Jason Kidd is searching for answers. (Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports)
It wasn't particularly surprising that the Indiana Pacers hung a 103-86 beatdown on the Brooklyn Nets on Monday. Twelve of Indiana's 22 wins had come by 10 or more points, while eight of Brooklyn's 17 defeats featured double-digit margins. The Pacers had already won at Barclays Center once this season, and the Nets were playing their first game after losing All-Star center Brook Lopez to a broken bone in his right foot that will keep him out for the rest of the 2013-14 season. When a very good team with an all-time-caliber defense plays a bad team with an at-best-middling offense, this is what tends to happen ... especially when the most vibrant sign of life the bad team shows comes in the form of a flagrant foul delivered while trailing by 19.
And despite the all-in payroll, All-Star reputations and all-black-everything branding, all these Nets are right now is a bad basketball team — 9-18 overall, losers in four of their last five, with a disconcerting 5-11 mark against the Eastern Conference and few apparent answers except for continuing to dig. And after watching his Nets get outscored 40-17 between the 5:30 mark of the second quarter and four minutes remaining in the third, head coach Jason Kidd found himself dismayed by how easy his players seemed to make things on a Pacers team that doesn't need any help embarrassing you. From Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:
“I think it’s getting really close to just accepting losing,” the first-year coach said. “We kind of get comfortable with losing and we have to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we give in? Most of the time right now we do.” [...]
When asked what he can do to rectify the team’s losing attitude, Kidd made it clear the blame was with the players. It’s a stark contrast to his postgame remarks earlier in the season, when he was eager to take full responsibility.
“We don’t have enough timeouts. I can only call so many timeouts to slow it down and call the play and get us in the zone, but we still have to find a way to put the ball in the basket and get stops,” Kidd said. “That’s not just an individual thing — that’s a team thing — and that’s what we have to find out.”
A rookie head coach pointing the finger at his high-priced veterans might seem a bit surprising, but as Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix wrote, Kidd had every right to question what he got from his expected leaders on Monday night:
The $183 million men? They were nowhere to be found. Pierce missed his first seven shots, then decided he didn't want to play anymore, clotheslining George Hill in the third quarter and getting ejected. Deron Williams chipped in with nine points — on 3-9 shooting. Garnett had 12. Watching Garnett, it's obvious he is trying. But it's just as obvious that, at 37, he doesn't have much left. [...]
This team plays with no heart, no passion, a baffling reality for a group with so many prideful players. And there's not much the Nets can do about it, either. Brooklyn mortgaged its future to put together the NBA's most expensive roster. It was a bold move and, at the time, a smart one. Who could have known that Garnett, after carrying Boston for stretches in the second half of last season, would be a shell of his former self? Who would have known that Pierce, who Doc Rivers has said could play forever, would appear so disinterested in playing in a Brooklyn uniform?
In fairness to Pierce, his Monday night oh-fer — his first scoreless game since March 9, 1999, nearly 15 years ago — followed two games in which he averaged 25.5 points, eight rebounds and four assists on 17 for 21 shooting from the field and 7 for 11 shooting from 3-point land. He didn't really seem disinterested in those outings. (The Nets did lose them both, however.) And in fairness to Williams, he too had been playing well in his first six games back from a left ankle injury — just under 18 points and 10 assists per game on 50 percent shooting from the field and 40.7 percent from 3 — before running smack into the league's best defense and tweaking his ankle again in the fourth quarter. With Paul George, Roy Hibbert and supercharged Brooklyn boy Lance Stephenson all firing on all cylinders, the Pacers make lesser teams look bad and run them off the floor now; that's just what they do.
Still, though, the lack of competitive energy in that second-and-third-quarter-spanning spurt — a 12 1/2-minute stretch in which Brooklyn turned the ball over eight times, leading to 14 Indiana points, and missed 13 of their 19 field-goal attempts — was indeed disconcerting. So was Pierce and Garnett — the two vaunted veterans counted on to provide championship-level experience and wisdom to a Brooklyn team long on sizzle but short on steak — leaving the arena without talking to reporters after the blowout, leaving Kidd, Williams and just-returned reserve guard Jason Terry to answer for the home-court meltdown. This has become a common occurrence, according to Bondy of the Daily News, especially after games where the topics of conversation aren't much fun to talk about.
Williams ("I’m not comfortable with losing") disagreed with his coach's assessment on Monday night, and Garnett followed suit on Tuesday, while noting for what feels like the umpteenth time that Brooklyn, as presently constituted, does not have an identity. (Pierce, for his part, remained mum.)
That may or may not be true — as one reader noted, "being terrible" could be considered an identity — but it doesn't answer the primary question: Well, whose job is it to form and instill that identity? Is it the first-year coach whose early-season stares, struggles, spills and scandals put the Nets on track to becoming a laughingstock? Or is it the players whose persistent failures to perform — especially on the defensive end, where the Nets rank 27th among 30 NBA teams in points allowed per possessions, ahead of only the Utah Jazz, Philadelphia 76ers and Sacramento Kings — have left Brooklyn appearing bereft of solutions at a time when they so desperately need something, anything to go right and stay that way for more than 24 hours?
The answer, most likely, is "a little from Column A and a little from Column B," which is a problem if you're a Nets fan. When there's plenty of blame to go around and not nearly enough accountability to cover it all, things don't tend to start getting better until that ratio begins tilting the other way. Without Lopez to serve as an anchor in the middle and team with Williams to give the Nets the inside-outside partnership for which they've long pined, that's been successful when available but has too often been scuttled by injury, the Nets need someone to grab the reins, take charge and demand better; we'll find out whether Kidd calling his players on the carpet proves a successful call to arms when the Nets welcome the similarly injury-plagued and reeling Chicago Bulls to Barclays Center for a Wednesday Christmas Day matinee.
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