Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE
(December 6, 2013)
BROOKLYN—The first crisis has hit the Brooklyn Nets.
It didn’t blow in like a Hurricane Sandy with raging winds, a deluge of rain and a surging tide. It has come in the form of 40 days and nights of steady rain. Disappointment has been replaced by despair, which has been replaced by despondency.
The Nets 113-83 loss to the cross-town Knicks, was not, in and of itself, the reason for crisis.
The Knicks were so hot it gave Barclays Center fans a prelude of the 3-point shooting contest that will be held here in February as part of the NBA All-Star weekend. The Knicks hit 16-of-27 3’s.
The crisis is that the Nets are worst 3-point shooting defensive team in the league. When you get burned night after night after night – those wounds take a long time to heal. One night? no problem. Night after night? Big problem.
The Nets suffered another third quarter meltdown, which, in and of itself, is not the reason for crisis. Those meltdowns are the result of reserves playing starters minutes because the starters – Deron Williams and Paul Pierce – are injured. So are key reserves Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry.
Call it an excuse or a legit reason. There’s a reason Williams earns more than $18 million and has averaged 35 minutes per game. His backups, Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor, earn about $1.6 million combined and have averaged 28.3 minutes per game.
There’s a reason Lopez earns about $14.6 million. He can score 25 points in a half, as he did in the win at Phoenix, the one in which he sprained his left ankle. His three backups – Andray Blatche, Reggie Evans and Mason Plumlee - earn less than $3.5 million combined.
One third-quarter meltdown? No problem. Getting outscored in 13-of-14 losses in the third quarter? Big problem.
The Nets are in crisis because for the first time this season, they are saying the injuries and the repeated failures – 3-point shooting defense and third quarter collapses - have taken their toll.
“You win by one, you lose by 30, it’s a win or a loss,’’ said coach Jason Kidd. “We got to get back to understanding what we have to get better at. Health is one of those reasons.’’
The Nets are in crisis because for the first time, they said they are lost. The misconception of this team is that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry were brought here to be the stars. They were not.
They were brought here to be high-level complementary pieces to Lopez, Williams and Joe Johnson. Williams has missed two stretches with sprains of his left ankle. Lopez just returned from a sprained ankle.
Add in the reassignment of assistant coach Lawrence Frank to other coaching duties and you have a team trying to learn on the fly. That training camp back in October, when the Nets were full of bravado? Forget it.
“We just don’t have any chemistry at this point,’’ said Johnson.
“Offensively, we don’t have an identity. We throw it down to Brook, pretty much. We put him in a tough situation. We basically just sit and watch.’’
The Nets are in crisis because other teams have caught the scent of the wounded.
“Teams come in with three wins and shooting lights out,’’ said Johnson. “It’s almost like there’s no respect.’’
The question that remains is this: Do the Nets still respect each other? Do they respect Kidd?
He’s had a tough stretch, starting with the $50,000 fine for the ‘spilled’ soda gaffe, and culminating with his decision, even though it was the right decision, to reassign Frank. Kidd was going to hit some rough patches in his first season as a coach. He was going to learn some painful lessons.
He was asked yesterday how does he evaluate himself.
“I think you get evaluated by being whole,’’ he said. “It starts there. Once that occurs, then you’re evaluated. That’s as simple as it gets.’’
Not exactly. Kidd must hold this team together. That’s what the guy in the first chair is charged with.
Unless the darkest cloud in the history of sports has settled over the oculus, the Nets should get healthy at some point. But if they are broken by the time that happens, it won’t matter.
Kidd’s strengths coming into this job were his intelligence, his charisma and the credibility earned over a 19-year All-Star caliber career. He helped convince KG and Kirilenko to come to Brooklyn.
The soda incident, in and of itself, didn’t have players wondering. The constant losing, especially for the veteran players such as Garnett and Pierce whose prime motivation is to win one last championship, is the steady eroding of the foundation.
Kidd has to convince them this crisis can pass. It’s not going to come in the form of a quick fix just as it didn’t come in the form of a rogue wave. A healthy team will still have to go though an adjustment period.
“Chemistry just doesn’t snap and you wave a magic wand and, ‘Voila!’ said Garnett. “Those things play a big part.’’
One loss, one third-quarter meltdown, one night that the opposition is red-hot, one injury – all of those can be overcome. When it becomes endemic, that’s when you have a crisis.