The 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.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Nets’ first preseason game came after about seven practices, so you can’t expect too much from them so soon. But we’re going to bring up the energy and effort factors again.
It’s not that the Nets didn’t play with either, because they did Sunday against the Knicks, but it has been troublesome in the past. Too often the Nets go through lulls that seem to last all game. When you see what Nate Robinson does every time he enters a game – and every time he does so against the Nets – it makes you appreciate what he does for a team.
Robinson may not take the best shots or make the best decisions, but the guy just comes in the game and plays. He lifts the energy level of the team and the crowd. You never question his effort or energy.
The amazing dunks for someone his size notwithstanding, the fact that Robinson is always bouncing around and running all over the court non-stop are valuable traits. It helps that he can play, but still, there is something for having players whose motor is always going.
The Nets haven’t had guys like that in years and it’s something they can’t be without this season.
“We can’t be an average-intensity team,” coach Lawrence Frank said after practice today. “We have to be a high-intensity, high-effort team that plays with a great deal of oomph every single day.”
Look at the Nets’ roster: They do have some players who can play similarly, some guys that have to be like Robinson and give the team a jolt every time they come into the game, which they will need. Too often in recent years, the Nets have gone through lulls.
Assuming the starting five is Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Brook Lopez, Jarvis Hayes and Yi Jianlian, the Nets have second-year wing Chris Douglas-Roberts and rookie Terrence Williams coming off the bench. Their job has to be to lift the team. Third-year big man Sean Williams has the ability, but he hasn’t proven to be reliable or consistent enough.
The Nets have other players, particularly when veterans Keyon Dooling and Eduardo Najera are healthy, but the two young swingmen who are trying to make their names in the NBA can come off the bench with Nate-like fire.
“He’s a constant ball of energy,” Harris said. “I think Terrence can be that type of guy for us. He’s constantly firing those guys up and we need that kind of kick off the bench. We need our bench to take the game to another level when the starters come out.”
Douglas-Roberts will play a big role this season. He’s showing he’s fearless, can get into the paint and create shots, and can score a variety of ways. It looks as if he’s going to pick up some of the scoring lost when Vince Carter was traded to Orlando.
Frank called Douglas-Roberts “very, very determined” last week and you can see it. You also see how ultra competitive Douglas-Roberts is. That’s the type of player you want on your team.
All we’ve heard about Terrence Williams is his defensive presence and you can see that. He is going to help the Nets immensely on that end, pressuring the ball and getting into his man. But one of the things that stood out in the Knicks’ game was Williams chasing down Robinson and not letting him get an easy layup or dunk.
That’s the energy the Nets are going to need, the never-give-up-on-a-play mentality that is vital.
“He can be that for us,” Harris said. “He needs to look at ways to get on the floor and I think that’s one way, bringing that energy every day.”
Williams, who is from Seattle and good friends with Robinson, should have that Nate-like hop in his game and help give the Nets something they sorely need.
Williams took out Harris and Courtney Lee in practice today on different plays. Harris tweaked his left ankle, but expects to return to practice tomorrow. Lee hurt his right. There was swelling so he went for X-rays. They were negative. Lee has a sprained ankle and will be re-evaluated tomorrow.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Nets open the preseason on Sunday in what is a meaningless game, but at least you can start to get a feel for how the team is going to play or what it’s going to look like.
We’ve been hearing so much about defense and scoring off the defense, and you wonder what’s going to happen if the Nets trail 28-12 after the first quarter against the Knicks on Sunday in Albany
Anyway, whatever we see Sunday will look much different as the preseason and regular season goes on because first of all, likely starting shooting guard Courtney Lee won’t be in the lineup due to an inflamed left foot. Lee is expected back next week.
But it will look much different because the players will get used to playing with each other and get into more of a rhythm, and coach Lawrence Frank will have a better understanding of what lineups and rotations work best.
That’s what will be interesting about this preseason, perhaps more than any in recent years, starting to see who fits where.
In the past, you knew Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins would be the starting team with Lucious Harris, Aaron Williams, Rodney Rogers, Anthony Johnson and whomever coming off the bench. Then it was Kidd, Vince Carter, Jefferson, Collins and Nenad Krstic with assorted bench players.
