EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Nets’ roster is loaded with backcourt or wing players that will allow coach Lawrence Frank to play numerous lineups. Their best one may prove to be one with three guards, as it was last year when Devin Harris, Keyon Dooling and Vince Carter played together. Not sure what it will be yet, but you can see Frank playing Harris, Courtney Lee and Chris Douglas-Roberts together or Dooling, Harris and Lee in what would be a small group.
“McDonald’s supersizes,” Frank said today. “The league has downsized.”
The theory is that the more guys who are 6-foot-7, 6-8 and interchangeable, the better. Most of the Nets’ talent, however, is in the 6-2 to 6-6 range. If there are holes and questions at this point, they seem to be up front, particularly at the forward spots.
It was the same last year when the Nets didn’t get consistent production from either forward position. Their starting smalls totaled 594 points, 114 of those scored by Vince Carter during a seven-game stretch late in the season. Take Carter out of the equation and the Nets starting small forwards last year — Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell — combined to score 480 points in 75 games, an average of 6.4 points. Yi Jianlian and Ryan Anderson were a little better, totaling 734 points or about 9.0 points total. Still not enough. It’s a team effort, but it isn’t a stretch to say those numbers are not going to get it done this season, not with this team.
The Nets will be fine in the backcourt with Harris, Lee, Douglas-Roberts, Rafer Alston, Terrence Williams and Dooling when he’s healthy. They have Brook Lopez at center. The backup hasn’t been determined from the group of Josh Boone, Sean Williams and Tony Battie, but provided Lopez can stay healthy and out of foul trouble, the Nets should be fine.
Then come the questions and concerns.
Yi will start at power forward. His potential backups are Eduardo Najera, Simmons, Boone, Sean Williams and Battie. Each of them brings different things — and the Nets are hoping for an injury-free productive year from Yi. But Yi, Najera, Boone and Battie have been injury-prone, and Sean Williams hasn’t been reliable. Simmons is more of a small forward, but when the Nets go small, he can play power forward and probably will see more time there. After Yi, he’s the best scorer of the bunch.
At small forward, the depth chart reads something like this: Jarvis Hayes, Terrence Williams, Douglas-Roberts, Simmons and Hassell. Hayes looked like the frontrunner to start when camp opened, but you have to wonder if he’s better suited for providing an offensive lift off the bench. Williams is strong enough to guard some of the bigger small forwards. But it’s hard to know what you’re going to get from young players like Williams and Douglas-Roberts on a nightly basis. Douglas-Roberts can score, but he may not be strong enough to guard the big smalls.
“You figure it out and you see what works,” Frank said.
The Nets are expecting more production all around because they’re not going to be able to rely on Carter this year.
“That’s going to be more opportunity right there in itself,” Hayes said. “If we can get better effort from not only the forward positions but also everybody on the defensive end, that will pick up everybody on the offensive end.”
The Nets have had just one preseason game and less than a dozen practices, so it might be too early to judge. But it’s not too early to wonder whether last year will repeat itself.
The Nets lasted in the playoff race until April 8, which is about four months longer than everyone expected.
Kidding aside, the amazing thing is after their start, sitting at 19-19 after 38 games, the Nets probably should have lasted a little longer, maybe even made the playoffs.
First of all, the Eastern Conference, outside of the top three teams, is weak. Secondly — and every team can do this — think about all the games the Nets should have won, all the games they gave away. They should have had a better record.
Of course, the flip side is you look at the games maybe they shouldn’t have won that they did. Sometimes they even out, but in this case, I don’t think that’s true.
All that said, here are five things that cost the Nets a playoff spot:
1. No Homecourt Advantage
The Nets are tied for the seventh-worst home record at 17-22. They were the last team standing with a losing home mark. Of those 22 losses, eight came against teams that will finish the season with sub .500 records, including two each against the Wizards and Raptors. They lost 13 games at the Meadowlands by double-digits.
2. Late-Game Collapses
The Nets’ record in close games is misleading. It’s not terrible. They’re 6-4 in games decided by two points or less, 6-8 by three or less and 8-10 by four or less, but many of those defeats have come recently — six since March 1. Also, some games were close late, but the opposing team pulled away to make it look more lopsided than it was: think Portland, Cleveland twice and the Lakers — all since March 1. If the Nets executed better down the stretch, they might have more than a few more wins.
