Trades, picks result in solid draft for Nets

    Friday, June 24, 2011, 1:46 AM [General]

    After every draft, the team’s top executive or coach says they got who they wanted or never thought this player would drop to them. But the Nets meant it last night.

    They never expected shooting guard Marshon Brooks to drop anywhere near them, but he did. And when he did, general manager Billy King did what he does best on draft night – he made a trade.

    King now has been involved in draft-night trades in eight of 12 drafts he’s been part of as an executive.

    The Nets targeted scoring Euro swingman Bojan Bogdanovic so strongly that they brought him in for a second, private workout, yesterday morning and saw enough of him to decide they were going to move up in the second round for him.

    They liked the way Jordan Williams rebounded, especially in a difficult conference like the ACC, and had him on their wish list in the second round and got him.

    “I think we had a solid draft,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said.

    Johnson has to say that, but on the surface he’s right.

    You don’t know how these guys are going to do when they join the Nets. But when you think about what the Nets needed - athleticism, a wing player, scoring, toughness, rebounding and depth – they had a solid draft.

    As a Providence senior, Brooks averaged 24.6 points, ranking second in the NCAA behind just BYU’s Jimmer Fredette.

    No one knows for sure why Brooks fell. He had an ankle injury that kept him out of some workouts, including one for the Nets. But when they saw him slipping, the Nets were trying to put together a deal to get him.

    They sent the No. 27 pick and a 2014 second-round choice to Boston for Brooks’ draft rights. Officially, the Celtics selected Brooks 25th.

    “He knows how to score,” King said. “He’s a proven scorer and I think at times last year we struggled to score.”

    There are a lot of things the Nets like about Brooks.

    He’s 22 and played four years for the Friars. He improved every year, with his scoring average jumping 10.4 points from his junior to his senior season and was able to create his own shot. Brooks also filled out the stat sheet, grabbing 7.0 rebounds, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks.

    You have to wait and see how this translates in the NBA. But it’s impressive that Brooks had some big games against some of the better teams in the Big East. He scored 52 against Notre Dame, had 43 and 10 boards against Georgetown, poured in 27 against Louisville and Syracuse and produced 25 and seven against UConn.

    “Billy and the whole scouting department they got the guy that we needed,” Johnson said.

    Bogdanovic is an intriguing prospect from Bosnia. He was one of the top scorers in Euroleague regular-season play for Cibona VIP.

    Minnesota took him with the 31st pick and dealt him to the Nets for cash and a 2013 second-rounder. He may not be able to play here this year as he’s expected to play in Turkey. But from all indications, the Nets acquired a talented, skilled player.

    Williams also seems to be a good pickup, especially as a second-rounder. He’s a hard worker, who has lost more than 20 pounds since his season at Maryland ended, and he’s a ferocious rebounder. He finished third in the nation, grabbing 11.8 rebounds per game.

    “One thing that’s proven is if you rebound in college you’ll rebound in the pros,” King said. “Once we got MarShon we felt that if we get Jordan he will give us somebody who’s proven he knows how to rebound.”

    The Nets didn’t become a championship or even a playoff contender with these moves, and they didn’t assure themselves that Deron Williams will sign on to stay. But they picked up three more assets that they hope will help them on the court or could be enticing in trades.

    You can’t know for sure until you see the players and how they fit, but when you think of what the Nets wanted and needed heading into last night, they seemed to have a pretty solid draft.


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    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) 

     

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    Could be busy draft night as Nets start addressing roster

    Wednesday, June 22, 2011, 1:45 PM [General]

    The Nets want to get more athletic across the board, add depth, find another shooter, a reliable small forward, a big man and would like to bring in defensive players.

    That’s their general offseason wish list and they can start trying to find some of those things in tomorrow night’s NBA Draft.

    When you’re picking at Nos. 27 and 36 you’re limited as to what you can get because everything depends on what happens before you select. But as you probably have read somewhere by now, Nets general manager Billy King rarely picks where he’s supposed to anyway.

    As we detailed in a story in The Record over the weekend, King made trades on seven of the 11 draft days he spent as a 76ers executive. He completed six trades during the 2006 and 2007 drafts and was a part of 15 total in 11 drafts. (His first was the 1997 draft, and involved sending Keith Van Horn to the Nets for Tim Thomas). This is King’s first draft since 2007 so he may try to make up for lost time.

    Maybe it’s because we’ve written about it so much, but we would be surprised if King and the Nets don’t move up, add another pick or make a trade to acquire a veteran. Our guess is King is not in love with anyone he’s going to get at 27.

    Also, you don’t expect someone taken that low to make an immediate and significant impact on a team that won 24 games. But the Nets are hoping to find some players who can help them.

    “It’ll be a pretty good player,” King said. “In my mind, there’s probably four guys I really like. And I think one of the four will probably be there.”

