The Brooklyn Nets lost badly to the undermanned Chicago Bulls at home on Wednesday, dropping a very winnable game by a 95-78 score. The Nets looked listless in defeat, something that has been commonplace since their mess of a season started, working through the motions defensively and failing to secure good shots on the other end. Chicago’s guard penetration did the Nets in time and time again, something that runs in sharp contrast to how the team expected to run after trading for defensive legend Kevin Garnett over the offseason.
The Nets now stand at 9-19. They’re three games out of the lead in the Atlantic Division, and winning that division leads to a guaranteed playoff berth, but beating out a tanking Toronto Raptors team for an undeserved playoff spot is not what Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov and general manager Billy King had in mind when they put together a player and coaching staff payroll that nears $200 million with luxury taxes included.
With rookie coach Jason Kidd still struggling to find his calling on the sideline and 20-point per game center Brook Lopez already out for the season, things are looking rather dire for the much-hyped Nets. This is part of the reason why Kidd went off on his team following the pathetic loss to Chicago. From ESPN New York’s Ohm Youngmisuk:
The frustration is mounting. According to league sources, after Kidd yelled at the team on Wednesday, Kevin Garnett stood up and vented his frustration before walking out to the showers. Multiple sources stressed Garnett backs Kidd and that the veteran's frustration has been building over some of his teammates' lack of fight after the Nets lost by 17 points for the second straight game.
Kidd clarified his frustrations following the team meeting while talking with reporters:
"At the end of the day, the coach can only hold you responsible for energy and effort," Kidd said. "If you're not giving it, I have to take you out. If you're missing shots, that's just part of the game. But if you're not giving energy or effort, I've got to take you out."
The problem here is that no Net appears to be giving much of a dogged effort on either end. Reserve forward Reggie Evans looked good in gathering 13 rebounds in only 20 minutes in the loss on Wednesday, but he was about it in terms of spark for Kidd’s team. Deron Williams, the team’s longest-tenured player and de facto go-to guy, went on to express his sorrow over a season gone wrong:
"I'm even surprised with this season, how it's played out. It's like a nightmare," Williams said after the Nets were blown out on Christmas 95-78 by the Chicago Bulls Wednesday afternoon at Barclays Center.
"The way the injuries have been and the things we talk about every day: the lack of energy, the lack of effort. I didn't see that being a problem when we put this team together."
When Billy King put this team together it was understood that this was going to be a “win now” setup. Over the last several offseasons and trade deadlines King has sent draft pick after draft pick away to teams in Portland, Utah, Atlanta and Boston, and the Nets will either be without a draft pick or receiving the lower of two draft picks (from Atlanta and then Boston) from now until their consideration-free participation in the 2019 draft. That’s five and a half years from now … and sadly for Prokhorov, that’s always been the way Billy King works. If you write him a big enough check, at least.
This leaves the Nets with no real avenues to improve in terms of shipping players out to bring help in. Garnett owns a no-trade clause and his value (because he’s due over $24 million this year and next) is at an all time low. Nobody is touching the (say it with me) ridiculous three-year, nearly $70 million deal Joe Johnson has in a trade, Williams probably can’t be moved at his price (four years, over $80 million) and the team isn’t dealing Lopez despite his recent foot troubles.
This potentially leaves the Nets dealing Pierce, who is in the final year of his four-year, over $61 million contract. It seems a bit cruel to move the legend, especially after Pierce was unwillingly sent from Boston to Brooklyn last summer, but that might be the team’s only chance to shake things up. King is known for making these sorts of desperate deals (this is the guy that traded for Glenn Robinson and Chris Webber on their last legs), and you wouldn’t put it past either the general manager or Prokhorov.
Pierce is struggling, though. Badly whiffing with a 39 percent shooting mark and a sub-average Player Efficiency Rating, looking out of sorts and unhappy in his minutes with the team.
Assuming he gets minutes, as Pierce is currently behind swingman Alan Anderson in the Net rotation, coming off of the bench for the first time in his career. While he may not mind that demotion, in light of his poor shooting and recent hand injury, Pierce does mind inconsistent playing time. He talked about as much with the New York Post’s Howie Kussoy:
“You’re coming off the bench, you’re not a primary option, and you sort of try and force things,” Pierce said. “You don’t get the looks every night that you’re used to getting over the years, and I’ve grown accustomed to that. I’m usually the third or fourth option when I’m on the court, and sometimes it’s going to be like that. Minutes over the last few games have been different. I played less minutes last game, less minutes this game. When you have inconsistency in your minutes sometimes, you have some inconsistency in your play.”
The fact of the matter is that for all of Garnett’s on-court rage and Pierce’s complaints about not getting enough minutes, both players look as disengaged as they do old and ineffective. Both veterans truly do look out of place in ways that go well beyond the first week fascination of “hey, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett really look weird in Brooklyn Nets uniforms.” They’re stuck in this odd leadership amalgam that includes a rookie – some would say, “contemporary” – coach in Jason Kidd, and behind the team’s two best players in Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. That weird leadership cull is also skewed by the fact that Williams and Lopez are not natural, vocal chest-beating types.
This all makes for a weird team. And when you toss in Pierce and Garnett’s declining production – both are shooting well under 40 percent from the field – you have high end chassis with no motor to run things.
Wednesday’s loss to the Bulls was embarrassing, but it certainly was no more embarrassing to falling short in a seven game series – with the seventh game played at home no less – to a Bulls team working without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng last spring. Even with Deron Williams in full health, the Nets couldn’t pull that off.
Eight months later, with a permanent coach in place and a veteran rotation featuring Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry, the Nets are still pointing fingers. They let D.J. Augustin have the run of the Barclays Center on national TV on Christmas, with an oftentimes-terrible Bulls team blowing the Nets out to little hindrance from the home team. Lopez’s production might be missed, but it shouldn’t be “losing by 17 at home to the Rose and Deng-less Bulls”-level “missed.”
They’re just an awful mess. Most assumed that Kidd would have growing pains in his first year as a coach. And most rightly assumed that the end for this particular team, with aging players and no real assets to improve the roster, would be ugly.
Nobody assumed both would mix up with each other just two months into the first season with this crew. The Nets still have a chance to win the terrible Atlantic Division and make the playoffs in 2013-14, but this initial run could not have gone worse.
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