3. Little Forward Production
The Nets got 22 points from their starting small forward last season. Their two starting small forwards this year, Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell, averaged 7.8 and 4.5 respectively with the first team. Their power forwards, Yi Jianlian and Ryan Anderson, have scored 9.1 and 8.2. Yi only averaged about 6.2 after returning from a broken right pinky in February. For the most part, the offense was designed to highlight them, but they got open looks. None currently are in the top 50 in scoring — among forwards.
4. Too Many Nights Off
The Nets didn’t show up twice against Washington, once against Toronto, Indiana and Milwaukee — all at home. They also didn’t come to play at Oklahoma City, at the Clippers, at Minnesota and in the second half at Golden State. Only Indiana has a better record. There probably are some games we’re missing, but you get the point. Considering how well the Nets played early and how bad other teams were, we’ve come up 10-12 games they should have won on paper that they lost. Now before the season it may not have been a third of that. Regardless, the too often Nets didn’t play with a sense of urgency. They are 18-17 against teams with below .500 records when they met and 20-19 against sub .500 teams currently.
5. Defense rests
This team used to rely heavily upon defense. Now the Nets can’t stop anyone. (If Celtics guard Rajon Rondo played the Nets every game he would be an All-Star.) They no longer have stalwart defenders or at least guys who accept the defensive challenge and their team defense hasn’t been good. The Nets are 8-36 when allowing at least 100 points and 24-10 when holding teams under 100. The math seems pretty simple: guard every night.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
ORLANDO – The Nets don’t want to admit it, but this is getting old.
They play a good team tough, actually have a lead in the fourth quarter and can’t close out the game. Three times it’s happened this week. The Orlando Magic were the beneficiaries of it last night, winning, 105-102, against the Nets.
These games have been eerily similar. Ten total points have separated the Nets from the Hornets, Celtics and Magic.
It sounds good if you’re the Memphis Grizzlies or Oklahoma City Thunder, and it would have sounded good if this was November. But the Nets are in a playoff race, so each of these close losses hurt a little more, even if they won’t say it.
The Nets are taking the positive spin, saying this is the effort they need to play with, and if they keep doing it things will go in their favor.
Eventually, though they’re going to have to make plays late against good teams because they still have six more games against division leaders and seven more against teams with winning percentages above .600
With 20 games remaining, the Nets are 1 ½ games out of the last playoff spot. Every loss hurts, nevermind how hard the play.
In Friday night’s game, the Nets were on fire, shooting 60 percent for much of the first half, which allowed them to withstand the dominance of Dwight Howard. They were still shooting 55 percent in the fourth when they were up 97-90 with just over six minutes to play.
Those last six minutes crushed the Nets, just like the last minute crushed them against the Hornets and last 65 seconds against the Celtics. Each loss was different, different people made mistakes, different shots were missed, but there was something eerily similar about each of them.
“It stings,” Devin Harris said. “We’ve had leads going late into the games. We missed some shots. I thought tonight was a better effort execution wise. We got good shots at the basket. They just didn’t go down. We played good defense. But they made a few more plays.
“Look at the positive thing, the effort level is there, we’ve been playing great the last six games. We just haven’t been able to finish games out. If we keep getting the type of effort, it’s going to be better for us later in the season.”
In this game, the Nets missed nine of their last 10 shots, including Bobby Simmons’ go-ahead three with the score 104-102 and Vince Carter’s game-tying three just before the horn sounded.
In each of these losses, the Nets have ended the game on a deficit, a few misses in a row. Eventually, the shots may fall. Then again, maybe they won’t.
Playing better defensively will make a difference. The Magic only scored 22 in the fourth, but that doesn’t matter if the Nets only score 16. It also doesn’t matter if the Nets give up 60 in the first half.
The Nets were up 97-90 about midway through the fourth. They gave up 15 the rest of the way and scored five.
They were caught in two crucial mismatches late, with Harris on 6-foot-10 Hedo Turkoglu, who hit back-to-back baskets after the score was tied that ultimately sent the Magic to the win.
The other night, it was a defensive lapse against Ray Allen and Paul Pierce when Allen was left open for the game-tying three.
The Nets keep giving themselves chance to win, but they also keep making mistakes. They have to correct them, especially against good teams, if they want to make the playoffs.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Vince Carter is the Net with the greatest flair for the dramatic, but Devin Harris is showing he can play that game.
The Nets’ All-Star guard hit one of the most incredible shots to win an NBA game on Monday. Not only did it end a five-game Nets’ losing streak, it also gave Harris two buzzer-beating game-winners this season, tying him with Carter.