    We’ve heard and read plenty of names that the Nets are interested in or could take with athletic Georgia Tech combo and two-way guard Iman Shumpert ranking high on their list. The Nets may have to move up if this is who they want because he’s been linked as high as the Suns at 13, the Knicks at 17 and the early 20s. But the Nets like his athleticism, versatility and ability to defend.

    Others we’ve seen or heard include lean UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt, unproven yet athletic and potentially explosive Kansas guard Josh Selby, Richmond forward Justin Harper and Purdue’s four-year player JaJuan Johnson, a power forward/center.

    “I think we’re getting close,” King said. “Now, we’ve just got to get everybody else to cooperate.”

    Looking at the second round – and really after the top four in the draft no one can predict at this point how things will go – the Nets will have a number of players they would consider. But they may have to use some of Mikhail Prokhorov’s millions to buy another pick because some of the players they like may not be there at 36.

    Among them are Maryland rebounder Jordan Williams, Georgia power forward Trey Thompkins, forward Bojan Bogdanovich, who played in Croatia the last two years, and guards Travis Leslie of Georgia and Duke’s Nolan Smith.

    It’s important to note that King has done well with some late picks, though, as he took Lou Williams 45th in 2005, Sam Dalembert 26th in 2001 and Todd MacCulloch 47th in 1999. He also traded for the rights to Kyle Korver, Willie Green, John Salmon and Nazr Mohammed.

    Whatever the Nets do tomorrow, whoever they acquire, that player is going to become better right away from playing with Deron Williams. But it’s just the beginning of the Nets addressing their off-season wish list.

    They will be active through trades and free agency. But with a lockout possible, it’s hard to tell when that will be.

    History lesson: For what it's worth, the Nets only have had the No. 27 pick once and that was last year. Drafting for the Hawks, the Nets took Jordan Crawford and sent his rights and the No. 31 pick to Atlanta for Damion James, who went 24th.

    Some notable players taken with No. 27 pick include current Net Sasha Vujacic, ex-Net Jacque Vaughn, Dennis Rodman, Kendrick Perkins, Sergio Rodriguez, Aaron Afflalo, and Linas Kleiza.

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    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    Nets won the Lottery when they got Deron

    Tuesday, May 17, 2011, 9:56 PM [General]

    The Nets were never worried about what would happen in the NBA Draft Lottery. They were never concerned Utah would get the first overall pick, just as they wouldn’t have been if they made the deal with Denver for Carmelo Anthony.

    Billy King probably decided the day he took over as Nets general manager last July that getting an established All-Star and franchise-changing player is more vital to the organization’s growth than an unproven college player who may not develop for a few years.

    He’s right, especially since there is no Derrick Rose, LeBron James or Blake Griffin in this draft. If you have the chance to get Anthony or Deron Williams you do whatever it takes and if it costs you a No. 1 pick in a draft that doesn’t have star power you make the trade. And you make it again. And you make it again.

    Even if the draft has star power, you make the trade for Williams, considering where the Nets came from, where they were and where they want to go.

    So what that the Utah Jazz wound up climbing from sixth to third with the pick the Nets sent them for Williams. Utah will wind up with Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker or Enes Kanter. The Nets still have Williams.

    Even if Utah finished first or second and were in position to take Duke's Kyrie Irving or Arizona's Derrick Williams, the Nets still have Williams. They have a piece they can and plan to build around, someone who can attract players and who makes everyone around him better.

    He was a better get for the organization than Anthony would have been, and then holding onto Derrick Favors and their first-round pick.

    You don’t know what would have happened if the Nets never made the trade, and wound up moving Devin Harris to Portland or Dallas. You don’t know where they would have ended up in the standings and in the lottery. But King didn’t seem to care about it when we talked to him about the lottery last week.

    “There’s not a guy in the draft as good as Deron Williams,” King said.

    There aren’t many guys in the NBA as good as Deron Williams when he’s healthy, which he wasn’t at all with the Nets. He had surgery on his wrist and will be ready for camp, whenever that is since there is the potential for a lockout.

    If there is a team that can’t afford a lockout it’s the Nets. They want to keep in constant contact with Williams and work on improving the team and surrounding him with the type of players that will keep him in a Nets’ uniform beyond his current contract. The Dwight Howard pursuit will happen eventually.

    King can make some moves between now and June 30, but you wonder how much activity there’s going to be if no one knows what the new collective bargaining agreement is going to look like.

    What we do know after last night’s lottery is where everyone’s picking in the June 23 NBA Draft. The top five picks belong to Cleveland (from the Clippers), Minnesota, Utah (from the Nets), Cleveland again and Toronto.

    We also know because the Nets, who finished with the same record as the Kings, placed higher in the lottery than the Kings, they will pick later in the second round. The Nets have the No. 36 pick and the No. 27 choice in the first round, which they acquired from the Lakers.

    If they keep the pick – and King has a history for being very active on draft day – the Nets might find good role players there, some athletes they can bring off the bench who can change the pace of the game or provide some type of spark. But they’re not going to get an immediate impact player, and they may not have had they held on to their own first-round pick.

