The Nets are playing for pride, playing to get as many wins as possible -– they got No. 11 last night -- and trying to improve for next season. For many of the Nets, that’s happening in practice and on their own time.
One interesting and significant thing happened after today’s shootaround ended, after all the rotation guys either left or went to the weight room. There were three players shooting on three different baskets.
They were Tony Battie, Trenton Hassell and Bobby Simmons. Respectively, they’re the first, second and fourth-oldest players on the team.
Battie and Simmons are inactive just about every game. The Nets’ easy 115-87 victory over New Orleans last night was Simmons’ 36th time declared inactive and the 33rd for Battie. But they haven’t shown any bitterness and they haven’t lost their love for the game. They both want to be in the league next year and they both continue to work on their game. The same is true for Hassell, who started 31 games this season but was the only active Net not to play last night.
Professionalism sometimes gets overlooked, especially on a bad team. And it has been overlooked and underplayed when it comes to this year’s Nets.
All of the Nets have been professional. They could have bad-mouthed the situation, the organization, the coach, some decisions. There could have been some serious fracturing and splintering. Guys could have said, 'Get me out of here.' Does Alonzo Mourning ring a bell? And the Nets had Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson on that team.
Quietly and privately, some of the veterans hoped they would be traded or bought out, wished for a similar fate as Rafer Alston, who was waived and signed with Miami, or Eduardo Najera, who was traded to Dallas. It didn’t happen and they didn’t complain.
They've continued to work and cheer on their teammates as they fought to get that much-needed 10th win to avoid being a part of the worst season in NBA history.
“It hasn’t been fun at all,” Keyon Dooling said. “The only thing that makes it good is that we've got good guys on our team, so it’s always fun to come to work.”
I don’t normally cross over to other sports, but there have been Mets teams that have been so bad to cover. Think the Bobby Bonilla days. Many of the guys were surly and made it difficult for reporters to do their jobs.
That hasn’t happened with these Nets, and many of them had every reason to be in bad moods or give off an attitude. The only one who did it, as we recall, was rookie Terrence Williams early in the season when he was dealing with serious losing and a lack of playing time. That’s hard for any first-year player to take.
But Williams has been great since then, and he’s been a pretty good player. He’s learned from the veterans around him, the way they carry themselves and prepare. Granted, they are making millions of dollars, so it’s a part of their job. But the Nets have been made fun of by so many writers, bloggers, Web sites and television and radio outlets, and they handled it well.
“We have a great group of guys,” Brook Lopez said. “We enjoy each other’s company. You get a team that’s completely opposite of us and it’s a lot different.”
There could have been back-biting and finger-pointing and players openly questioning why this guy is playing and I’m not. Simmons, who finished fifth in the NBA in three-point shooting last year, could have done that, especially with the Nets needing shooting on so many nights.
But collectively, the Nets accepted the situation, knew this was a rebuilding year, a developmental year, and handled it maturely and professionally.
As a beat guy, it would have made for better stories if the Nets were miserable and voiced it. Since they didn’t, their professionalism should be recognized and applauded.
Williams was brilliant in the win, continuing his strong play. He had 14 points and a career-best 14 assists.
As a team, the Nets racked up 34 assists and shot a season-high 58.2 percent from the field. Their 28-point margin of victory represented both their largest lead and most lopsided win of the season. The previous high for both was 20 in a March 6 win over the Knicks.
Kris Humphries had 10 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks off the bench.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)