It’s all about returns for the Nets. But the only one that truly matters is a return to winning, which may not happen this week.
Avery Johnson is back in Dallas again, coaching tomorrow night for the first time against the team he guided to the NBA Finals in 2006 and to 194 wins in 264 games.
Devin Harris is back in Dallas again, playing against the franchise that drafted him and the team he helped lead to the 2006 NBA Finals.
Terrence Williams is back with the team that sent him down to the Developmental League for almost two weeks after they had enough of his repeated lateness. He came back humbled and said he felt like he went back in time, playing and practicing in YMCAs the way he did when he was a kid.
All of these returns are the major storylines today and will be tomorrow when Johnson’s present and future meet his past, when the Nets’ present and future meet their past.
The Nets can’t play Dallas without Jason Kidd coming up because as everyone knows he’s the gold standard for this franchise.
They were never as good as when he was with the Nets running the break, willing the team to regular-season and playoff victories, and they haven’t been the same since he decided he didn’t want to play on a rebuilding team or with players that didn’t have his same win-at-all-costs mentality.
Kidd probably also realized he needed much more help to win because he could no longer carry teams every night. He needed to be the No. 2 guy, which he became in Dallas with Dirk Nowitzki being the star Maverick.
Now the Nets are relying on another hard-working, fiery, competitive point guard to try and lead them to where Kidd did and perhaps beyond. But they have a long way to go.
The Nets have lost 16 of their last 20, including five straight. They will play the Mavericks tomorrow and the Lakers on Sunday. Five in a row could become seven consecutive in a flash. But Johnson is trying to prevent that.
Johnson shares Kidd’s passion for winning, but he can only do so much on the sideline. He pushes the Nets, tries to put them in position to succeed and provides them with game plans that he thinks give them the best chance to win.
But in this league, perhaps more than any other, teams need stars to win. The Nets haven’t had any since Kidd left in 2008. They need one and will keep trying to find one.
The trade for Harris looked great at the time for the Nets and both sides probably would do it again. But the Nets haven’t been in the playoffs since Kidd left and have never replaced his competitive drive.
That’s where Johnson comes in because he is the most competitive person on this team. As Kidd said today about Johnson, “he knows what it takes to win. He won a championship as a player.”
Johnson almost won one as a coach, too, but he couldn’t lead Dallas over the Heat in the 2006 Finals despite holding a 2-0 series.
Still, this experience and desire is what Johnson is trying to impress on the Nets. They’re listening because they know he’s in charge, but also because of his past and because of what Kidd said. He knows how to win, which he did often in Dallas before he was fired in 2008.
“I’m a different person in some ways,” Johnson said. “Not from discipline or accountability or details, just teaching a lot more. I’ve got younger guys. Even though I inherited a team that didn’t have a lot of playoff experience… they had quite a bit of regular season experience and they were really basketball players that can work themselves out of some jams.
“It’s a little bit of a different situation. I’m teaching a lot more than I did at that point.”
Johnson said he would make a change to the starting lineup tonight. Williams is returning to the rotation. Those are storylines, but Johnson’s return to Dallas and whether he can resuscitate the Nets the way Kidd did is the big picture.
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Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)