By Steve Lichtenstein
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I’ve read that if certain sharks stop moving forward, they will sink.
Nets general manager Billy King has to be hoping that his failure to make any deals at the trading deadline doesn’t have a similar effect on his club.
For the waters are rough down the stretch for the Nets, who, after last night’s 106-96 loss to visiting Houston, have only 10 of their remaining 26 contests at home, including tomorrow night when streaking Memphis comes to town.
There are no monsters outside of Miami in the Eastern Conference, but that doesn’t excuse King’s disregard for the limitations of his own club, which could easily be first-round fodder for a team like Chicago, whose late-year roster addition is expected to come in the form of injured star point guard Derrick Rose at some point before the playoffs.
The Nets flaws were on full display last night at a sold-out Barclays Center. The crowd was ready to rock had the Nets managed to extend their four-game winning streak and move into a tie for the Atlantic Division lead with the swooning Knicks.
Specifically, it was the Nets’ anemic offensive output from their forwards and their unreliable three-point shooting that set them back yet again.
With starting point guard Deron Williams’ ankles basically held together by scotch tape and sidekick Joe Johnson “day-to-day” with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, the Nets simply did not have enough weapons to hang with the hot-shooting Rockets for four quarters.
Starters Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace, for all their value generated by their defense and hustle plays, are killing the Nets on the offensive end. Wallace, in particular, seems to have lost confidence in his ability. He was never much of a three-point shooting specialist to begin with, but now he is struggling to make simple layups on his slashes to the basket. He was a miserable 3-for-10 from the floor last night, 0-for-2 from behind the three-point line.
Evans is a rebounding machine and the league leader in boards per 48 minutes. He is Brooklyn’s best at blitzing the pick-and-roll, and you can count on him to hustle back underneath to recover his position. But he simply can’t be trusted with the ball in his hands, no matter how close he is to the rim. Evans’ layup in the third quarter was his first field goal since his tip-in during the overtime in Indiana, 11 days and four games ago.
The reserves have not been any better. Now that the deadline passed, the Nets can stop showcasing Kris Humphries, who should be doing commercials for Butterfingers instead of Foot Locker. Mirza Teletovic is an intriguing player and he gave the Nets a shot in the arm last night with 12 points in 17 minutes. But let’s not forget he was 2-for-his-previous-14 in February.
Then there’s Keith Bogans, my bête noir, the player who SHOULD be the solution, but is just too horribly inconsistent.
No matter which database you peruse, Bogans’ numbers are among the worst in the NBA at his position. There have been some close games where Bogans has made key plays, like the two three-pointers in the overtime victory over Milwaukee on Tuesday, and he gets credit for being a diligent defender, but most games have been like last night’s, where I wonder what info Bogans has on the Nets’ staff to warrant all this playing time.
In 24 minutes, Bogans bricked 7 of 9 attempts, mostly wide open, including the potential game-tying three-pointer with 2:10 remaining.
I don’t think the problem is my expectations. I watch other teams, like Houston, where they swing the ball to the open corner for a clear look at a three-pointer, and I’m more surprised when the ball doesn’t go through the hoop.
With Bogans (and Wallace and…virtually every other Net, even Johnson, who, despite his wondrous end-game heroics, has mailed in more than a few games this season), it’s more of a prayer than a money shot.
That’s why I was refreshing various websites until 3pm on Thursday, hoping in vain that King could get a deal done to juice the attack.
While I understand that some of the names floated as targets, like Atlanta’s Josh Smith, were longshots given the low quality of the excess assets rumored to be headed out of Brooklyn, I thought King should have been more aggressive. After all, Sacramento threw out their first-round draft choice, forward Thomas Robinson, for some of Houston’s garbage.
For those who admire King’s patience, I’d retort, “Patient for what?” The window will close on this not-so-young team sooner than you think. One day Wallace might not get up so quickly after one of his crashes, or the lost steps caused by Williams’ ankle woes could be permanent, or Johnson starts missing buzzer-beaters.
This team was built to win in a shorter term. The Nets have very little salary cap flexibility going forward since they are over the luxury tax threshold. They can’t sign-and-trade for free agents, like Smith or Lakers center Dwight Howard, this upcoming summer. Even if the Nets slide a bit in the standings, they’ll still be drafting so low that it’s a crapshoot to land a player who could provide immediate help.
And I also dismiss those who believe Nets fans should be satisfied with this transition year, with King using owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s cash last summer to rebuild the franchise into a playoff team after some abysmal seasons in New Jersey.
Hey, the Nets only went down the tubes when they decided to split the state and save cap space (and cash) for Brooklyn. It was only 10 years ago that the Nets were making their second consecutive trip to the NBA Finals and then they were very competitive for the next four seasons. It’s not like they haven’t won a playoff round since the turn of the century (right, Knicks fans?).
The point is that the Nets wasted an opportunity. No, they weren’t going to beat Miami in a seven-game series unless someone drove the Heat team bus into a building, but an Eastern Conference Finals berth would not have been farfetched had the Nets been able to fortify their forwards.
Instead, the Nets stood still and will likely float around for a round or two in the playoffs before some team exposes the Nets’ flaws and pulls the plug on their season.
Do you think the Nets made a mistake by not making a deal at the trade deadline? Let us know what you think in the comments section below…
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.