Lichtenstein: Nets Can’t Wait Any Longer To Change Direction
By Steve Lichtenstein
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Here’s an idea: Let’s pour a bucketful of money on a bunch of stars who were at their peak maybe five years ago and then let them riff for a couple of hours in front of cameras with almost no direction.
But enough about Anchorman 2, which at least provided me with a few smiles after I bailed on the Nets early in the fourth quarter following their latest second-half capitulation.
This time it was the Bulls, whom the even-more disappointing Nets allowed to morph from snails into track stars in the third quarter of Chicago’s 95-78 victory at Barclays Center on Wednesday. The loss, Brooklyn’s fourth in a row and second since the season-ending injury to All-Star center Brook Lopez, dropped coach Jason Kidd’s Nets to 9-19.
And it’s not like more sequels will produce better results any time soon under Kidd’s guise, not with the schedule looming with road games at Indiana, Oklahoma City and San Antonio after Milwaukee comes to town on Friday.
This franchise should have been called something like The Nightmare on Atlantic Avenue, at least according to star point guard Deron Williams. These Nets quiver and show no fight when their opponents ramp up their energy and go for the kill.
Especially in third quarters. Chicago’s 23-6 run in the last six minutes brought the Nets’ accumulated third-quarter deficit to an astounding minus-91.
With Lopez out, it was assumed Kidd would lean on Kevin Garnett a little more to stabilize the paint. The 37-year-old Garnett had been averaging a mere 22 minutes a game, presumably to save his legs for more meaningful games down the road.
Yet Kidd still feels the need to remove Garnett from the floor after five-or-six-minute runs. Not coincidentally, Indiana on Monday and Chicago on Wednesday used that particular moment in the third quarter to grab the game away from the Nets, racing to 20-point leads rather quickly.
The other Nets big men — Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic, Reggie Evans and Mason Plumlee –made Bulls forward Taj Gobson look like an All-Star yesterday with their lackluster defense.
And the rest of the Nets were so disinterested that they allowed Chicago, the third-slowest team in the league in terms of total possessions per game, to score 16 fast-break points.
In case Kidd needed a reminder, these games now are pretty meaningful. We’re not “early in the season” any more. The Atlantic Division may be a cesspool of awful basketball, but the Nets can’t keep waiting for everything in their house to coalesce in time for them to make a playoff push.
As they stand these days, the Nets aren’t a lock to beat anybody.
And, unlike in the movies, there’s no savior on the horizon to rescue this $190 million debacle.
Owner Mikhail Prokhorov entrusted general manager Billy King, giving him carte blanche on his bank account, with the sole mission to win a title. After an offseason of mortgaging almost every asset he had to remake an incomplete team, King has little left to offer to make substantial improvements now.
Who would they get anyway? Houston’s Omer Asik? Not without a first-round draft pick to send the Rockets’ way. Or Williams, which the Nets reportedly rejected flat-out.
The one move King has to make now, as it’s three weeks overdue, is to fire Kidd. Kidd, who took the job only 10 days after retiring as a player, is unsurprisingly in over his shaved head.
There’s no sense in the rotations — how can you have Shawn Livingston and Evans on the floor at the same time for extended periods? Why not have the players carry around a ball and chain on offense to further increase the degree of difficulty while you’re at it? Hard to believe, but Blatche may be even worse defensively than Lopez, which means you have to pair him with someone with better aptitude in that department than Teletovic.
All the losing is beginning to make veterans like Garnett and Paul Pierce chafe. Pierce, who rode into Brooklyn from Boston along with Garnett and Jason Terry with high hopes in the summer, intimated that his precipitous statistical decline from just a year ago is as much due to inconsistent minutes as it is from his hand injury.
Kidd can’t even get the Nets to play hard. Every game the Nets lose more than their fair share of 50-50 balls, get pummeled on the boards, make careless passes and fail to get back on defense.
When even the normally rambunctious Evans is dogging it, as evidenced late in the third quarter by Jimmy Butler outhustling him from behind to grab a loose ball and set off on a breakaway, then you’ve lost the team.
This situation is worse than a year ago, when King axed Avery Johnson following a pair of blowout losses, including a Christmas Day massacre to Boston. Those Nets were at least 14-14 and just needed someone to wean them off Johnson’s preferred small-ball path for which their roster was unsuited.
Whoever takes over for Kidd has to start from scratch. There’s no flow to the offense and the defense is a double whammy of being both too accommodating from three-point range and weak in the paint.
Even though the Nets’ roster is loaded with experience, including some with championship pedigree, their players need to be coached and then believe in what the coach is directing them to do.
Leave the improv to Will Ferrell.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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