    That’s why it was a good move at the time and still a good move for the Nets. Now it’s all about using those two picks and other assets – young players on reasonable deals, salary cap space – and building a team that doesn’t make any more trips to the lottery.

    This was the fourth consecutive year the Nets missed the postseason. The other three teams got them Brook Lopez (great pick), Terrence Williams (disappointment) and Favors. He was the key to the Williams’ deal, but the two draft picks they included helped.

    The Nets didn’t mind giving them up, especially the lottery pick. They didn’t care what number it became. Williams was the Nets’ prize anyway. 

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    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    The Nets' transformation continues

    Thursday, May 5, 2011, 9:13 AM [General]

    The Nets are in the process of building a new arena in Brooklyn and trying to build their team into a playoff contender. On Sunday, they added a farm club, as they officially took over the basketball operations of their NBA Development League affiliate, the Springfield Armor.

    The Nets don’t own the Armor. This “hybrid affiliation,” means the Nets are in charge of the basketball operations and pay for expenses related to that, as existing local owners pay for the off-the-court costs of doing business.

    It may not seem like a big deal, but it is significant in many ways. The biggest one is it’s another example of how serious and committed owner Mikhail Prokhorov is about spending money to improve the overall operation and how the Nets are run.

    “We’re doing things to help build a solid foundation,” Nets general manager Billy King said.

    Most fans are more concerned with Deron Williams’ future with the team, whether the Nets can put together a package to land Dwight Howard, and what kind of offseason moves they can make to improve the club quickly. And they should be.

    Those fans should know that the Nets’ priority is building a team that doesn’t just sneak into the playoffs, but one with Williams as the centerpiece that is a contender every year and can win a championship in the next four years.

    That was Prokhorov’s edict – within five years the Nets would be a championship team. He’s wants them to get there, as do King and coach Avery Johnson. This management team is committed as evidenced by their pursuit of Carmelo Anthony and ultimate acquisition of Williams.

    They’re going to improve through the draft, through trades, through free agency – the three usual ways. But the Nets also will put some of their attention into building a minor league system that helps develop players and coaches and prepare them for the NBA. It will make it easier when the Nets call them up to the pros.

    “It gives you a chance to work with the players, so the system they’re running and practices are the same ones Avery is running,” King said.

    That way, when someone gets called up, when Johnson calls a play, that guy will know exactly what the play is. The Nets don’t have to limit their play calls or just use the player in case of an emergency.

    They also can move the Springfield head coach and put him on Johnson’s staff if one of his assistants gets another job. Then the Armor assistant can move up to head coach of the team.

    It’s a total minor league system with players, coaches and trainers all picked by the Nets. King is putting together a list of candidates for the head coaching position.

    “Guys will want to come and play for our team because we’re up and coming,” King said. “Coaches will want to come. I think it will be a great opportunity.”

    This move also is significant because most NBA teams don’t own or run their own Development League squad. The several that do are among the best run organizations.

    The Houston Rockets are the only other team with a “hybrid” affiliation (Rio Grande Valley Vipers). The Spurs (Austin Toros), Thunder (Tulsa 66ers) and Mavericks (Texas Legends) fully own and operate their D-League teams.

    For the Nets, this is another step in their organizational transformation. And who knows - it could become a league-wide trend.

    “I’d rather have a chance to develop a team and a roster and maybe find a young guy or find a young coach and have control over them because at some point it will become like Major League Baseball where you have an affiliate,” King said. “If it does I want to be in the front of the order and not be in the middle and try and learn it on the fly.”

    ***

    Brook Lopez, the Nets’ leading scorer the past two seasons, had surgery Wednesday to remove bone mass and calcium deposits from his upper arm. He’s expected to begin rehab in about two weeks and should be able to resume basketball activities in roughly six weeks.

    The Nets’ center has played every game of his three-year NBA career.

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    It should be a busy weekend at the Nets’ practice facility, as they will host a combine Saturday and Sunday for 44 NBA Draft eligible players.

    The Nets, Knicks and Rockets joined forces for this workout, which won’t feature any lottery picks but could - and we stress the word could - produce some late first-round and second-round picks. Coaches and personnel evaluators from about 27 of the 30 NBA teams are expected to be on hand.

    The Nets own Lakers’ first-round pick (No. 27) and either the 35th or 36th pick in the second round.

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    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    Nets hope to cut out losing

    Wednesday, April 20, 2011, 5:32 PM [General]

    Billy King’s season-ending session with the media Wednesday covered everything from his recent hand procedure to next week’s surgery to remove a calcium deposit in Brook Lopez’s right arm.

    That’s not the only cutting expected to happen with the Nets this offseason.

    To King, the Nets' general manager, the stated goal next year is to make the playoffs. It should be. The Nets have a superstar now, and having Deron Williams healthy is a great first step to that end. But there needs to be a roster overhaul to go from a 24-win team to one that sees the postseason.

