CLEVELAND — Twelve games remain for the Nets, and by no means is their schedule as easy as at least one of the teams they’re chasing. That’s why, in all likelihood, 12 games is all that will remain for the Nets this season.
It’s not over yet, but the Nets, who are 2 1/2 games behind Chicago as of this writing and play at Cleveland tomorrow and host the Lakers on Friday, probably need to go 9-3 or 8-4 and hope the Bucks, Bobcats and Bulls stumble.
Charlotte and Milwaukee could, but expecting the Bulls, currently the No. 8 seed, to sink when eight of their remaining 11 games are at home and the Nets to win either 67 percent or 75 percent of their final games might be asking a lot.
Figure something crazy doesn’t happen, like the Pistons totally dropping out, here’s a look at the teams vying for the last spot and their chances of earning the series with the Cavs:
Bulls (33-38; 8 H, 3 A) 8th place
Home: Pistons, Heat, Pacers, Nets, Knicks, Sixers, Bobcats, Raptors
Away: Toronto, Indiana, Detroit
Commentary: They’re explosive and deep and benefiting big time from the acquisitions of John Salmons and Brad Miller before the trade deadline. They also have a favorable schedule with their next three games at home and five of their last six.
Conclusion: A strong finish and wins over the Pistons and the Bulls could move into seventh. But you have to like them for at least eighth with at least 39 wins.
Bobcats (31-39; 4 H; 8 A) 9th place, 1 ½ out
Home: Knicks, Lakers, Heat, Sixers
Away: Washington, Philadelphia, Boston, Detroit, Oklahoma City, Chicago, New Jersey, Orlando
Commentary: They have a few winnable road games, but their home games are tough aside from the Knicks. They end the season on a four-game road trip.
Conclusion: Larry Brown’s team made it interesting, but will come up short with around 35 wins.
Bucks (31-40; 5 H; 6 A) 9th place, 2 out
Home: Lakers, Grizzlies, Hawks, Oklahoma City, Orlando
Away: Toronto, Orlando, Miami, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Indiana
Commentary: They play five of their next six on the road, including four straight, and the one home game is the Lakers. Scott Skiles could get more out of them than expected, but like Brown’s Bobcats, the Bucks probably won’t have enough.
Conclusion: Richard Jefferson may finish ahead of his old team, with 36 wins, but the Nets will have gone 3-1 against the Bucks.
Nets (30-40; 6 Home, 6 Away) 11th place, 2 ½ out
Home: Lakers, Bucks, Pistons, Sixers, Magic, Bobcats
Away: Cleveland, Minnesota, Chicago, Boston, Detroit, New York
Commentary: They’re going to have to steal a game or six or against teams that either are title contenders or likely in the postseason and hope the Bulls collapse. Devin Harris has return possessed from his shoulder injury — perhaps Friday against the Lakers — Vince Carter has to dominate these final 12 contests and the Nets will have to execute better late in games to have a chance.
Conclusion: Most of these teams are healthy and either playing for playoff position or to get in. Figure the Nets have 35 or 36 wins and finish nine or tenth. (We expect them to hold the tiebreaker over Milwaukee and Charlotte)
Pacers (29-42; 8 H, 3 A) 12th place, 4 out
Home: Heat, Wizards, Bulls, Spurs, Raptors, Pistons, Cavaliers, Bucks
Away: Chicago, Oklahoma City, Atlanta
Commentary: They play four of their last five at home.
Conclusion: It’s possible the Pacers could creep up with their rather favorable schedule, but 34 wins sounds about right.
Knicks (28-42, 5 H, 6 A) 4 ½ out
Home: Clippers, Hornets, Raptors, Pistons, Nets
Away: Charlotte, Utah, Denver, Toronto, Chicago, Orlando, Miami
Commentary: They’ve lost five straight, and four of their next five games are against the Hornets and at Charlotte, Denver and Utah.
