Tagged: Brook Lopez

Douglas-Roberts, Lopez impress early

lopez250.jpgThe Nets have played three preseason games and lost all three. Some might consider it a look into the near future, but there are two important factors that can’t be underestimated: They haven’t played with Devin Harris, Courtney Lee and Brook Lopez together in the lineup yet, and the young guys keep getting better.
 
That doesn’t mean the Nets will definitely be playing into May, but if they stay healthy and the young guys continue to improve and the veterans play their role well, this season could turn out better than expected.
 
A lot has to happen, we know. But the truth is that no one knows what to expect yet because there are so many new parts, guys playing bigger roles and youth. With youth comes mistakes, but also a lot of exuberance and passion that could lead to some interesting, exciting things.
 
“We understand we’re a very young team and with a young team you have to have patience,” Nets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe said. “But every game, what should come with a young team is really high energy and a lot of hard work. We have enough guys that we can do that.”
 
Three games into preseason, the most impressive players have been second-year guys Lopez and Chris Douglas-Roberts, who is making a strong case for starting at small forward. Douglas-Roberts might be the biggest surprise of the preseason, but with everything he did and said last year and given how competitive he has been, it was easy to see him working his way into the lineup. Douglas-Roberts didn’t want to sit and watch, so he spent the summer working out, working on his game and making sure he wouldn’t be left out this season.
 
Douglas-Roberts’ emergence means it’s very possible Harris, at 26, will be the oldest starter on opening night. The other four could read like this: Lee (24), Douglas-Roberts (22), Lopez (21) and Yi Jianlian (22-ish — there’s still some question about Yi’s date of birth).
 
Nothing has been decided yet because Terrence Williams and Jarvis Hayes are in the mix for the small forward job, but Douglas-Roberts has stood out in the three games as the second-best offensive player behind Lopez.
 
As expected, Lopez is handling his increased workload well. He’s a mature 21-year-old and really wants to be great, so he’s embracing the challenge. The Nets have run the offense through him in each game and he has responded, looking very comfortable in this role.
 
The 7-footer has played 78 minutes, taken 31 shots and scored 58 points. He’s being efficient, effective and getting to the foul line. And he’s done that with Harris and Lee on the floor with him a total of zero minutes to this point. That will change tomorrow when Harris and Lee are expected to be available for the game against the Celtics at The Rock in Newark.
 
Lee still has missed a bunch of practices lately because of issues with both feet, but when he’s healthy the Nets expect him to play big roles on both ends of the floor. Harris has looked good and done a good job of directing the team before tweaking his ankle Friday in Philadelphia. When the season rolls around, he’ll pick his spots to take over games like he did last year.
 
Of course, none of this means that the Nets will finish .500-or-better and challenge for a playoff spot. But you can’t judge them off of three preseason games either.

Defense lacking in preseason opener

nets275.jpgALBANY — The Nets’ first preseason game showed what you would expect: the future is bright with Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, but overall, this team is a work in progress and will be for sometime.

Probably the most disappointing thing, especially after all the talk the first five days of practice about defense, was how the Nets didn’t play any here Sunday in a 115-107 loss to the Knicks.
 
It is the preseason and the scores tend to be on the high side in the exhibition season, but after all the talk and coach Lawrence Frank’s bluster about the defense, the Nets should have stepped up on that end. Now he has something to show them over and over and over.
 
“We got a lot of good footage there,” Frank said.
 
The Knicks are a tough team to guard because of Mike D’Antoni’s offense, the amount of shooters and scorers they have and the random pick-and-rolls they run. But it’s good that the Nets saw that they have a long, long way to go.
 
The perimeter defense was bad. The interior defense was bad. The Nets allowed 49 points over a 17-minute stretch between the first and second periods and 79 in a 29-minute span over the first three periods. The Knicks shot 13-of-31 from three overall.
 
The Knicks are no defensive stalwarts, but they were more active and talking much more than the Nets after the first period.
 
“I’m disappointed defensively,” Frank said. “This is a little bit of a litmus test in terms of seeing where we’re at defensively.
 
They have a long way to go.