    There is no doubt overall that the Nets made strides from last season. They built a foundation for the future as they doubled their win total from a year ago. They probably should have had a few more wins, but injuries, trade rumors, a lack of execution late and a dearth of playmakers led to another disappointing season. The two biggest issues were a lack of talent and all those injuries. You can’t help one, but you can fix the other.

    If Williams were healthy at the end of the season, maybe the Nets would have hung around the playoff race a little longer. Otherwise, it comes down to having the right players and the right talent, and the Nets need some upgrades in that area.

    "We got a star, so you’re not worried about a star,” King said. “We’re now in the process of building a team. You have pieces that you like, a nucleus that we like so you start trying to build around that.

    “I think we need to get more athletic at some of our wing positions, just because, if you’re watching these playoffs, you see what Carmelo [Anthony] can do, you see what LeBron [James] can do, you see what Dwyane Wade can do, Paul Pierce. You’ve got to have a lot of guys who can guard those guys. It can’t be. You’ve got to have two or three guys you can throw out there. You need 6-foot-6, 6-8 athletes, I think.”

    In other words, the Nets are looking to replace Travis Outlaw and trade him -- if they can -- and probably won’t re-sign Sasha Vujacic. King apparently got a laugh out of this blog entry about who could be staying and who could be going. But it’s clear the Nets don’t want to bring back too many players from a team that lost 70 percent of its games.

    This is where King, coach Avery Johnson, assistant general manager Bobby Marks and the Nets’ scouting departments come in. They have to find players who are available and can make an impact, or at least help them on a more consistent basis, than those on the current roster.

    The Nets have two draft picks: No. 27, which they acquired from the Lakers, and either No. 35 or 36 in the second round. King did well in Philadelphia either trading for or picking Andre Iguodala, Kyle Korver, Willie Green, John Salmons, Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young. King probably believes he can pick a sleeper. But banking on finding someone that late who can help right away is risky. So King may try to trade up, or try to package the picks with some players currently on the roster to move up or get a veteran who can help them now.

    If the postseason is the immediate goal, the Nets can’t necessarily wait for players to develop. That goes for Deron Williams’ sake, too. He already has said he could see himself staying with the Nets, but that’s with the understanding that they are are going to make some major changes and improvements.

    “I don’t think I’ve wavered in saying I expect [Williams] to be back,” King said. “My thought process hasn’t changed from the day we traded for him to him making those comments. When we made the trade and spent time talking to him, and the more I’ve gotten to know him and the more we talked, I felt like that’s the goal we’re working for -- to build something special here.”

    Williams plans to help the Nets get there, either through recruiting free agents or by giving King some suggestions on who he thinks could help them.

    Re-signing Kris Humphries remains a priority, but there is plenty of other work for the Nets to do. You don’t go from 12 to 24 to wins to the playoffs without making some major changes, and that means cutting out some players who can only take you so far and replacing them with those who can lead you where you want to go.

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    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    Nets' final evaluations

    Thursday, April 14, 2011, 5:25 PM [General]

    The Nets met for the final time of the season today and were given their exit interviews and evaluations from coach Avery Johnson and general manager Billy King.

    Now the real work begins as the Nets hope they don’t have another 58-loss season.

    “They’re fighters, but at the same time there needs to be some changes,” Johnson said. “We’re going to look at it. I’ve had a chance to have a front-row seat. I know exactly what we need in terms of our starters and what we need in terms of the type of role players we need.”

    Here is our evaluation of every player:

    Deron Williams: He was terrific in the 12 games he played as a Net, all things considered. With a healthy wrist, he won’t miss the shots and layups he did. But he averaged 15 points and 12.8 assists with a shooting hand that needed surgery. The Nets, and their fans, can’t wait to see what he does and can do when he’s healthy. He made it sound as if he's willing to sign an extension with the Nets. Williams said, "I definitely can see myself staying here." That would be huge for the Nets.

    Brook Lopez: A solid season, especially at the end. He became more of a leader and force, and the Nets hope it carries over to next season. Lopez still needs to be more of a presence on the boards and defensively. He needs to get stronger. He’s emotional, but needs to develop more of a mean streak on the court to take the next step.

    Kris Humphries: Finally, the Nets have a power forward and now they have to do everything they can to keep him. It’s amazing when you consider they were hoping Humphries would opt out last summer and had him No. 4 on the depth chart behind Troy Murphy, Joe Smith and Derrick Favors to start the season. Humphries became a glue guy, and now the Nets need to make sure he sticks.

    Anthony Morrow: Injuries derailed what was a good season for the sharpshooter. He showed he can score a variety of ways and gave the Nets what they needed on the offensive end, with plenty of big shots. He will get plenty more open looks next year having Williams from the start of the season. Needs to improve defensively, though.

    Jordan Farmar: Farmar had a nice season playing a different and much greater role than with the Lakers. But sometimes the offense sputtered or Farmar didn't get players the ball in their comfort zone, and he's a liability defensively. But he is a very good shooter and improving point guard, a solid backup.