Conclusion: Why are they even here? They’re a 33-win team — at best.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
The Nets’ plan was to build for 2010, but also be in position to do something if the unexpected happened. Something like would qualify:
Hello Rod or Hello Kiki, this is Steve Kerr.
Great weather we’re having down here in Phoenix. Make sure you take advantage of the golf courses when you come down during All-Star Weekend and check out the Camelback Mountains. By the way, we’re considering trading Amare Stoudemire and see some things on your roster that we may like. Let’s talk about it and then we’ll catch up when you come down here to see if we can make something work
It’s doubtful those were the exact words, but you get the idea. Also know this, Kerr, the Suns’ GM, had similar conversations with Detroit’s Joe Dumars, Miami’s Pat Riley’s Chicago’s John Paxson, Portland’s Kevin Pritchard and Oklahoma City’s Sam Presti.
There might be a dark horse team we’re forgetting. When you potentially make a player of Stoudemire’s caliber available you talk to just about every team and try and decide which deal makes the most sense.
The Nets are in play because they have good, young players, good contracts and draft picks. The Suns are going with a youth movement. On the block are Shaquille O’Neal and Stoudemire, who likely will be a free agent in 2010 and Phoenix doesn’t want to pay him. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be entertaining offers.
The Nets have to throw their hat in the ring, much the way if you’re Thorn and Vandeweghe, you have to listen to what teams would give up for Vince Carter.
Do the Nets’ brass want to trade their best player? No, but if the right deal comes along, that makes sense to them before the Feb. 19 trade deadline, then they have to consider it.
This is where the multi-faceted plan comes in.
When the Nets traded Jason Kidd for Devin Harris, picks and other complementary players and Richard Jefferson for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons it was clear they were building for the future.
They were trying to get as many picks, good young players on good contracts and veterans on good/expiriing contracts as possible to have the assets and flexibility to be players in 2010 when the likes of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are free.
But the Nets also did it in case a Stoudemire became available they have what it takes to get him. That’s a part of the plan that isn’t as well known.
Now, if they can get Stoudemire, my guess is Carter stays and they’re playing for now and next year with t hose two Harris and Brook Lopez making a strong nucleus. Getting Stoudemire means the Nets’ youth movement is over because they likely would have to include Yi Jianlian and Ryan Anderson in any package.
The Nets have some trepidation about moving Yi, someone they envisioned building around. They think Yi can be really good, never mind the marketing opportunities. But if you get a chance to get a superstar power forward you do everything you can.
If they can get Stoudemire, it means the Nets didn’t think they could sign James or Wade in 2010, which most know became the longest of long shots when it was clear they weren’t moving to Brooklyn by then if it all.
Those once-in-a-lifetime players are not coming to East Rutherford when they can go to New York or stay in Miami or team up in Miami. Imagine Stoudemire and Wade with the Heat, which could happen by next week, or James and Wade in South Beach.
There’s probably also some trepidation on the Nets’ part about Stoudemire’s long-range future. First, they have to determine how healthy he is and whether his surgical repaired knees can hold up. Second, would he want to stay in East Rutherford after 2010? If not, the Nets traded away some of their future and could lose Stoudemire for nothing.
The Nets aren’t close to doing anything. They’re in the exploratory stages of everything, but things could heat up this weekend in Phoenix and not just with Stoudemire. Other than Harris and Lopez, the Nets are all ears. That’s part of the plan, too.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Nets chose to keep Vince Carter instead of Richard Jefferson. It was a no-brainer, really, and you saw why last night.
Jefferson’s numbers were gaudy as he had 27 points in his first game back at the Meadowlands as an ex-Net, but he didn’t have a good game. He missed nine shots and six free throws.
Carter struggled from the field, shooting just 3-of-12, but he still had a great game in leading the balanced Nets over Jefferson’s Bucks, 99-85.
Carter finished with 15 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds for just his fifth career triple-double. His performance epitomized why the Nets chose him over Jefferson.
