Trying to rise fast with big money and big spending has been counterproductive to the Brooklyn Nets who find themselves in the same spot they were five years ago: As the worst team in the NBA.
The New Jersey Nets finished the 2009-2010 season with a 12-70 record, tied for sixth all-time in winning percentage, with only the 1993 Dallas Mavericks, 1998 Denver Nuggets, Providence Steam Rollers (BAA days), 1973 Philadelphia 76ers and 2012 Charlotte Hornets (shortened season, just 10.6% winning percentage) doing worse. But history repeats itself, sometimes even with the same franchise, only a few miles to the East.
The Nets, following their 94-86 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, are 0-7. Losing seven games to start the season isn’t special: There have been 43 other teams to “achieve” that over the years. The 2009-2010 Nets failed to win any of their first 18 games, obviously costing their head coach his job. It took the Nets two more seasons of sub-30 wins to get back into the playoffs, but their chase after a quick rise left them without any draft picks and without any talent, but big contracts they still have to pay.
It’s not like the Nets have nothing. Brook Lopez is one of the best offensive big men in the league. Thaddeus Young has his good and bad days but can stand out on a team like this. Joe Johnson can still have impressive scoring nights, and there’s close to decent talent on the bench. But there’s very little creativity or flair (which isn’t surprising considering Lionel Hollins is the head coach, the man who doesn’t believe in analytics), hardly any speed or one on one advantages. Without that, it’s very difficult doing anything unexpected.
The Nets are last in the league in offensive efficiency (93.7 points per 100 possessions) and in the bottom four defensively, although they’ve held their opponents to just 18 points in the first quarter in the last two games. It was also the first time this season they haven’t given up more than 100 points. Signs of improvement? Hard to say. But it’s been two seasons with very slow starts and a playoff at the end. This time, the ending isn’t going to be so satisfying. With their draft pick belonging to Boston at the end of this season, even tanking loses its taste, unless they can find a way of moving one of their players for a first round pick.
The problem? Joe Johnson has an impossible to move contract (finally his last year, and who knows, maybe a buyout is coming), while Lopez is on a three-year $63 million deal, and Young $50 million over the next four years. He’s a little bit more movable, but it’s hard to believe anyone is going to give up a first round pick for him, unless they’re really desperate for some inconsistent scoring from the power forward position. The suicide trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013 looks worse and worse by the minute.