Some other observations:
 

  • Harris, the Nets’ best player, performed like he did last year, only with more of an air that this is his team. He got in the lane and scored when he wanted and worked the two-man game with Lopez well. Harris also pulled guys aside and guided them on where they should be in certain situations.
  • Lopez was impressive. The Nets tried to establish him early, which we like, and the second-year center showed he’s ready to be more involved. In the first half, he took 11 foul shots, one less than the Knicks as a team. Lopez had 19 points at the break and finished with 19. He and Harris didn’t play in the fourth.
  • Yi Jianlian was assertive at times and showed improved confidence. After missing inside, Yi drove to the basket on the next position, was fouled and scored. He needs to continue to be aggressive, but he can’t forget about the other end.
  • Don’t jump off the bridge yet, but the first game looked like many last year where the other team’s starting forwards outplayed the Nets. Between Yi and Jarvis Hayes, the Nets scored 16 points. The Knicks got 34 combined from Al Harrington and Jared Jeffries.
  • Chris Douglas-Roberts created for himself and got to the line repeatedly. He led with 21 points and was 11-of-15 from the line. It may not always look pretty, but the guy is a shotmaker inside. Figuring Courtney Lee is the starting shooting guard, Douglas-Roberts should be one of the first guys off the bench unless he continues to play this way and Frank decides to start him at small forward. But because of the size and strength of other threes in the Atlantic (Paul Pierce, Caron Butler, Andre Iguodala and Al Harrington) that may be tough.
  • Rafer Alston ran the team well, setting up his teammates for open shots and baskets inside. The Nets will be able to play him with Harris the way they did last year with Keyon Dooling. When Dooling returns from rehabbing from hip surgery, someone will be unhappy and on the trading block, and it won’t be Harris.
  • Rookie Terrence Williams missed his first six shots and was rejected twice, but one play that stood out was after a bad Sean Williams pass led to a Nate Robinson run-out. Williams caught up to his speedy Seattle buddy and prevented the dunk by fouling Robinson, who missed one of the free throws.

Preseason game No. 2 is Friday at the Sixers. The Nets expect a better defensive performance. It will be the focus of practice this week for sure. Then again, it was last week, too.

Thorn, Nets ponder post-Carter moves

The Nets had a meet-and-greet today for some of the players they acquired in the Vince Carter trade. It probably won’t be their last such event this summer.
 
“I don’t think we’re done yet,” Nets president Rod Thorn said. “I think you’ll see us do some other things before next season rolls around.”
 
alston250_063009.jpgCourtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie came over from the Carter-Ryan Anderson trade. The Nets also added rookie Terrence Williams on the same day.
 
No, the Nets are not championship caliber. They’re not even playoff caliber, but they have time before the regular season starts to change that.
 
The free-agent negotiation period begins July 1. Players can be signed July 8. The Nets don’t have the money to make a big splash this summer. So, they’re more likely to wait and see what’s left after teams with money open their checkbooks.
 
The Nets probably will make more noise in the trade market. They have 15 guaranteed contracts so they’re going to have to trade or cut people to make any moves and with money the way it is, think trade.
 
Here’s a summer primer:
 
What The Nets Have
1. Money: They’re over the cap, but can use their mid-level exception, which should be between $5 million and $6 million when the new cap is announced. Thorn generally doesn’t use the full midlevel on one player, but he’s been known to split it like last season when some went to Eduardo Najera and some to Chris Douglas-Roberts.
 
2. Expiring contracts: Potentially valuable trade chips are the seven contracts that will expire after the upcoming season. It’s eight if you include Yi Jianlian’s 2010-11 team option that you have to believe the Nets will pick up if he’s here, still.
 
3. Trade exceptions: The Nets have three for $3.7 million, $1.26 million and $1.2 million. They can’t be combined. The first is almost like having another midlevel when you consider Thorn doesn’t use full midlevels. The $1.26 million exception, acquired for Marcus Williams, expires July 22. The Nets used one last year to sign Keyon Dooling.
 