I’m not sure how much they went back and forth in Rod Thorn’s office about Jefferson and Carter, but it came up. Carter is owed more money, but he is the more coachable player, the better player, the better leader and the best player for this team.
He has handled the “rebuilding” of the Nets better than anyone could have imagined. He’s always up, always encouraging, playing through pain and he makes everyone around him better. Everyone.
“This is what you call a team victory,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “I think it’s embodied with Vince’s triple-double — an extremely purposeful game from him in terms of a great balance.”
Carter spread the wealth. He set up his teammates for easy scores, dunks, open threes and fast-break slams. It was a do-it-all performance when the Nets needed one.
They needed this game, as well as tonight’s at Washington. After that their schedule reads Denver, at Orlando, San Antonio, at Houston, at Dallas. That’s a tough stretch, so these are must-win games to stay in the race.
The win pulled the Nets within one-half game of the Bucks for the East’s final playoff spot. The Bucks have the easier schedule, but they are without leading scorer Michael Redd for the rest of the year. Jefferson can lead them, as he did Tuesday night, but he’s never really been a go-to guy on a playoff team. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.
Carter has done it before. He has led teams to the playoffs before, and if he did it here it would be a great achievement in his great career. It’s not impossible, especially with how well some of the young guys are playing.
Brook Lopez had his second straight double-double with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Fellow rookie Ryan Anderson has played better lately. He had 19 and seven. Yi Jianlian is on the mend and should be back sometime after the All-Star break to help the Nets’ push.
If Jefferson was kept instead of Carter, it’s doubtful Lopez and Devin Harris would have the opportunities they have or the Nets’ offense would have been changed to dribble drive.
They’re running more pick-and-rolls now with Lopez, and having Carter also has helped that. He’s a great passer. Harris is pretty good in pick-and-rolls, too, and improving all the time. He and Lopez are developing some strong chemistry.
The bottom line is Jefferson is very good player and was a great Net. He really was. But there’s no denying who’s better and who was the one the Nets should have kept.
Jefferson was like the mayor last night. He worked up a sweat shooting, met with fans, Nets’ employees, ushers, shook hands, took pictures, signed autographs and did three on-court interviews, all before 6:25 p.m.
He loved it here and is proud of what the Nets did with him.
“It was kind of cool to look up and see all those banners that were hung up in the arena,” he said. “That was cool. You just take things in perspective. We had a great run here, a lot of great guys.”
When Jefferson was announced he received a warm ovation — surprisingly not a standing one. I thought he would get that because of how popular he was and how unpopular the trade for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons was at the time.
But, it was nothing spectacular. Jason Kidd received a longer and louder one when he returned. Of course, Kidd meant more to the franchise, but there were far fewer people in the stands that night because of a blizzard.
It snowed last night, and Carter and the Nets rained on Jefferson’s parade.
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.)
MILWAUKEE – Yi Jianlian’s return didn’t turn out the way that he or the Nets hoped. Neither did Richard Jefferson’s first game against his old team – to a point.
At least Jefferson walked out with a win, despite a bad shooting night and a bad play at the end of the game the Bucks won 104-102. Yi left Milwaukee with a broken pinkie and likely will miss at least a month now.
That, of course, is bigger than the result of the game. Yi had just started playing well. He had 16 points through three quarters when he hurt his hand trying to make a steal.
Jefferson, on the other hand, didn’t look anything like the player he was with the Nets all those years. And on Jefferson bobblehead night, he made a knucklehead play.
He left Bobby Simmons – who also was involved in the blockbuster trade – alone for the game-tying three with nine seconds left. But 8.5 seconds later, Luke Ridnour’s runner bounced off the rim and dropped in for the game-winning shot. Jefferson hugged Ridnour and didn’t want to let go.
“I had to come in here and apologize to my teammates and coaching staff for that bonehead error I did, just leaving my man in the corner for the three,” Jefferson said. “That was just dumb.
