Nets show togetherness, then fell apart altogether

    Thursday, January 13, 2011, 12:51 AM [General]

    The Nets tried to play a game of don’t-break-this-up last night. Even if they won, it wouldn’t have mattered - they’re not staying together.

    But the way they lost was another example why Nets executives were prepared to trade more than half their roster in a deal for Carmelo Anthony. You wonder if there will come a point where they’ll be willing to give up more.

    Closing time usually turns out to be losing time for the Nets and that’s what happened in Phoenix as they opened the four-game trip with a 118-109 overtime loss to the Suns.

    There’s no point quantifying this one. It was just another bad loss in a season filled with bad losses for a team that’s going nowhere as is.

    But this one had to hurt the Nets because they really needed this and you could tell they wanted this one.

    “I’m really proud of them,” coach Avery Johnson said. “They poured their hearts out on the court tonight. I really feel for them tonight. I wanted to win this game. I wanted them to win this game.”

    This might have been the Nets’ best win of the season had they closed it out. Consider all they have experienced the past few days with all of the reports about a potential 14-to-16 player three-team trade with the Nuggets and Pistons that would bring Anthony to New Jersey.

    The Nets could have shown something, showed tremendous focus, resilience and togetherness if they would have pulled out this game. But it was a miserable collapse that featured the Suns outscoring the Nets 43-19 over the final 14:10 of the game and Brook Lopez playing the role of spectator for most of the fourth quarter and overtime.

    Much of it was because the Suns went small, but when the Nets were struggling to score, Johnson waited and waited before calling on Lopez. When Johnson finally did, Lopez saw 16 seconds of OT action. But after a missed baseline hook shot Derrick Favors replaced Lopez, who didn’t look happy on the bench.

    Lopez finished with 16 points, but late in the game he was as visible as Anthony was in this game.

    Johnson dreams of his center getting 10 rebounds in a game. Lopez dreams of finishing a game. But that’s really what Johnson should be dreaming about – the Nets finishing a game.

    The Nets appeared in good shape – key word appeared – up 90-75 with 10:45 left in regulation and then went 7:17 without a field goal. This happened against the Suns. They don’t defend. But these are the Nets. They don’t score.

    For the 1000th time, and probably not the last, this is A reason the Nets have made getting Anthony their mission. Scoring droughts wouldn’t happen as much. The Nets would have someone to throw the ball to and know will get a shot or free up someone for a shot.

    Devin Harris, one of the Nets’ most prominently mentioned in the Anthony talks, got the Nets off to a great start. He played hard throughout, played to win and finished with 15 points and 15 assists. 

    This is a credit to Harris’ professionalism. He knows he could be in another uniform tomorrow, next week or next month. But he couldn’t make enough plays late against Steve Nash and the Suns.

    Sasha Vujacic and Kris Humphries, who aren’t in the current talks, were solid as well, scoring 19 and 16, respectively off the bench.

    All that mattered though is the Nets had a chance to close out this game, to walk away with a sense of pride that they did something together when they don’t know how much longer they’re going to be together.

    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “We had to go with the hot guys. They were putting him in some pick-and-roll situations. We just couldn’t handle it when they were small. They had Channing Frye at five. We had a tough time with Frye at five and we didn’t do a good job of making Frye pay on the other end inside. Because of that we had to change our lineup, which pretty much saved us and helped us get the game in overtime.”

    - Johnson on why Lopez sat most of the fourth quarter and OT.

    ***

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

     

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    Nets, Harris, Johnson have been through this before

    Tuesday, January 11, 2011, 2:30 PM [General]

    The Nets have been here before, and not just this season.

    They’re stuck in-limbo, seemingly exhausting every possibility as they wait for a deal to happen involving a superstar player, who because of his unhappiness and want for what could be green pastures has turned two franchises upside down.

    Carmelo Anthony is doing what Jason Kidd did in 2008. The difference this time is the Nets are not acting from a position of strength because they’re not the one dealing the All-Star player.

