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