What the Nets need
1. Power forward: Thorn said recently that Yi is the man at power forward, but if the Nets can get one they will. A healthy Najera will help the Nets, but they wouldn’t mind insurance there also.
 
2. Small forward: The Nets have nine players that can play on the wing, but could use a proven scoring swingman. Right now it’s Hayes, Williams, Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell.
 
3. Center: Not a starter. Brook Lopez is one of two or three untouchables on the team — we’re figuring the newly acquired Lee and Williams, too. But the Nets could use help back there. Josh Boone and Sean Williams aren’t a part of the future and neither is injury-prone newcomer Battie.
 
Who’s available?
1. Power forwards: Carlos Boozer, David Lee and Paul Millsap likely will cost too much. The Nets should make a push for free agent Brandon Bass — it will be hard to outbid his current team, the Mavericks. Other possibilities are Chris Wilcox, Mikki Moore and Channing Frye.
 
2. Small forwards: Figure Hedo Turkoglu, Shawn Marion and Lamar Odom are out of their price range. Trevor Ariza would be a nice addition, but many teams will pursue him and he’s expected to return to the Lakers. More realistic swingman names are Rodney Carney, Ime Udoka, Keith Bogans and Von Wafer.
 
3. Centers: The Clippers are trying to shed some big men and Marcus Camby, whose salary is up after the season and has history with Nets GM Kiki Vandeweghe, could be a good short-term option. Free agent Zaza Pachulia is more than serviceable.
 
Closing thought
You can’t rule out a big deal, especially if the Nets can get an All-Star quality big man for Devin Harris or some expiring pacts. They’re long shots, but they should try for Amare Stoudemire, if the deal with the Warriors falls through, or Al Jefferson.
 
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

With no lottery luck, Nets get No. 11 pick

SECAUCUS, N.J. — The NBA Draft Lottery went just like the Nets’ season. Despite their best intentions, they just couldn’t beat the odds.

So, the Nets will pick 11th in next month’s draft, as expected. But, they hope to have the same luck they had in last year’s draft when a big center they never expected to be there fell to them at No. 10 — Brook Lopez.
 
It’s not often you have that type of good fortune two years in a row, but the Nets can hope. The truth is this is not a deep draft. There’s power forward Blake Griffin and basically everyone else.

Sure, Spanish point guard Ricky Rubio has been mentioned at No. 2 and UConn’s 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet at three. But, both have big question marks and after them there are questions about who’s going to be a player and who’s not.
 
For that reason, the Nets aren’t all broken up about not jumping into the top three. They don’t think there’s much difference between three, four, five and 11.

Don’t get me wrong. They would have loved the No. 1 pick, of course. The Nets’ frontcourt would be set for the next 10-12 years, if Griffin and Lopez reach their potential.
 
They will call the Clippers to see if there is any package the Clippers would accept, perhaps even including Devin Harris to make it enticing, for the No. 1 pick.
 
If the Nets wound up two or three they would have discussed whether to go with Thabeet or Arizona power forward Jordan Hill or Arizona State swingman James Harden. Who knows if either falls and how far?
 
But, if the Nets stay at 11, any number of players that they like probably will be available to them, whether it’s a point guard — this draft has plenty of them — a wing player or a power forward.
 
flynn250_051909.jpgThink these names right now but things could change in the next month: Point guards Jonny Flynn of Syracuse, Ty Lawson of UNC and Jeff Teague of Wake Forest, Wake small forward James Johnson, Louisville swingman Terence Williams and undersized Pitt power forward DeJuan Blair.
 
Point guard, wing player and power forward are the Nets’ three biggest needs.
 
They want a third point guard for insurance reasons. They would like a small forward that can score consistently. Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell didn’t stand out last year and a power forward that isn’t good for 1-for-6, four points and three rebounds every night (Yi Jianlian was a big disappointment).
 
The Nets won’t find all three in this draft and likely will have to make trades to fill some of their needs, but they should have options.

“We definitely feel there will be some player picked at 11 or even lower than 11 that will be a really good player in the NBA,” Nets president Rod Thorn said. “That’s the way it is every year. We just have to get the right guy.”
 
