Tagged: Yi Jianlian

More questions than answers after loss to Knicks

lee250.jpgNEW YORK — Three of the Nets’ five top scorers from last season were sitting behind the bench showing off their wardrobes instead of running up and down the court showing their skills.

The Nets better hope something changes by Oct. 28 when this season starts with a winnable game at Minnesota. They expect to be near 100-percent by then, but you can’t say for sure.
 
There are two preseason games and roughly nine practices/shootarounds before the first tip. Anything can happen, but the Nets can’t afford anything else.
 
Not long after these words were written, likely starting small forward Chris Douglas-Roberts left the 93-89 preseason to the Knicks last night with a strained neck. He’s day-to-day, but already said he won’t miss any time. Still, one of the Nets’ goals in the next two weeks has to be to get healthy.
 
The Nets already know they won’t have Keyon Dooling for the opener and may not see him for the first few weeks at least. Devin Harris is supposed to return Sunday from a strained right groin and Jarvis Hayes hopes to play in next Friday’s preseason finale, presuming the stress reaction in his right shin is fine.
 
They’re banged up, winless through five preseason games and have unsurprisingly been inconsistent on both of ends of the floor.
 
“This group is getting a little bit frustrated that we’re not making as much progress as we expect from ourselves,” coach Lawrence Frank said. “We have to expect better.
 
“We want to be farther along than we are now. We have a lot of work to do.”
 
With about 12 days to go, many questions remain unanswered. Some of them may stay that way until weeks, if not months, into the season.
 
Among them:

What’s the rotation?
Our best guess is Harris, Courtney Lee, Brook Lopez, Yi Jianlian and Chris Douglas-Roberts are the starters with Rafer Alston, Terrence Williams, Jarvis Hayes and Josh Boone coming off the bench with either Bobby Simmons or Eduardo Najera. When Dooling returns, things will change, and someone (or more than one player) will be unhappy.
 
What’s their best lineup?
It’s probably four smalls and Lopez, but it depends on matchups and Yi’s development. If we had to guess today, based on past performance and health, it’s Harris, Lee, Douglas-Roberts, Hayes and Lopez. Other than Lopez, the Nets’ smalls/wings have been their best players.
 
Has Yi improved?
Some days it looks like he has and others it doesn’t. Yi looked like he had last night against the Knicks. He had 10 points and six rebounds in the first quarter. He had at least as many points and boards in the same game 14 times last year, just once after returning from a broken pinky finger in February. Yi finished with 21 and 11 last night. But to quote Frank when asked about Yi, “It’s going to be a process.”
 
Will the Nets defend consistently?
No one knows. They are trying, but haven’t been successful. It’s their only shot at winning. Although they picked it up in the second half last night and Lopez was a catalyst with five blocks, they still have lapses on the defensive end. It should be better once they have a set rotation. Then again, they will also be playing better competition.
 
Who’s their go-to guy?
The Nets hope they play enough close games to have a go-to guy. Harris is the likely candidate with Lopez next. But Douglas-Roberts has shown he can get to the basket against most players, and the other night in a nailbiter against Boston, the Nets were going to Lee. This could be another process, but think Harris or Lopez first.
 
Will the Nets score enough?
That goes back to their defense, because they need to score off it, using their quickness to get some steals and easy baskets. But they have to be able to score in the halfcourt, too, and they get too disjointed sometimes and take quick shots or miss the open man. After putting up 107 in the first preseason game against the Knicks on Oct. 4, the Nets have scored 88, 92, 93 and now 89. Seemingly, they would score more with a full complement of players, but nothing is guaranteed. 

Nets go small by necessity, not design

nets250.jpgEAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Nets’ roster is loaded with backcourt or wing players that will allow coach Lawrence Frank to play numerous lineups. Their best one may prove to be one with three guards, as it was last year when Devin Harris, Keyon Dooling and Vince Carter played together. Not sure what it will be yet, but you can see Frank playing Harris, Courtney Lee and Chris Douglas-Roberts together or Dooling, Harris and Lee in what would be a small group.
 
“McDonald’s supersizes,” Frank said today. “The league has downsized.”
 
The theory is that the more guys who are 6-foot-7, 6-8 and interchangeable, the better. Most of the Nets’ talent, however, is in the 6-2 to 6-6 range. If there are holes and questions at this point, they seem to be up front, particularly at the forward spots.

It was the same last year when the Nets didn’t get consistent production from either forward position. Their starting smalls totaled 594 points, 114 of those scored by Vince Carter during a seven-game stretch late in the season. Take Carter out of the equation and the Nets starting small forwards last year — Bobby Simmons and Trenton Hassell — combined to score 480 points in 75 games, an average of 6.4 points. Yi Jianlian and Ryan Anderson were a little better, totaling 734 points or about 9.0 points total. Still not enough. It’s a team effort, but it isn’t a stretch to say those numbers are not going to get it done this season, not with this team.
 