    Don’t get me wrong, the Nets have bargaining power. They have the assets Denver wants: draft picks, young players, the ability to trim salary to the point where the Nuggets don’t have to pay luxury tax.

    But the Nuggets really have the final say on if the current three-team 14-to-16-player trade proposal that also includes the Pistons can go forward.

    After that it will be worked out as to whether Anthony would sign an extension, but the Nets would not have proceeded this far and been this aggressive if they didn’t believe he would sign an extension.

    Billy King could give the now-or-we’re-walking ultimatum to the Nuggets to scare them – and he probably has applied some pressure – but everyone knows how important it is for the Nets to get Anthony. Their future is based on it.

    They want a star to fill the seats and make them relevant, someone who could open the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in 2012 in style and who could potentially be the lure that also brings Chris Paul to the franchise.

    That’s why the Nets can’t fully give Denver an ultimatum. According to Yahoo! Sports, the Nuggets are trying to scare the Nets by saying they will deal with the Knicks. The Nets don’t want that, of course, so they’re all in.

    The Nets could make other deals if this falls through, but they’re not going to get a player of Anthony’s caliber and that's his cache in this trade market. And you can’t wait on free agency for anything. Everyone saw how that worked out for the Nets this past summer.

    The posturing and back-and-forth and on-again, off-again, so-close, but-not-yet situations here reminds me a little of the Kidd deal to Dallas in 2007. It’s a reminder that although things may seem crazy, these things happen.

    Some things are similar: unhappy superstar, Avery Johnson is the coach of the team set to acquire the superstar, Devin Harris is the one of the players traded for the superstar and the Nets are involved.

    The trade was done and the Nets were preparing for a conference call before their game in Toronto on Feb. 13. But Devean George invoked an “Early Bird Rights” no-trade clause in his contract, blocking the deal. Then Jerry Stackhouse, who also would have been coming from Dallas, told reporters the Nets were going to buy him out and he would return to the Mavericks.

    That effectively removed both players from the trade talks, forcing then Nets’ executives Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe to come up with different scenarios to make a deal work.

    That’s what King and assistant GM Bobby Marks are doing here, but they’re involving many more teams. First it was Utah and Charlotte, then Cleveland, Washington got involved, Portland and now Detroit.

    In the Kidd deal, Nets executive became frustrated and there were probably times they felt it wasn’t going to happen.

    But the Nets got creative and tried to put Keith Van Horn, who was out of basketball, in the trade. He had to sign a contract and be trade in order to make it work. Van Horn needed some convincing to help the Nets after they traded him away and he was treated as a scapegoat for their 2002 NBA Finals loss to the Lakers. But money talked.

    More needed to be worked out, though, as Thorn wanted to make sure the Nets got enough draft picks for their franchise player. There also were some ultimatums given from the Nets side. Remember they were in a position of power because the Mavericks thought they were the missing piece in their title hopes.

    Ultimately, Kidd went to Dallas on Feb. 19, ending days and weeks of frustration, anger and despair.

    It’s similar here only it’s been months, not days or weeks, but a conclusion is nearing if for no other reason than the trade deadline is six weeks away.

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

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    Nets, Nuggets still working on blockbuster

    Monday, January 10, 2011, 9:44 PM [General]

    There comes a point where enough is enough and that point could come tonight, tomorrow or Feb. 24.

    For the second time in 3 ½ months, the Nets and Nuggets were this-close on a blockbuster deal that would bring Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey. And for the second time in 3 ½ months, there is no agreement.

    Both times it has been Denver’s call.

    It should be, of course. They’re dealing the best player in the trade.

    The Nuggets have every right to wait it out as long as possible to make sure they get everything they want back for Anthony. But it seems like the Nets have tried to get Denver everything it wanted in every scenario they’ve presented.

