013 anymore and it hasn’t been for over three months. Any data you have from the first 31 games of the season should be thrown out, shredded, burned, flushed down the toilet, etc. Those non-competitive, uninspiring efforts which resulted in a booing Barclays Center and road blowouts are irrelevant at this point in time. There’s no reason to cite those moments anymore.

Losing is never easy for a former champion.

Losing was never easy for a former champion.

So as the Nets and Bulls are on a collision course with each other, there’s only one thing that comes to my mind – Rocky III. Yes, the third installment of the boxing movie franchise which featured classic roles for both Hulk Hogan and Mr. T.

For those of you that need a refresher or brief synopsis of the film, the champion Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) is faced with defending his title against Clubber Lang (Mr. T), the trash-talking, number one contender. Lang shows no respect for Balboa and in the process intimidates him. When they finally do face each other in the ring, The Italian Stallion is dealt a demoralizing knockout defeat.

In the ensuing months after, Rocky struggles to regain his confidence. His longtime rival, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) offers to train Rocky and help him avenge his loss to Lang. The process is painfully frustrating as Creed, a former champion himself, cannot help Rocky regain his swagger or “the eye of the tiger” as it was referred to back in the 1980s. All seems hopeless as lethargic training sessions lead to screaming matches, Apollo’s doubt, and Rocky’s admission that he is afraid.

Like any other feel-good Hollywood picture, Rocky finally comes around and momentum builds in the weeks leading up to the highly anticipated rematch with Lang. Through Apollo’s influence, he is able to change Rocky’s style from a brawler to a dancer. Rocky recaptures his confidence and ultimately reclaims his title in a three round knockout.

Both Rocky and the Nets were clearly intimidated.

Both Rocky and the Nets were clearly intimidated.

So back to those Nets – when they played against the Bulls in last year’s postseason, it was revealed by Chicago beat writer, Joe Cowley, that they wanted the Nets all along. They viewed Brooklyn as “heartless and gutless” and felt that they could expose them in the fourth quarter when the game was on the line. They viewed Deron Williams as a player that they could frustrate.

The Nets in that playoff series,  just like Balboa, came out swinging in Game 1. The Bulls took their best punch and then countered. Throughout the series, players like Joakim Noah and Nate Robinson physically and mentally intimidated the Nets. Perhaps you recall Robinson slamming CJ Watson into the scorers’ table.

It didn’t even matter that Chicago was playing without the likes of Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, and Derrick Rose. When the chips were on the table in Game 7, the Nets found themselves down 17 at the half.  Unfortunately, there was no Apollo to remind them that “there was no tomorrow”. They eventually lost 99-93.

Although no title was lost then and no title will be on the line this go around, this Nets-Bulls rivalry seems to be playing out like Rocky and Clubber. Chicago saw a weakness in Williams, Brook Lopez, and company and exploited it. This even carried into this season, and even though they’d never admit it, the Nets always appeared like a team without confidence and perhaps fearful when facing their bullies.

Like Apollo, Pierce has elevated the Nets.

Like Apollo, Pierce has elevated the Nets.

Bringing in former champions Paul Pierce and Garnett was the equivalent of Apollo taking Rocky under his wing. Aside from their on-the-court contributions, their experience and leadership has helped the Nets develop confidence, toughness, and heart.

A frustrating beginning to this process, which seemed hopeless at the time, is finally paying off. The Nets no longer back down from opponents. They take a punch and come right back at you.

If this year’s final regular season meeting versus Chicago is any indication, then the Nets should feel good about their chances going into the playoffs.

So no matter who they play or where, these Nets led by Apollo Pierce and Garnett will be ready for the challenge. The bright lights, big stage, and strength of their opponent won’t intimidate this group. It’s a new year and this is a new team.

They finally have the eye of the tiger!

No Sympathy from the Devil

How do we sports fans rationalize the miracles we witness on the court?  You know what I am talking about:  the half court buzzer beaters, Cinderella upsets during March Madness, etc.  The only logical explanation is that there is a higher power known as the Basketball Gods who look over and bless our beloved teams.

Well then, who’s to blame when our team is not a beneficiary of good fortunes?

Perhaps there’s another supernatural entity that exists in the sports universe.  If the Basketball Gods are responsible for all that’s good, then maybe there’s the Hoops Devil to balance the equation.  Who else would cause all of the heartbreak, bad luck, horrible calls, freak injuries, unlucky bounces, curses, jinxes, hexes, and championship droughts?

Every organization at some point has been a victim of the Hoops Devil’s cruelty, but doesn’t it seem that he (or she) has more fun tormenting certain fan bases than others?  If you are searching for a case study, look no further than the lovable Nets, both from their days in the Jersey swamp and now in Brooklyn.

The Hoops Devil has been very clever in torturing the souls of the die-hard fans, especially since 1990.  It may seem as if the Nets have been perpetually bad; however there have been many instances in which greatness appeared to be on the horizon until something catastrophic occurred.  This has happened too many times during my lifetime, and this is precisely why I am in need of an old priest and a young priest.

exorcist

Now before you have me committed, consider the following:

Exhibit A (1991-93 seasons):

After several years of futility, an impressive core of young talent was assembled featuring the likes of Kenny Anderson, Derrick Coleman, and Drazen PetrovicBill Fitch and then Chuck Daly led them to consecutive playoff berths as the sixth seed, but they were eliminated by the Cleveland Cavaliers both times in the first round.

