30 Teams, 30 Days
New Jersey Nets Season Preview.
We’re back continuing to preview the Atlantic Division with the New Jersey Nets. You can read past previews here.
by Jake Appleman/@JakeAppleman
The 2009-10 New Jersey Nets are playing with house money. They’re the NBA’s equivalent of a guy that was given $82,000 to make 82 bets. The real estate magnate that handed the money over couldn’t care less what happens, as long as the bets are played and the Russian shadow in the background swoops in to bail him out like Bernanke. Or not like Bernanke. Finance and politics and news are confusing like that.
Some of the bets will be safer than others. A holiday clash at home against the Thunder is like hitting on an eleven in blackjack, while a roadie against the Lakers is like throwing a chip down on a single roulette number.
The funny thing about this is that, as of right now, the Nets have neither Eddie House nor money. In fact, they’re hemorrhaging so much dough, they’ve had to resort to advertising on their practice jerseys, renting out players and unprecedented ticket-selling promotions. Seriously, we wouldn’t be surprised if the first ten fans at the opener with “Free Beadle” signs each won a reversible Marv Albert toupee.
“This side is hair! And this side is hair, too! Whoa!”
So lay down those chips down on the table, boys. Play the percentages right and try to better yourselves. Because next year it gets serious and if you don’t prove yourself this year, you might not be worth the gamble. Except, of course, for…
The Building Blocks
Assuming Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee are who we thought they are–and develop into something resembling who we think they’ll be–they’re here to stay.
Harris, with his tenacious forays to the tin, improving jumper and on-the-job leadership training is the All-Star of the present and a great option for the future. We just hope he’s careful with the tread he puts on his tires this year.
Two Devin-related things to keep an eye on.
1) He’s regressed since his days as a pesky stopper on some fantastic mid-decade Mavericks teams. Back then, along with applying excellent ball pressure and playing the passing lanes well, he made Tony Parker say “putain” a lot. With an even greater need to be the primary creator/scorer on this team, can he find the energy needed to regain some of that defensive prowess? Given the relatively low expectations, you may not think it matters, but it’s a prelude to what will be needed from him on the competitive teams to follow this summer’s inevitable spending spree.
“SLIDE, SLIDE, TURN, SHOW ME HANDS!” (Sorry, I’m having flashbacks…)
2) Much has been said about the transition into a team that runs a lot, but you can’t win many games without success on some level in the half court. It’ll be fun to keep tabs on how well the Nets do both, and how the different styles of play intermingle. If they’re running well, can Harris rein it in late in the game and slow it down? If they’re struggling on the break, can he get them back in sync immediately in the half court? Can he push the ball successfully when his teammates get sluggish?
The common thread that we’d like to see is spontaneity: a frequently overmatched team needs to catch the opposing defense napping on fast break opportunities and surprise them with quick drives to the basket when things are calmer (the latter will be most prevalent when the Nets are running the much-ballyhooed dribble-drive-motion offense).
Lopez, as a back-to-basket center with a developing face-up game and a nice touch, is a legitimate commodity in the league. It’d be lovely to see him get 18 and 10, possible if he’s running the pick-and-roll with Devin as much as he should be. Those digits would also benefit Lawrence Frank’s attempt at remaining the longest tenured coach in the Eastern Conference. Mostly though, we’re just hoping he avoids the dreaded sophomore slump. Remember, teams have a full season of film and scouts have had an entire off season to prep for him.
“KEEP THE BALL HIGH! SEAL! STICK YOUR ASS INTO HIM! COUNTER MOVE! COUNTER MOVE!” (Again with the flashbacks. Apologies.)
As for Courtney Lee, this is his time to show us that he’s more than a good defender and average scorer that flourishes in catch-and-shoot situations.
