Posted Jun 22 2010 11:37AM
The 2010 NBA Lottery brought disappointment to the New Jersey Nets. The ping pong balls were not empathetic to the team's 12-70 plight, sticking the Nets with the third pick in a Draft with a perceived dropoff after the top two players.
Come Thursday, though, the Nets may still end up getting exactly what they need.
For six years now, the Nets have been haunted by the ghost of Kenyon Martin. They've lacked a power forward with toughness and athleticism since they sent Martin to Denver in a 2004 sign-and-trade deal that started them on the path from championship contender back to Clippers East.
This summer, the Nets have a couple of opportunities to finally fill that hole. It all starts with Thursday's Draft.
The Nets are expected to have everyone but Kentucky point guard John Wall and Ohio State swingman Evan Turner available after the Wizards and 76ers pick No. 1 and No. 2.
The next two players on most boards are Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins and Georgia Tech's Derrick Favors, both of whom the Nets worked out Monday. The freshmen big men have their strengths and weaknesses, but if the Nets are choosing between the two, the decision may be based on fit.
The Nets already have one of the best young centers in the league. Two seasons into his career, 22-year-old Brook Lopez has established himself as a low-post anchor for years to come. As they rebuild their roster, the Nets must look to complement Lopez.
The choice at No. 3 won't be easy. Cousins and Favors have contrasting styles, skills and personalities, and each has the potential to make the Nets regret passing him over.
Monday's workout didn't necessarily clear things up.
"It would have made it easier if one guy came in and did very little and you were extremely disappointed," Nets director of player personnel Gregg Polinsky said. "But we are not disappointed. I think we all walked out of here going, 'These are going to be two really fine NBA players going down the road.'"
Cousins is an unqualified beast and has more polished offensive skills, clearly more ready than Favors to contribute. Even though they had the worst record in the league, the Nets have the opportunity to make serious upgrades to their roster and make a significant jump in the standings. So NBA readiness matters.
But it's unclear if Cousins and Lopez can co-exist. Offensively, both can step out and shoot out to 20 feet, but both are also most comfortable on the low block.
Defensively, it goes beyond Cousins' inability to guard power forwards like Rashard Lewis or Dirk Nowitzki on the perimeter. A slow-footed frontline of Cousins and Lopez would likely struggle in help-and-recover situations.
New coach Avery Johnson wants team defense to be the foundation of his team, so a more mobile and athletic big like Favors would be a better fit. Favors is an athletic freak and would come closer to giving the Nets what they've been missing since the Martin days. He also lacks the personality issues that come with Cousins.
But it's probably not easy for a coach with major holes in his lineup to be patient. If the Nets' draft Favors, they'll still be lacking a power forward who will be ready to start in November.
The Nets' second opportunity to fill that hole will come a week after the Draft, when they can start spending their $27 million in cap space on free agents. Oddly, it's free agency that makes the Nets' Draft situation much more complicated.
Beyond LeBron James, the Nets' biggest targets in free agency will likely all be big men -- Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, David Lee and Amar'e Stoudemire. If they land one of those All-Star bigs, their No. 3 pick will have been used on a guy that likely will be a reserve for his rookie season.
That scenario may make the Nets favor Cousins, who, as a backup, wouldn't necessarily have to spend much time on the floor with Lopez. It could also have them leaning toward Favors, who they could be more patient with in a reserve role.
The Nets still have a big hole on the wing, too. With Devin Harris at the point and Lopez in the middle, the Nets desperately need shooting. And if James doesn't care to come to New Jersey this summer, that hole could be very difficult to fill.
That's why Syracuse's Wesley Johnson, a small forward who can shoot, is still in the picture for the Nets' No. 3 pick. Johnson worked out in East Rutherford last week and Polinsky still included him in the conversation on Monday after both Cousins and Favors impressed team brass with their workouts.
The Nets -- with new owner Mikhail Prokhorov, new coach Johnson and the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn projected to open in 2012 -- are headed in a new direction. But it's apparent, with the Draft two days away, that they haven't figured out which way to go with the No. 3 pick.
The decision will be second-guessed, no matter who they take. But in many ways, they can't go wrong.
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