Here are those four, ranked in order by magnitude and degree of difficulty.
1. Harris’ heave
Feb. 23, 2009: Nets 98, Sixers 96
This game was over, or at least it appeared to be. The Nets were headed for their sixth straight loss and the effect could have been devastating for their playoff hopes considering how hard they fought to get back in the game.
But as Carter said, “the stars were aligned.” They had to be for Harris to hit the shot he hit.
Down 96-95 with no timeouts and 1.8 seconds left, Bobby Simmons threw the inbounds pass to Harris, who raced to midcourt, lost it, saw it bounce off Andre Iguodala, caught it and heaved it from the left sideline. Swish.
That was as head shaking a basket as you will see.
“It was a wild shot,” Harris said.
There seemed no way all that could have happened in 1.8 seconds. No one believed it but the Nets’ faithful.
Official Violet Palmer originally waved it off. But the refs huddled, watched replays for about two minutes and 30 seconds and said Harris did all of that – raced to midcourt, lost the ball, caught it and in one motion heaved it in under 1.8 seconds.
That took amazing speed and strength for Harris to do that.
Ironic that it was Derrick Stafford who raised his hands and signaled the shot was good. (See No. 3).
2. Carter slams Toronto
Nov. 21, 2008: Nets 129, Raptors 127 (OT)
The Toronto fans blistered Carter to no end and Carter shut them up seemingly with each stroke of his wrist. But on the last play, it was Carter’s legs and a perfectly placed pass by Simmons that sent Toronto fans home even angrier.
First, the Nets had to come back from 18 down and needed a Carter three from straight away as the horn sounded in regulation to force overtime. Simmons fed that one, too.
Carter wasn’t done.
In the OT, after Anthony Parker hit a game-tying three on a defensive breakdown, Simmons threw a side out-of-bounds pass at the rim, where Carter jumped, caught it, and threw it down with his back to the basket.
You never see games end with a back-to-the-basket, reverse alley-oop dunk.
Jan. 2, 2009: Nets 93, Hawks 91 (OT)
That morning, the league ruled on the Stafford-Carter dust up from New Year’s Eve in Detroit when Carter became irate because Stafford called him boy. Later that night, Carter shook off a bad shooting performance and a missed shot in regulation to bury a 33-foot shot at the buzzer to lift the Nets to the win.
“I just wanted to go back out and play,” Carter said, “get all that [garbage] of the last game out of the way and go play basketball.”
The Nets came back from 20 down and did it with coach Lawrence Frank in his office watching the game with general manager Kiki Vandeweghe. Frank was ejected on purpose and his team made sure it wasn’t in vain. They also were without Harris late. He left the game with a hamstring injury.
This also appeared to be a game the Nets would lose. Jarvis Hayes’ inbounds pass was deflected and Carter chased it down in the backcourt. Josh Smith gave Carter too much room and he made him pay.
“That’s the worst, best shot I’ve seen in my life,” Harris said.
“Only Vince Carter does that,” Frank said.
4. Harris’ Happy Holiday
Dec. 23, 2008: Nets 108, Pacers 107
The Nets were embarrassed the night before by Houston and looked to be headed for their third straight loss to the Pacers, especially after Danny Granger’s jumper from the foul line with 10 seconds left.
But Harris had the answer on a night when Carter scored 38 points.
Everyone probably figured it was going to Carter, but the play was designed for Harris all along. Harris shook Jarrett Jack with a crossover and canned the 22-footer as time expired.
“It was great for him to hit the game-winner,” Carter said. “I told him ‘this is your first one, so welcome.”‘
Harris definitely is a member of the club now.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
The Nets’ plan was to build for 2010, but also be in position to do something if the unexpected happened. Something like would qualify:
Hello Rod or Hello Kiki, this is Steve Kerr.
Great weather we’re having down here in Phoenix. Make sure you take advantage of the golf courses when you come down during All-Star Weekend and check out the Camelback Mountains. By the way, we’re considering trading Amare Stoudemire and see some things on your roster that we may like. Let’s talk about it and then we’ll catch up when you come down here to see if we can make something work
It’s doubtful those were the exact words, but you get the idea. Also know this, Kerr, the Suns’ GM, had similar conversations with Detroit’s Joe Dumars, Miami’s Pat Riley’s Chicago’s John Paxson, Portland’s Kevin Pritchard and Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti.
