Hey, somebody wake up @BballHoffman. I think he's going to enjoy this:
That's Brooklyn Nets head coach Jason Kidd during the final minute of his team's 108-98 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Monday. He's staring with furrowed brow at a Barclays Center court where he just watched his Nets completely fall apart after a white-hot start — from a 40-point, 73.7-percent-shooting first quarter, with Kevin Garnett making his first six shots and besting his previous high-scoring mark as a Net in less than 5 1/2 minutes, to a 17-for-66 mark from the field over the final three frames, including a brutal 3-for-18 third quarter in which Brooklyn's best offense was reserve wing Alan Anderson getting to the foul line.
He's looking at the scene of a 48-minute defensive crime that allowed the Blazers — who now sit at 9-2, winners of five straight on the road and seven straight overall, owning the league's third-best offense and sixth-best point differential (according to NBA.com's stat tool) and who just keep looking better and better — to repeatedly get just about anything they wanted on offense. Damian Lillard (19 points, nine assists, one turnover) and Mo Williams (12 points, six assists, five boards, three steals, two blocks) kept the Nets' still-developing screen defense spinning all night, producing just under 1.5 points per pick-and-roll possession finished by the ball-handler, according to Synergy Sports Technology's game-charting data.
Portland's crisp ball and player movement, ball reversals and weak-side screening opened shooting lanes for Wesley Matthews (24 points, 5 for 8 from 3-point range) and Brooklyn had no answer for the low-block and elbow face-up game of LaMarcus Aldridge (a game-high 27 points on 9 for 16 shooting and eight rebounds). Terry Stotts' Blazers shot just under 54 percent from the field and beat the Nets by double-digits despite Brooklyn making 15 more free throws. All of which is to say, it's bad times in Brooklyn right now: the billion-dollar Nets are now 3-7, a half-game beneath the similarly sorry New York Knicks in last place in the Atlantic Division.
Andrei Kirilenko, expected to be a pivotal bench piece, has been limited by injuries to just 53 minutes over four appearances. Trade acquisitions Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry are all making less than 42 percent of their shots and looking slow, out-of-sorts, ineffective or all three on the defensive end. Joe Johnson continues to be nails in the closing seconds and nothing much most other times. Their best player (right now) missed Monday's game with an ankle injury, their best point guard (right now) was their lone bright spot against the Blazers, and neither one of them was $99 million man Deron Williams. (A polite round of applause for Shaun Livingston, who led the Nets with 23 points on 14 shots in 29 minutes, and without whom Brooklyn's offense looked totally lost.)
So, yeah: "Hello, darkness, my old friend." And when it came time to try to explain the teams' persistent struggles after the game, Nets beat reporters found themselves greeted by the sounds of silence. From Tim Bontemps of the New York Post:
The Nets pulled a pair of disappearing acts Monday night — one in the second half and another after the game.
After their offense fell apart in the second half of the Nets’ 108-98 loss to the Trail Blazers at Barclays Center, the team’s locker room remained closed for 25 minutes following the game while a players-only meeting was held.
When the room finally opened to the media, it was a ghost town, with several players having already left and team leaders Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett — who were a combined 10-for-31 in the game — eventually blowing off the assembled media.
“Just talking about the game, and what we’ve got to figure out,” Joe Johnson told The Post about the meeting.
And from Devin Kharpertian of The Brooklyn Game:
Following Monday night's game against the Portland Trail Blazers, the Brooklyn Nets engaged in some roster-wide "reflection," reflection that kept roughly 40 media members out of the locker room, pushed back into a far-off hallway, well out of earshot. Whatever words were tossed around the lockers, it was clear the team didn't want anyone to hear.
After reporters were allowed in, some 30 minutes later, we were introduced to a room filled with... us. The Nets had evacuated the premises, with some lingerers in the showers. A room filled with people felt wholly empty, replete with audio recorders and cell phones and people waiting to listen, not speak, with no one to listen to. Low whispers bounced off the walls about a myriad of topics, nearly none of those whispers by Nets players.
If that sounds like the remnants a closed-door team meeting, well, it probably was. But the players don't want you to think that.
"No meeting at all," Jason Terry squashed, roughly an hour after the game. "Just guys reflecting, realizing that we just let another opportunity slip. But we'll figure this thing out."
They may well do just that — after all, losing Lopez's low-post dominance takes a major bite out of Brooklyn's offensive firepower, we saw last season the difference that Williams can make when he gets right, and while expecting much from Terry (who struggled throughout last season with the Boston Celtics, too) might be folly, it'll take more than 10 games for me to believe that both Garnett and Pierce have nothing left to give. Get the ailing starters healthy, get Kirilenko back to bolster the bench, get some full-strength rhythm together and then we'll see what Kidd can do.
Those caveats aside, the early returns of Kidd's post-DWI-suspension coaching career haven't been especially impressive — a 20th-ranked offense, a 25th-ranked defense, a tie (with the Knicks, naturally) for the league's fifth-worst point differential and, in light of Monday's post-game no-show, a lack of accountability that struck New York Post columnist Mike Vaccaro as somewhat familiar:
“Just bad coaching,” Kidd said [...]. “I take the blame for this. This falls on my shoulders.”
Maybe that’s what’s written on Page 37 of the “Coaching for Beginners” pamphlet, or maybe that’s simply [...] falling back on his favorite stand-by from when he was a player:
When in doubt, always blame the coach. [...]
The Nets still allow the same players-rule culture to exist that helped crush the last spasm of prosperity a decade ago. Then, it was Kidd who was allowed to run amok, to serve at his own discretion.
Now it’s Garnett and Pierce and Johnson, acting like no-account losers three weeks into the season, allowing Mason Plumlee (offering insights on his long and storied 10-game career in the league) and Shaun Livingston (one of the game’s all-time stand-up guys) and Jason Terry (the one Net with championship pedigree who feels compelled to act the part and not just skate on fawning, faded headlines) to be team spokesmen after a wretched performance like this one.
And maybe that shouldn’t be a surprise. It was Kidd, after all, who bulldozed every executive, flack and coach who disagreed with him the first time around; why would anything be any different on his watch?
Again: 10 games isn't nearly enough to write the definitive story about the Brooklyn Nets' 2013-14 season. But such a sputtering start is more than enough to raise some pretty major questions; at some point soon, the Nets and their head coach will have to offer more substantive answers than sluggishness, nonviolent resistance and blank stares.
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