By Steve Lichtenstein
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As far as impact trade-deadline deals go, I see the Nets’ acquisition of guard Marcus Thornton as more of that figurative adage about replacing worn deck chairs on the Titanic rather than the discount shopping for a valuable hidden jewel that others assert.
Sure, I’m all for throwing out the deadwood, but Thornton, a relatively low-percentage gunner on bad teams who wore out his welcome in Sacramento, isn’t the solution to the Nets’ weaknesses that could ultimately steer them adrift towards a doomed outcome.
It’s no secret that the Nets are short on big men, especially since center Brook Lopez broke a bone in his right foot in December and was lost for the season. Although Lopez was among the worst rebounders in the league at his position, the Nets’ season will be wrecked if they don’t improve in this category.
The Nets were again pounded on the boards in Utah on Wednesday night, though they escaped with a 105-99 victory that pushed them into a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference. The Jazz outrebounded the Nets 46-33 (including 13-5 in offensive rebounds) despite playing without injured power forward Derrick Favors, the type of athletic big man who has given the Nets fits all season.
Since January 1, when coach Jason Kidd unveiled his “small ball” starting front line of Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Joe Johnson, the Nets are the second-worst rebounding team in the NBA behind Miami. Outside of the Heat, all the other conference contenders (Indiana, Chicago, Toronto, Washington) rely on more traditional configurations, for which the Nets to date have not been able to match in head-to-head meetings.
The 6-foot-4 Thornton will be of no help there, as he is not known for his efforts on the defensive end. It remains to be seen how he’ll fit in — the Nets have been happy with Alan Anderson’s versatility in a similar role.
Searching for positives on this trade, the Nets did free up a roster spot by pawning off forward Reggie Evans and guard Jason Terry, neither of whom were playing well enough to deserve steady minutes on a team with high expectations.
Terry was especially disappointing, considering his prior reputation for supplying instant offense off the bench. Unfortunately, he turned out to be damaged goods from knee surgery after arriving in Brooklyn in the offseason trade that also brought over Garnett and Pierce from Boston. Not only was Terry shooting at a career-low percentage, but he was deficient in both his ball handling and defense.
Evans also had to go, even if at first glance it seemed like the Nets should have been able to fit a man with his rebounding pedigree into their rotation. Upon closer inspection, you’d see that the league has basically passed the 33-year-old Evans by — there’s no longer room on the floor for a player who is absolutely no threat to score. That’s why the coach chose not to play him 21 times this season.
General manager Billy King still has Thursday to add a more modern version of Evans to the roster. As of this writing, the Nets were among several teams pursuing Lakers power forward Jordan Hill.
Hill is not only averaging 7.0 rebounds per game in less than 20 minutes of high-energy court time, but he’s also not an offensive dead end, posting 8.5 points per game while shooting 54 percent from the field.
The Nets were hoping to use their Disabled Player Exception (approved by the league after the Lopez injury) to quietly broker a deal with Los Angeles.
Originally, the Lakers were quite happy simply exacting Hill from their roster in order to avoid paying luxury taxes and weren’t very picky about what they wanted in exchange. Of course, now that the word has spread that the Nets, who have few assets to compete with other teams making offers, have interest in Hill, the asking price has reportedly gone up.
Fortunately, the Nets pooh-pooh luxury taxes, thanks to owner Mikhail Prokhorov. The Russian billionaire has already set records for salary-plus-luxury tax payments this season. Adding Hill would reportedly bring the grand total from around $190 million to approximately $207 million.
Once again, Prokhorov deserves credit for trying. He clearly puts his money where his mouth is. Just by the Nets activity at this trade deadline, you can tell that he hasn’t given up on them despite their sub-.500 record.
That also means that King could look into an undisclosed Plan B if he fails to close on Hill, though nothing surrounding the Nets stays a secret for very long.
Which leads me to believe that the Nets will go into the stretch run without any further additions.
Kidd seems intent on doubling down on his current rotation, with Thornton taking the 10-12 minutes that used to belong to Terry/Anderson during Johnson’s rest periods.
As for the issues up front, I’m hoping Kidd will soon come to his senses and utilize forward Andrei Kirilenko more at power forward when the Nets are confronted with a team with a dual inside presence. Despite Kirilenko’s slight frame, he has the wingspan and intelligence to be more of a factor on the glass than what the Nets are trying to get away with now.
Kidd won’t have to present his next lineup card until Saturday, when the Nets continue their seven-game road trip at Golden State. If Warriors center Andrew Bogut recovers from his shoulder injury in time to share the floor with power forward David Lee, it won’t matter one bit that the Nets added a perimeter player like Thornton.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.
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