NEW YORK — The Nets ended their season at Madison Square Garden last night with a 102-73 loss to the Knicks — without Vince Carter and Devin Harris — and now begin what should be another busy offseason.
Will coach Lawrence Frank be back? Will Carter? What’s Yi Jianlian’s future — a bust or a contributor? Who will they draft? Will they trade their pick? Will they make any big deals?
The quick answers to all of this are maybe, probably, we’ll see, the best available player, perhaps and they’ll try. The real answers will come soon enough. Before we look ahead, here’s a look back at 2008-09:
Carter beats out Harris because he was healthier, came to play every night and led this team to the last game. Carter embraced his role as captain. He led by example, played hurt and helped give the young guys a role model to follow.
5 Biggest Surprises
1. Brook Lopez: You don’t normally find a potential franchise center with the No. 10 pick
2. The Nets: With eight new faces they stayed in the playoff race longer than expected
3. Devin Harris: Went from essentially a complementary player in Dallas to an All-Star here
4. Ryan Anderson: Scored more points than eight players taken ahead of him
5. Keyon Dooling: We knew he was good, but had a career year and was instant energy
5 Biggest Disappointments
1. Yi Jianlian: Just when he looked like he got it, he broke his pinky and went backward
2. Home Play: Nets were 19-22 at Izod Center and lost 13 games by at least 10 points
3. Eduardo Najera: Nets may have been better defensively and overall if he wasn’t hurt all season
4. No Moves: Management tried, but never found a third point guard or upgraded the roster in-season
5. Josh Boone: Didn’t improve and Lopez’s emergence didn’t inspire him to raise his game
5 Games to Remember
1. Nets 129, Raptors 127 (OT), Nov. 21, Air Canada Centre
Harris was in the back sick, returned and had a great second half, but this game was about Carter’s game-tying three in regulation and his alley-oop dunk to win in OT.
2. Nets 98, Sixers 96, Feb. 23, Izod Center
Harris’ halfcourt heave with Andre Iguodala draped all over him was shot of the year; the kind that made you think the Nets were going to be a Cinderella playoff team – guess not.
3. Nets 121, Mavs 97, Dec. 19, IZOD Center
In Jason Kidd’s return, an inspired Harris had 41 points and 13 assists against his old team, leading the fans to chants of “Thank you, Cuban,” to Mavs’ owner Mark.
4. Nets 117, Suns 109, Nov. 30, U.S. Airways Center
Harris’ 47 points helped the Nets cap a 3-1 trip and end a 14-game drought in the desert. Harris became an All-Star on this trip.
5. Nets 114, Nuggets 70, Feb. 7, IZOD Center
Denver never saw this one coming. Who did? This was an all-out annihilation of one of the NBA’s best teams.
5 Games to Forget
1. Bucks 107, Nets 78, March 30, IZOD Center
They should have asked for some stamps because they mailed this one in one day after a no-show in Minnesota.
2. Celtics 105, Nets 86, Jan. 17, IZOD Center
Young fans had to watch this matinee massacre and their favorite players, Harris and Carter, benched for the second half.
3. Wizards 108, Nets 88, Dec. 2, IZOD Center
Coming off a 3-1 West trip, the Nets left their legs and us-against-everyone mentality in another time zone.
4. Clippers 107, Nets 105, March 15, Staples Center
Everyone remembers the foul up three and Steve Novak’s game-winner, but the Nets played with no urgency while still in the playoff race.
5. Golden State 116, Nets 112, March 11, Oracle Arena
Nets led this game by 14 and were outscored in the second half, 63-45. It was a bad omen to start the 0-4 trip that ultimately sealed their playoff fate.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
It’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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.)
ATLANTA – Effort wasn’t the problem for the Nets in their loss to Toronto Wednesday, so that’s definitely a step forward from what happened in Oklahoma City. But you can’t help but notice that the Nets keep taking steps backward.
They’ve lost eight of 10 to drop six games below .500 and there’s a good chance the Nets won’t see breakeven again. By losing all these games, the Nets also have dropped out of the top eight, even falling behind the Knicks and into 10th place in the Eastern Conference.
Yes, the Nets only are one-half game behind eighth-place Milwaukee, which you would expect will lose more now that Michael Redd is out for the season. But the Nets also are just two games out of 14th place, so these nine games before the February 19 trade deadline – starting with tomorrow against the Hawks – are critical for the Nets and their future. Eight of those games are against teams with better records and six are on the road. You probably get where this is going.
It’s about what the Nets should do by the deadline. Earlier this season, when they were hovering around fifth and sixth place they couldn’t really consider trading Vince Carter. They may have to start now. His trade value maybe at its highest considering how well he’s playing at 32 and what some teams think they need to get them over the hump. What contender other than the Celtics or Lakers wouldn’t want someone like Carter?
The Cavaliers are interested, that’s known. You could see Orlando being intrigued, although GM Otis Smith said some negative things about the hometown product two summers ago. The Rockets and Mavericks could also use help back there, although you wonder if Jason Kidd would vouch for Carter after he was one of the reasons he wanted out.
Then there are the teams that could try and block others from getting a player like Carter, maybe a New Orleans.
The point is the Nets should be fielding many calls in the next few weeks, especially if they keep going backward. Jarvis Hayes could help contending teams. Eduardo Najera can also.
The Nets have pieces that other teams may want and more than ever they have to think about what makes sense. Are they playing for today or next season or 2010?
Dealing Carter would open up an additional $17.3 million for 2010, especially if they were to move him for players whose contracts expire after next season. But then the question is who would want to come here if the Nets are not competitive? Certainly, they’re more competitive with Carter than without him. To which, the Devil’s advocate would say how good will Carter be in his 13th season, pushing 34 years old?
This scenario has been and continues to be discussed by the Nets’ hierarchy and might be spoken about more because of the team’s losing ways.
By the way, on a side note, did you ever think Yi would be missed this much?
You had to expect the Nets would hit the skids at some point. Their schedule has been a bear and the road ahead isn’t easy either. If we look ahead a little further, March features nine road games, including a West Coast trip, and 13 games overall with teams with better records than the Nets, including two with the Cavs and one each with the Lakers, Nuggets, Blazers and Hornets.
That’s what made Monday’s game at Oklahoma City and yesterday’s against the Raptors big ones for the Nets. You have to win the games you should win if you want to be a playoff team.
The way things are going, the Nets probably won’t be a playoff team. And if they continue going the way they are over the next few weeks, Net officials may have to make another bold move. Their phones should be busy.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)