Monday, October 13, 2008

Hardwood Paroxysm's 2008-2009 Season Preview: New Jersey Nets

New Jersey used to get a bad rap, but it gave us The Boss and Kevin Smith. Can't be all bad. The Nets, however, are pretty bad. It's not really that they should be that bad, they just kind of end up that way. It's not coaching, Lawrence Frank is a top notch coach. It's not necessarily talent, Devin Harris is a stud and Vince Carter plays three out of every four quarters. They're just kind of rebuilding. But hey, if they play a bunch of chairs, it's show time! Your opening preview is from Matt Moore.

How do you rebuild for the future without committing to anything long-term, and still put butts in the seats? That's what faces Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe. They finally admitted defeat last season by trading Kidd to Dallas for Devin Harris, Diop's expiring, and pieces. They managed to get the best of that deal, by all accounts. Then they had to choose, and you could feel them weighing between Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson. In the end, I think Jefferson was just easier to move, and so he's the one that finds himself in Milwaukee in December asking God what he's done to deserve this. I mean, "He's excited to be in a new place with great players!" Meanwhile, Carter has apparently decided to be a "leader" on this team. You know. Just like he has been for the last few years. And like he was in Toronto. Yeah. We'll see how this goes.

The Nets are in a bizarre place. They have more talent than some of the bottom-rung teams, with Devin Harris one of the best up and coming points, CDR an absolute steal, Carter who's still capable of putting up 35 in a night, and Bobby Simmons. After that, the question marks come fast and heavy. But in reality, the Nets aren't concerned with this team. There are two things that concern them. Getting to Brooklyn, and getting LeBron James. So to do that, they have to clear cap space for 2010. Which they have. But they also have to have something here to entice James to commit to the roster. That's where Harris comes in, and possibly Yi Jianlian, if he manages to become better at,oh, I don't know... everything. And they have to be able to put people in the stands. Here's Carter.

Carter's short-term value is very high, and his long-term value is very low. Carter is in a position to do what he wants, when he wants, with no deference to Jason Kidd or Richard Jefferson. He can be brilliant in these situations. He can also be wretched when the losses pile up and he loses interest. Carter's been trying to sell himself as a more mature, more stable competitor. Which is why he's already got a strained hamstring. But Carter has played through injuries, as a commentor recently pointed out, so at any given time, you can get the good Carter or the bad Carter. Know this, though. If a team is willing to part with young high-upside talent in return for a shot at a championship with Vinsanity as the final ingredient, his bags will be packed by the time he gets the call. But they have to wait at least long enough this season to know if Carter can win them enough games to possibly get into the playoffs to boost the bottom line for the Nets. Times are tough, in case you haven't heard.

Meanwhile, there are some shiny spots on the roster that should be at least fun to watch. There are four rooks on the squad, including The Saner Lopez, Brook (no S, thanks. Only took me three months to memorize that.), Ryan Anderson, and of course, CDR. Chris Douglas-Roberts is entirely capable of being the breakout player. He was a phenomenal steal in the 2nd round, and if he and Harris start working together and develop a chemistry, the Nets can keep up their offensive production.

If you take a deeper, second look at the Nets' backcourt, you'll start to drool a little bit. Harris is no ordinary young gun point. This is a guy that beat out Jason Terry in Dallas for the starting spot. He's a five year vet at 26, with good speed and vision, and has shown considerable leadership. A lot of guys could have groused about being sent to the Nets from playoff contender Dallas. But instead, Harris hit the ground running and saw it as an opportunity to make it his team. Carter is Carter, and you either love him or love everything good and right in the world. But if you love him, at least you get to celebrate once every three games about a high powered dunk delivered early in the second quarter before he leaves with an injury or the sniffles. Keyon Dooling adds some offense and as far as backups, you could do far worse. The Z-Factor, as I mentioned here, is Chris Douglas-Roberts. Roberts has the confidence to come in and be a scorer off the bench. Better, he can do it in a variety of ways, and is familiar with the dribble-drive offense being installed. A three guard set with Harris, Carter, and CDR could be absolutely devastating against slower opponents, particularly if they find a big man that can start the break.

