The Brooklyn Nets play defense (Getty Images)
The Brooklyn Nets have lost seven of the team’s last 13 games, a stark dip down from the 11-4 marks the team posted in both November and January. In a season that has had its fair share of low points – a .500 start after 28 games, a Christmas Day embarrassment at the hands of the Boston Celtics, the firing of Avery Johnson – the team seemingly hit a new low on Sunday with a nationally televised spanking at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs.
The teams went into the half with Brooklyn flinging away and featuring a 57-51 lead. The Spurs then peeled off a 60-29 second half that had Nets fans (in their 28th-ever home game in Brooklyn, mind you) booing the team. Booing their team as they lost to a Spurs squad playing without future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili. The New York Times’ Howard Beck detailed the carnage:
They have been turnover-prone, offensively inefficient and generally out of sorts, looking more like the team that got Avery Johnson fired in December than the one that came alive under Carlesimo in January.
“I think when things start to go bad, instead of fighting back, we kind of hang our heads and do the opposite,” Williams said. “It’s just a mentality that we have, we’ve developed, which is bad.”
Is he worried?
“Nah,” Williams said. “Not really.”
In Williams’ defense, something we’re not always fond of, if he is showing signs of concern it’s not always best to admit to such during the second week of February, on the record.
If he isn’t showing signs of concern? Then this is a problem. Problems that run far deeper than the ankle woes that will keep him out of his team’s next two games.
Comcast’s Ric Bucher is using anonymous sources, and NBA GMs and scouts can just be the absolute worst when it comes to overrating body language “scouting,” but we should at the very least pass this along:
“ … almost every scout/GM I talk to contends, Deron Williams has become a diva of the first order. Now, I'm told, when a teammate misses a shot or blows an easy dime far too many times Deron can be seen rolling his eyes or staring at the bench as if to say, "Can you believe that?"
I’ve seen a lot of Nets games on a very large TV and can’t remember something so obvious happening “too many times,” but who am I to argue with “almost every scout?”
Williams doesn’t exactly exude rah-rah-osity, but it’s not as if Chris Paul is the cheeriest sort either. What this appears to be coming down to, again, is more boring issues. As Beck noted in his gamer, the Nets aren’t quick and trusting with their ball movement. And the defense, too often, looks like some of the NBA’s worst. Also – there are a lot of good teams out there that Brooklyn keeps losing to.
Again, this is yawn-worthy stuff that doesn’t rank all that highly in terms of soap opera clickability. The same issues that we anticipated dogging Brooklyn last July when they put this squad together are still there. The team has to be lights out on offense in order to make up for its middling defense. And when the defense fails to jump to the middle? It’s a horror show, and Tiago Splitter and Tony Parker can screen and roll their way into a 60-point Spurs second half.
Brooklyn was scorched time and time again on Sunday in the screen and roll, as both Brook Lopez and Williams were caught out of position (often needlessly overplaying in an attempt to play hard instead of playing smart, at least in Lopez’s case), as San Antonio carved them up.
The Nets are 17th overall defensively, and that’s right around where a lot of us had them entering the year. It’s that ninth ranking offensively that is doing the most damage. This lineup isn’t going to improve significantly on the defensive end. For them to boast three max level players in Williams, Lopez and Joe Johnson and still continually struggle for good looks? For things to appear this stagnant, more than halfway into the season and nearly two months after Lopez’s return to action? It’s not acceptable.
Deron Williams, who hasn’t been the same since undergoing right wrist surgery in April of 2011, needs to play better. He’s never going to lock a Tony Parker up, but 16.7 points and 7.6 assists per game on 41 percent shooting, with below-average three-point work, is not going to cut it. This is the sort of production that has GMs and scouts looking at your eye-roll work.
And the trade rumors? Atlanta GM Danny Ferry is the man who came into Georgia and almost immediately dumped his team’s most famous player for assets and cap flexibility. He’s not going to deal Josh Smith in the midst of a playoff run for a guy in Kris Humphries that is having a terrible year, doesn’t play defense, and doesn’t provide spacing.
Unless he’s feeling pressure from team ownership to waste all of his 2013 cap space on Humphries, who makes $12 million next year, Ferry isn’t going to perform an about face just to save face in case Smith leaves as a free agent this summer. Unless he’s gone completely mad, or he’s being overruled … or the Nets just wanted to drive Humphries’ worth up through the media.
Things won’t be getting any easier. Seven of the team’s next nine games come against playoff teams, and the group is already a game and a half in back of the Chicago Bulls for the fourth seed (and home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs) in the East, and Chicago hasn’t fielded its best player all year.
The Nets franchise has spent nearly four years under current ownership preparing to field a team of stars with a massive payroll while playing in Brooklyn. GM Billy King could make a move, and there’s always the chance that P.J. Carlesimo will be shuffled out this summer for the team’s latest savior at head coach.
For now, though, the answer has to come from within. The team has to start shooting straight, in order to make up for the fact that sometimes that defense will lead you straight to the front of the rim.
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