The Nets will be fine in the backcourt with Harris, Lee, Douglas-Roberts, Rafer Alston, Terrence Williams and Dooling when he’s healthy. They have Brook Lopez at center. The backup hasn’t been determined from the group of Josh Boone, Sean Williams and Tony Battie, but provided Lopez can stay healthy and out of foul trouble, the Nets should be fine.
 
Then come the questions and concerns.
 
Yi will start at power forward. His potential backups are Eduardo Najera, Simmons, Boone, Sean Williams and Battie. Each of them brings different things — and the Nets are hoping for an injury-free productive year from Yi. But Yi, Najera, Boone and Battie have been injury-prone, and Sean Williams hasn’t been reliable. Simmons is more of a small forward, but when the Nets go small, he can play power forward and probably will see more time there. After Yi, he’s the best scorer of the bunch.
 
At small forward, the depth chart reads something like this: Jarvis Hayes, Terrence Williams, Douglas-Roberts, Simmons and Hassell. Hayes looked like the frontrunner to start when camp opened, but you have to wonder if he’s better suited for providing an offensive lift off the bench. Williams is strong enough to guard some of the bigger small forwards. But it’s hard to know what you’re going to get from young players like Williams and Douglas-Roberts on a nightly basis. Douglas-Roberts can score, but he may not be strong enough to guard the big smalls.
 
“You figure it out and you see what works,” Frank said.
 
The Nets are expecting more production all around because they’re not going to be able to rely on Carter this year.
 
“That’s going to be more opportunity right there in itself,” Hayes said. “If we can get better effort from not only the forward positions but also everybody on the defensive end, that will pick up everybody on the offensive end.”
 
The Nets have had just one preseason game and less than a dozen practices, so it might be too early to judge. But it’s not too early to wonder whether last year will repeat itself.

Defense lacking in preseason opener

nets275.jpgALBANY — The Nets’ first preseason game showed what you would expect: the future is bright with Devin Harris and Brook Lopez, but overall, this team is a work in progress and will be for sometime.

Probably the most disappointing thing, especially after all the talk the first five days of practice about defense, was how the Nets didn’t play any here Sunday in a 115-107 loss to the Knicks.
 
It is the preseason and the scores tend to be on the high side in the exhibition season, but after all the talk and coach Lawrence Frank’s bluster about the defense, the Nets should have stepped up on that end. Now he has something to show them over and over and over.
 
“We got a lot of good footage there,” Frank said.
 
The Knicks are a tough team to guard because of Mike D’Antoni’s offense, the amount of shooters and scorers they have and the random pick-and-rolls they run. But it’s good that the Nets saw that they have a long, long way to go.
 
The perimeter defense was bad. The interior defense was bad. The Nets allowed 49 points over a 17-minute stretch between the first and second periods and 79 in a 29-minute span over the first three periods. The Knicks shot 13-of-31 from three overall.
 
The Knicks are no defensive stalwarts, but they were more active and talking much more than the Nets after the first period.
 
“I’m disappointed defensively,” Frank said. “This is a little bit of a litmus test in terms of seeing where we’re at defensively.
 
They have a long way to go.

Some other observations:
 

  • Harris, the Nets’ best player, performed like he did last year, only with more of an air that this is his team. He got in the lane and scored when he wanted and worked the two-man game with Lopez well. Harris also pulled guys aside and guided them on where they should be in certain situations.
  • Lopez was impressive. The Nets tried to establish him early, which we like, and the second-year center showed he’s ready to be more involved. In the first half, he took 11 foul shots, one less than the Knicks as a team. Lopez had 19 points at the break and finished with 19. He and Harris didn’t play in the fourth.
  • Yi Jianlian was assertive at times and showed improved confidence. After missing inside, Yi drove to the basket on the next position, was fouled and scored. He needs to continue to be aggressive, but he can’t forget about the other end.
  • Don’t jump off the bridge yet, but the first game looked like many last year where the other team’s starting forwards outplayed the Nets. Between Yi and Jarvis Hayes, the Nets scored 16 points. The Knicks got 34 combined from Al Harrington and Jared Jeffries.
  • Chris Douglas-Roberts created for himself and got to the line repeatedly. He led with 21 points and was 11-of-15 from the line. It may not always look pretty, but the guy is a shotmaker inside. Figuring Courtney Lee is the starting shooting guard, Douglas-Roberts should be one of the first guys off the bench unless he continues to play this way and Frank decides to start him at small forward. But because of the size and strength of other threes in the Atlantic (Paul Pierce, Caron Butler, Andre Iguodala and Al Harrington) that may be tough.
  • Rafer Alston ran the team well, setting up his teammates for open shots and baskets inside. The Nets will be able to play him with Harris the way they did last year with Keyon Dooling. When Dooling returns from rehabbing from hip surgery, someone will be unhappy and on the trading block, and it won’t be Harris.
  • Rookie Terrence Williams missed his first six shots and was rejected twice, but one play that stood out was after a bad Sean Williams pass led to a Nate Robinson run-out. Williams caught up to his speedy Seattle buddy and prevented the dunk by fouling Robinson, who missed one of the free throws.