    Sasha Vujacic: He’s a competitor, who earned another NBA contract –- just not sure it will be with the Nets. He looks for his shot a little too much. It was understandable on this team that had trouble scoring. But he needs to concentrate on the defensive end as much as he does on the offensive end.

    Travis Outlaw: The $35 million he signed for weighed him down as much as the franchise. He earned small forward starter money and ended the season as a backup power forward. Really needs to work on his confidence and getting to know all the nuances of playing the small forward position. The Nets will look for an upgrade for sure.

    Johan Petro: Too jump-shot happy and not enough of a presence inside. He needs to develop some post moves and make more of an impact as a rebounder.

    Damion James: He played with energy and was better defensively than offensively, but ended up appearing in only 25 games. So it’s really hard to know whether he’s a legit starting small forward. Has to improve his shot and he will work hard to get better.

    Ben Uzoh: Nice kid, who worked hard and got better. He needs to improve his shot and presence as a point guard. Could be a confidence thing. It will be interesting to see where he winds up. The Nets already have three point guards under contract for next season.

    Sundiata Gaines: He showed toughness and a knack for making big plays. Those things earned him a guaranteed contract. Next season he’s going to have to prove he earned his first guaranteed deal in whatever minutes he gets.

    Stephen Graham: Good professional and locker room guy, who played his role. Would have liked to see him hit more open shots –- he was open often.

    Dan Gadzuric: He’s a big body who plays hard and with energy. He can get inside and rebound, but is very limited overall.

    Brandan Wright: He has skills, but this tweener hasn’t lived up to his potential. He has an awkward jumper, misses seemingly easy shots around the rim and doesn’t seem to have a high motor.

    Mario West: Known for his defense and he did defend in the few games the Nets had him. But took too many long jumpers and has one of the worst-looking shots any of us has ever seen.

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    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

     

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    Look back at the first year under the Nets' new regime

    Wednesday, April 13, 2011, 11:24 PM [General]

    The Nets ended the first season of the Mikhail Prokhorov/Avery Johnson/Billy King era with 24-58 record after a tough, hard-fought 97-92 loss to Chicago Bulls last night.

    The Nets doubled last year’s win total but still have plenty of work to do to become not only a playoff team, but a championship contender as Prokhorov promised. The next phase of that process begins now, but here’s a look back at that first year.

    MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Naturally, if Deron Williams would have been with the Nets all season, it would have been him. He proved that in his 12 games as a Net. But for the duration of the season, it was Kris Humphries. He did it all for the Nets in terms of defense, dirty work, physical play and rebounding and finished the season with career-high averages of 10.0 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.08 blocks.

    MOST UNDERAPPRECIATED: Brook Lopez went backwards as a rebounder and many times disappeared in the third and fourth quarters. But he had a strong end to the season and looked as sure of himself as he ever has. He definitely grew at the end and will continue he get better. Lopez played all 82 games and averaged a Nets’ high 20.4 points. He needs to get tougher physically and mentally and has to improve as a rebounder and go-to guy, but he was there every night for the Nets and has been every game of his career. That counts for something.

    MOST DISAPPOINTING: When the Nets failed to get LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Rudy Gay, Carlos Boozer, Tyrus Thomas they decided to give Travis Outlaw a five-year, $35 million contract. Expectations come with a figure like that and Outlaw didn’t live up to them. He didn’t adapt to playing small forward, average of 9.6 points, on 37.5 percent shooting, and lost his starting job to rookie Damion James.

    BLOCK OF THE YEAR: Humphries had a few more than a few, but you have to give it up for the rejection he had on Brook’s twin brother Robin. That was some stuff.

    REBOUND OF THE YEAR: King had the best rebound in the NBA this year. After nearly six months of pursuing Carmelo Anthony – and losing him to the Knicks – in about a 24-hour period King was able to pry Williams from Utah in a franchise-changing blockbuster.

    RICHARD JEFFERSON INSANELY OPTIMISTIC AWARD: There are several candidates. We remember Humphries talking about the playoffs in January; Williams talking about it when he first arrived; and several players, including ex-Net Devin Harris, saying the team had gotten its swagger back. But Johnson gets it for always being outwardly positive about the Nets’ situation.

    On Williams’ future, Johnson said "I have no doubt and I'm really, really confident that we'll be able to re-sign him … All signs that I've seen and heard are that as we move forward, he'll be in a Nets' uniform.” Johnson on the Nets: “We still have as bright a future as anybody that does not win a championship this year. That’s the whole deal.”

    3 BEST WINS
    1. Nets 88, Celtics 79 (March 14): Williams returned from a two-game absence for the birth of his son and the Nets won their fifth straight game with Williams’ delivering a big-time three with 35.6 seconds left to make it a seven-point game.

    2. Nets 115, Nuggets 99 (Jan. 31): The Nets were fired up for this game against Anthony and the Nuggets and won big with Harris delivering 18 assists.

