By Steve Lichtenstein
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Tuesday night’s Nets game in Memphis might seem like an ordinary pit stop in this long slog that is the NBA season, but I’m hoping it will have some historical significance for Brooklyn.
For if you believe general manager Billy King, there’s a pretty good chance that the team that will don Brooklyn black in Los Angeles after the All-Star break will be somewhat-to-very different from the one that walked off the floor in Milwaukee on Monday night with a 103-97 defeat and on Tuesday will fly out of Memphis.
Despite a plethora of deals being tossed around the rumor mill throughout January, King told the press a week ago that he wanted “to see how we can finish up going into the All-Star break” before evaluating whether this current concoction has the wherewithal to mount a push to reach the postseason.
They so obviously don’t.
The evidence is right there for King. He can’t possibly miss it.
At 21-30, the Nets have again fallen out of the top eight in the putrid Eastern Conference, a game behind both Charlotte and Miami. Their upcoming schedule is far from favorable — they have six games remaining on their “Circus Road Trip” before they return home to face elite Golden State on March 2.
But there’s more to the evaluation process than just the record. There’s a slew of reasons why few experts are predicting that Brooklyn will advance to the playoffs.
The Nets’ loss to the Bucks was a microcosm of all that ails this team.
The stunning dearth of athleticism, as indicated by the Bucks’ 21-7 and 14-3 advantages in, respectfully, fast break points and steals. The three-point bricklaying — the Nets’ 36 percent conversion rate was boosted 11 points by Jarrett Jack uncharacteristically knocking down 4-of-5 from behind the arc. The rebounding woes — Milwaukee put up 17 more shots than Brooklyn in the first half thanks to 10 offensive rebounds, allowing the Bucks to cut an early 17-point deficit to five points despite shooting 33 percent from the floor. The lack of quality depth — the Bucks’ reserves outscored their Nets’ counterparts, 36-27.
And that’s with max-contract earners Brook Lopez and Deron Williams coming off the Nets’ bench, folks.
It’s the Lopez-D-Will duo that many Nets fans want eradicated from the roster any way, anyhow. Between injuries and ineffectual play, Lopez and Williams haven’t come close to living up to the marquee billing posted above the Barclays Center entrance.
With any luck, their visages will be removed sometime prior to the February 19 trade deadline.
We should be aware, however, that based on the alleged consideration proffered by other clubs who reportedly showed interest in either Lopez or Williams, don’t expect King to walk away from the table with a healthy stack of blue chips.
Neither will command anything close to a lottery pick. And since most teams don’t have that much salary cap space to take on such onerous contracts, the Nets will likely have to take back some large contracts to complete any exchange, not the cheap young players teams ordinarily desire.
King is in a tight spot, since he might feel that he can’t simply give the pair away. It makes no sense for the Nets to tank the rest of this season. Any additional lottery ping-pong balls resulting from accumulating losses would just go to Atlanta, which has the right to swap 2015 first-round draft picks with Brooklyn as part of the summer 2012 trade that netted Joe Johnson.
Of course, it was King who put himself in this position in the first place. His fantasy-sports approach to building a team has left the franchise with few assets and massive luxury tax penalties.
Which is how we got to this point where the Nets need to be blown up.
It wasn’t that long ago when I questioned whether Nets fans should trust King to dismantle a team he constructed so poorly. I figured that it might be better if we just closed our eyes during the games for the remainder of this season and waited for ownership to make the long overdue change to bring in a new man in charge of personnel.
I’ve found that it’s not so easy.
I’ve had enough of D-Will’s excuses — yes, he was sick during the Nets’ shootaround on Monday, which might explain his zero-point, four-turnover outing against the Bucks. But what about the prior three games, when Williams shot an aggregate 6-for-29 from the floor (including Monday, he’s bricked his last 19 field goal attempts)? Are we still blaming the fractured rib cartilage from January? Or are the ankles still sore from offseason surgery? Oh, right — it’s the coach.
I believe trading Lopez could also be addition by subtraction—the Nets did turn around last season after he sustained a season-ending injury. In my mind, Lopez’s scoring never made up for his deficiencies in virtually every other area of the game of basketball.
They both have to go — for whatever King can get at auction.
I’ll take Lance Stephenson from Charlotte, if that was indeed an option in a previously reported three-way trade that had Lopez getting shipped to Oklahoma City. Give me Darren Collison and garbage for D-Will, so long as second-year center Mason Plumlee isn’t included in the outgoing package.
And while we’re at it, why not see if the Clippers really want 38-year-old Kevin Garnett? Blake Griffin is out up to six weeks while recovering from a staph infection. Though Los Angeles doesn’t have the necessary cap space, it wouldn’t hurt the Nets to explore some creative means before simply buying KG out and letting him reunite with Doc Rivers for no compensation.
My head understands that Johnson should also be dealt for the right price, but in my heart he’s one piece I wish the Nets would hold onto. With his knack for delivering in the clutch, Joe Cool has been at the center of the few positive moments of this disappointing era.
When the final chapter is written — with all the former stars dispersed far and wide across the NBA landscape — King’s Nets will go down with the likes of the Titanic and New Coke in the annals of the most over-hyped boondoggles of their time.
So tune in to YES on Tuesday night. It could very well be your last chance to witness this train wreck.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1.