Preseason game No. 2 is Friday at the Sixers. The Nets expect a better defensive performance. It will be the focus of practice this week for sure. Then again, it was last week, too.

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.

_______________________

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.)

The future of these Nets

dooling250_041709.jpgThe season ended Wednesday. The players have had their exit interviews. The Nets will have meetings early next week to discuss numerous things, including the future of coach Lawrence Frank.
 
Here’s a look at the future of all the Nets gathered from a combination of sources, educated opinion, speculation and conversations with my 2 -year-old son.
 
Lawrence Frank: The Nets’ NBA leader in wins achieved most of what management wanted, except for developing Yi Jianlian. But, we don’t blame Frank for that. Yi got hurt and you know the rest of the story. Frank did a good job. But, the questions Rod Thorn will ask himself is can someone get more out of this team, are the players still listening, can he come back with one year left on his deal and expect the players to run through walls for him. The owner endorsed Frank if that means anything.
Odds of returning: 50 percent
 
Brook Lopez: The Rookie of the Year candidate hasn’t scratched the surface of his potential. The Nets see the center as a franchise centerpiece, especially if he continues to develop.
Odds of returning: 99.9 percent
 
Jarvis Hayes: The Nets will pick up the $2 million option on his contract for next season and gladly call him their sixth man again.
Odds of returning: 90 percent
 
Devin Harris: The first-time All-Star was great most of the season but didn’t commit to defense. The Nets like what they see from Jason Kidd’s replacement and won’t move the person they dealt their franchise player for unless they have a shot at Blake Griffin or another potential franchise-type of player.
Odds of returning: 85 percent
 
Keyon Dooling: The ball moved better with him, and he’s the kind of instant energy player every team loves and the Nets of recent years have lacked. He should be back.
Odds of returning: 80 percent
 
Vince Carter: You’re not going to find many players who can produce the way he can and who makes his teammates better like he does. Money will be a factor both ways. The Nets would like to shed some payroll, but it’s going to be tough to find teams that will take back his $33.6 million salary over the next two years.
Odds of returning: 75 percent
 
Chris Douglas-Roberts: Showed great potential at the end of the season that made some question why the rookie swingman didn’t play sooner. The Nets would like to see how he progresses. He’s already one of their most competitive guys, a trait they wish more had.
Odds of returning: 75 percent
 
Ryan Anderson: The Nets like him and what he can become, but other teams like Anderson too. He could sweeten any potential trade.
Odds of returning: 70 percent
 
Yi Jianlian: The Nets already gave up too soon on a 20-something 7-footer (Nenad Krstic) in part of because of Yi. That was a mistake. But, they should make some calls. Not sure what the interest level is. The Nets would like an upgrade at power forward.
Odds of returning: 65 percent
 
Eduardo Najera: The Nets’ oldest player played only 27 games due to injury. Teams could be scared away by his age, 33, his health and his contract (three years, $8.5 million).
Odds of returning: 60 percent
 
Bobby Simmons: Improved as the season went on and is entering the final year of his deal at $11.24 million. It’s a lot for a role player, but he could value if not now then by the trade deadline. The Nets would like an upgrade at small forward.
Odds of returning: 60 percent
 
Trenton Hassell: Won’t opt out of the $4.35 million due him next season because he won’t sniff close to that if he does. It’s a lot of money for a role player, but better than Simmons’ deal and he’s a better defender. It’s the type of contract that could be used to make a deal work.
Odds of returning: 50 percent
 
Josh Boone: Serviceable big man has a manageable contract — $2 million next season; qualifying offer slightly less than $3 million the year after. He should have value but needs a fire lit under him.
Odds of returning: 25 percent
 
Sean Williams: Everyone knows he’s a terrific athlete and shot blocker, but his off-court troubles spoiled what could have been an I’ll-show-you season. If the Nets can’t move him, they always could buy him out.
Odds of returning: 20 percent
 
Maurice Ager: The only free agent on the roster can begin looking for a job, if he wants.
Odds of returning: 0 percent
 
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).