NEWARK, N.J. – This has become a common sight this preseason: the Nets playing at far less than 100 percent and losing to the Knicks.
Half of the winless Nets’ six preseason games have been against the Knicks, and half of their six losses have come to their Atlantic Division counterparts. Last night, the Nets came back from 18 down in the third period to lead in the fourth, but still fell 94-92 at the Prudential Center.
The Nets have just one more tune up and hope to have Devin Harris and Jarvis Hayes healthy for Friday’s game against the Sixers. They both missed the prior two games; Harris with a strained groin and Hayes with a stress reaction in his right shin and neither have practiced in eight days.
In all, Harris, the Nets’ best player and main ball distributor, has missed three preseason games, parts of two others and about eight practices total with different injuries. Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Eduardo Najera have all missed time and Keyon Dooling hasn’t practiced once following off-season hip surgery.
This isn’t good for a young team that’s still getting to know one another, learning new offensive sets, trying to develop a defensive mindset and chemistry. Now if the Nets stumble when the season starts it won’t be just because they’re young and superstar-less and starting four guys with less than three years of NBA experience.
Little was expected of the Nets last season, but they were healthy at the beginning and were out to prove they were better than most predicted. They surprised by winning their opener on the road and 11 of their first 19 games.
Overall the Nets were in much better shape last year – not to mention they had Vince Carter. It could mean trouble when the regular season opens Wednesday at Minnesota.
“We’ll have a little bit of a stagger,” Harris said.
That’s stagger not swagger. And if the Nets stagger at the beginning they could be down for the count. But Harris tried to put a positive spin on this boxing analogy
“Staggering, you’re still moving forward,” Harris said. “Although you’re not getting there as fast you would like to be, you’re still moving forward. Stagger into a run.”
Realistically, that’s expecting a lot, but this will be a big week and weekend for the Nets.
They practice Thursday, play Friday and then likely will have three more practices and a shootaround before the opener. They hope their players return, there are no more setbacks, and it’s enough to build something because Hayes said the Nets are behind.
“From a chemistry standpoint, yeah,” Hayes said. “We haven’t had a full team one game this preseason. We’re trying to implement the younger guys and not having Devin for a big part of the preseason and he’s our point guard. From a chemistry standpoint we still have a little ways to go.
“I think it’s something we can somewhat gain some traction on in practice. You can’t gauge anything until everybody gets out there in practice.”
So include Hayes among the people unsure of exactly what this team will look like
“We have no idea,” he said.
“It’s strange,” Hayes added. “We have guys that can put the ball in the hole. But what roles are going to be on this team, how prominent will that depth chart be – that’s something that we got to all get healthy and get out there for a good week or so and try and come up with.”
At least the Nets won’t have to see the Knicks again until Nov. 21. Maybe by then they’ll be 100 percent, have developed chemistry and defined roles and have a win.
The Nets had a chance to tie the game in the closing seconds after Lee rebounded his own free-throw miss and was fouled. But he misfired on the first foul shot with 1.1 seconds left. He missed the second on purpose. Brook Lopez tried to tip in the miss with his left hand but missed
The Nets drew 15,721 fans in the final preseason game at Newark, but it’s possible they could play more games here in the future. Among the faces in the crowd were several of prospective owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s representatives, former Yankee and Met Dwight Gooden and Joe Jackson, Michael Jackson’s father.
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.).
EAST 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.
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.).
Money 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.
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.
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.
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.).
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.)
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.).