    3. Nets 137, Raptors 136 (March 5): In London, the Nets and Raptors played a classic game that New Jersey pulled out in triple-overtime behind a monster 34-point, 17-rebound, 8-block game from Lopez, a 21 and 18 night from Williams and 20 and 17-board effort from Humphries.

    3 WORST GAMES
    1. Wizards 97, Nets 77 (Jan. 7): The Nets didn’t show up for this game against one of the worst teams and trailed 26-6 in the first quarter.

    2. Charlotte 91, Nets 84 (Dec. 3): Just a terrible offensive game by both teams as 117 shots were missed and Lopez had with just two rebounds – none on the defensive end

    3. Indiana 105, Nets 86 (Feb. 6): The Nets were in a stupor on Super Bowl Sunday and got trounced for the second time in nine days by the Pacers. The previous game, Indiana shot 62.5 percent and won by 32.

    FORGETTABLE MOMENTS
    1. Sneak-er attack: Late in the March 30 loss to the Knicks, Lopez bent down to pick up his sneaker instead of finishing the offensive trip and the ball bounced off his back and out-of-bounds.

    2. Thunder Struck: Up three, the Nets were supposed to foul the Thunder, but Stephen Graham fouled with Jeff Green shooting a three. He made all three and ultimately the Nets lost in three OTs.

    3. The Boo-Dential Center: On many nights, there were more fans of the visiting team than the Nets in Prudential Center, but the worst cases of that were the two games against the Knicks. In February, Nets players were booed late in the game when they attempted free throws, and last week it sounded as if the game was at Madison Square Garden.


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    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

     

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    Nets make progress, in better shape than last year

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011, 5:12 PM [General]

    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.)

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    Nets can't close home schedule with a win

    Monday, April 11, 2011, 10:30 PM [General]

    NEWARK, N.J. – You could tell the Nets wanted this game – for themselves and for their fans.

    This was their home finale and it was a difficult fadeaway jump shot by D.J. Augustin with 1.1 seconds left that ultimately decided the 105-103 Charlotte win. But it didn’t come down to that tough shot by Augustin over Lopez. When you lose a game by two points there are so many plays that contribute.

    You can point to some poor defense, bad shot selection and an inability to finish inside. And just once you would like to see the Nets deliver a hard foul when someone is driving to the basket instead of just letting the guy score or reaching at him, and giving him a three-point play opportunity.

    That happened too much in this game that like the Raptors game the night before wound up being a battle of attrition. Each team had nine players, and although Brook Lopez once again was the best player on the court, the Nets couldn’t overcome their own mistakes earlier.

    In Toronto, they fell behind by 21. In this game, the Nets had a nice rhythm early, led by eight, but didn’t extend their cushion. They have to figure out how to do that, develop a killer instinct that way because teams do it to the Nets all the time.

    Their eight-point lead became a 10-point deficit and then the Nets had to climb their way back. They did, pulling ahead by one, 94-93 on Sasha Vujacic’s three with 2:01 remaining. The problem was, the Bobcats made their final five shots. On a side note, the Bobcats are the second-worst scoring team in the league. The Nets are third worst.

    “Tough way to finish up but give our guys a lot of credit,” coach Avery Johnson said. “They came out in the second half and really played hard. D.J. hit a tough shot, tough shot.”

    This game was typical of many Nets’ games this season, especially at home, where they finished 19-22 in their first season at the Prudential Center.

    Even with Vujacic draining a game-tying three on an out-of-bounds play with 10.9 seconds left, the Nets couldn’t make enough plays on both ends of the floor with the game on the line.

    “We had a great effort,” said Lopez, who led everyone with 31 points, but needed to be stronger inside on the defensive end. “Obviously we’re building something bigger and we got one more, but the fans showed us a lot of support tonight at home and I just want to thank them for it.”

    The Nets still have one more game this season and would like to end it on a positive note. But they play in Chicago on Wednesday and there is a chance the Bulls could be playing for the best record in the NBA so they may not rest their regulars. It will depend on the results of some games on Tuesday.

    The Nets wanted this one and not just because they were home. But for all they have gone through this season, trade rumors, injuries, trades, surgeries, they don’t want it to end this way – with 14 losses in their last 16 games heading into Chicago.

    But this game was like a few others that could have gone either way late and a big shot, a bad offensive possession or a bad defensive trip cost the Nets.

    Think Oklahoma City and triple-overtime loss, or the game when Jameer Nelson hit a tough shot over Lopez in the closing seconds to give Orlando a one-point win, or Kris Humphries’ jumper being a hair late in a one-point overtime loss to the Suns.

    “We’ve had a lot of positive experiences here at the Prudential Center,” Johnson said. “Hopefully it’s one that the fans look forward to seeing next year with even a more improved product.”

    You have to believe having Deron Williams would help the Nets in these situations. He has in victories over the Celtics and Timberwolves when he hit the game-winning shot in what was his last game of the season. The Nets would have liked a similar ending in their home finale.

