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.).
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.)