VIDEO: The Beat crew discusses the Nets’ rough start to the season
HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Humbling is the weight of great expectations, as the men in black and white in Brooklyn have learned through the first month of this NBA season. It’s a lesson their counterparts in Los Angeles, the Lakers, learned in much the same fashion last season. The addition of star power, remembered, real or imagined, does not always translate.
Brooklyn’s Nets are in essence a complete mess right now. A 3-10 record, next to last in the Eastern Conference standings, wounded bodies, pierced pride and nearing the point of no return is where this crew resides heading into tonight’s matchup (7 p.m. ET, League Pass) with a Toronto Raptors team that currently occupies the top-four spot in the Eastern Conference standings that the Nets assumed was theirs.
Without Deron Williams and Brook Lopez healthy, some would argue that it is unfair to grade this team at this juncture. But there are troubling signs with this team regardless of the personnel being deployed, a point made clear by our very own John Schuhmann recently.
No disrespect to the men at work, but you know things are dire when Shaun Livingston and Mason Plumlee are the only players on your roster who pose a consistent threat to opposing teams with their athleticism, energy and passion. That collection of aged superstars who were supposed to lead this group have, for whatever reasons, not answered the call on a nightly basis.
Take Sunday’s loss to Detroit for example. To start the fourth quarter, Nets coach Jason Kidd a lineup of Plumlee, Tyshawn Taylor, Alan Anderson, Toko Shengelia and Mirza Teletovic on the floor against Detroit. They trailed by 12 points, due the inept performance, to that point, of the first six who had dug that hole.
Kidd, and his top assistant Lawrence Frank, were desperate to energize a group that has slumbered through this season since that Nov. 1 win over the two-time defending champion Miami Heat in their home opener.
The idea of Williams, Lopez, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Jason Terry terrorizing the league from opening night through the end of the regular season was a pipe dream from the start. But the reality of the Nets’ situation is even more grave than any of their critics might have imagined.
The Nets are last in defensive efficiency, allowing 106.3 points per 100 possessions. With Lopez on the floor they’re much better, ranking sixth defensively, but Lopez has missed five straight games. And in those five games he’s been out, it’s been a parade for opposing teams. The Nets are allowing 113.1 points per 100 possessions in his absence. Had someone told you the linchpin to the Nets season would be the defensive presence of Lopez, you’d have slapped them.
Yet that is exactly where the team with the worst second-half defensive in the league stands as of right now. And that’s not even factoring in the inevitable locker room fissures that are bound to pop up when a high-profile team encounters these sorts of struggles.
Garnett was supposed to be a culture-changer, the sort of dynamic force that unites a group, even mismatching pieces, into a cohesive unit the way he did in Boston. That obviously hasn’t happened, at least not yet. And there is no guarantee it will. Not with the make-up of this group and the fact that there isn’t someone at the top (in Boston it was coach Doc Rivers) to set the tone and table for a player with Garnett’s reputation and leadership skills to do his thing without any second guessing from within that locker room.
Granted, it would be much easier for others to follow Garnett if Garnett wasn’t struggling through his own Jekyll-and-Hyde routine — using PIE, Garnett is the league’s fifth-best player in the first half and the league’s worst player in the second half — this season.
Ultimately, the onus for this team and its fortunes rests on the entire group and whether or not they can tread water until they get everyone healthy enough to have a chance to chase the enormous expectations that have been set for them, both internally and beyond.
But we’re getting dangerously close that to that 20-game mark where a team’s true colors show. And the Nets from everything we’ve seen, have not lived up to the hype and quite frankly may not be able to as presently constituted.