LOS ANGELES – It's hard to categorize this long-suffering franchise as having become spoiled.
After all, this is the New Jersey Nets we're talking about.
But even with an NBA history largely – but certainly not exclusively – filled with futility and losing, the first half of this decade raised expectations as the Nets became a legitimate title contender.
Even before that Jason Kidd(notes)-led run, some of those old Nets teams were plucky. They took down the defending champion Philadelphia 76ers in the first round in 1983, they managed to reach the playoffs a few times in the early '90s, they rode the likes of Kendall Gill, Kerry Kittles, Sherman Douglas, Jayson Williams and Keith Van Horn(notes) to a playoff berth and closer-than-it-looked three-game series loss to the eventual champion Chicago Bulls in 1998.
These moments, as modestly beyond mediocre as they were, spoke to the sense of potential for the New York area's other team.
And what has to be considered one of the better trades in recent NBA history – sending Stephon Marbury(notes) to the desert in exchange for Kidd – allowed the Nets to just about fulfill that potential when they reached the NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003.
No, the run couldn't last forever. Kidd was getting older and crankier and was on his way out of town. Nets ownership was getting worse and handcuffing the front office and coaching staff, the Brendan Byrne/Continental/Izod arena continued to be a mild embarrassment, and Vince Carter(notes) was, well, Vince Carter.
But after those back-to-back Finals visits as part of six consecutive playoff berths, there was plenty of reason for Nets Nation to believe that a couple of 34-48 seasons was about as bad as it would get.
Sunday night at Staples Center, minutes before their game against the Los Angeles Lakers, the Nets trotted out for their pregame layup and jumper drill looking listless and lifeless. It had been a long 16 games. It had been a tough road trip. It had been an emotional 24 hours.
That's what happens when you are about to tie the NBA record for consecutive losses (17) to start the season. That's what happens when Lawrence Frank, your coach of the last six years – and the only pro coach many of these Nets ever have known – is fired the morning of the game.
"You know, we're struggling and it was a tough day," fill-in coach Tom Barrise said. "You lose your coach at 10 o'clock in the morning. … The guys are human. You lose a little bit of that focus."
Frank's firing was by no means shocking. That doesn't mean it wasn't without impact.
It's hard to win when you're down emotionally. And it's even harder to win when you're beat up physically, especially when so many key players (some of whom might be little more than rotation guys on other teams) aren't even suiting up or are just returning from injury.
It's also virtually impossible to win if you can't hit shots. Just 12 minutes in, it was clear there would be no dramatic streak-breaking win against the NBA's defending champions. The Nets just didn't have the legs or the desire in a 106-87 loss.
"You can't go out there and get punked."
For Lopez's part, another big night (26 points, 12 rebounds) proved a reflection of his talent and attitude. In reality, these Nets showed signs of life here, just as they had in many of their now record-tying 17 losses to start the season.
They blocked shots, they dove for loose balls, they made some extra passes. The Nets just didn't do enough of any of it, and they couldn't overcome a first half in which they were nothing short of terrible.
"I didn't see [the Lakers] flying around the court," said guard Rafer Alston(notes), one of the team's few contributing veterans. "They coasted – and were up by 20. We never show resolve. We show that if a team makes a run, the game's over."
Resolve. A potentially tricky lesson in the best of times, never mind for an extremely young team suffering through one of the worst stretches in NBA history.
Said Barrise, "You have four-game losing streaks … you can deal with that. But when you go a whole month, you wake up and you feel it. You honestly feel it."
Outside of Lopez and perhaps one or two others, the Nets had little life. And it's not surprising. This is an inexperienced team, largely filled with players who never have experienced anything remotely close to this before.
Many don't know how to handle it.
"It's extremely hard to try to stay positive," Douglas-Roberts said. "With all the things going on … it's depressing.
"[Coach] said we looked defeated, and I agree. We're letting this really affect us. We're not using it as motivation, and it's showing. Not only on the floor, but our personalities. We're usually really upbeat, but this is weighing on us now."
Harris didn't want any part of this record, much less for him and his teammates to have it all to themselves. And be it Wednesday, or Friday against Charlotte, or Sunday against the Knicks, or some other game far down the road, that first win will come one day.
In some ways the Nets already are gazing even further ahead.
"We got good guys, a good team. Talented bunch," Alston said. "We [just] don't have a lot of guys who have been through the war yet."
Beyond the somewhat promising roster, there also is pending new ownership allegedly ready to pour money into the franchise. And there is the possible move to more free-agent friendly Brooklyn, where the fan support also should be greater.
In other words, despite their current depths, there is reason for the Nets to hope.
At the least, it can't get much worse than 0-17.
Of course, Nets Nation has also thought that before.