The rematch against the Cavs ended with a decisive fifth game on the road, which should be considered a success considering we were without Anderson to a broken wrist (thanks John Starks!) and Petrovic was hampered and limited by a sprained knee ligament.

(Note: The Nets were 39-27 when Petrovic first got hurt and  finished 4-12.  This dropped them to the sixth seed.)

Although we didn’t advance past the first round, progress was felt and with the legendary Daly at the coaching helm, the Nets appeared to be headed in the right direction for years to come.  Disaster then struck shortly after the 1993 playoffs when Petrovic tragically died in a car accident.  The Nets would never be the same.

Drazen Petrovic shows emotion

They also lost their heart and soul.

Petrovic’s void was filled by Kevin Edwards and the Nets returned to the playoffs the following season to face their cross-river rivals in the first round as a seven seed.  The Knicks eliminated them in four games and Daly ultimately retired.

The Butch Beard era was officially underway, and the Nets would average 29 wins for the next 3 seasons.  Hellooooo Armen Gilliam!

Exhibit B (1997-99 seasons):

The second season under John Calipari saw the Nets finish with 43 wins and a playoff match-up with the defending champion Chicago Bulls.  The Nets were swept out of the first round, but there was tremendous optimism regarding the future with the talented youth of Keith Van Horn and Kerry Kittles complementing the solid veteran core of Kendall Gill, Sam Cassell, and Jayson Williams.

Nets slam magazine

This wasn’t the only time a Nets starting lineup was over hyped on a magazine cover.

To say the following season was a train wreck is putting it mildly.  The team fired Calipari after winning three of their first 20 games, Cassell was dealt for Stephon Marbury, and Williams’ career essentially came to an end as his leg was broken after a nasty collision with Marbury.

Exhibit C (2006-07 season):

Ask any Nets fan what the missing piece was during the Jason Kidd era, and expect to hear “a big guy who could score down low”.  Enter Nenad Krstic who immediately meshed well with Kidd, Richard Jefferson, and Vince Carter.  Their “Big Three” was quickly becoming a “Big Four” as Krstic had just completed his first full season in which he averaged 13.5 points as a 22 year old.

nenad krstic

If this didn’t happen, Mikki Moore wouldn’t have become a multimillionaire.

Twenty six games into the 2006 season, in which he was averaging over 16 points per game, Krstic tore his ACL.  His breakout season came to a screeching halt, and although he returned the following season, he was never the same player.

Exhibit D (2010 NBA Lottery/Offseason):

Fresh off of their 12 win season, the Nets had the best odds of winning the draft lottery which would have guaranteed them a franchising changing player in John Wall.  Even the second overall pick would have given them what appeared to be a nice consolation prize in Evan Turner.  Luck or lack thereof, the Nets ended up with the third overall pick.

To make matters worse, this was the same off season in which LeBron James toyed with and rejected management’s pursuit. Rod Thorn then had a senior moment when he signed Travis Outlaw (5 years, 35 million dollars) and Johan Petro (3 years, 10 million dollars) to laughably, lucrative deals.

travis outlaw

Not exactly Thorn’s finest accomplishment.

Exhibit E (2013-14 season):

This exhibit is still under construction; however you should be able to recall all that has gone wrong since we aren’t too far down Memory Lane.  Think about how much hype surrounded this team following the prized acquisitions during the offseason in which the Nets appeared to have rectified every flaw with a significant upgrade.  A 60-win season and a deep playoff run was certainly in the realm of possibilities, especially since the team had won 49 games the year before.

Oh well, where shall I begin?  The fact that “Deron’s Ankles” may replace Achilles’ Heel in the English Vernacular or that Andrei Kirilenko has changed how we look at “day-to-day” injuries?  How about Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry aging in dog years?

Aside from all of the other issues, Brook Lopez breaking his foot for the second time in three years was the most devastating blow to their title hopes and the future outlook of the team.  Even on an extremely talented roster, Lopez was their best offensive player whose size gave them a competitive advantage over most opponents.

brook lopez foot

You knew the Hoops Devil wasn’t going to let this season go smoothly, right?

With a roster comprised of aging players in the twilight of their careers, Lopez always seemed to factor into the long term plans.  At 25 years old and still developing, he has earned the recognition of arguably being the best offensive center in the league.

Even with his most recent surgery, Lopez’s future has a cloud of doubt hovering over it as his name is now associated with Bill Walton and Yao Ming.  Nets fans will cling to the hope that his career will resume down the same path as Zydrunas Ilgauskas instead.

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Seems like this is all too much of a coincidence, right?  If you’ve been around the block as long as I have, you learn quickly to expect the worst at any given moment.  What other way is there?  At least now there is a logical explanation for all of these unfortunate events.

Maybe I am wrong here and we should be thankful for the special treatment the Nets have received from the Hoops Devil.  After all, this has always kept things interesting and without it our franchise would just be ordinary- nothing noteworthy.  On second thought, perhaps I have developed a severe case of the Stockholm Syndrome.

Why the Hoops Devil has it out for us, we will never know.  Hopefully the day will come soon when another franchise captures his/her attention.   Until then, keep in mind that we are at the midway point of this season and the second half could get even more interesting…

…or depressing.