The New Jersey Nets played their final home game — a 105-87 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers -- in Newark, N.J., on Monday night, trotting out various ex-Net stars and semi-stars in a sold out event to top off an otherwise disappointing season. Fans of the team have certainly taken in more than their fair share of those over the years, but this one came with an added twist or two. The first came in the realization that the Nets, after moving to New Jersey from Long Island back in 1976, would be moving to Brooklyn for the start of the 2012-13 season. The second came in a series of pointed comments from outspoken New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who lashed out at the team for purportedly not enjoying the newish arena they were allowed to play in for two years in Newark, telling the team "good riddance" as they moved along.
The Newark native was in town to sign a bill, and it was clear by the applause at his news conference that his constituents more than approved of his message. Watch the video:
The New York Daily News' Filip Bondy is a longtime Nets observer, and his son Stefan expertly covers the team for the same paper, so he's well within his rights to call Christie's comments "too simple" and "too arrogant." Both terms have been used to describe Christie's bluster during his terms as governor, but it's also easy to understand Christie's frustrations with the outfit.
The team's decades-long misery has been well-documented as it prepares for its final games outside of Brooklyn, but even with the years of lottery frustration and missed opportunities it's very possible that the Nets are leaving New Jersey at their absolute lowest point. Within the space of five months, the team went from the leaders in the clubhouse to both trade for Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard and retain All-Star point guard Deron Williams, to a team in limbo as Howard strangely picked up his player option to stay in Orlando for 2012-13, and with Williams possibly eyeing Dallas as a free agent this summer.
Deron is a Texas native, and he's looked dispassionate at best during his 77 career games as a Net, despite making the All-Star team this year. He didn't play on Monday, sitting with a sore calf, and he's complained about the sightlines and atmosphere in the "beautiful arena" that Christie mentioned in his press conference. It's very possible that a move to Brooklyn changes his attitude, and he was going to opt out of his contract this summer even if he intended to re-sign with the club as a free agent, but right now just about every sign is pointing Deron to Dallas.
Why wouldn't they? Though it's still possible for the Nets to somehow put together a deal for Dwight Howard, the center is just about being given carte blanche by Orlando these days, so it's hard to see the Magic dealing Howard this summer in time to sway Williams' decision-making. Nearly as bad is the fact that the team is currently statistically slated to lose out on the lottery pick the team earned by (so far) losing 43 of 65 games. The Nets are currently slated to select seventh overall in June's draft, pre-lottery, and if the pick stays out of the top three following the lottery trip the selection heads to Portland in exchange for the right to pay Gerald Wallace $9 million next year. All to, ostensibly, keep Williams happy? When he's in Dallas?
It's par for the course for this franchise, which can't even seem to blow things up properly. And though you can point to a litany of franchise misfortune — firing Larry Brown a week before the playoffs, passing on drafting Kobe Bryant, wasting the early 1990s on the backs of noted malcontents Derrick Coleman (who compared himself favorably to Karl Malone on Monday night, despite 24,044 fewer career points) and Kenny Anderson (who didn't even show up for a pregame press conference he called) — this might be the team's darkest hour.
No superstars, potentially. Cap space, but nobody to use it on. No draft pick, even after essentially throwing the entire 2012-13 season. Nets, all over again.
Things could change. Owner Mikhail Prokorov has money to burn, and attitude to spare. The Brooklyn arena looks promising, GM Billy King is well connected, and the team can swing all sorts of trades with that impending cap room. Unlike several other middling lottery participants, the Nets have the assets in place to dig their way out.
Still, it's pretty apparent that the governor, along with many of his fellow Joisey-ites, is more than happy to watch them try to figure it out, all over again, from afar.