To get a little Jersey flavor to put us in the mood for the game tonight, I was either going to put in the YouTube of the Soprano’s title credits, or talk to Mark from Nets are Scorching. Sorry music lovers, I went with the latter.
After the ugly start to the season, the Nets seem to be turning a corner. Even when they’re not winning, they are battling teams like the Cavs in the loss. What has changed? Why is Devin Harris starting to play better now?
Ahh, but not so fast with that turning the corner talk. The Nets looked pretty good in their victories against the Bobcats at home (Charlotte can’t win on the road mind you) and the Bulls on the road (Chicago can’t seem to beat anyone right now), but the team is now embroiled in another losing streak (5 games as of Friday) and the team defense has taken a turn for the worse. [Editor's Note: The Nets got crushed again last night, this time by the Raptors, 118-95.] They gave up 130 points last weekend to the Hawks and 108 Wednesday night to the Jazz. The Cleveland game seemed to be an aberration, as the Nets were able to hang around for most of the game, and the Cavs seemed to have no answer for the zone (take note Eastern Conference playoff teams). The same thing can be said for Devin Harris – he played well Sunday and Tuesday night, but was a total mess against the Jazz, only scoring 9 points on 1-9 shooting. Harris can’t seem to figure out if he’s a shooter, a playmaker, or a little of both.
But overall, the Nets just can’t shoot right now — period. I’ve lost track of how many 0-8, 1-9 games Rafer Alston has put up. Bobby Simmons, who was a decent three-point shooter last year, can’t get anything working. For all of the people who predicted Courtney Lee’s shooting would suffer because he no longer has guys like Dwight Howard to make defenses collapse and open up the perimeter – Lee is missing a TON of open jumpers this season.
I look at the Nets roster and see Harris and Lopez and CDR and think “that is a quality young core that with a star and some growth could be very good.” And you’ve got Brooklyn plus an owner coming in who makes Mark Cuban look like lower middle class. What is the feeling of the fans on the future? How much hope is pinned on the 2010 class and what is a realistic expectation for the franchise going forward?
Well, the future of the franchise at this point, is heavily tied to the move to Brooklyn, and the Nets have gotten some good news on that front the past month. NY state judges ruled in favor of Nets ownership to use eminent domain to get the land they need to build the new arena – the last big legal hurdle they faced – and then earlier this week, there were a lot of takers for the bonds needed to finance the project. They’re talking a January groundbreaking, which should be right around the time Mikhail Prokhorov, Russia’s richest man, should be approved as the new owner. There’s a lot of talk that Prokhorov is in this to win, and I tend to buy into that buzz, so that’s a great sign. But if Brooklyn were to collapse, all of these machinations would go up in smoke, and the team would remain cash poor and stuck in a lose-lose situation in Jersey.
And of course real estate means nothing if the Nets can’t get players who can play. I think Brook Lopez is the absolute real deal, but I’m starting to question the idea that Devin Harris is a “star.” Nice player, yes – but with all eyes on him this year, he’s been putting together a very erratic season, and he’s constantly getting injured to boot. Chris Douglas-Roberts is an ideal 6th man, instant-offense guy on a good team – on a bad team where he’s forced into playing 35+ minutes a game I think his game suffers. You didn’t even metntion Yi Jianlian in your question, and I don’t blame you – but even at his best, he looks like a change of pace guy off the bench, not someone you build a team around. So while there’s a reason to be optimistic, I would feel a lot better about 2010 if the Nets were able to use their cap space to get a legit PF (Bosh? Boozer? Stoudamire?) to flank Brook in the frontcourt, and at least one athletic wing (Rudy Gay? Joe Johnson?) to take the pressure off Devin. I’m realistic in that I’m not shooting for the big big fish in LeBron or Wade, but the Nets have to get some quality players on this roster for them to be even mildly competitive in 2010.