    The latest, that could still get completed, is a three-team, 14-player trade that could increase to 16 players, not including draft picks. It’s a good deal for all parties involved.

    The teams, that is. Not necessarily the players.

    We say that because the players are the ones who have to be moved because one superstar, Carmelo Anthony, is disgruntled and wants to change addresses. So Chauncey Billups probably isn’t happy he’s a part of this deal or Devin Harris or Anthony Morrow or Derrick Favors.

    But from a team standpoint, the Nets are getting what they want, the Nuggets what they want and the Pistons what they want.

    Obviously the Nets want Anthony. They have for months, have tried to get him for months, have put together numerous packages for Denver to consider and involved numerous teams.

    In this deal, they would get Anthony, Billups, Richard Hamilton, Anthony Carter, Shelden Williams and DaJuan Summers. The last three are guys who fit under the cap and fill out the roster. The first three are the pieces that matter for now and the future.

    Anthony gives them a star and someone who could –- could -– help them attract Chris Paul in 2012 or before then. Billups gives the Nets a veteran leader they need who hits big shots and can galvanize teams. Hamilton is one of the better mid-range shooters in the game. You have to pay attention to him.

    The presence of these three players -– especially Anthony -– would open things up for Brook Lopez. He’s facing double and sometimes triple-teams and not having the season everyone has expected.

    Denver gets Harris, Favors, Morrow, Stephen Graham, Quinton Ross, Ben Uzoh and two first-round picks. The Nuggets get young players, picks, expiring contracts and trim salary.

    But they want more salary-cap relief from the Nets.

    Detroit gets Troy Murphy’s expiring contract and Johan Petro. The Pistons get the least, but are getting more because they want to cut payroll since they’re in the middle of being sold. They would save between $17 million and $18 million by doing this.

    It seems to work for everyone, but the Nuggets want more and so everyone is dancing again, waiting to hear, ‘You’ve got a deal.’

    No one knows when those words are going to be said. Many thought it would have been last night. It was heading in that direction, but didn’t get there. Not yet. It's hard to imagine this drags on to the Feb. 24 trade deadline, but it could.

    Either way, it makes it tough for everyone to go back to work. The Nuggets practiced today and Anthony took part. The Nets practiced and everyone except Morrow (strained hamstring) and Murphy took part. Murphy wasn’t there. The official word was he’s sick.

    Sick of this, probably. But plenty of people are.

    The Nets have to be. They have worked so hard putting potential deals together and no team has had their players out in the media. It’s affected the Nets on the court, despite what they’re saying.

    It’s also starting to affect the Nuggets. They’ve lost their last three games by 42 points.

    That’s why you have to believe enough will have to be enough soon enough.

    ***

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

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    Nets follow bad loss with worse loss

    Saturday, January 8, 2011, 11:38 PM [General]

    Billy King left his seat during the second half on Saturday night. You figure he had seen enough of the Nets on this night.

    It’s surprising King – and the fans – stayed that long.

    Maybe the Nets general manager had important calls to make. Maybe he was trying to get the Carmelo Anthony deal done now. The Nets are in need of a change, a major one, and have been for a while now.

    Just when you thought Friday’s 20-point loss at Washington was as bad as gets, they give you a performance like this: Bucks 115, Nets 92.

    The Bucks are better than the Wizards, granted. But the Bucks were without their two best players – Andrew Bogut and Brandon Jennings. They lost a tough overtime game against Miami on Friday, flew into New Jersey and landed around 2:30 a.m. The Nets played Friday too, but they didn’t actually play.

    They should have been rested.

    Yet the Bucks scored a season-high 115 points. It’s important to note that Milwaukee is the worst offensive team in the league and had hit the 100-point mark just once in its prior 18 games.

    “This is one of the toughest nights we’ve had, especially for me being on the sideline,” said Nets coach Avery Johnson.

    Devin Harris sat out with a leg injury, so you knew the Nets might have trouble scoring. Regardless, they have to do better performance than this.

