New Jersey Nets: NBA version of “Major League”

This is a cathartic post to try to make sense of the Nets being 0-18, the most consecutive losses to start a season in NBA history.

I must admit I am one of 8-9 diehard New Jersey Nets fans remaining. I followed this team since I was wearing Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman jerseys and rooting for Benoit Benjamin, Chris Morris, and Kevin Edwards. I endured a long list of supposed franchise saviors, John Calipari, Jayson Williams, Keith Van Horn, and Stephon Marbury. I loved Van Horn so much that I wore my socks Van Horned up every day to school and tried to emulate his beautiful jumper on the playground. A child getting excited for the likes of Yinka Dare, Rex Walters, and Ed O’Bannon is the equivalent of getting excited for flesh-eating viruses for Christmas. Suffice to say, I have experienced an immeasurable amount of losing and ineptness.

All my childhood pain and anguish by the Nets dissipated on June 28, 2001 when they traded selfish point guard Stephon Marbury to the Phoenix Suns for the best all-around point guard, Jason Kidd. Their smart president of basketball operations Rod Thorn even It did not matter to me that the primary catalyst for the Kidd-Marbury trade was that Kidd was arrested for allegedly punching his wife. I embraced Kidd like a honor student girl going for the troubled kid from the other side of the tracks like in every bad 80s movie plot. It paid off as the Nets won over 50 games and went to the NBA Finals the next two seasons. I didn’t care that the Nets were absolutely destroyed in the NBA Finals by the Lakers and Spurs. The Nets were a contender, played a fun style, and had likable stars Kenyon Martin, Richard Jefferson, and Kerry Kittles.

The beginning of the “end” began when real estate developer Bruce Ratner bought the team in 2005 and planned to move them to Brooklyn as the centerpiece of his Atlantic Yards Project. At the time, I supported the move although I grew up 15 minutes from the Nets arena which went from being called Brendan Byrne Arena to Continental Airlines Arena and now is the Izod Center in 13 years. The place was a dump, more people in my town and the surrounding areas, cared about the Knicks than the Nets, and losing 20-30 million a year because attendance was dreadful even when the Nets were good as there no access to public transportation except an awful bus system. Brooklyn would be a new birth of the Nets. They would have a beautiful state of the art arena designed by Frank Gehry with lots of public transportation, and an excited new fan base so the team would be able to make money and spend it on new players. Unfortunately, for the arena to be built, low-income housing complexes would have to be destroyed. The Nets were supposed to break ground in Brooklyn in 2008 and playing in Brooklyn in 2010, but have faced a cavalcade of lawsuits mostly led by a group called Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn. The Nets have been unable to break ground, changed architects so the arena is no longer state-of-the-art, and losing even more millions of dollars in New Jersey.

Losing all the money and more concerned about a real estate deal than winning basketball games, Bruce Ratner has become Rachel Phelps from “Major League” and has done everything imaginable to trim payroll. The Nets first got rid of valuable role players Lucious Harris and Kerry Kittles with cheaper inexperienced alternatives, Zoran Planinic, Jeff McGinnis. This infuriated Jason Kidd that he demanded a trade and pretended to have a migraine to keep him out of a game. Kidd’s demand was met when Rod Thorn was able to convince a delusional Mark Cuban that Kidd was still a premiere point guard and got back the younger, cheaper, and better scoring Devin Harris and 2 first round picks back. Richard Jefferson was jettisoned on draft day 2008 for Yi Jianlian and the corpse of Bobby Simmons. Finally, this summer, veteran and mentor Vince Carter was traded for Courtney Lee and the corpses of Rafer Alston and Tony Battie. With all the expensive stars gone, Ratner went after the coaches. He wanted to fire Lawrence Frank after last season, but did not want to pay 2 coaches on a bad team so he kept Frank until he was mercifully let go this week. Frank’s job was not helped when Ratner forced all the assistants to take a major pay cut so the experienced assistants Brian Hill left, forced the Nets to leave home 1 assistant on road trips, and eliminated the entire advanced scouting this season.

So how do we get to 0-18 this season? With a starting lineup of Brook Lopez, Yi, Courtney Lee, CDR, and Devin Harris. CDR as the 6th man and Dooling as backup PG, Battie as backup C/PF, TWill, Hayes, Boone in the rotation. All healthy playing up to their potential and expecting Brook, Lee, Devin, and CDR to develop, the ceiling was 35 wins, lottery pick 6-8.

However, with all the coaching cuts, scouting cuts, and preseason injuries to Harris, Dooling, Hayes and Battie while Lee and Yi get struck down early in the season, the team was left uneven without any scoring beyond Brooke and no one to spread the floor without Hayes and Dooling. Players who should be out of the league like Rafer Alston, Bobby Simmons, and Trenton Hassell were thrust int playing 35-40 minutes of game with the Nets only dressing 8 guys a game. Rafer Alston was a starter on the Magic last year, but Turkoglu did most of the point guard duties while Alston was left to knock down open 3s. Yes, Devin Harris and Courtney Lee came back last week, but both missed parts of preseason so are 80-85% of the players they will become. They’ve battled hard for 2-3 quarters in many games until a 10-12 minute stretch kills them and lost to Minny and Miami at the buzzer. All in all it equals a humiliating 0-18 team and the punchline to every non-Tiger related joke.

Nevertheless, I am optimistic and believe the sweet ain’t as sweet without the sour. The Nets will matter again with the move to Brooklyn coming closer to reality and the reign of Ratner ending and being replaced by Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who would become the wealthiest sports owner in American sports. The Nets will have the most salary cap room of any team in the biggest free agent class ever and hold a high lottery pick. With the team nursing itself back to health, they will make a run possibly to 18-20 wins. Yes this is still atrocious, but more importantly, the Nets will develop the young players like Brook, CDR, Courtney, and TWill and Devin Harris can stay healthy and be the mentor that Vince was. Any free agent will see that this is still a young and exciting team with bright pieces in the biggest markets in the country. The Nets will matter again and the next few years we’ll look at 0-18 and say, it was worth it. To borrow a line from old Nets coach and current hottest college coach John Calipari, “it’s not how far you fall, it’s how high you rebound.”

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