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Nets in a state of transition as playoff hopes begin to fade

Mason Plumlee's emergence may have helped Brooklyn reconsider its plans for the future.

POSTED: Jan 16, 2015 11:46 AM ET

By John Schuhmann

BY John Schuhmann

NBA.com

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Since becoming a starter, Mason Plumlee is averaging 15.4 points, 9.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks.

The most endearing thing about the 2014-15 Brooklyn Nets is their ability to field a lineup of five guys with double initials.

A lineup of Alan Anderson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Jarrett Jack, Joe Johnson and Jerome Jordan is actually a plus-4 this season, having scored 33 points in less than 12 minutes. And of course that weird lineup has seen action, because Nets coach Lionel Hollins has tried just about everything to win games.

But the Nets have found success in only small pockets here and there. They're 16-23, having lost seven straight. Their grip on a playoff spot is slipping away, 11 of their 14 games before the All-Star break are against teams currently over .500, and they're 2-12 against such teams thus far.

The Nets can take some solace that they're not the 5-36 Knicks. But another look at the standings sees the Atlanta Hawks, the team that can swap Draft picks with Brooklyn, holding the second best record in the league. So whether they make the playoffs or not, the Nets are likely to be drafting in the high 20s this June.

That's the issue with the Nets. They sacrificed their future to build a team that won a single playoff series. Their 2016 and 2018 first round picks belong to the Celtics (with no protection), who can also swap picks in 2017. They've sacrificed Derrick Favors and picks that turned into Enes Kanter and Damian Lillard.

The Nets tried to game the system (a new collective bargaining agreement designed to curb spending) to build the most expensive roster in NBA history. They had a good team, but not a great one.

The Nets have already let Paul Pierce leave via free agency. That was Step 1 in the process of making their roster cheaper and younger. Step 2 could be coming soon, with reports that the Nets have been talking with several teams about Brook Lopez.

They've reportedly been shopping Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams in an effort to accelerate their transition. Lopez is only 26 years old, but has the least onerous contract of the three (he has a player option for $16.7 million next season), is a tantalizingly talented 7-footer, and is in the way of the one guy who could be a real building block for the future.

Though it took Hollins a little time to warm up to him, and though he's only two years younger than Lopez, the Nets are high on Mason Plumlee. He has averaged 15.4 points (on 67 percent shooting), 9.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks since becoming a full-time starter 20 games ago. Plumlee also adds some much-needed bounce on what may be the slowest and least athletic team in the league.

If there was one good thing that general manager Billy King has done in the last few seasons, it was selecting Plumlee with the 22nd pick two years ago (in what is still thought of as a pretty bad draft). And if there's one redeeming value of the trade that sent those picks to Boston, it's been Kevin Garnett's mentoring of the 24-year-old ex-Duke standout.

The Nets want to give Plumlee the opportunity to blossom as their starting center going forward. He took over the job when Lopez suffered a back strain in early December and has kept it with Lopez healthy. They've started some games together, but haven't had much success. Brooklyn has been outscored by almost 14 points per 100 possessions with both Lopez and Plumlee on the floor.

The Nets don't have replacements for Williams or Johnson. They've been downright awful with Jack in the lineup (when he's not accompanied by four other guys with double initials), missing Shaun Livingston (who they couldn't have re-signed if they wanted to) more than Pierce. And though Williams' numbers continue to go down every year, his presence has been vital to the team's offense and his absence has been a big part of this seven-game losing streak.

But Williams' contract goes past 2016 (he has an early termination option that summer), when the Nets hope to complete their transition with a free agent shopping spree. So you probably don't need to give up much to get him.

With owner Mikhail Prokhorov listening to offers for the team, moves that maintain a high luxury tax bill might not get his seal of approval. And it's not like they've worked out in the past.

With each move they make, the Nets need to get a little bit cheaper, a little bit younger, and a little bit more athletic. The path out of the situation the Nets are in must be taken with small steps.

John Schuhmann is a staff writer for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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