    ***

    Williams had surgery to remove loose particles and scar tissue from his right wrist. The Nets doctors said he should resume basketball activities in 6-8 weeks.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.) 

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    The pain is almost over

    Sunday, April 10, 2011, 10:02 PM [General]

    TORONTO – For all of you suffering Nets’ fans, keep telling yourselves there are only two games remaining.

    A season that opened with anticipation – a new owner, home arena, coach, general manager and essentially a new roster – and started with some promise as the Nets won their first two games, is ending miserably.

    The Nets have doubled their win total from last season, but they lost for the 13th time in 15 games, dropping a 99-92 decision to Toronto in a battle of attrition Sunday.

    When the game started, the Nets had 10 healthy bodies, but lost backup point guard Ben Uzoh in the fourth period with a bruised right knee and then newly signed guard Mario West to a separated shoulder. The Nets already are without point guards Deron Williams and Sundiata Gaines.

    The Raptors only had nine players – they were without six of their top seven guys. Yet Toronto led by as many as 21 and were ahead by double figures for a 33:10 stretch over the second, third and fourth quarters before the Nets made things interesting.

    The Nets got within six with a chance to cut it to four and then turned the ball over. After a Nets’ defensive stand, they got within four, 96-92, with 46.9 seconds left on a Brook Lopez hook shot. The Nets didn’t score again.

    “We gave ourselves an opportunity,” Lopez said after a 35-point, 11-rebound effort. “I think that’s important especially when you’re playing the third to last game of the season. It means that we’re not checking out.”

    There are no moral victories, but Lopez is right. At least the Nets didn’t lay down when they were down 21. They could have and if they did, the tone of this piece would be a little different. But the Nets fought to the end.

    The same can’t be said for all the games they’ve played here lately. But the Nets probably realized that this was a winnable game and it never should have gotten as out of hand as it did.

    It was the same things we’ve seen from the Nets too many times – lack of energy early, poor defense, bad execution, missed shots and suddenly they’re climbing a huge hill.

    “We weren’t very good with our energy level,” coach Avery Johnson said. “We didn’t follow the game plan. We were up too close on guys that were drivers. Their post catches were too easy on offense. We didn’t rebound the ball well.

    “But guys found some energy, found some life. Hopefully this will carry over to our last home game of the season tomorrow.”

    That’s Monday night when the Nets will try for their 25th win of the season with Charlotte visiting the Prudential Center. The Nets have plenty of areas to address this offseason, but they need to get energy guys or Johnson has to find a different way to get more out of this team.

    It seems it doesn’t matter who the coach is, the Nets have sluggish starts. We saw them under Lawrence Frank and Kiki Vandeweghe and we’ve seen it too often this season.

    Having Williams from the start of the season will make a difference. If the Nets had Williams, Kris Humphries – they were beaten 45-31 on the boards – and Anthony Morrow this game probably would have gone differently.

    Williams and Humphries already are done for the season. Morrow might be because of tendinitis in his left knee. He will have an MRI on Monday. Williams will have surgery on Monday. West will be further evaluated on Monday.

    It will be another busy day for the Nets’ medical staff and then the team plays its home finale in a season that is not ending the way anyone hoped, Sunday’s second-half effort notwithstanding.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    Minus Williams, Nets were no match for Knicks

    Friday, April 8, 2011, 10:04 PM [General]

    NEWARK, N.J. – The Nets’ final game this season against the Knicks lacked so much of the appeal their prior one did. Three announcements made early Friday morning took the luster out of the game and turned the attention elsewhere.

    The first and biggest one came from the Nets as they revealed All-Star point guard Deron Williams would need surgery to clean out fragments and scar tissue in his right wrist and his season was over. Then Avery Johnson said Kris Humphries wouldn’t play because of his right foot injury, and his season was over.

    At around the same time in Westchester County, the Knicks ruled out Amar’e Stoudemire because of a sprained left ankle.

    There still was Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups and Brook Lopez and a near full house at the Prudential Center, most of which were Knicks fans. But Knicks 116, Nets 93 Friday was missing most of the hype, anticipation and hotly contested play of the Knicks’ four-point victory over New Jersey on ESPN last week.

    The biggest difference, no question, was Williams.

    He returned from a six-game absence due to his wrist for that game at The Garden. Williams' health status going from day-to-day to out for the rest of the season certainly changed things.

    The procedure, which will be done Monday, is basically a scope. And although no timetable will be given until the doctors actually go in there and clean out his wrist, Williams should be able to resume basketball activities long before training camp, whenever that is.

    Remember, a lockout is expected so camp may not start when it usually does in late September or early October. It will just give Williams more time to rest it. But Nets GM Billy King said Williams should be playing golf and shooting basketballs “this summer.”

    Really, that is all that matters.

