By Steve Lichtenstein
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Just when you thought this Nets season couldn’t get any stranger…
With Brooklyn in a free-fall of 12 losses in 14 games prior to Monday’s home tilt versus the Clippers—which dropped the Nets into ninth place and out of the playoff picture in the woebegone Eastern Conference—all eyes have been scanning Twitter feeds waiting for general manager Billy King’s next move.
Would he dump one or more of Brooklyn’s Max Three of Joe Johnson, Deron Williams, and Brook Lopez? Would he be able to get anything of substance in return? Would Kevin Garnett—wasting away his 20th and possibly final season of a Hall-of-Fame-bound career here when a contender might value his professional services more than Nets coach Lionel Hollins—try to negotiate a buyout of his $12 million guaranteed contract?
Well, according to King, it’s none of the above.
King insisted on Monday that he’s not looking to make any such moves prior to the All-Star Game in two weeks. He said he wanted to see how the Nets played in their six games leading up to the break and then make a reassessment. The trade deadline is February 19.
And to show his contrarian side, someone leaked to ESPN on Monday that King was looking into using the Nets’ vacant 15th roster spot by bringing center Andray Blatche back to Brooklyn.
The 6-foot-11 free agent was a key Nets reserve the past two seasons, but his enigmatic antics on the court and his allegedly troublesome behavior off of it led to a stint in China when no NBA team came calling last summer.
Blatche averaged a little under 11 points per game as a Net despite limited playing time (just over 20 minutes per game), but he was also suspended for four games a year ago by then-coach Jason Kidd for “personal reasons.”
That was one of the reasons why King gave an emphatic “No!” to a question over the summer as to whether he would contact Blatche about another run in Brooklyn. Blatche’s previous tenure in Washington also ended with similar regrets (and a $23 million amnesty buyout). No NBA team was willing to risk a third strike.
Blatche dominated in the substandard China basketball Association, putting up ridiculous numbers for a team that missed the playoffs.
So of course King is now intrigued. His go-to move is the flip-flop.
Remember how the Nets had to get younger, which was why Paul Pierce was not re-signed? The 28-year-old Blatche is in his 10th professional season.
Or that the Nets were looking to pare payroll, which is how all the trade rumors started in the first place? The Nets may have to compete for Blatche’s services, with ESPN reporting that Memphis is also interested. Brooklyn’s main advantage is that they own Blatche’s “Early Bird Rights,” which would allow them to offer more dough without regard for the salary cap.
And, finally, how the Nets reportedly passed on acquiring Charlotte’s Lance Stephenson in various scenarios because they were concerned about his erratic behavior? King must have a short memory when it comes to Blatche.
Though I think these Nets could use a little “crazy,” Blatche does not fill the need. He only fits on this roster if the Nets indeed move Lopez, which is harder than it seems. Lopez may be regaining some of the offensive form that made him a 2013 NBA All-Star, but he’s an abomination on the other end. Oh, and he’s had multiple surgeries on his right foot over the last four years.
I’ve said it before, but the Nets are fooling themselves if they think some team is giving them good value for a fragile player who is expected to opt in for $16.7 million next season.
Still, King was correct in rejecting the Nuggets’ reported JaVale MCGee-J.J. Hickson offer, even if it was supposedly sweetened with a heavily-protected first-rounder originally belonging to either Memphis or Oklahoma City. McGee has played in just 21 games over the last two seasons and will earn $12 million in 2015-16.
No wonder King insisted on Monday that other GMs are calling him, not the other way around.
Unfortunately, there is little King can do to resurrect this team. He can’t fire another coach, like he did two years ago. Hollins was King’s third hire in about 18 months.
And Hollins can’t change the Nets’ identity with a “small-ball” orientation like Kidd did last season after Lopez went down. The Nets just don’t have the athleticism and three-point shooting to play that way.
A Blatche signing would do little to change the Nets’ fortunes. He would not be a replacement for three-point marksman Mirza Teletovic, who is out for the season recovering from blood clots in his lungs. All Blatche would do is take away minutes from Mason Plumlee, one of the Nets’ few bright spots in an otherwise ugly first 46 games.
The Nets’ best hope to even reach the postseason is for Williams to stay healthy. He returned on Monday from an 11-game absence due to fractured rib cartilage and provided an offensive spark in his 29 minutes off the bench.
It led to perhaps the zaniest of all the days’ news–the Nets fought back from an eight-point deficit in the final 1:10 to defeat the title-contending Clippers, 102-100. All it took was for the Clips to brick 17 of their 25 free throw attempts (both teams combined to set an NBA record for futility by shooting 37.2 percent from the line) and a pair of unfathomable plays—an and-one three-pointer by Alan Anderson with 15 seconds remaining and then a pull-up mid-range jumper by Jarrett Jack over DeAndre Jordan’s hand to win it.
Can’t wait to see what Tuesday brings.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.