In the world of the NBA, there usually comes a point when you realize that your team isn't moving forward anymore, and for its long-term benefit, you need to take a step back. The Sixers did that when they traded Allen Iverson two years ago, and they're already reaping the rewards, adding Elton Brand to a promising, athletic core this summer.
Now, it's the New Jersey Nets' turn. Sure, you could argue that Rod Thorn should have started rebuilding earlier, but with the trades of Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson, there's no doubt that Thorn and General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe finally have their eyes on the future.
And two years from now, with cap space and potentially a slew of star free agents, the Nets just might reap the rewards. For now, they'll be starting from scratch and trying to build a team that a big-time free agent would want to come to in 2010.
They can begin by distributing name tags.
Boone (solid, but not spectacular) and Williams (spectacular, but not solid) are part of the young core that will be built around point guard Devin Harris, the centerpiece of the Kidd deal. Harris has been given control of the team and has the ability (on both ends of the floor) to be one of the best point guards in the Eastern Conference. Knowing he has a special player, coach Lawrence Frank has developed his team's offense around his point guard.
"It's so wide open," Harris told the media after the Nets' first practice. "There's no set down-picks and cross-screens. It's pretty much just reading off of what I do when I start the offense. It's me getting in the lane. It's pretty much predicated on what I do."
The rest of the young core came together on draft day when Yi Jianlian was acquired in the Jefferson trade and Brook Lopez, Ryan Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts were selected with the Nets' three picks.
Yi and Lopez could very well be the Nets' starting frontline at some point this season, and both are big parts of the "let's see in two years" analysis. Yi, seven feet tall, 20 or 23 years old, athletic and skilled, has the tools to be a star, but the on-court demeanor that could hold him back. The Nets hope that their newly acquired veterans can instill some toughness in the second-year lottery pick.
On first glance, those veterans, Eduardo Najera, Keyon Dooling and Jarvis Hayes, seem like they're arriving a few years too late (don't they realize that the Nets haven't been contenders since 2004?) to be the solid subs that every team with title aspirations needs. But on further inspection, they are the kind of guys (Najera especially) who can guide the youngsters and keep the win totals somewhat respectable over the next two seasons.
The other guy who has the ability to keep this team afloat is Carter. As talented as he is maligned, Carter and his disposition will determine if the Nets challenge for a playoff spot this season. He will be called upon to step up and lead, while proving that last year's sub-par season was more about a bad ankle (he had surgery right after the season ended) and a backcourt-mate (Kidd) with a bad attitude than a decline in his athleticism.
After the Kidd trade (28 games), Carter did average 22.7 points, 6.6 boards and 5.1 assists while shooting .475 from the field and .406 from downtown. So, there is some promise for this season.
But the real promise that Nets fans will have to hold on to is the one that 2010 cap space can bring. There's a not-yet-built locker in a not-yet-built arena in Brooklyn with LeBron James' name on it.
-- John Schuhmann