    When you get to this point of the season – actually once the Nets were officially eliminated from the playoffs - Williams’ health and future, Lopez’s health and future and Humphries’ health and future are the stories of importance. And Lopez and Humphries, with all due respect, are well behind Williams.

    He is the future of the Nets, the most important player, the person who will recruit other stars to come to Newark/Brooklyn. If he can’t, it’s unlikely Williams will be around that long.

    The Nets know that, even though they will never admit it. They knew about Williams’ wrist, too.

    They might not have known it was going to require surgery. If they did, it probably would have happened much sooner. The Nets would not have put Williams in harm’s way or brought him back for the Knicks’ game last month.

    “As the doctor told me some of those particles had been there for a while,” King said. “He could tell they’ve been there for a while so it wasn’t like he did any more damage.”

    Originally, Williams and the Nets reported that rest would be the remedy. But the Nets’ medical people wanted Williams to undergo another MRI so they could be certain. King described the MRI Williams had on Wednesday as a “fine cut” MRI that gave a sharper image of the wrist and revealed the bone fragments and scar tissue.

    “When we got the trade, we got the information from Utah,” King said. “I talked to them. They disclosed everything. We did the MRI, everything was confirmed. And then at the end of the season, Doctor [Andrew] Weiland said it’s good not only to do another one, and it’s more of a fine-cut MRI, which, I didn’t know the difference.

    “There’s a 5-millimeter, then there’s the fine-cut, which is 3-millimeter. And the 3-millimeter’s the one they used at [Hospital for Special Surgery], and it showed that there was loose particles.”

    If Williams would have played, the score may have been different and maybe the Nets would have had a chance to win. But they just can’t defend the Knicks and ended up being swept by them in their four meetings this season.

    Not surprisingly, this was the least competitive one, yet it actually lived up to expectations.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    Nets hope to silence Knicks and their fans

    Thursday, April 7, 2011, 5:16 PM [General]

    Four games remain in the Nets’ season and for some players their Nets careers, but that’s a story for a different day. For today, it’s all about tomorrow. Of the Final Four, this is the game that matters most to the Nets.

    We’re not saying they should take off their last three. The Nets should play every game the same. But there’s no denying Nets-Knicks IV has different significance, especially since New York has dominated the season series.

    The Knicks have won the first three games - including last week's ESPN-televised game at the Garden - and are averaging 112 points in three victories. It doesn’t take a genius to know the Nets are going to have to play better defense if they’re going to get a game against the Knicks this season.

    Defense: that seems to be a thing of the past for the Nets. They’re allowing 112.7 points in their last six games and gave up 116 points last night to the Pistons, who rank 23rd in scoring.

    We know, the Nets are missing most of their best defenders: in the paint (Kris Humphries), and on the perimeter (Deron Williams).

    There is a chance Williams and Humphries will play in the Knicks’ game, but if they do that likely will be it for them this season. This also is the cutoff game for Damion James, the rookie small forward who has been out with a sore foot.

    If you don’t see any of them tomorrow, you won’t see them again this season. If you see Williams and Humphries, it probably will be for the last time this season. But the Nets won’t make any announcements about their status until tomorrow.

    Hopefully, this will be the last time any of us have to ask about it because getting straight answers from the Nets, especially about Williams and his wrist, has been as difficult as it’s been for Avery Johnson to get his players to defend lately.

    If it matters, it doesn’t appear Amar’e Stoudemire or Chauncey Billups will play tomorrow for the playoff-bound Knicks. But like the Nets, the Knicks aren’t making any announcements until tomorrow. The Nets lost to the Knicks in February with Stoudemire injured and watching from the sideline.

    Maybe the Nets will wait to see what the Knicks do before they decide whether to play their point guard and best rebounder.

    We know this: as much as the Nets want this game, they won’t put Williams and Humphries out there if there is a chance for them to do further damage to their injuries.

    Williams went to see a hand specialist Wednesday and was supposed to undergo an MRI. The results are expected to be given tomorrow, too.

    So there is so much to anticipate before the actual game is played. Once the game starts, though, the Nets are going to want to put all their attention into beating the Knicks and making sure Brook Lopez gets the ball down the stretch and is productive throughout the game.

    The Nets also are going to want to drown out whatever chants and boos fill Prudential Center.

    The last time these two teams met at The Rock in February – before Williams became a Net and Carmelo Anthony a Knick – the Nets were booed late in the game. Many of the first-time Nets couldn’t believe it.

    There could be more boos. There could be chants of “Me-lo.” There could be chants of “Dee-Fense” when the Nets have the ball. For that reason, it’s a big game for the Nets and for the organization.

    In this frustrating season that’s been filled with injuries and brutal losses, the Nets could feel good about themselves if they get a victory over the Knicks. They could feel good about giving the actual Nets’ fans in the building something to cheer about in the next to last home game.

    Tomorrow’s a big day, all the way around. The Nets will announce the latest on Williams and Humphries and then will see if, with or without them, they can finally beat the Knicks. Then it’s on to the final three games.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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