“There was nobody in the arena more [ticked] off than myself. I’m just glad my teammate bailed me out.”
First it was Ridnour and then Luc Mbah a Moute.
As Simmons inbounded the ball, Mbah a Moute slapped it away. It was headed for Vince Carter, of course, and anyone who thinks he didn’t have enough time with five-tenths of a second to go you probably should think again.
“That’s all I needed,” Carter said. “But it’s unfortunate.”
Carter did it all with 23 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds, but couldn’t do one thing and that’s get a final shot off.
It was surprising the Nets had a shot at all. They were down 14 in the third and 12 about midway through the fourth. The Bucks seemed in control up five with about 90 seconds left and the ball as well as up three with under 40 and the ball.
But they tried to give the Nets the game ,and they almost did, if not for the smallest guy on the floor getting inside for the runner late.
Jefferson scored just 13 points and missed 12-of-15 shots. You could tell he was trying to score and beat the Nets. He probably tried too hard. Jefferson is a better basketball player than what he showed.
Then again all of his numbers are down from last year. That seems to speak to what’s happened to all former Nets when they leave Jason Kidd and now Carter.
Look at Kenyon Martin, Lucious Harris, Jason Collins, Aaron Williams and all the other guys that did well in Jersey. Playing with Kidd and now Carter makes players better and gets them better contracts.
But Jefferson got the win, despite a bad shooting night and bad judgment on defense. At least he left the building healthy. The integral player the Nets acquired for Jefferson can’t say that. So the Nets suffered two losses in Milwaukee.
Devin Harris missed his second straight game due to a sore right hamstring. He’s expected back Monday against Oklahoma City.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
MILWAUKEE – Imagine where the Nets would be if they had Richard Jefferson. Let’s play out that hypothetical, especially now that they face Jefferson for the first time here tomorrow.
First of all, it never would have happened because the Nets basically wanted to end ties with the past. They even considered a Vince Carter-to-Cleveland trade over the summer – something the Cavaliers probably would like to revisit to help keep LeBron James – so the Nets were committed to change.
Essentially, it came down to they wanted to get rid of at least one of the remaining two members of the Big Three and for many reasons they chose Jefferson over Carter.
“We wanted to change our team,” Nets president Rod Thorn said. “We felt our team as constituted had gone about as far as it could.”
But let’s say Thorn and GM Kiki Vandeweghe did nothing and Carter and Jefferson both were Nets today: how good would they be? What would their record be? People wonder that all the time because of where the Nets are in the standings and due to the inconsistent play of Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons
I tend to believe they wouldn’t be as good as 18-18 because the complexion of the team would be totally different.
Would they have drafted differently? Probably.
Remember, they dealt Jefferson to Milwaukee on Draft Day. If they didn’t do that, they definitely would have needed a power forward. But the Nets were talking to many teams ahead of them and behind them in the draft and about Jefferson, so something was going to happen.
The Nets could have tried harder to move up to nab a Kevin Love or made a deal with Portland where the Nets would have gotten Brook Lopez’s brother Robin and something from the Blazers. The Nets had so many things working on draft day.
It also could have changed what the Nets did in free agency, starting with Nenad Krstic.
The fact that they got Lopez, Yi and Ryan Anderson on one day and then signed Eduardo Najera – all big men who can shoot – made Krstic expendable.
I still contend they never should have let a young, scoring big man who you can run your offense through when he’s healthy get away without getting anything in return. But that’s something for next week when Krstic is back in Jersey with Oklahoma City.
Back to Jefferson, the whole summer changes if they don’t make that move. Do the Nets stay in talks with Denver about Carmelo Anthony and Marcus Camby if Jefferson isn’t dealt? Maybe, until Denver decides it doesn’t want to give up on its franchise player.
