The last couple of weeks of this season have felt a little like last year. The Nets have been decimated by injuries and have lost 14 of 16 games heading into Wednesday's finale against the Bulls.
But this season has been different. The Nets have doubled their win total (24) and are in a better place than at this point last season.
First of all, the team didn’t have a clean-up day last year. The players left Miami after the finale and went their separate ways after one of the most dysfunctional and frustrating seasons in NBA history. Many of them didn’t fly back to New Jersey. They couldn’t wait to get rid of last season.
This season, everyone is flying back from Chicago, doing their exit interviews Thursday with general manager Billy King and coach Avery Johnson, and then heading out.
It’s been a frustrating year, but it hasn’t been dysfunctional, and these things are certain: the Nets have direction, unlike last year, and many of their players want to stick around.
At this point last year, no one really knew if Rod Thorn would be back. It was well known Kiki Vandeweghe wouldn’t. So the Nets were going to need a coach and probably a general manager. They were undergoing an ownership change. They were praying they would win the draft lottery and get John Wall. They were formulating a plan of attack to use all the money they had to try to attract LeBron James and other members of the super free-agent class of 2010, believing Mikhail Prokhorov, Jay-Z and the eventual move to Brooklyn would be the ultimate appeals. There were so many ifs and so many unknowns coming off a 12-70 season.
Things didn’t go the way the Nets hoped. Thorn left. The Nets got the No. 3 pick and wound up spending about $70 million on Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar and Johan Petro.
But the Nets have much more of a foundation now than last year, with Prokhorov in charge of the team and Johnson and King running the basketball departments. You see where this team is headed.
“I still think to do well in this league, you’ve got to have great ownership and really good management, and I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Johnson said. “We have that in Mikhail and in Billy.”
It turned out losing out on Wall worked in New Jersey's favor. Derrick Favors was the chip the Nets dangled for Carmelo Anthony for months and the one that ultimately helped them get Deron Williams. He’s arguably the best point in the NBA and certainly gives the Nets someone around whom to build.
The Nets are going to make a play for Dwight Howard. But they have other moves to make before then, especially if the Howard situation is one that plays out like Anthony. The Magic are not going to trade Howard unless they have to, and they’re not going to until they absolutely must. The Nuggets waited until the very last minute to move Anthony and made sure they got the most they could for him. Orlando could do the same, so you may be looking at February next season, or even after the season -– and then there’s also the possibility of a lockout that would impact everything.
The Nets will try to make upgrades as soon as they can. They need to make moves to keep Williams happy and with the organization. He can leave after next season if he wants, so this offseason will be all about finding the pieces to keep Williams in a Nets uniform for a long time.
But having Williams and Brooklyn being only a year away should put the Nets in better position to attract players than last season. Most every player wants to play with an elite point guard and in a big market. The Nets hope Howard is one of them.
Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)