    Brook Lopez has to record more than five points and one rebound, especially with Bogut not in there. And they have to get more than three points from the starting shooting guard and small forward.

    The Nets need to do more on defense, too. They can't get out-hustled, out-worked and give up so many easy baskets to the worst-shooting team in the league.

    The Nets have to do something. King is trying. He’s working furiously. He and assistant GM Bobby Marks are coming up with all different scenarios to get Anthony, including the three-team proposed deal with the Nuggets and Pistons that is being discussed currently.

    The Nets have to do something, and so do the Nuggets, incidentally. That team has been through enough. Anthony doesn’t want to be there and indications are that his discontent is negatively affecting his team.

    That’s what happened in New Jersey with Jason Kidd a few years back. You can only go so long before you make a change for the mental health of your franchise.

    The Nets don’t have a malcontent but they need change for the sake of their team's mental and physical health.

    No team has endured more trade stories this year than the Nets. No team has faced more questions.

    Not even the Nuggets.

    The problem in situations like this is that everyone else gets roped in – Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Troy Murphy, and down the line.

    Favors, Harris and everyone else would rather just play basketball, improve and try to make the Nets better than wonder where they will be tomorrow. It’s part of the business. They can say it’s not affecting them, but you have to believe to a certain extent it is.

    “We don’t talk about reports,” Johnson said. “They got a job to do on the court. You can’t pacify a guy with every rumor you hear. Throughout your existence as an NBA player or a coach there’s always going to be a rumor.

    “You can’t talk about every one of them because there’s always something new every day. Until something happens, this is our team.”

    The problem is it’s not up to them. The ball is in Denver's court, and Anthony's, too. Only the Nuggets can trade their star to New Jersey. Only he can sign a contract extension.

    Those things haven’t changed. The only difference is the Nets’ losses, which are getting worse.

    ***

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

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    Johnson shows great restraint after awful loss

    Friday, January 7, 2011, 11:59 PM [General]

    WASHINGTON, D.C. – Avery Johnson had to be biting his tongue Friday night.

    This was one of the Nets' worst games of the season -- think about that statement for a moment. They were out of it against the Wizards right away and were trounced, 97-77.

    This is the same Wizards team that the Nets held a 23-point lead against last month, which represented their biggest cushion of the season. The Wizards that enjoyed a laugher this time, though.  They built a 20-point lead in the first quarter and led by as many as 25 in the fourth.

    You could say this was a complete game for Washington. After all, they completely destroyed the Nets and made them look terrible.

    Johnson probably had some choice words for the Nets privately at halftime and after the game. But in front of cameras, tape recorders and notebooks, he refrained from lighting into his team.

    Some of the strongest things said were, “We couldn’t get in sync at any facet of the game. Not one of our better efforts this year.”

    And, “but this wasn’t one of our best games. The guys really should feel bad about this one.”

    This was the game where the media expected the direct, no-nonsense Johnson to say something less vanilla during his postgame remarks. He picks his spots to say something, and usually, it’s after a really poor performance against a bad team.

    The Sacramento loss on the road comes to mind, as Johnson said the Nets needed, “better leadership from within,” or after a loss at Charlotte when Brook Lopez, and his lack of rebounding, was the coach’s object of ire.

    The bigger issue here, though, is the Nets are struggling to win games that could be deemed winnable.

    Think back to New Year’s Day when they were throttled in the second half against the Timberwolves and lost by 15. To close out 2010, the Nets dropped a close game to the Bulls.

    The loss at home against the Sixers was another really bad effort against a bad team. Friday's night loss topped it, though, and it came after a win against the Bulls.

    Maybe the Nets can’t handle prosperity. But this is why they need to shake up their roster. They’re not scoring enough, not getting strong fourth-quarter play and not playing with consistent effort.

    The Nets want to do something to improve the team, but all of their efforts and players are tied up in Carmelo Anthony trade discussions. They can’t move Troy Murphy because his salary is critical in the Anthony deal, whether it’s a straight trade with Denver or a three-team swap.

