Tagged: Lawrence Frank

Douglas-Roberts on a fighting mission

douglasroberts_300_102009.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Chris Douglas-Roberts is like that hungry-slash-angry defensive back – he’s not big enough to be a linebacker – who can’t wait until the regular-season starts so he can hit somebody.

Wrong sport, we know, but that’s how Douglas-Roberts acts and talks – and he’s always talking.

The good-natured Nets’ swingman said he would like to see more hitting in practice, more fights. He thinks the team will get closer, tougher and going at it in practice will make the Nets better.

“Last year was my first time ever being on a team that was under .500,” Douglas-Roberts said. “I’ll do anything to try and change that. Whether it’s being more vocal in practice, whatever it has to be. I’ll do anything to change that and mainly trying to make us a tougher team. We need more fights in practice. We need more hard fouls. That makes a tough team.”

This attitude is one of the reasons the Nets think Douglas-Roberts is going to have a breakout year and be in the NBA for a long time. He hates losing. Who doesn’t? Right. But Douglas-Roberts really hates losing, wants to do something about it and has done something about it.

He spent the offseason improving his game and gaining more confidence, which isn’t easy for the secure – and we’re putting it nicely – Douglas-Roberts. He can’t wait to show what he’s got and believes he can help the Nets be better than expected.

Nets coach Lawrence Frank said in-practice fighting isn’t the answer, but loves the passion Douglas-Roberts plays with at all times. The Nets hope it rubs off on other players and can carry it over agianst the opposition.

“The thing is this: the competitiveness,” Frank said. “Like in football, they don’t necessarily encourage fights in practice but go fight the other team.

“One of the greatest competitors I’ve ever been around is Jason Kidd. Now he never got into a fight in practice. My thing is have some fight in you. It doesn’t literally have to be Sonny Liston, but have some fight in your approach.

“I like Chris’ competitiveness. I like his approach. I like his fire. I like that.”

It has gotten Douglas-Roberts in trouble in the past though. Last year, assistant coach Doug Overton screamed at Douglas-Roberts at the end of a practice last year.
 
Douglas-Roberts was upset that in this post-practice game he wasn’t getting any foul calls because he was a rookie. He kept talking and it incited Overton. Cooler hears prevailed, but that’s Douglas-Roberts. And there were several members of the organization who said something to the effect of if all of last year’s Nets had CDR’s competitive fire.

It helps now that Douglas-Roberts is a big part of the rotation, the expected starting small forward for the Oct. 28 opener.

“Every day he comes ready to practice,” Frank said. “He brings juice to the gym. He brings energy.”

The Nets are going to need everyone to bring that “fight” into the games.
 

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No Devin Harris (groin), Jarvis Hayes (stress reaction, right shin) or Keyon Dooling (hip surgery) for tomorrow’s sixth preseason game against the Knicks. Harris and Hayes hope to play in Friday’s final preseason game against the Sixers.

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

 

Energy, effort requried at all times

naterobinson_250_100609.jpgEAST 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.

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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.).

Sunday begins feeling-out process

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.

nets275_100209.jpgIn 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.).

Prokhorov looming, but business as usual for Nets

prokhorov_250_100109.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – A little more than a week has passed since Mikhail Prokhorov signed off to buy 80 percent of the Nets and help Bruce Ratner finance the building of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But the Russian billionaire’s influence hasn’t been seen or felt yet.

The only outward change at the Nets’ practice facility is PNY Center appears everywhere, but it doesn’t stand for “Prokhorov Never Yields.” It’s for the Parsippany-based flash-drive maker that bought the naming rights for the practice facility before Prokhorov agreed to purchase the Nets.

The truth is it probably will be some time before Prokhorov’s fingerprints are on the team and organization. He doesn’t officially own the team.

First, the league needs to do background checks on Prokhorov, which it already has started. It should be extensive since little is known about this man. If you talk to anyone within the Nets or other NBA circles most of the information they have on Prokhorov comes from a Google search and a click on Wikipedia.

Then the Board of Governors has to approve the sale. They’re meeting later this month and it’s possible Prokhorov will be there. If so he probably will check out the facility and meet some of his potential employees.

But the sale is contingent upon the Nets going to Brooklyn, so Ratner has to win another court appeal later this month. It won’t be surprising if Brooklyn project “Develop Don’t Destroy” tries to put up more resistance.

If everything goes well it’s expected Prokhorov will be in charge in early 2010. They won’t wait until Brooklyn is built because that’s at least another 26 months from the time a shovel is put in the ground.

From Google and Wikipedia and other stories written about Prokhorov you know he’s a metals magnate and is close with Russian president Vladimir Putin. When Prokhorov owned CSKA Moscow the Russian power won two European titles. If/when the sale goes through he wants to use this to help develop Russian basketball using NBA practices and techniques, and plans to place the country’s leading coaches and managers here.

That may not bode well for Nets’ president Rod Thorn, GM Kiki Vandeweghe and coach Lawrence Frank. All are in the last year of their contracts.

You also can gather Prokhorov is a playboy, a man who lives a lavish lifestyle and goes after and gets what he wants. Hey, if your riches were the $9.5 billion Forbes reported you would travel, have multiple homes and live it up too.

Last week, Congressman Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.) sent a letter to NBA commissioner David Stern urging him to “thoroughly investigate” Prokhorov. In the letter, Pascrell wrote, “Mr. Prokhorov’s background raises questions about his fitness to be the owner of a high-profile NBA franchise. Both Mr. Prokhorov’s business and personal history have come under intense scrutiny in his home country and abroad.”

One major thing hanging over his head and that has been brought up since the sale was Prokhorov’s arrest in 2007 for allegedly arranging prostitutes for guests at a Christmas party in France. Prokhorov wasn’t convicted though, and earlier this week was cleared of all charges and the case was dismissed. This could help him when the NBA investigates his past.

Right now and for the time being it has no effect on the Nets. They’re operating business as usual. Frank is preparing them for this season, stressing defense and trying to get everyone to buy in to how if everyone commits this could be an unexpectedly positive season.

“I don’t think it affects us as far as how we go about our daily business as far as what we have to do in between the lines,” veteran guard Keyon Dooling said.

The Nets haven’t been told to sell off assets or go out and get the best players yet. Team officials are planning to maintain the flexibility they’ve created for the summer of 2010. It’s believed that flexibility and potential to sign new players is one of the things that made the Nets attractive to Prokhorov.

He’s a sportsman, a former basketball player who stands 6-foot-9. He likes winning and will spend to win from everything we’ve read.

“From a resource perspective,” Dooling said, “he has the resources to turn this organization from the bottom of the pack to really being able to dish out some dough.”

Ratner originally wouldn’t and the Nets were forced to trade Kenyon Martin in 2004, then would and they were able to trade for Vince Carter. Then Ratner wouldn’t again because of all the monetary losses and he knew he would eventually have to sell. 

So the Nets are in this position where little is expected of them this year. But the belief is Prokhorov will be a Mark Cuban-type owner and will pay to improve his team. That is, if/when Prokhorov clears all the necessary hurdles.

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

Nets open camp eager to overachieve

harris_250_092909.jpgEAST 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.

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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.).
 

New set of eyes on Nets

frank_250_092509.jpgMoney 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.

Don’t overlook
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.

Important campers
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.

Major questions
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.).

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.)