That’s it. The Nets need to make sure they get the right guy this time.
 
Last year, they had arguably the best draft in the league when they took Lopez, Ryan Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts. They basically got three top 25 picks even though Douglas-Roberts went at No. 40.
 
The Nets have to have similar success this summer because you just don’t know what else they will be able to do in this economic climate, with their own financial issues and with many teams not looking to take back salary.
 
“I think it’s very important that you pick judiciously and you get somebody who can help you particularly when you pick as high as we are,” Thorn said.
 
This could be the only addition the Nets make this summer. It’s not likely because Thorn badly wants the Nets to be a playoff team, but it is possible.
 
The Nets are in a cost-cutting mode, like most teams. They’re not going to want to add too much salary, so look for trades rather than signings. But, they need a willing partner, and who knows if they’ll have to throw in the No. 11 pick to make Sean Williams or Simmons or Hassell or Josh Boone more attractive.
 
But, if they keep the pick, the Nets have to make sure they get the right guy, someone who makes the rotation. They have to have similar success as last year when the lottery didn’t go as they hoped but the draft sure did.

Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

Thorn: Frank is still our guy

frank_250_042909.jpgNets president Rod Thorn said he had been formulating his opinion for about a week. Ultimately, the reason he decided to give Lawrence Frank a chance to finish out his contract as coach is because he believes in him.
 
“In my mind, he’s a good coach,” Thorn said this morning. “If you get rid of a good coach you’ve got to get a good coach. In my mind he’s a good coach. He’s done a good job here.
 
“This past year we weren’t expected to do very well. We ended up doing better than most people expected us to do. Our younger players got better for the most part. My feeling is we’re on the right road.”
 
And with that ended more than a week of speculation and conjecture of what Thorn would do, who would replace Frank and whether the players still are listening to him. Now it’s on to making sure the Nets improve on the basketball floor so Frank can keep his job.
 
Bringing back Frank for next season may not be a popular decision with the fans, but it makes sense on so many levels.
 
First of all, Nets’ ownership lost more than $25 million according to Sports Business Journal last year. The team has had a few rounds of layoffs and is sharing a summer league team with the Sixers to split the expenses.
 
All of that said, eating Frank’s $4.5 million salary wouldn’t be smart.
 
Secondly, the Nets didn’t underachieve like some teams. They may have overachieved – although it’s hard to say 34 wins is a good thing – when you consider what they were predicted to do this past season.
 
Additionally, Devin Harris improved. Brook Lopez was better than expected. The same can be said for Keyon Dooling, Jarvis Hayes and Ryan Anderson.
 
Frank certainly had more positives than negatives this past season. The biggest minus was the Nets’ record, but he basically had a pass for that when in preseason Thorn and GM Kiki Vandeweghe said the development of the players were what mattered.
 
Some in the organization were unhappy that the plan shifted when the Nets were in the playoff race and they played veterans because they were trying to win games. But the players – except for Yi Jianlian – got better or played better than anticipated. Besides, playing to win is the most important thing. You want to teach the players how to win and what it takes. That should always be the plan. It will be next year when Frank knows he has to win to keep his job.
 
Even if he does, there’s no guarantee the Nets will extend him or give him a new deal after the season. So much depends on what happens this summer, who comes in via the draft, free agency and trades, and how the young players continue to develop.

There are other factors, too, like whether the Nets are on track for Brooklyn, whether Bruce Ratner still owns the team and if there is a marquee coach available next summer that could make a big difference.
 
As for 2009-10, Thorn isn’t concerned about having a coach in the final year of his contract on the bench. He thinks the players will listen to Frank and continue to play hard for him. They did for most of this past season, but at times they could have and should have given a little more. Had they given more effort defensively and executed better down the stretch of games they might have been in the playoffs now, might have been playing the roles of the Bulls or Sixers, who are giving the Celtics and Magic fits, respectively.
 
You can blame some of those things on the coach, of course. But the players also share in that. They have to work a little harder defensively, have to be smarter with the ball late in games or take better shots.
 
