By Steve Lichtenstein
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I tried. I really did.
Everyone in Nets-land begged for patience. The team had to blend in new (though well-worn) parts. Wait till they get healthy. It was all Lawrence Frank’s fault.
But much of the hideousness that is being exhibited in Brooklyn these days, the latest during Thursday night’s embarrassing 113-83 loss to the Knicks in front of a decidedly pro-Knicks crowd at Barclays Center, can be traced to one unnecessarily-quick decision made by general manager Billy King back in June.
The record (feel free to check my archives) will show that I was wholeheartedly disagreeable when King hired Jason Kidd, only 10 days removed from his retirement announcement as a player, to coach a team with a win-now directive.
This was supposed to be a team that would compete for an NBA title, having gambled away a good chunk of future assets in order to satisfy owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s mission. It should have been led by someone with relevant experience on his resume.
Instead, King went with a coaching novice and asked that the fans give Kidd time to develop. While I wasn’t shy about pointing out Kidd’s early faux pas, I had resisted the call for drastic measures.
With the Nets virtually tied for last place in the putrid Atlantic Division with a 5-14 record, it is time for patience to be replaced by urgency before the season is irrevocably lost.
Kidd must be reassigned, if not fired altogether.
Nets brass can’t wait any longer. They’re not even competitive. The Nets must lead the league in garbage-time minutes, with Thursday night’s loss already their eighth by double-digits this season.
And some of those came before injuries depleted the Nets’ depth. On Thursday night, without Deron Williams, Paul Pierce, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry, it looked like the Nets had given up.
“It’s not ideal,” said Nets forward Kevin Garnett.
Garnett was supposed to be the centerpiece of the Nets’ blockbuster deal with Boston on draft day by bringing over his legendary passion to transform a fragile core. But he’s been limited by Kidd to short runs each quarter, making him look like he’s aged 10 years since last season ended.
“We were just not ready,” Garnett said
The Nets have been dysfunctional on both ends. You would think that Kidd might remember, since it hasn’t been that long since he was one of their teammates, that the Knicks live and die by the three-point shot.
One of the reasons the Knicks came across the river with an equally disappointing record is that their other opponents have figured that out. Despite making only 32.2 percent of their three-pointers, the third-worst efficiency in the NBA coming into the game, the Knicks were fourth in the league in attempts.
So why were the Nets so acceding when it came to defending the three-point line on Thursday night?
Back when Frank was Kidd’s lead assistant (on Monday, before he was “reassigned” by Kidd to a report-writing role), one of my pet peeves was Frank’s long-running fixation on protecting the paint over contesting three-point shots. I defended Kidd for taking on the responsibility that came with removing Frank from the bench.
Garnett intimated that Kidd was trying to change schemes during walkthroughs at subsequent practices, but you couldn’t tell on Thursday night, as little changed from previous games where opponents bombed away from deep with impunity.
The Knicks took advantage of Nets going under screens, cheating to help in the paint despite the Knicks playing without any low-post presence, and, by the third quarter, their usual overall lack of energy on defense. New York knocked down 16 of their 27 three-point shots.
I saw Knicks guard Iman Shumpert pretty much salivating in the locker room before the game while watching tape of the Nets’ blowout loss to the Nuggets from Tuesday.
He was on to something. Shumpert was unconscious from deep, scoring 17 points in 23 minutes, including 11 points in the decisive third quarter when the Knicks broke open a five-point game with a 34-14 run. For the game, Shumpert converted five of his seven three-point attempts, almost all of them uncontested.
“You got to give the Knicks credit,” said Kidd. “When they started the game off it didn’t seem as if they were going to miss. But we stayed with the game plan and it became a ballgame. And again, in that third quarter, we couldn’t get the ball in the basket and they did.”
Tyshawn Taylor, the Nets’ second-year point guard who has moved up from third string to a starting role due to Williams’ ankle injury and Shaun Livingston’s recent ineffectiveness, was more blunt.
“I think defensively we’ve got to do something different,” said Taylor. “I think a lot of times we’ve been caught helping off our guys too much and guys have been knocking down shots. We’ve got to do a better job with our preparation as players.”
The offense has been equally dreadful. All preseason, Kidd preached ball movement, but the attack has pretty much devolved into the same isolation ball that doomed the Nets last season. Get it to either center Brook Lopez or shooting guard Joe Johnson, two of the Nets’ worst passers out of double-teams, and then get out of the way.
It is well-known that the Knicks struggle with pick-and-roll defense, often switching no matter the matchup. Yet the Nets rarely called such plays.
“We thought our advantage would be inside so we tried to run a lot of plays posting up,” said Taylor.
The times Taylor did run a pick-and-roll, he said, “they switched a lot and different guys played different ways, but we just didn’t exploit it.”
And what the heck was Lopez doing in the game when the Nets were down by 30 points in the fourth quarter? Visions of Boobie Miles writhing on the ground in agony raced through my head. Imagine if Lopez suffered another fluke foot injury?
It all points to Kidd not having a firm grasp on what’s going on out on the court, despite his Hall of Fame-worthy vision when he played. When asked how he evaluates himself, Kidd said, “I think you get evaluated by being whole.”
It’s on the coach to adjust to evolving situations. The Nets knew going in that they had a high risk of injuries given their aging roster — that’s why they went the extra miles to fill their bench. Yes, they’ve had more than their fair share, but the remaining cast isn’t that bad that it should be losing by 30 points at home to a team that hadn’t won in nine games.
To me, Williams was the one irreplaceable part that the Nets could least afford to lose, but then again the Knicks were without center Tyson Chandler, who by many accounts is the Knicks’ most valuable player because of how he anchors their defense.
And there are many teams that have been soldiering on as the league again has been hit by a veritable plague of injuries to key players. Those teams at least tread water.
The Nets, on the other hand, are sinking. It’s time to throw the coach overboard and see if a more experienced hand can right the ship.
Patience may be a virtue, but it’s one I’ll pass on if it means I can avoid watching Atlanta gleefully utilize the Nets’ lottery pick next summer.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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