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Lichtenstein: New Year, Same Old ‘Bush-League’ Nets With Kidd At Helm

Stan Van Gundy (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images), Jason Kidd  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Stan Van Gundy (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images), Jason Kidd (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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By Steve Lichtenstein
» More Columns

Well, now we know that Stan Van Gundy won’t be coming to rescue the hapless Nets in the New Year.

The bums from Brooklyn closed out their unlucky 13 portion of their 2013-14 season with a fittingly embarrassing performance, getting blown out, 113-92, in San Antonio Tuesday night. The loss was the 10-21 Nets’ sixth in their last seven games and put them five games behind Toronto in the Atlantic Division.

If not for the mercy of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who may have felt sympathy for Brooklyn’s embattled rookie coach Jason Kidd, the final margin could have been 40 points.

That’s because the Nets were disinterested from the start all the way to the finish, when Kidd had to call a timeout with 0.2 seconds left so he could find enough players to take the court, as most headed to the locker room prematurely.

This was about more than lackluster defense or a disorganized offensive scheme. If the NBA had a Basketball Follies series like the NFL, there were several sequences from this game that could have made the final cut.

Nets rookie center Mason Plumlee’s tips a rebound into his own basket, Plumlee tries to dribble through multiple defenders–you get the picture.

Actually, Plumlee was probably the Nets’ best player last night, turning in a healthy stat line of 15 points, 13 rebounds and 2 blocks.

But that in of itself should speak volumes–if Mason Plumlee is your best player, you’re not winning a lot of games.

Check that–you won’t win ANY games in the NBA, be it against elite teams like San Antonio or Oklahoma City (where the Nets visit tomorrow) or the dregs.

And that’s where Van Gundy comes in. The former Magic coach called the Nets “a bush-league organization” in a radio interview. Van Gundy correctly blasted the Nets for their lack of effort in games as well as the composition of their roster.

Van Gundy cut Kidd some slack because of the bevy of injuries–center Brook Lopez is out for the season with a broken foot and point guard Deron Williams has been playing through his chronic ankle woes–that have plagued the Nets all season.

His principal target was general manager Billy King, who went “all in” over the summer by unloading draft picks for aging stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. King committed to spend about $190 million of owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s money just for this season.

Of course, King also outsmarted himself by gambling on Kidd, who was only 10 days out of retirement from his playing days when he was hired to coach.

Kidd’s lack of experience becomes obvious when he faces off against counterparts like Popovich, who, by the way, never played a second in the NBA and has done fairly well in spite of that.

Popovich is so in tune with how he wants his team to play, he’ll call timeout if the Spurs go astray for two possessions.

Meanwhile, Kidd hasn’t had the nerve to demand that Garnett stop with the inefficient 18-foot jump shots and get down low where he can at least compete for offensive rebounds. Or call out guard Joe Johnson when he makes a half-hearted attempt to contest a corner three-pointer. Or read vacation buddy Williams the riot act for turnovers caused by dribbling showmanship.

But he did remove forward Mirza Teletovic less than a minute into the third quarter for faulty defensive coverage.

As if Teletovic was solely to blame for the Nets surrendering 98 points through three quarters.

The Nets as an organization are a team with a bleak past, present, and, as Van Gundy emphasized, future. The knee-jerk reaction is to want to blow everything up and start over.

It’s not that simple.

Who wants damaged goods in Lopez? Or the outrageous contracts belonging to Williams or Johnson? Maybe someone would take on Pierce’s expiring contract, but the Nets would likely have to take on another long-term deal for a player of lesser value in return.

The rumor mill had the Lakers offering a broken-down Pau Gasol for Lopez and the Rockets inquiring about obtaining Williams in exchange for backup center Omar Asik and point guard Jeremy Lin. King reportedly nixed both.

Even if the Nets went the tanking route, they don’t own their 2014, 2016 or 2018 draft selections.

Besides, you have to be both really, really bad AND really, really lucky to land a truly transformational player like LeBron James or Kevin Durant.

Or San Antonio’s Tim Duncan, a star who has bought into his coach’s system.

Even though it won’t be Van Gundy, that’s where the Nets have to start. Bring in a coach with structure (and no, not Lawrence Frank) who holds ALL players accountable.

Otherwise the New Year will be no different than the old.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.

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