While those three should be there for the foreseeable future, the rest of the team is filled with…
Veterans Playing for Contracts, Kids Trying to Hang
Solid locker-room leaders Keyon Dooling and Eduardo Najera are locked up past this season but Bobby Simmons, Tony Battie, Trenton “Tennessee” Hassell, Jarvis Hayes and Rafer Alston will all be looking to show that they can be useful in the future, either as mentors on inexperienced teams or off-the-bench pieces on contenders. The former seems a little bit more likely for all of them, save maybe Skip–if he toes the company line and behaves himself following unfounded preseason rumors that he wanted out–and Hayes.
Assuming the Nets pick up the 2010-11 options on Chris Douglas-Roberts (no-brainer), Lopez (duh) and Yi Jianlian (China is a really big country) in the coming week, both Josh Boone and Sean Williams will be playing for their NBA futures. Each young big has shown flashes of promise in the past, but hasn’t been consistent enough. In large part thanks One B Lo‘s revelatory emergence last season, Boone had a sophomoric junior season with stats similar to his freshman campaign’s output. Make no mistake: Boone can crash the boards and be an asset, confidence-permitting, in the right situation. His per-40 minute numbers from the 07-08 season round up to a double double on 54% from floor. Toss in some (hopefully) improved free-throw shooting and that’s damn serviceable.
Williams is another story. The rookie that Jason Kidd once lobbied to be given more burn, because he was blocking shots like a one man swat team and running the floor like a gazelle, has had a rough go of it. We hope he can put it together because, while Boone’s playing for the Nets to make him a qualifying offer or to find a deal with somebody else, this could be Sean’s last shot at NBA permanence.
The most intriguing off-the-court subplot will be Chris Douglas-Roberts’s presence on Twitter. Known as “Fresh”, though definitely not as accomplished as the movie of the same name, CDR might be the most interesting player tweeting now that Kevin Love has been silenced by the wrath of Kahn. (Credit Shaq for his occasional “your momma” jokes because there’s nothing quite like 1995, but he’d have to tweet more often to be in the discussion.)
Consider the following:
–When a woman, or someone pretending to be a woman, lets him know that she finds him attractive, CDR asks his mom if she saw that. Undeniably awesome.
–He recounted the story, backwards if you weren’t constantly refreshing your browser, about an obsessive groupie stalker. It was spooky, but the most fascinating wrinkle was that the stalker decided to focus her incredible stalking talents on a second-round pick that probably won’t be able to fight for a big contract for at least another year. Can you say “for the love of the game”? It might even work as a children’s book: “Chris and the bein’-stalked”.
–CDR mentioned tumbleweeds and crickets–BONUS POINTS–in the same tweet: “Now that they’ve seen me play & it’s alot of CD-R press…(crickets)….waiting for a tumbleweed to blow thru this muffuu•••.” AND HE CAN EVEN SPELL TUMBLEWEED (somewhat rare in the NBA).
–CDR often shows “respectt” (the extra t, or ttt’s, I’d hope stand for “thanks”) to people that message him to say that they like his game or the way he played. It’s a strange combination of disconcerting and cool that he reposts these messages. You’d think a guy with so much to prove and fight for wouldn’t admit that he cares about compliments pertaining to his preseason performance, but he does, and it’s a nice gesture to his growing number of fans.
Thankfully, for the sake of balance, Fresh has made a real effort to keep those motivation-providing haters in his life. Just yesterday: “’Yes! I woke up to hate messages. People actually wake up & say ‘before I brush my teeth, let me go hate on CDR.’ Ahhhhh. Life is great!’”
Now, what’s a better image for Nets fans this season than CDR growling like one of his mini-tigers at the imaginary haters in front of a mirror? Maybe talented rookie Terrence Williams lopping the heads off of dolls and storing them in his Barbie backpack for all to see?
Can we get a twitpic of that?
“Size Triple Yiiiii.”
Yi Jianlian is the team’s x-factor. So far, the Gary Sussman sneaker pun headlining this section of the preview might be his career’s greatest accomplishment. We’d like for that to change and Yi, who’s coming off a good summer, will have an entire season to try and prove that he’s not a bust. Why such a grand opportunity for a guy who’s proven so little? Because the Nets have the least talented forwards in the league, part of the reason why Lawrence Frank already had CDR slide over to the 3 from the 2.