Last season, it was somewhat up in the air, but you could guess that Devin Harris and Carter would start with Yi Jianlian, Bobby Simmons and Josh Boone, who eventually would be replaced by Brook Lopez, and then Jarvis Hayes, Keyon Dooling, Eduardo Najera and Ryan Anderson would be in the mix off the bench.
This season, you can guess that Harris, Lee and Lopez are pretty much locks and that Yi will get another shot as the starting power forward. Hayes might be the frontrunner as the starting small forward right now, but things could change.
Then off the bench, Rafer Alston is the backup point guard with Chris Douglas-Roberts and Terrence Williams the reserve swingmen, but Simmons is back there still and can play both forward positions especially if the Nets go small.
Boone has been practicing at power forward, so Frank is working on having a big unit with Lopez and Boone together, which the Nets hope will help their defensive rebounding.
You can’t overlook or forget three injured players in Dooling, Eduardo Najera and Tony Battie, and what they can provide and do to the overall rotation.
“I think the thing that’s going to benefit us the most is our numbers,” Lee said today. “We got a lot of guys that play similar positions. Therefore when we’re playing in a game, and we send that first five out there to attack and when that five get tired we got another five that’s going to go out there and attack them again. So I think our strength is going to be in numbers.”
Of course it’s up to Frank to determine which groups work best together.
Last year, at end of games, it often was Harris, Dooling, Carter, Hayes and Lopez. Some would say the Nets went small too much but it was due to lack of consistent production at power forward. That’s probably another reason why Boone has been working back there. He didn’t play alongside Lopez at all last year.
The most interesting is what happens in the backcourt and small forward, though. There will be times when the Nets can play Williams at point with Lee or Harris or Douglas-Roberts and then Hayes at small forward or they can play Harris, with Lee and then Williams and have a quick athletic team, a trapping unit and one that’s good in transition.
“We have a lot of different combinations,” Frank said. “There are a lot of intriguing possibilities we have to evaluate. And the thing you want to do at a certain point is have a firm grasp. But you have a lot of different parts.”
That doesn’t mean the Nets will be good because we don’t really know how these parts fit. But Frank said before camp that the Nets are going to come at teams in waves to be successful. It certainly looks they will and they can.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Training camp began Tuesday with Vince Carter in Orlando, Jason Kidd in Dallas and Richard Jefferson in San Antonio. At the Nets’ practice facility there are some banners and coaches who represent some good old days, but little else.
Hanging at the reception desk inside the PNY Center are a Devin Harris jersey, a Lawrence Frank photo and a Yi Jianlian uniform. It once was Kidd, Carter and Jefferson.
The photos lining the hallways on the way to the gym feature Sean Williams, Josh Boone, Yi and Keyon Dooling. Guess who once was there.
It has been this way for some time here, especially after Carter was traded to Orlando in June, but with camp opening a new era in Nets’ basketball officially began today. Last year was supposed to be a new era, but this truly is, until next year when new Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov – provided the sale goes through – tries to throw around his millions to secure some of the best players money can buy.
By then the overall feeling of the Nets may be different. They are in good position for the future, but not for this year unless everything falls perfectly for them. They have a good young nucleus, and if everything works out, the makings of a Big Three that actually includes a big.
Harris, an All-Star guard last year, Carter’s replacement Courtney Lee and second-year center Brook Lopez make up what could be the cornerstones going forward. As of now, they’re the Big Three the Nets are counting on to improve the team and the chances of attracting LeBron James or another marquee name or names when July 1 hits.
“The funny thing is we help ourselves more by doing better,” Harris said after the first practice. “We attract free agents. If we do better as a team right now we attract more of those guys. So we keep ourselves more in the present because it will help us in the future.”
The Nets could surprise this year. You really don’t know. Chemistry, health, player improvement and perhaps most important for this group, a commitment to defense should determine the type of season the Nets have.
Right from the beginning, all Frank stressed was defense. He didn’t even want to talk about offense, saying he’s not putting in any offensive plays.
Now, we know that’s not true because you have to let the players express themselves freely on the fun end if you want them to get dirty on the workman’s end. But you get the point that Frank is trying to convey.
The Nets are winning with their defense, and rightfully so. As constituted they don’t have the makeup of a team that will outscore many if any teams. Harris is their lone 20-point scorer. No one else on the roster has averaged more than 16 points in a season and Bobby Simmons did it in the 2004-05 season.
