By Steve Lichtenstein
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A few hours before their 106-87 home loss to New Orleans on Sunday, the Nets announced that they were shutting down center Brook Lopez and forward Thaddeus Young — their two best-performing players — for the remaining six games of this season.
Makes sense, right?
You want to make sure your core is well-rested for the playoff grind…
Oh, wait. The Nets’ record is now 21-56, the fourth-worst in the NBA. They are 20 games out of the eighth seed, as far removed from the Eastern Conference postseason tournament as anyone outside of Philadelphia.
Then, of course, accumulating more losses can only help Brooklyn submerge even further in the standings, and in so doing it enhances its odds at a better selection in June’s draft…
Oh, wait. The Nets’ first-round draft pick belongs to Boston, a division rival, thanks to the blockbuster summer 2013 trade that brought Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to Brooklyn for a brief cup of coffee.
No, the Nets appear to be tanking just for the hell of it. The fans who paid money to see professional basketball at Barclays Center? Better luck next year.
In the meantime, enjoy watching basketballs carom off the stone hands of center Henry Sims. Or more bricks from guard Wayne Ellington. Not to mention the couldn’t-care-less defense of just about everyone in a Brooklyn uniform not named Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The Nets have been very bad all season, but for the most part the games have been competitive. Since the coaching change from Lionel Hollins to Tony Brown in January — dare I say it — they had even become more fun.
The pace had been quicker, 3-pointers were connecting at higher frequencies and percentages, and some of the more athletic youngsters — Markel Brown, Chris McCullough and Sean Kilpatrick — were getting opportunities to showcase their talent for new general manager Sean Marks.
Welcome back, eyesores.
Since last Tuesday in Orlando, when coach Brown started giving players nights off, the Nets have been routed in four straight games by an average of almost 22 points.
Nets fans have gotten used to the losing. The organization is now assuming that everything will be OK without even trying.
The most frequent explanation going around social media regarding the organization’s new strategy is that it’s a wise move because the Nets don’t want to risk injury to their most tradeable assets.
Great. Hey, Brook, you might want to hold off on making Brooklyn your permanent residence. Remember all those rumors that you had to suffer through for most of your eight years with this troubled franchise? And thought you were done with once you bypassed the free agent market and re-signed prior to this season? Well, Marks just told you to get ready for another summer of speculation.
So much for all that “agent goodwill” the Nets supposedly generated when they bought out Joe Johnson, who, by the way, is enjoying a bit of a Spring revival in aiding the playoff-bound Heat to a 12-6 record since his signing a few days after the trade deadline.
Lopez is always going to be under extra surveillance given his history of foot surgeries. However, he has now gone through back-to-back seasons where he’s been relatively injury-free.
In 10 days, Lopez and Young will have more than five months to rest up. Remember, though, it’s not like the Nets will keep them in an incubator. Anything can happen at any time, even over the summer. Ask Deron Williams.
If the idea was to protect their players once the season was lost, then why not start resting guys in February? Once point guard Jarrett Jack injured his knee in the first game after the New Year and was ruled out for the season, the remaining portion of the Nets’ schedule basically became filler.
I’m not suggesting that the Nets keep playing Lopez and Young 40 minutes a game, or even deprive them of days off during brutal stretches like their recent four-games-in-five-nights slog, but I don’t agree with what Marks is doing now.
How can Marks fairly evaluate anyone? What remains is a group so bereft of talent that the Pelicans, who were missing their top five leading scorers due to injuries, blew the Nets out of their own building on Sunday.
The Nets aren’t even letting Hollis-Jefferson, the precocious rookie wing who returned two weeks ago after missing 50 games with a fractured ankle, play more than 15-20 minutes.
It makes no sense. He’s either healthy or he’s not. He’s far from fully developed. The game experience could be useful, especially as it relates to expanding his offensive skill set. Let the kid play.
We know there will be roster changes coming this summer, but I still would have loved to see if the combination of Lopez, Young, Hollis-Jefferson, Bojan Bogdanovic and the point guard du jour (Shane Larkin or Donald Sloan) developed any chemistry down the home stretch. I wasn’t a fan of playing them all together as a unit, but the Nets were doing the right thing by expanding their rotation to give young players like Brown, McCullough, Thomas Robinson, Kilpatrick, and Sergey Karasev more court time in reserve roles.
What we have now is a twist of an old joke: The Nets have an erratic bench. Unfortunately, it’s starting.
For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Jets and the NHL, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1