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(November 19, 2013)
EAST RUTHERFORD—On the subway, in my local deli and at my son’s school, I get stopped by people asking, ‘Are the Nets going to turn it around?’
It’s a fair question. The only honest answer is, ‘I don’t know.’
But here’s why I’m not willing to press the panic button just yet:
After the Cleveland Cavaliers opened the season with a 98-94 win over Nets and split their first four games, they proceeded to lose 5-of-7. That precipitated, according to published reports, a contentious team meeting in which fingers were pointed and blame was assessed.
If I’m a Cavs’ fan, my index finger is poised, hovering over that panic button. Nets fans don’t need to assume the same posture, at least not yet.
After a dismal 108-98 home loss to the Portland Trail Blazers Monday night, the Nets players met. It was not a formal team meeting, rather a conversation that began organically after the defeat.
No fingers were pointed. No blame was assessed.
“I’m not a genie, nor am I a fortune teller, one thing I know is, work through the process,” said forward Kevin Garnett. “My confidence is that we have a group of guys that are willing to, that are committed to, changing what the current is.”
The Nets’ current state is not good. They are 3-7 going into Wednesday night’s game at Charlotte. Center Brook Lopez (sprained left ankle) is doubtful. Andrei Kirilenko (back spasms) is out. Paul Pierce (groin) probably will play, but he remains a game-time decision. Jason Terry (knee) is a game-time decision.
“We still haven’t been whole,” said Garnett. “We’re still dealing with different ailments. We’re going through something now. It’s just always something at this point.”
“We’re not using any excuses. We’re not that type of team. We are trying to find an identity in who we are and what we’re going to be, night in and night out and be consistent with that.”
Using injuries is an excuse the Nets shouldn’t be falling back on, especially since they have raved about their depth. What is fair is to say that the injuries have hampered the process of this team developing an identity.
If we were 30 games into the season and the Nets record was 13-17, well, the panic button is the red one with the bold block letters that read: Do Not Press Except In Case of Emergency.
Lopez said his injury is not as bad as he initially feared. He believes he can play, so this does not seem like a long-term injury. Kirilenko is targeting Friday night’s game at Minnesota for his return.
“I think we’re in a good state of mind,” said Pierce. “The thing is we just got to continue to remain positive and build on the things that we’re doing well.”
The Nets have yet to do much well. They have shown the ability to share the ball with remarkable ease. Defensively the Nets have improved significantly on last season’s transition defense.
But there’s no putting lipstick on this. With this team’s almost $190 million payroll, 3-7, simply isn’t acceptable. Losing to Cleveland and Orlando and Sacramento is not acceptable.
“I think as competitors we’re angry,” said Pierce. “Nobody likes to lose. Everybody in this group that we're here with is very angry. Nobody's happy about losing."
“We’re really disappointed in ourselves,” said Lopez. “We know we’re better than this and we want to prove that on the court tomorrow.”
Anger, disappointment are exactly what the Nets should be feeling. This team was assembled with the goal of winning an NBA title. When a team opens 3-7, anger and disappointment are more than appropriate.
“I really believe that when you go through dismal times like this, it builds character,” said Garnett. “It shows you who has the rope and who’s going to let go. It separates the ones that are willing to fight. So far, everybody’s in here, everybody’s in the conversation.”
That includes coach Jason Kidd, who has been singled out as People’s Exhibit A for this team’s slow start. He has no head coaching experience, which is why his hiring raised eyebrows.
But he has already changed his persona on the sidelines, becoming more vocal and demonstrative. Eight games into a coaching career (Kidd was suspended for the first two games of the season for a driving under the influence arrest in the summer of 2012) are too soon in this book to render a judgment.
“The blame is on all of us,” said Garnett. “It’s not just on Jason. We’re players. We have to be professional, come out here and do our jobs.”
Kidd said he thought it was healthy that the players spoke after the Portland loss. Time will tell if that translates into a healthier record. There is reason for concern, real concern.
But the Nets didn’t react like this was this first rodeo. The player’s talk was not contentious. So we’re not going to push the panic button.
“We’re committed to making this thing what it’s supposed to be and what it’s going to be,” said Garnett. “If not, we’re going to die trying.”