There might be a dark horse team we’re forgetting. When you potentially make a player of Stoudemire’s caliber available you talk to just about every team and try and decide which deal makes the most sense.
The Nets are in play because they have good, young players, good contracts and draft picks. The Suns are going with a youth movement. On the block are Shaquille O’Neal and Stoudemire, who likely will be a free agent in 2010 and Phoenix doesn’t want to pay him. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be entertaining offers.
The Nets have to throw their hat in the ring, much the way if you’re Thorn and Vandeweghe, you have to listen to what teams would give up for Vince Carter.
Do the Nets’ brass want to trade their best player? No, but if the right deal comes along, that makes sense to them before the Feb. 19 trade deadline, then they have to consider it.
This is where the multi-faceted plan comes in.
When the Nets traded Jason Kidd for Devin Harris, picks and other complementary players and Richard Jefferson for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons it was clear they were building for the future.
They were trying to get as many picks, good young players on good contracts and veterans on good/expiriing contracts as possible to have the assets and flexibility to be players in 2010 when the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are free.
But the Nets also did it in case a Stoudemire became available they have what it takes to get him. That’s a part of the plan that isn’t as well known.
Now, if they can get Stoudemire, my guess is Carter stays and they’re playing for now and next year with t hose two Harris and Brook Lopez making a strong nucleus. Getting Stoudemire means the Nets’ youth movement is over because they likely would have to include Yi Jianlian and Ryan Anderson in any package.
The Nets have some trepidation about moving Yi, someone they envisioned building around. They think Yi can be really good, never mind the marketing opportunities. But if you get a chance to get a superstar power forward you do everything you can.
If they can get Stoudemire, it means the Nets didn’t think they could sign James or Wade in 2010, which most know became the longest of long shots when it was clear they weren’t moving to Brooklyn by then if it all.
Those once-in-a-lifetime players are not coming to East Rutherford when they can go to New York or stay in Miami or team up in Miami. Imagine Stoudemire and Wade with the Heat, which could happen by next week, or James and Wade in South Beach.
There’s probably also some trepidation on the Nets’ part about Stoudemire’s long-range future. First, they have to determine how healthy he is and whether his surgical repaired knees can hold up. Second, would he want to stay in East Rutherford after 2010? If not, the Nets traded away some of their future and could lose Stoudemire for nothing.
The Nets aren’t close to doing anything. They’re in the exploratory stages of everything, but things could heat up this weekend in Phoenix and not just with Stoudemire. Other than Harris and Lopez, the Nets are all ears. That’s part of the plan, too.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – We interrupt this blog for an important weather bulletin: Snow is coming, but hopefully it won’t keep fans from driving to the Meadowlands to shower Richard Jefferson with appreciation. Jefferson makes his return tomorrow night, and should be given a long and loud standing ovation for the seven years he spent with the Nets and all he did for the franchise.
Jason Kidd got a standing ovation, but it was about 30 seconds and not that loud because a bad snow storm hit the area on that day and there was hardly anyone at the game. It was a nice reaction for Kidd, but the weather spoiled what should have and could have been a special night.
Maybe it was meant to be since the end of Kidd’s Nets’ career was stormy and he forced his way out. Jefferson wanted to stay a Net, be here for his career, and fans should acknowledge that. Not many players felt that way or feel that way, but Jefferson did.
In hindsight, Jefferson knew he wasn’t going to be a Net forever. His name came up in trade talks every summer. The Nets nearly pulled the trigger on something with the Bulls at the 2006 NBA Draft, tried to do a deal with the Nuggets before last year’s draft and eventually sent Jefferson to the Bucks on Draft Night 2008 for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons.
“It wasn’t like all of a sudden I was like this franchise guy and out of the blue I got traded,” Jefferson said before playing the Nets in Milwaukee last month. “Every summer I would go into a situation where it was Richard for Luol Deng, or Richard for Tyrus Thomas or Richard for the No. 2 pick and Richard for Carmelo Anthony.”
Richard really kept up with the trade rumors. His departure was inevitable, but it doesn’t take away or diminish what he meant to the Nets for the seven years he was there.
“I think he had a hell of a run here,” Vince Carter said. “He was on both Finals teams. He’s done a lot. He’s second in scoring in the Nets’ history. What’s not to love?”
For the fans, nothing. Jefferson did so much. For the most part, he played hurt. For the most part, he put his personal stats and accolades second.