If those numbers weren’t enough, these will tell why the Nets have to defend to have a chance to win: three players have averaged more than 10 points twice or more in their careers. Two have done it once and 10 have never averaged at least 10 points.
So it has to start on the defensive end and if guys like Lee and Terrence Williams lead up to their billing as stopper,s and Harris lifts his on-the-ball game, this could be an exciting team. They have athletes that can run and get up and down the floor in Harris, Lee, Williams, Sean Williams and Yi.
“I think our guys want to win,” Frank said. “You don’t have to be the brightest person in the world to figure out, regardless of sports, all winning teams defend. It’s a commitment. It’s an every day commitment. It’s about building habits. It’s everyone buying.”
Buying in and commitment are words often used in coach-speak, but in this case it’s more than that. It’s the truth.
Other then the importance of defense, the thing most often talked about today was how the Nets want to show they’re going to be better than expected.
“All the pundits say we’re going to be very bad,” Dooling said. “It would be nice to go out and prove everybody wrong.”
“That’s going to motivate us, knowing that we’re picked last,” Lee said. “That will definitely put a chip on our shoulders and motivate us to come in here and work hard and make sure we play for each other so we can bond and go out there and play to the best of our abilities.”
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
Money has been an issue for the Nets the last several years, but that seems to be changing with Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov set to sign the checks for the team.
That could be a good thing next summer when the Nets will have the salary cap room and now, seemingly, the ability to spend on some of the biggest names in basketball, namely LeBron James.
It’s all well and good, but they still have to play basketball this season and truthfully it’s hard to know what kind of team the Nets will be. Bad is one word that has been linked to the Nets this season. Awful is another. Of course, they say they’re going to be better than the masses think.
“We don’t look that strong on paper,” Nets president Rod Thorn said. “But we will be better than a lot of the pundits think we will be, and we’ll be very competitive.”
The proving ground comes in the regular season, which is still a month away. But training camp opens next week, the first one since 2000 that hasn’t featured Jason Kidd or Vince Carter. It’s no wonder outside expectations are low.
But the Nets have talent, depth and players who can play an exciting style of basketball. Whether they can come together and play as a team, and buy into coach Lawrence Frank’s system, will be known over the long haul that begins on Tuesday. Remember, this is a big season for everyone affiliated with the Nets because with new ownership comes major change. The Big Russian will be watching, so the evaluation process is about to start.
On the Spot
1. Yi Jianlian: Nets’ pin-cushion returns after an offseason of working on his body, mind and game in California, Vegas, East Rutherford and China. His confidence and skills are said to be improved as Yi added strength and the ability to finish. We’ll see.
2. Devin Harris: Increased workload last year resulted in his first All-Star berth, but this year Harris will have the ultimate responsibility: The Nets are his team. He has to show he can lead them in good times and bad. Harris is excited about the challenge.
3. RFK (Rod; Frank; Kiki): The Nets’ brass has to make all the right moves with the roster and on the court. All three men are in the last year of their contracts so they need to impress Prokhorov, who could decide to bring in his own guys anyway.
Keep an eye on
1. Brook Lopez: Worked with Team USA over the summer and impressed at the mini-camp. Lopez will see the ball more this year as the Nets plan to run the offense through the second-year center more.
2. Courtney Lee: All eyes will be on Carter’s replacement, but Lee showed tremendous poise when the bright lights were on him last year. The rookie started in the Finals. Now he gets the chance to show what he can do with greater opportunity.
3. Chris Douglas-Roberts: Received pep-talk from Carter about taking advantage of his opportunity and then worked tirelessly to make sure he’s ready to contribute this season.
1. Terrence Williams: Rookie can play multiple positions, including some point forward, which will allow the Nets to use many different lineups. Williams’ defensive tenacity will allow the Nets to press and should improve their transition game.
2. Rafer Alston: Provides depth as Keyon Dooling rehabs from hip surgery. Alston can light it up but also set up his teammates and will allow Harris to play shooting guard.
3. Jarvis Hayes: Had a strong season as a backup last year and is expected to take on more of a leadership role this year. Hayes also could be the starting small forward.