Carpe Diem, ‘Size Triple Yi,’ Carpe Diem.
“Is Brooklyn in the House?”
Say what you want about the eminent domain battle that’s raged over the Atlantic Yards project–and everyone seems to have a slightly different opinion–Brooklyn is the best possible destination for the franchise.
This was my first NBA game in the swamp, second overall. A rookie named Shaq ripped down the basket; something named Jeff Turner drilled a game-winning three; and Scott Skiles didn’t try and fight me, probably because I was ten. The delay that Shaq’s dunk caused kept us out way past our bedtimes, and one of my friends even broke down and cried on the car ride home due to the stress of the late night and the memory of a relative’s recent death.
It’s the quintessential “my first trip to the Meadowlands” story. Something goes wrong, something amazing is overlooked (Nick Anderson going off for 50 on 17-25 from the floor, in this case), there’s too much waiting around, and somebody cries. All of this to say, when the Nets leave the swamp, a part of my soul will go with it. And really, what is a soul except some good, some bad, some ugly and far too much waiting around?
Now, Jersey loyalists will argue that Newark is the place for the team, and some good points are made: the arena is already built; it’s convenient to access via mass transit; a rising franchise in Brick City could help the political career of a mayor that might really do some good on an even bigger stage one day; a state that deserves a team keeps a team; and Harriet Thugman could rap the national anthem with the legendary Arlette wailing in the background.
BUT…Newark is a city. Brooklyn, as Mos Def astutely points out, is “the planet.” The marketing opportunities, chic chic tourist draw and ready-made fan base alone make it a no-brainer. There are eight million stories in the naked city, and six or seven million of them would never include riding New Jersey transit to the doorstep of the Prudential Center, no matter how feasible it is. Counter that with the number of people that would love to swipe a Metrocard, see a basketball game and accidentally shove a hipster into a bus all in the same night, and well…
For the overall strength of the league as a global entity and the potential for prosperous decades ahead in one of the world’s biggest markets, we should hope that Brooklyn happens.
Moreover, the transition from the Meadowlands to Newark to Brooklyn should work well on any number of levels, including enhancing the ability to entice an All-Star level free agent or two this summer.
Now, if Brooklyn doesn’t happen, Newark is the perfect backup plan. Seattle and Kansas City may deserve teams, but it’d be mighty swell–in the pipe dream sense–if the Commissioner inserted a stipulation into the Nets/Devils deal that mandated the Nets stay in Newark in the event that Brooklyn falls through.
In Soviet Russia, Cap Space Drive You!
For all the speculation about 2010, it’s pretty amazing that nobody has any idea how this will play out. Since my guess is as good as those who pretend to be informed about a game of human dominoes that hasn’t been played yet…
While I don’t see the crown (LeBron) or the jewel (D-Wade) going anywhere, it’s fairly easy to picture certified All-Stars (Amare, Joe Johnson, Chris Bosh etc.) and young studs (Rondo, Rudy Gay…both restricted FA’s) changing teams. We can’t know exactly what their haul will be, but with Mikhail Prokhorov in charge, two more first rounders to play with and Brooklyn probably on the horizon, it’s increasingly easy to see the Nets bringing in one or two guys that make them playoff-ready upon arrival. At the very least, there isn’t a free agent out there that would turn down lunch.
Footnote: if the Nets lack a large number of ping pong balls and win this year’s draft lottery, it could become this decade’s 1985 Patrick Ewing frozen envelope fiasco. And yes, I dream of a John Wall/Devin Harris backcourt.
This Year’s Prognosis
Generally speaking, the media did a horrible job underestimating the Nets last year, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they did so again. I doubt this will be the worst team in the conference, and 34-48 would be a nice accomplishment. But I’d settle for 29-53 and a few more ping pong balls, as long as they crush the Bobcats in what now looks to be the IZOD Center’s swan song, the swan in this case being the ugly duckling.
Stop Saying Nyets
It’s annoying. Thanks.