The Brooklyn Nets got a lot of preseason hype, after swinging a trade with the Boston Celtics to bring in Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. The addition of the Celtics’ trio was supposed to provide a big infusion of veteran heart to a team that had talent, but whose commitment was questioned. The ultimate answer to that will be settled in the postseason…but at their current pace that’s a postseason that won’t include the Nets.
Brooklyn is sitting on a 7-14 record coming into Thursday night’s game with the Los Angeles Clippers, and even in an Eastern Conference whose collective ineptitude is unprecedented, the Nets are a game and a half out of the playoffs. It must be something in the water in the general New York area, because the Nets not only join the Knicks as the biggest disappointments of the early going, but the reasons are nearly identical.
The Nets aren’t playing defense with any consistency, ranking 29th in the NBA in efficiency, which adjusts point totals for pace, thereby preventing slow-paced teams like Brooklyn from passing themselves off as solid on the defensive end when they can’t get a stop at any important time. The rebounding isn’t a whole lot better, in the bottom third of the league.
Like the Knicks, the Nets have a legitimate injury excuse. Pierce has missed much of this early season with a broken hand. Deron Williams was out, leaving the team with a huge void at point guard that Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor weren’t going to fill. Terry is also hurt, and Garnett isn’t playing well.
But–again like the Knicks–there are healthy players who should have been doing more. Brook Lopez, the big center, is scoring (20 ppg), but why is he only getting six rebounds per game? Andray Blatche was a ferocious rebounder as recently as last year, and now he’s getting six boards a night. Joe Johnson is averaging 15 ppg, but for a scoring guard as prolific is any in the league, this constitutes a slow start.
Brooklyn put Jason Kidd in charge on the bench, Kidd’s first experience as a head coach and while the excuses have some plausibility, the Nets don’t look like a well-coached basketball team. What’s more, it can’t come as some huge shock that when you have this many veterans, you have injuries. Even as Brooklyn starts to get healthy, they’re going to need to pace themselves.
Williams and Pierce just got back, in time to get a win in Boston. With a lineup of Williams-Johnson in the backcourt, Pierce-Garnett at forward and Lopez at center, with Blatche coming off the bench, Brooklyn needs to get in a run.
They need to do two things in rapid order–get back into the playoff landscape, and then quickly move up to #6 or higher, the point where they avoid the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers in the playoff bracket. It needs to happen quickly, because with this many veterans, Kidd needs to be able to pace his players for spring, not feel like he needs to keep his foot on the gas.
Right now though, the foot needs to be on the gas. The nation will get a look at Brooklyn on Christmas Day, when they start the holiday basketball proceedings with a game against the Chicago Bulls. And we need to start seeing the Nets’ best, because in spite of the skeptics, I’m not ready to believe this is it.