MILWAUKEE – Imagine where the Nets would be if they had Richard Jefferson. Let’s play out that hypothetical, especially now that they face Jefferson for the first time here tomorrow.
First of all, it never would have happened because the Nets basically wanted to end ties with the past. They even considered a Vince Carter-to-Cleveland trade over the summer – something the Cavaliers probably would like to revisit to help keep LeBron James – so the Nets were committed to change.
Essentially, it came down to they wanted to get rid of at least one of the remaining two members of the Big Three and for many reasons they chose Jefferson over Carter.
“We wanted to change our team,” Nets president Rod Thorn said. “We felt our team as constituted had gone about as far as it could.”
But let’s say Thorn and GM Kiki Vandeweghe did nothing and Carter and Jefferson both were Nets today: how good would they be? What would their record be? People wonder that all the time because of where the Nets are in the standings and due to the inconsistent play of Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons
I tend to believe they wouldn’t be as good as 18-18 because the complexion of the team would be totally different.
Would they have drafted differently? Probably.
Remember, they dealt Jefferson to Milwaukee on Draft Day. If they didn’t do that, they definitely would have needed a power forward. But the Nets were talking to many teams ahead of them and behind them in the draft and about Jefferson, so something was going to happen.
The Nets could have tried harder to move up to nab a Kevin Love or made a deal with Portland where the Nets would have gotten Brook Lopez’s brother Robin and something from the Blazers. The Nets had so many things working on draft day.
It also could have changed what the Nets did in free agency, starting with Nenad Krstic.
The fact that they got Lopez, Yi and Ryan Anderson on one day and then signed Eduardo Najera – all big men who can shoot – made Krstic expendable.
I still contend they never should have let a young, scoring big man who you can run your offense through when he’s healthy get away without getting anything in return. But that’s something for next week when Krstic is back in Jersey with Oklahoma City.
Back to Jefferson, the whole summer changes if they don’t make that move. Do the Nets stay in talks with Denver about Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby if Jefferson isn’t dealt? Maybe, until Denver decides it doesn’t want to give up on its franchise player.
So let’s say Jefferson is here, and starting with Carter, Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Najera or Stromile Swift or a different power forward that would have been here. Expectations may have been different and thus the plan may not be to develop the young players. Coach Lawrence Frank probably still would have turned to the dribble-drive offense, but Carter and Jefferson together may have stunted the growth of Harris and Lopez.
Harris has blown up because the ball is in his hands and he’s making decisions and plays for others. Harris also has blown up because he shares the backcourt with Carter, a still lethal scorer and probably the Nets’ best passer on the team.
With Jefferson, he probably would have had to be a focal point of the offense, which would taken touches away from Harris and Lopez. The plan probably wouldn’t be to grow and develop the young players.
Jefferson has shown to be an unselfish guy, but it would have been difficult for him to take a step backward after the best scoring season of his career and let everyone else develop. It basically would have been saying, “We want to get better and we want to do it without you.”
The funny thing is the Nets are saying that to Carter in a way, because he won’t be here for the length of his contract. But he’s more secure than Jefferson as a player and has willingly done what the Nets have asked him, including help make the young guys better.
You see, so much would have been different if Jefferson was still here, and not necessarily better. But it wasn’t going to happen anyway. The Nets were committed to change and moving Jefferson was a change they needed to make to go forward.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)