By Steve Lichtenstein
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Forget the games. The items of most interest concerning the Brooklyn Nets for the rest of this season will be related to events off the basketball court.
That makes the upcoming week a must-follow for fans.
The Nets staggered into the All-Star break on Wednesday, losing 109-90 to Memphis for their 40th defeat in 54 games this season.
The evening was about as representative a display as one could have imagined. The Nets committed 22 turnovers against the Grizzlies, who were playing their first game following the season-ending injury to All-Star center Marc Gasol. Brooklyn’s bench did not score a single point in the first half and then Memphis put the game out of reach with a 39-18 third quarter.
This ineptitude has become standard practice. The Nets are an absolute mess of a configuration for the modern game. They don’t have the athletes in the backcourt and on the wings to get to the rim or to stop opposing penetrators from doing the same. They shoot the third-fewest 3-pointers per game, though their efficiency has improved since the addition of shooting coach David Nurse three weeks ago. Their defense has been yielding 106.7 points per 100 possessions, which also ranks third from the bottom in the league.
Since their first game of the New Year, when starting point guard Jarrett Jack tore his ACL in Boston and was lost for the season, the Nets have gone 4-17. I feel safe saying that the three-year playoff streak in Brooklyn is over.
Seeing his overhyped possession in a freefall, Brooklyn owner Mikhail Prokhorov initiated a front office shakeup a month ago, firing coach Lionel Hollins and “reassigning” general manager Billy King. Tony Brown has patrolled the sidelines in the interim while assistant general manager Frank Zanin has assumed certain chores that once were King’s.
As he promised, Prokhorov is taking his time in naming successors, focusing first on the general manager position. ESPN reported on Wednesday that Prokhorov said, “We’ve finished our first round of homework, now we’re onto the second — the short list.”
So in the meantime … we wait.
For nothing can be done with this roster until the new general manager is in place. Hopefully, it will happen sometime before the Feb. 18 trade deadline.
All those rumors flying around about which players are getting jettisoned — it’s silliness. Thaddeus Young to Toronto? Joe Johnson bought out?
We can’t possibly know what direction the Nets will take until we find out who is in charge. Prokhorov has previously stated his belief (delusion) that the Nets aren’t that far from fielding a contending team built around the frontcourt foundation of Brook Lopez and Young, but maybe he’ll listen to someone who can convince him to blow the whole ship up in pursuit of younger assets and draft picks, even if it means a few more losses in this lost season.
The Nets, as everyone knows, can’t rebuild with their own draft selections, having dealt their 2016 and 2018 picks (as well as the right to swap slots in 2017) to Boston in King’s failed gamble on Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce during the summer of 2013.
However, I have my doubts that the Nets could bring back sufficient value next week for any player on their roster, and that includes rookies Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who has been out the last two months with a foot fracture. The same goes for Chris McCullough, the Nets first-round pick in 2015 who on Wednesday saw the floor for just the second time since recovering from the devastating knee injury he incurred a year ago while at Syracuse.
Lopez and Young, though putting up solid numbers on an awful team, are both very flawed players. To expect that either would fetch a lottery pick in a trade next week is probably unrealistic. The Nets should then be wary of obtaining low picks in exchange for players who are known quantities.
Johnson could be an intriguing piece as a rental for a contending team. He’s in the final season of a massive six-year, $124 million contract, which makes him much easier for the Nets to move now.
There have been a good number of performances this season — like on Wednesday when his streak of consecutive games with a made field goal ended at 937 — where the 34-year-old Johnson has all but disappeared into the Brooklyn night. However, since the New Year, he has shown signs of being able to turn back the clock, as he did by knocking down a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the Nets’ victory over Denver on Monday.
Since Jan. 1, Johnson has the fourth-highest (46.7 percent) 3-point percentage in the NBA for those with at least 60 attempts. A team needing a scorer off the bench could do a lot worse in this marketplace.
If, however, the Nets aren’t able to find the right deal by the deadline, then there’s no reason to let him go other than to be nice. Johnson is a quiet professional who other young players in the organization (Shane Larkin, Markel Brown, Bojan Bogdanovic, Hollis-Jefferson and McCullough) can look to as a model.
Whoever takes over as GM has an unenviable task. King left the organization in shambles and it will likely take years to recover.
I’m guessing that Prokhorov and his committee (chairman Dmitry Razumov, CEO Brett Yormark, and board member Sergey Kushchenko) will come to their decision in time to introduce the new GM at Wednesday’s grand opening of their new practice facility in Industry City.
The Nets will have salary cap space this summer to spend on free agents, but so will the vast majority of NBA teams. The league’s collective bargaining agreement gives any club wishing to retain its core members a huge financial advantage in terms of the contract parameters it can offer.
Many players are like Memphis point guard Mike Conley, an impending free agent who was asked prior to Wednesday’s game what will be the most attractive recruiting pitch. Conley said, “I want to win. I want to be somewhere that’s committed to doing that.”
Commitment was never the issue in Brooklyn. It was the execution that doomed the Nets to their current plight.
Maybe next week they can use the break in the action to start getting it right.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1