By Steve Lichtenstein
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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Here we go again.
It appears change is-a-comin’ again for the Nets, who are making a habit out of kicking prosperity in the teeth in their inaugural season in Brooklyn. Their attempts to join the ranks of the Eastern Conference elite has become a Sisyphean remake, with last night’s desultory 89-74 loss in Washington a continuation of their latest freefall.
Their fifth defeat in seven games dropped the Nets to 29-20 with far more imposing clubs than the Wizards on the docket next week, starting with the NBA-leading Spurs tomorrow at the Barclays Center.
The last time the Nets embarked on such a negative run — a 3-10 December swoon that erased an 11-4 start — it cost coach Avery Johnson his job. P.J. Carlesimo seemed to invigorate his club’s stars in winning 12 of his first 14 games as interim coach. Now, there’s a sense that there’s little he can do for a team that simply can’t make shots.
Over their last three games, the Nets are shooting 36 percent from the floor and 30 percent from beyond the three-point line. The second quarter has been especially dismal, with the Nets getting outscored 219-158 in a seven-game stretch.
That’s because Carlesimo has been getting next-to-nothing from a once-satisfactory bench. Carlesimo likes to give his star triumvirate of center Brook Lopez and the high-priced backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, a few minutes off to start the second quarter. Unfortunately, the second unit just doesn’t bring enough offense for the Nets to remain competitive.
It appeared to reach a breaking point last night when Williams wanted to increase the tempo early in the fourth quarter to stimulate a run from a double-digit deficit. Saddled with the rest of the second unit on the floor with him, Williams was frantically waving his off hand to get his teammates to run ahead, to no avail.
We all should know by now what happens when Williams gets upset.
The ball is back in general manager Billy King’s court. With “Fire the coach” already crossed out on his checklist, King’s next step to stem the tide is to explore the trade market before the February 21 deadline.
Rumors are currently swirling that the Nets are interested in swapping overpaid assets, with Brooklyn sending spare power forward Kris Humphries to Charlotte in exchange for shooting guard Ben Gordon.
On paper, it is one of those rare deals that would seem to benefit both teams. The Bobcats, who have depth at guard, made then-free agent Humphries an offer over the summer before the Nets blew away the competition with a two-year $24 million deal. Humphries has since fallen out of favor in Brooklyn, having played over 20 minutes only five times since the coaching change.
He was barely noticeable in nine minutes last night. He had a nice dunk off a pick-and-roll, but also clanked an open 15-footer and had two turnovers. Carlesimo went with Mirza Teletovic, who was coming off a three-airball performance in Detroit, in the second half.
Gordon, a career 40 percent three-point shooter, would give the Nets the legitimate long-range threat they desperately need to keep opposing defenses from collapsing on Lopez, Williams and Johnson on post-ups and drives. The Nets have been in the bottom third in the League in three-point shooting all season.
And Gordon has a similar contractual arrangement to Humphries, with a player option (that will certainly be exercised) in 2013-14 for $13.2 million.
Of course, there are unintended consequences should the Nets follow through. It would pretty much spell doom for MarShon Brooks’ career as a Net. Though exhibiting flashes of brilliance, Brooks has been one of many Nets who have frustrated Carlesimo with inconsistent efforts. With Gordon as the sixth man, Brooks would be relegated to hanging out with rookie Tyshawn Taylor at the end of the bench.
And if you thought Brooks was a lousy defender, wait till you get a glimpse of Gordon, whose mind is often on his next shot.
I would prefer if the Nets targeted someone bigger, someone to at least get Keith Bogans off the court. The Nets’ power forward situation (both Reggie Evans and Humphries are beasts on the boards but are offensively-challenged) already requires them to execute sets four-on-five. Bogans’ hanging out and missing two-thirds of his wide-open three-pointers is of little use. At six-foot three, Gordon can’t swing to defend small forwards.
Even better would be if King could scrounge up some other assets to look for a better-scoring power forward, someone who won’t cause Williams to second-guess himself after delivering a pass off the pick-and-roll. For as much as the Barclays’ faithful appreciates the hustle and heart of Evans, the groans are audible, with screams of “Why?” every time a Net feeds him in the paint.
Names bandied about in other reports include Utah’s Paul Millsap, Orlando’s Hedo Turkoglu and even Atlanta’s star Josh Smith (though I don’t see how the Hawks could be satisfied from the list of available Nets to give up a player of Smith’s caliber).
That would also maintain the Nets’ physical advantages by allowing Gerald Wallace to remain at small forward, where he could continue his work covering the Conference’s elite scorers at that position instead of having to bang with bigger bodies at power forward if the Nets decided to go with a small lineup of Williams, Johnson and Gordon.
King received a ton of credit for remodeling a once-decrepit franchise into a playoff team. However, he made a big mistake if he thought he had a finished product at the end of the summer. There are holes to be filled. A power forward with some scoring ability and better three-point shooting off the bench are the priorities.
With owner Mikhail Prokhorov laying down the law of expectations, I think King will be under the gun to make a move by the All Star break next weekend.
Because with the Nets — the more things change, the more things change.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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