The good, bad and ugly at the break

lopez250_021109.jpgIt’s not really the midpoint. That was about a month ago. But it is All-Star break, so here’s a look back at the good, bad and ugly of the Nets’ first 53 games and ahead to the final 29.
Three surprises
1. In the hunt: Few expected the Nets to have this many wins at this point of the season. To be 24-29 right now is not a good record by any stretch, but they’re in the playoff race and that’s more than anyone could have asked for when camp started in October.
2. Mr. All-Star: Talk to Devin Harris, his former coaches, the guys who played against him and coached against him out West and they’re not surprised. But it’s a surprise to most of us that he has been explosive, dominant and good as he’s shown.
3. Big rookie: Brook Lopez is going to be a star in the NBA. No one could have guessed it early. But the big man has developed and will continue. He’s 20, a big 7-foot, if there is such a thing, and he doesn’t have a signature move — yet.
Three disappointments 
1. Sean sits: The Nets talked up Sean Williams during camp, and he probably practiced hard and well, but it didn’t translate in the games. He became a 13th man, was sent to the D-League and forced his way back. The Nets hope they can trade last year’s first-round pick.
2. No Najera: Eduardo Najera seemed to be a good acquisition. He’s a good player, hard worker, good locker-room guy. But it’s been one injury and setback after another. When he plays, you can feel his defensive presence and energy, but he’s only played in 27 games.
3. RJ’s replacement: Bobby Simmons has had some good moments and he plays hard, but he’s not back to the form he was with the Clippers when he averaged 16.4 points a few years back. Sure he got more touches then, but we just don’t see it at 7.7 per game.

Three good moves
1. Open it up: Coach Lawrence Frank changed the offense to dribble-drive principles and it’s allowed Harris to showcase his skills and become an All-Star.
2. Starting Lopez: It happened because Josh Boone got hurt, but it would have happened anyway. Lopez works on his game and continues to improve.
3. Sign here: Adding Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes on the relative cheap have been great acquisitions. If the Nets had this bench when a guy named Kidd was here, they may have won a title.
Three risky moves
1. Take a seat: Frank acted out of character when he benched Harris and Vince Carter in the second half of the Boston loss. His stars could have turned on him, but they haven’t and Harris, particularly, has played better of late.
2. Here’s Yi: Management took a big chance on a big man from China when they sent Richard Jefferson to the Bucks for Yi Jianlian and Simmons. Yi was inconsistent, but started to play better before he broke his pinkie last month. Jury is out still.
3. Staying big: The Nets have been short-handed at times in the backcourt because of injuries to Harris and Dooling and have been fortunate Carter is a want-to-be point guard and saved them. Seven big players are too much. The Nets would like to lessen that by next week’s trade deadline.
Three improvements needed
1. Tighten the D: The Nets are always going to score 105 points, so they have to make sure they don’t let the opponent do it either. They need to play better on defense if they want to make the playoffs.
2. Devin distributes: He continues to improve his passing and is working pick-and-rolls well with Lopez. But if Harris can get easy shots for everyone like Carter, average 20 and 10 he and the Nets will get where they want to go.
3. Clean bill of health: Injuries are a part of the game, but the Nets, and everyone else, would like to see what Yi can bring to this team and if his improvement continues. If it does, the Nets’ future looks that much brighter.
Major question
1. Do the Nets make a deal?
My guess is yes, but I would guess against them moving Carter unless something blows them away. There is a faction that thinks you move him while his value is high, but it would be a bad message to send the fans and this young team, especially if it was for young players and cap space. But the Nets have assets to pull off a deal, and if they don’t it won’t be from lack of effort.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

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