BOSTON – The Nets didn’t want to go into the All-Star break the way they did, but you could have seen this coming all the way around.
We’re not just talking about the Nets’ 94-80 loss to the Celtics last night. But that the Nets and the Nuggets have had a recent conversation about Carmelo Anthony.
Suddenly, Nets’ fans are hopeful again. Hopeful the Nets can get something done for Anthony, without using Derrick Favors or Devin Harris or draft picks. That’s not realistic, but that’s also going too far too soon.
At this point, these talks could just be exploratory, could be Denver reaching out to see if the Nets are still interested in Anthony after owner Mikhail Prokhorov removed them the talks last month. Of course, the Nets are interested still.
Nets general manager Billy King spent close to six months talking with Denver about Anthony. But now if something gets done it would have to be more on the Nets’ terms, on Prokhorov’s terms.
And something is going to happen with Anthony within the next week. Either he’s traded or he stays in Denver and most people expect him to be moved by next Thursday’s trade deadline.
The Knicks are involved, of course. The popular opinion is he Anthony will end up in New York eventually because that’s where he wants to play and with whom he absolutely would sign an extension.
But if the Nets and Nuggets can agree on something between now and Feb. 24, it’s hard to believe Anthony will walk away from a three-year $65 million extension.
It’s been well documented that the Nets have the most to offer the Nuggets so it’s only logical that they call back New Jersey. Maybe it was done to make the Knicks up the ante or maybe the Nuggets like the picks the Nets have and Favors’ upside.
All of this makes for great copy, and talk on TV and radio. And it will for another week, unless Anthony is traded before then.
But the Nets are looking at other things. They can’t bank on reaching an agreement with Denver or Anthony after everything they’ve been through.
The Nets have to have contingency plans and they do because as much as coach Avery Johnson likes so many of these young players personally, you can see how they can drive him crazy professionally.
The Celtics are a far superior team, but the Nets had to get up for playing them. They didn’t. Twenty-nine seconds into the game, Johnson called a timeout and lit up his team for missing a defensive assignment.
Then Nets missed another, and another and made another mistake. At 8-1, Johnson removed his backcourt of Harris and Anthony Morrow and brought in Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic.
Following another defensive lapse, Johnson removed the starting frontcourt of Travis Outlaw, Favors and Brook Lopez and brought in Quinton Ross, Kris Humphries and Johan Petro.
All five starters were on the bench 3:40 into the game.
“Just the same stuff,” Johnson said. “We come into a game with an emphasis on something and the first play defensively the last two games we’ve just been malfunctioning.
“We just got the whole second team in there and they worked really well for us. Came into halftime and guys seemed to wake up a little bit.”
They did. The Nets turned a 15-point first-quarter hole into a nine-point third-period lead. But the Nets malfunctioned defensively from that point on against a spectacular defensive team that just locked down on their opponent.
The Celtics knew they could do that to the Nets and they did, holding them to 17 points over the final 17:28. Even worse, the Nets had no field goals the last 6:17 of the game and were outscored 17-2.
You could see this coming as much as you could have predicted the Nets and Nuggets would talk again. I’m just not ready to predict how it will end this time.
Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)