Defense up front is apparently an area where the Nets are applying band-aids, but eventually they've got to get down and solve the real wound. Eduardo Najera can be a tough defender, but he also got widely abused defensively late last year in Denver. He's also 32 and the wear and tear has shown more and more. They have two big man projects in Sean Williams and Josh Boone. I like Boone's energy and he's shown significant improvement in two seasons. But the Nets must have seen something weak when they drafted Brook Lopez to help out, probably offensively. With the three, you'd have to figure one of them will step up this season at the 5 to produce. They still lack a mammoth athletic figure to battle the Elton Brands, Dwight Howards, Kevin Garnetts, etc., but at least they have a fleet of figures to hold the fort now while the backcourt and wings do their thing.

Yi Jianlian. I have nothing more to add to this, because we know absolutely nothing about him beyond he showed some flashes and hit the wall last season like he was shot from a cannon. So I'll just say again. Yi Jianlian...?

Yet this might be a situation where the whole is less than the sum of its parts. Harris is good, but not Chris Paul good to make anyone and everyone better. Carter is Carter, which has its good moments and bad. CDR is a rookie, along with Lopez, two player likely to get significant minutes. The frontcourt is inconsistent, and most of all, this team is tempered by extremely young players without confidence and older players on the backside of their careers. They're widely expected to finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. For them to win over 35 games would be a masterpiece by Lawrence Frank.

Have heart, Nets fans. In two years, you'll likely be feeling quite a bit difference. Enjoy this team for what it is. Tryouts for whatever happens in 2010.

IMAGE NATION By Rob Mahoney:

Vince Carter…. Being a Canadian, I have a love/hate relationship with Vince. I used to feel badly about this until I realized that everyone has these same feelings for him. He will freaking make me crazy for a month or so, but then I tune in and see glimpses of the Vince that I want to root for. Devin Harris suiting up for NJ is a huge reason why I will be tuning in this year. He was on the verge of busting out in Dallas and then got sent to New Jersey for Kidd which I'm sure I will never agree with, but anyway, Harris in New Jersey! With, CDR, Ryan Anderson and Brook Lopez. The Nets have a good group of young guys who are sure to make this year entertaining. Watching Josh Boone and praying he doesn't airball free throws is always fun and of course I'll be wishing and hoping that Julius Hodge finds a home with this squad. Really, please find space for Hodge. Darrell Armstrong is here, 14 years worth of floor burns and hustle plays and that is something I really love. Sean Williams and his headband are two of my most favorite things on the Nets. Keyon Dooling is an avid reader and finding this out makes my appreciation for the guy go way up.

Another reason why I have to love the Nets; The head coach was once a manager of his university basketball team. The manager. Of Bob Knight's team. The manager. This was me. Minus Knight, of course. For every kid who grew up wanting to be IN the NBA, I grew up wanting to coach there. Of course as time went on, I allowed this dream to take shape and change into sportswriting, but on the day that Lawrence Frank was hired, my heart beat went a bit rapidly for a few seconds as I tried to swallow my own excitement over the (then), youngest coach in the NBA once being a manager in college and then reeling off 13 straight wins to begin his career. I like Frank and unlike Lopez, I knew who he was on draft night.

Vince Carter is a terrorist. Don't be fooled by his friendly demeanor. Look at his name. Vince. Carter. Hello? I mean, he's not an actual terrorist. He's just a terrorist of the important things in life. He's just a terrorist of fantasy teams and the hopes and dreams of fans. But still. Terrifying terrorist.


This is more fun if you imagine it as a duet between Josh Boone and Bobby Simmons. Also, this is a rare moment where Shane MacGowan is actually able to stand long enough to perform the whole song AND remembers all the words. It'll take equal effort for the Nets to get to 40 wins. But hey, there's always the Fairytale of New York.


Player To Watch: I think I've properly expressed my mancrush on Chris Douglas-Roberts. He's a 6-7 shooting guard! (I will now wait for KD to nail me with fifteen 6-7 shooting guards of EPIC FAIL).

Most Important Player: Brook Lopez. The Nets need, in the worst way, to get a guy in the low block that can score. Lopez needs to be that guy.

Worst Player: I'll take Stromile Swift for $700, Alex.

The Nets are tall. That's all.

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