So let’s say Jefferson is here, and starting with Carter, Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Najera or Stromile Swift or a different power forward that would have been here. Expectations may have been different and thus the plan may not be to develop the young players. Coach Lawrence Frank probably still would have turned to the dribble-drive offense, but Carter and Jefferson together may have stunted the growth of Harris and Lopez.
Harris has blown up because the ball is in his hands and he’s making decisions and plays for others. Harris also has blown up because he shares the backcourt with Carter, a still lethal scorer and probably the Nets’ best passer on the team.
With Jefferson, he probably would have had to be a focal point of the offense, which would taken touches away from Harris and Lopez. The plan probably wouldn’t be to grow and develop the young players.
Jefferson has shown to be an unselfish guy, but it would have been difficult for him to take a step backward after the best scoring season of his career and let everyone else develop. It basically would have been saying, “We want to get better and we want to do it without you.”
The funny thing is the Nets are saying that to Carter in a way, because he won’t be here for the length of his contract. But he’s more secure than Jefferson as a player and has willingly done what the Nets have asked him, including help make the young guys better.
You see, so much would have been different if Jefferson was still here, and not necessarily better. But it wasn’t going to happen anyway. The Nets were committed to change and moving Jefferson was a change they needed to make to go forward.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)
AUBURN HILLS, Mich. — The ball will drop tomorrow night, ringing in 2009. Before it does let’s look back at 2008 and what a crazy, franchise-changing year it was for the Nets.
Oh-eight was the end of three major interconnected eras in Nets’ basketball.
The Nets were forced to say farewell to their best player, Jason Kidd, in February. A few weeks earlier, Jason Collins was shown the door and dealt to Memphis and nearly five months after that it was Richard Jefferson’s turn to go — to Milwaukee.
Those three were a part of the greatest run in the Nets’ NBA history. They collected four Atlantic Division titles, two Eastern Conference flags and none will ever be as good as they were when they were here.
With those goodbyes there were also some hellos.
The Nets happily began the Devin Harris era. He’s an All-Star in the making and climbing the charts to be mentioned in the same breath as Chris Paul and Deron Williams as the next generation’s best point guards.
The Brook Lopez era looks like it could be a good one. The rookie was a steal at No. 10 and continues to show growth and development. The best thing about him — aside from his size and length — is his willingness to work and get better. It bothers him when he makes mistakes and he works hard to make sure they don’t happen again.
The jury is out still on whether Yi Jianlian was an error or will be a successful era. Right now Bobby Simmons and Yi for Jefferson hasn’t worked out that well on the court. But financially, it gives the Nets flexibility in 2010 and a whole other country to tap for marketing and revenue.
Calendar year ’08 also was the end of the Nets’ six-year playoff streak and unprecedented franchise run of six straight years of at least a .500 record.
It also was the end of Nenad Krstic’s Nets’ career — twice. First, when he signed with Russia over the summer and then Monday when they chose not to match Oklahoma City’s three-year, $15.6 million offer sheet.
All of that said, the Nets are in better shape at the end of 2008 than they were on Dec. 31, 2007. Two weeks earlier, Kidd called out sick with a migraine — his way of saying he wants out and it put the Nets in an awful position.
None of his teammates would say anything because he was the best player and the reason their scoring totals were what they were. But it was hard on everyone, management included, when the best player didn’t want to be there.
Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe made THE BEST possible move in that respect, getting Harris and two first-round picks for an unhappy player near the end of the line.
That’s why the Nets are in a better position now. They’re younger — with five regulars 25 and under. They have cap flexibility for the big free-agent class of 2010. And they have assets all over from picks to young players to more manageable contracts.
And, amazingly, they have the third-best road record in the NBA. With another away win tomorrow night at Detroit, the Nets will end 2008 with a 16-16 mark. Considering where they could have been, and where most of you thought they would have been, that’s enough reason to have some champagne after the ball drops.
The Nets sent down Sean Williams to their NBDL affiliate Colorado yesterday to work on his game. There’s no timetable for his return.
Al Iannazzone covers The Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).