These are the things the Nets will have to do better next season because they’re healthy and because they will hear the same voice and likely will play a similar style. Maybe the Nets will go to Lopez more – at least they should. But all of that will depend upon what personnel changes the Nets make.
 
That’s what Thorn has to turn his attention to now that he has decided his coach will be back and that his voice still is being heard.
 
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

The future of these Nets

dooling250_041709.jpgThe season ended Wednesday. The players have had their exit interviews. The Nets will have meetings early next week to discuss numerous things, including the future of coach Lawrence Frank.
 
Here’s a look at the future of all the Nets gathered from a combination of sources, educated opinion, speculation and conversations with my 2 -year-old son.
 
Lawrence Frank: The Nets’ NBA leader in wins achieved most of what management wanted, except for developing Yi Jianlian. But, we don’t blame Frank for that. Yi got hurt and you know the rest of the story. Frank did a good job. But, the questions Rod Thorn will ask himself is can someone get more out of this team, are the players still listening, can he come back with one year left on his deal and expect the players to run through walls for him. The owner endorsed Frank if that means anything.
Odds of returning: 50 percent
 
Brook Lopez: The Rookie of the Year candidate hasn’t scratched the surface of his potential. The Nets see the center as a franchise centerpiece, especially if he continues to develop.
Odds of returning: 99.9 percent
 
Jarvis Hayes: The Nets will pick up the $2 million option on his contract for next season and gladly call him their sixth man again.
Odds of returning: 90 percent
 
Devin Harris: The first-time All-Star was great most of the season but didn’t commit to defense. The Nets like what they see from Jason Kidd’s replacement and won’t move the person they dealt their franchise player for unless they have a shot at Blake Griffin or another potential franchise-type of player.
Odds of returning: 85 percent
 
Keyon Dooling: The ball moved better with him, and he’s the kind of instant energy player every team loves and the Nets of recent years have lacked. He should be back.
Odds of returning: 80 percent
 
Vince Carter: You’re not going to find many players who can produce the way he can and who makes his teammates better like he does. Money will be a factor both ways. The Nets would like to shed some payroll, but it’s going to be tough to find teams that will take back his $33.6 million salary over the next two years.
Odds of returning: 75 percent
 
Chris Douglas-Roberts: Showed great potential at the end of the season that made some question why the rookie swingman didn’t play sooner. The Nets would like to see how he progresses. He’s already one of their most competitive guys, a trait they wish more had.
Odds of returning: 75 percent
 
Ryan Anderson: The Nets like him and what he can become, but other teams like Anderson too. He could sweeten any potential trade.
Odds of returning: 70 percent
 
Yi Jianlian: The Nets already gave up too soon on a 20-something 7-footer (Nenad Krstic) in part of because of Yi. That was a mistake. But, they should make some calls. Not sure what the interest level is. The Nets would like an upgrade at power forward.
Odds of returning: 65 percent
 
Eduardo Najera: The Nets’ oldest player played only 27 games due to injury. Teams could be scared away by his age, 33, his health and his contract (three years, $8.5 million).
Odds of returning: 60 percent
 
Bobby Simmons: Improved as the season went on and is entering the final year of his deal at $11.24 million. It’s a lot for a role player, but he could value if not now then by the trade deadline. The Nets would like an upgrade at small forward.
Odds of returning: 60 percent
 
Trenton Hassell: Won’t opt out of the $4.35 million due him next season because he won’t sniff close to that if he does. It’s a lot of money for a role player, but better than Simmons’ deal and he’s a better defender. It’s the type of contract that could be used to make a deal work.
Odds of returning: 50 percent
 
Josh Boone: Serviceable big man has a manageable contract — $2 million next season; qualifying offer slightly less than $3 million the year after. He should have value but needs a fire lit under him.
Odds of returning: 25 percent
 
Sean Williams: Everyone knows he’s a terrific athlete and shot blocker, but his off-court troubles spoiled what could have been an I’ll-show-you season. If the Nets can’t move him, they always could buy him out.
Odds of returning: 20 percent
 
Maurice Ager: The only free agent on the roster can begin looking for a job, if he wants.
Odds of returning: 0 percent
 
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

Wrapping up and moving forward

hayes250_041609.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Rod Thorn, Kiki Vandeweghe and Lawrence Frank sat together with each Nets’ player and performed the annual exit interviews where they discussed what they did well, what they need to work on and some type of summer plan.
 
