By Steve Lichtenstein
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“The secret of basketball,” as Isiah Thomas told Bill Simmons in Simmons’ tome “The Book of Basketball,” “is that it’s not about basketball.”
For some reason, that phrase started to haunt me as I watched, with abnormally high interest, Thursday’s press conference at Barclays Center, in which the Nets unveiled their bounty from their blockbuster draft-day trade with Boston.
Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry all sat at the podium, with everyone excited to see them joining a star-studded (and ridiculously expensive) lineup that already features Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson.
And then it hit me.
For all the talent that Brooklyn can put on the court, there’s still only one basketball.
Sure, the trio gave all the right answers to the large media assemblage about how the season would be solely about their quest for the NBA championship and how they’d sacrifice minutes, shots and pecking order for the greater good.
It sounded terrific, but it’s not always so easy to execute, at least not right away.
In Simmons’ book, Thomas described how it took time for his Detroit teams to not only put the right players in place, but the right people. Only when they found the right mix of players willing to understand their roles, ignore their stats and bond did the Pistons embark on their back-to-back championship run.
Garnett and Pierce have some experience bucking that trend. When Garnett and Ray Allen joined Pierce in Boston prior to the 2007-08 season to form the original “Big Three,” the Celtics were immediately spurred to an NBA title.
Except that Garnett and Pierce were in their primes back then and the starting unit also featured role players Rajon Rondo, who was in his first year as a full-time starter, and Kendrick Perkins, who took fewer than five shots per game.
And they had an experienced head coach, Doc Rivers, who was able to imbue his club with a signature unity, which they dubbed “ubuntu,” which fostered their common goal.
For the Nets, that challenge now falls on neophyte coach Jason Kidd. The best player to ever put on an Nets uniform, Kidd understands that he and his staff are under the gun to come up with plans to integrate all these new pieces, which also include free-agent pickups Andrei Kirilenko and Shaun Livingston, as well as key returning big man Andray Blatche.
Kidd, as a player, was a master at getting the best out of his teammates. No one was better at getting the ball to the right player at the right spot.
Unfortunately, that’s no longer in Kidd’s job description. Though Kidd has a close, personal connection with Williams (as well as Garnett and Terry), they were not mirrors on the court as point guards. Williams uses the dribble to look to score as well as dish and is much more confident taking contested jump shots than Kidd ever was.
Williams was brought to Brooklyn to be the face of the franchise, with a $100 million contract to prove it. He has All-Star skills, which were often dormant last season until he received treatments on his sore ankles at the All-Star break.
From that point on, Williams averaged 23.4 ppg the rest of the regular season (not including the meaningless finale when he was limited to 21 minutes).
He also took 16.4 shots per game during that stretch. Despite that efficiency last season, with this current lineup, I can see how that might cause a problem, especially if more than a few losses encroach on owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s master plan.
So all those questions directed at the newcomers at the press conference would have been more appropriate for Williams, the man with that one ball in his hands most often. How much is he willing to sacrifice? Can Kidd get him to play differently for more equivalent distribution than when Williams was encumbered by low-scoring forwards Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans?
I have no doubt that the trio on that dais on Thursday all understand what is necessary to take the Nets to the next level. They’re pros. And at their advanced ages, they no longer desire to be the focal point every night.
It’s Williams, who a few times previously has been found guilty of chafing in the media when he didn’t see eye-to-eye with his coach, who might benefit from a brief chat with Thomas on that subject.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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