The one time Jefferson chose to have surgery – on his ankle during the 2006-07 season – it was not a popular decision among some teammates and led to some strained relationships in an already fractured locker room during that tumultuous campaign. And Jefferson did care about his numbers and being an All-Star, which he never was, a little too much at the end of his time with the Nets. I would never say he put it before winning because he did care about winning. And if you look at his record, thanks to Kidd, few players were a part of more wins in Nets’ history.
That’s what the fans will remember about Jefferson – the exciting dunks, the big plays, the alley-oop against the Cavaliers, the game-winning basket in the 2007 playoffs against Toronto that he made stand up because he got the steal on the other end.
No, Jefferson’s resume isn’t as great as Kidd’s and he didn’t do as much as his point guard did for the Nets and for every player with which he played. But Jefferson may have been the Nets’ best small forward in their NBA history, and probably was involved in more wins than anyone in franchise history other than Kidd.
Maybe the snow won’t affect the turnout and Jefferson will get showered with the respect and appreciation he deserves.
Carter didn’t practice today, giving his right ankle some more rest, but he said he’s playing tomorrow. The Nets, however, will be without Bobby Simmons and Eduardo Najera due to strained abdominals.
Devin Harris was selected to participate in the Skills Challenge on All-Star Saturday. Also chosen were Tony Parker, Jameer Nelson and Derrick Rose.
Brook Lopez was named the East Rookie of the Month for January.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
SAN ANTONIO — Devin Harris has a rib injury. Keyon Dooling has a swollen right ankle. Vince Carter is just feeling better after an ankle injury limited his lift. Those are the Nets’ three point guards.
Their fourth, in an emergency spot, is Trenton Hassell. And he has a calf strain.
Not a good way to go into tomorrow’s game against the Spurs, hoping to end a four-game skid. But Lawrence Frank, ever the optimist, said, “Every team deals with injury. We’re not unique to that.”
No, but the Nets need insurance at the point guard position. They have for a while.
A CT scan given to Harris on Thursday was negative. He was diagnosed with a bruised rib and is day-to-day. Dooling, who was limping around noticeably today, may not be playing if Harris was healthy.
They’re not going to be able to get someone that comes in and makes an immediate impact, someone that will supplant any of the three players currently manning that spot. But the Nets probably need to do something.
The Nets have talked about wanting a third point guard since the start of training camp and it hasn’t happened. We know it’s not from lack of effort because Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe have tried to do things that make sense financially as well as plan wise. Nothing has worked to their liking, though.
Remember, everything is about the plan, which is having flexibility in 2010. So they don’t want to take back crazy contracts — anything more than two years — or else that affects the plan.
That’s one of the reasons they were considering trading for Larry Hughes, which is a possibility still.
The Nets likely would have sent Bobby Simmons and Sean Williams to Chicago for Hughes if the Bulls said yes. But they wanted a shorter-term deal so Maurice Ager replaced Williams.
There are other factors why the Nets haven’t pulled the trigger: from Simmons being a better locker room guy, to the more than $3 million in salary they would take back next year to determining whether it makes them that much better to where they would be willing to accept potential chemistry issues and the additional payroll.
However, in either case, the Nets would open up a roster spot, which they could, of course, use on another point guard.
The Nets talked earlier this season to Memphis about the likes of Javaris Crittenton, who has since been moved, and the Grizzlies’ collection of point guards. They’ve also inquired about Luther Head in Houston.
In all cases, what the Nets don’t want to do is what Vandeweghe continues to refer to as put a Band Aid over anything, especially if it messes with the plan.
“You’re trying to improve your team, with goals in mind,” Vandeweghe said. “What we’ve talked about — Rod and myself — is that we’re not going to look to Band Aid solutions, and whatever we do will be sticking towards the plan.”
By Band Aid, you mean?
“We’ve identified ’10 as the year to have cap space,” Vandeweghe said. “We worked very hard to make that happen. You do a deal that may help you win a few games this year, but compromises your cap space in ’10. That in my view would be a Band Aid solution.”
There are other things out there. The Nets are calling and listening and trying to decide what to do, if anything.
If the Nets make a trade that gets them two or three more wins and a seventh seed instead of an eighth seed does it make that big of a difference? Either way, the Celtics, Cavs or Magic will destroy them.
For the Nets to think that way is understandable.
It’s also understandable for them to think since they’re past the midpoint, why bring anyone in if they’re just going to be here for emergency purposes, especially if it means more payroll. They can weather the storm with what they have.
There is danger in that, though.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County)