And the blame game begins…

harris_250.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – One game remains in the Nets’ season but plenty of days of finger pointing are left still.
 
Coach Lawrence Frank has received the blame for this team not making the playoffs this season for the most part. It hasn’t been determined if he will take the fall because of it, although owner Bruce Ratner endorsed him during the Nets’ 91-87 win in their home finale against the Bobcats last night.
 
The Nets’ failings are not all on Frank anyway. Everyone shares in the blame for the Nets 34-47 record.
 
People are quick to point to the coach or to the players not playing hard enough, and both are legitimate. But you have to start at the top — at ownership, then management — then coaches and then players.
 
You can’t win championships or at least be a title contender without the resources. Cleveland is No. 3 in payroll, Boston No. 5 and the Lakers No. 8. The Nets are 27th.
 
Now, there are exceptions because the Knicks are first, Kings No. 9, Raptors No. 10 and Milwaukee No. 12, and they’re all behind the Nets. But for the most part, you have to spend to win.
 
Ratner and his fellow owners never tell team president Rod Thorn and general manager Kiki Vandeweghe who they can or can’t sign. They just want them to be smart and avoid being a luxury-tax-paying team.
 
If you saw the recent story in Sports Business Journal you understand.
 
It reported Ratner and his investors lost $27.8 million for the fiscal year ending Jan. 31. That figure includes the Nets and the Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn.
 
It’s nice to have that money to lose, but it’s hard to justify contract extensions or signing players to big deals when you’re in that position. The article said Ratner’s group lost $22.6 million the year before and $14.7 million the year before that.
 
With operating losses like that, can you realistically see the Nets giving a player a maximum contract in 2010 when they’ll have all this flexibility? They couldn’t sign a player to a 10-day contract this season.
 
By the same token, it’s hard to sell to your fans – or your players — that you’re doing everything you can to build a winner. You have to draft well and find good, undervalued talent, which the Nets certainly did last summer.
 
If management was given more freedom, perhaps they could have eaten a contract or two and signed another point guard that could have allowed the recent popular move of Keyon Dooling being added to the starting lineup happen a little earlier.
 
Starting Devin Harris, Dooling and Vince Carter — who is the Nets’ de-facto No. 3 point guard – all season would have been difficult. Maybe Frank should have turned to that lineup sooner, but you can see his rationale.
 
The acquisition of Yi Jianlian hasn’t worked out yet, but it’s early. Still, unrealistic expectations were put on him and Frank by management. Vandeweghe, especially, made Yi’s development paramount. He worked out the trade for him.
 
Yi had the unenviable task of replacing Richard Jefferson, for whom he was traded. But after so many 1-for-5, three-point nights, it became obvious that Yi needed more work.
 
Knowing part of the mission statement was to develop Yi, Frank stuck with him longer than he should have and, to a certain extent, may have sacrificed the Nets’ playoff hopes.
 
Then, Yi’s agent Dan Fegan more than intimated that Frank was to blame for Yi’s poor season in the Star Ledger. As one member of the Nets’ organization put it yesterday, “it seems as if someone is doing some damage control and deflecting the issue.”
 
That issue being Yi just didn’t have a good season and went backwards after breaking his right pinkie. That’s no one’s fault. Or maybe Yi’s not that guard. Time will tell.
 
Yi isn’t the reason the Nets made or missed the playoffs. It was money, decisions, their play at home, their lack of effort too often and on down the line.
 
The bottom line is many people and things contributed to the Nets and missing the playoffs for the second straight year. Don’t just point to the coach.
 
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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