1. Sean Williams: Could increase his trade value if he focuses on basketball.
2. Josh Boone: Has some admirers and a good camp could raise his stock or show the Nets he wants to stick around and can be a productive backup center behind Lopez.
3. Eduardo Najera: His defensive toughness was missed last season, but if healthy he should have an impact on how the Nets practice and play.
1. How do the Nets make up for Carter’s loss?
You don’t replace a future Hall of Fame player easily. It will take a group of guys to make up for the points, but that will happen. The hard part will be the scoring opportunities Carter created for everyone, his ability to take over games and be the fourth-quarter assassin. Harris showed he can do some of those things, but will need help.
2. Will the Nets commit and stay together?
That really is the biggest concern because this could be a turbulent season on so many levels. The players have to commit and follow Frank’s vision. One thing in the Nets’ favor are four regulars have fewer than two years experience in the league, so they should be hungry and looking to make names for themselves. Also, six players are in contract years – and three more have team options that may not be picked up – so they should be thinking a big year means more money.
3. Will the Nets defend?
They better. That’s the only chance they have at being successful since Harris is the only proven scorer, so they’ll need Harris, Lee and Terrence Williams to deny up top and stop the dribble. It starts there and it has to be contagious. If they defend, it should lead to a more run outs, too.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).
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.”
Courtney 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.
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.
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.).
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Beware of Draft Day 2010 Devin Harris. It might be your turn.
First it was Richard Jefferson last year and then it was Vince Carter Thursday night. The Nets have moved a cornerstone player in each of the last two drafts. Each time they seemed to go backwards, yet they were looking ahead.
It’s all about 2010. It has been and it will continue to be until 2010 comes and then we’ll see if all the money the Nets saved really allows them to be players when some of the biggest fish will jump into free-agent waters next summer.
The Nets will have money, but numerous questions remain, such as A) Will they be allowed to spend it?; B) Will they be Brooklyn-bound, Newark-bound or leaving this time zone?; C) Will Bruce Ratner still own the team; and D) Will players want to play here?
Time will tell, but for now the Nets think they had a good Draft Day for the second straight year regardless of what you think.
They lost Carter, their best player, and Ryan Anderson. They got back Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie, and they drafted Terrence Williams out of Louisville.
Last year, they sent out Jefferson, got back Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons and drafted Brook Lopez, Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts.
Which day was better or worse is too early to tell? But something tells me the Nets will miss Carter more than they miss Jefferson. Still, Carter wasn’t going to lead the Nets to the NBA title, so they felt it was time to go in another direction, build around some young players and cut somewhere around $17.5 million off their payroll next summer.
“From our standpoint, it certainly puts us in a tremendous position cap-wise going forward,” Nets president Rod Thorn said. “And we think we got a terrific young player in the process.”
That young player is Lee, who the Nets passed on, ironically, in favor of Anderson last year.
Thorn admitted the Nets are not better today, but he thinks they have a chance to better than people think. The Nets weren’t a playoff team before and nothing here says they will be one in 2009-10.
They said goodbye to probably their best scorer in NBA history and got an unproven shooting guard, an above-average point guard and an injury-riddled big man. They also got a versatile player in Williams, who plays three positions and defends three positions. But he’s a rookie so he, too, is unproven.
In other words, this upcoming season will be a lot like last season.
You’re going to watch with intrigue to see how these guys mesh and if they play hard and win games early you’re going to like the direction of the team. Then if they falter, you’re g oing to want the coach fired, some of the players traded, Yi taken out of the lineup, and so on.
A few things that you can count on is the Nets are going to try and run more and maybe they will trap more with a lineup that could feature Harris, Lee and Williams. They can be exciting that way because they have versatility and guys who are interchangeable. But they also have to and will establish Lopez much more.
We’re going to see if Lopez and Harris are for real, too. The Nets lost 21 points, about five assists and so many double-teams that helped the two young players get easier looks.
That’s why there is going to be so much wait-and-see with these Nets, just like last year.
The young guys have to buy in early the way Carter made sure they did last year. They have to commit to defense the way the Nets wouldn’t last year and they have to play together and with a tremendous chip because no one is expecting anything from them.
One more thing, they’re going to have find someone to make plays in the fourth quarter. Carter always did it, and his presence allowed Harris and Lopez to make plays. He will be missed there, too.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)