If I was running the Nets, here’s what I would say to each player and the coach in that setting:
 
Vince Carter: Get some rest because you’re still a high-level player and we want you to be fresh next season and continue to be an exemplary leader. You helped our young players so much this season. Thank you. You will hear your name in trade rumors, but unless you get a call from us don’t worry about it.
 
Devin Harris: Great season, but we’re going to expect more next year. Defensively, you have to raise your game because since you’ve been here you have not lived up to your rep of being a good on-ball defender. You have to realize we need you to do more than score for us to win. You have to defend better, set up your teammates more and take care of the ball late in games.
 
Brook Lopez: You grew up more than any player, and we think you’re only going to get better. Get stronger up top, but lower body, also. Here’s some tape on Tim Duncan, Yao Ming, Dwight Howard and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. Watch them and go watch some playoff games. Pick up things from them and we’ll start working on it in a month or so because eventually you’re going to be our go-to player.
 
Ryan Anderson: You showed great maturity and professionalism to go from out of the rotation to starting to out to starting, and were productive. We like the way you go to the boards. We’re going to try and work on your lateral quickness and defense. Here is some tape and some things for you to try, and we’ll see you in back in the gym in a month or so.
 
Keyon Dooling: After you clean up your hip get a little rest because you logged more minutes than ever before and depending on what we do next season you could have an increased role. But, we liked the energy, leadership and professionalism you brought to each game and welcome that next season.
 
Jarvis Hayes: I wouldn’t worry about your $2 million option. You’re safe. We’ve been waiting for a good shooter and capable perimeter defender for years and we have that now. Let your thumb heal, spend some time with your new son, and come back thinking Sixth Man Award candidate.
 
Chris Douglas-Roberts: We love your competitive nature. We need more players who hate losing like you do and will do whatever it takes to win. Keep working on your ball-handling, shooting and defense because you will have an expanded role next season.
 
Yi Jianlian: You weren’t the same player after returning from your broken right pinkie. You can’t hesitate when you shoot and you can’t lose confidence. When you’re not hitting shots you still can rebound and defend. You need to improve everywhere and the only way is by playing. So, when you’re not with your national team, get in a gym and play pick-up games, go to Vegas and play, come here and play. You just need to play.
 
Josh Boone: We thought Brook taking your starting job would have inspired you to work harder and improve. It didn’t. Same with Sean Williams taking your back-up role for a stretch. We need to figure out what’s going to light a fire under you, if anything, because you have potential. You should be instant energy the moment you get in the game.
 
Bobby Simmons: We appreciate your professionalism and willingness to play out of position at power forward. We’re going to continue to look to upgrade the small forward spot. Come into camp in better shape because we need you to be better defensively.
 
Trenton Hassell: We appreciate your professionalism and defense. If only you could consistently knock down shots because you were open so often. Next year, if you’re here, we’ll probably use you more in a specialist capacity, as in when we need to shut down people. But, work on your jump shot so we can give you the ball more often.
 
Eduardo Najera: Eddie, is it? Nice to see you. It’s been awhile. We could have used your defense, energy and toughness. Come back healthy, and we’ll see if you can help us next season.
 
Sean Williams: We’re running out of patience and you’re running out of time. You could help us if only you keep your head in the game and on your job. We’re not sure you will. Prove us wrong, if you’re still here.
 
Maurice Ager: Thanks for being a good practice player. Do you know any Spanish or Italian? How about the U.S. to Euro conversion rate? You may want to become familiar with those things.
 
Lawrence Frank: I never tell you who to play, but I wouldn’t have gone with Yi or Hassell as long as you did. And it’s not your fault for Yi. Anyway, you did a good job with this group. But you should sit down a little more and not scream all the time for guys to “Go,” and other things. Let them play, especially when you have mostly veterans on the floor. The veterans will appreciate that and probably respond better.
 
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).