    As we reported in The Record, the Nets have tried to recruit the Pistons as a third team to take Murphy’s contract in what would be a terrific deal for New Jersey.

    There are many pieces to it, but the main players the Nets would receive are Anthony and Chauncey Billups from Denver and Richard Hamilton from Detroit. The Nets would send Devin Harris and Derrick Favors and at least two No. 1s to the Nuggets. These talks are said to be ongoing.

    The Nets will continue to look for ways to get Anthony and shake up this roster as Johnson tries to keep his team’s head in the games.

    But it’s got to be distressing that the Nets aren’t coming to play in games that they realistically could win.

    It has to be difficult for Johnson to say nothing.

    ***

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

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    Nets' future is now

    Thursday, January 6, 2011, 2:59 PM [General]

    

    You may have gotten a glimpse of the future last night. Key words being may have.

    Derrick Favors was given his first NBA start in the Nets' win over the Bulls. It wasn’t just a one-time thing. But it may not be permanent because the Nets are still involved in trade talks for Carmelo Anthony and Favors remains a central piece of the discussions.

    A source recently said there has been “movement” on the Anthony talks. The Nets believe they’re in good shape to get him, but so do several other teams.

    Still, the Nets have the most to offer by themselves. They're trying to deal straight up with Denver, but could involve other teams because of their contract situation, flexibility and assets. Either way, they may need to do more, to acquire better players to make their roster more attractive to Anthony so he can't turn down a contract extension.

    In the meantime, the Nets want to take a look at Favors and Brook Lopez together. Kris Humphries didn’t deserve to lose his starting job as well as he’s played -– and he was terrific last night -- but the Nets were going to go this route eventually.

    “We can move forward and look at our starting four or five man of the future,” coach Avery Johnson said.

    “We’ve been watching them work together in practice now for sometime. They do some things really well together. Again, you’re talking about someone who’s 22 and 19. They got to get stronger both mentally and physically. It’s going to take some time.”

    It’s the smart move. The playoffs are a very long shot -– believe it or not, at 10-25 the Nets are only four games out, which is an indictment on the Eastern Conference as a whole.

    In case Favors is around, it’s better to start developing him and get him used to playing against the real big boys, the starting power forwards. It would help the Nets on many levels if Favors plays well.

    The Nuggets already like Favors, but he could be an easier sell to the organization/fan base if he does something now that he may be playing more.

    He’s got to do better than four fouls and five rebounds in nine minutes like he did last night.

    ***

    The Nets have an opportunity to do something here they haven’t done since Vince Carter was creating room and shots for Devin Harris and Lopez.

    The last three-game winning streak the Nets enjoyed was in January/February of 2008, during which they beat the Bucks in New Jersey and Wizards in Washington.

    Here the Nets are: their next two games are at Washington and home against the Bucks. Could history repeat itself -– it depends on the Nets.

    If they play the way they did in last night’s victory over the Bulls –- all-out, hard, with passion and confidence even after things started to go badly -- the Nets could win the next two.

    That would be a nice sendoff for a four-game West trip that features stops at the Suns, Lakers, Blazers and Warriors.

    In other words, the Nets need these next two games.

    The Nets just as easily could come out of this on a two-game losing streak.

    The Wizards are a bad team –- one of the few who have a worse record than the Nets. But the last time we wrote those words, the Minnesota Timberwolves embarrassed the Nets on New Year’s Day.

    As bad as the Wizards are, they have John Wall and are 8-8 at home, so they play decently in D.C. The Nets beat them this season after giving up a 23-point lead.

    The tougher game, of course, should be against Milwaukee.

    Scott Skiles is a great coach and Andrew Bogut usually plays well -– we’re being nice/diplomatic here –- against Lopez. Keyon Dooling and Chris Douglas-Roberts –- both of whom are playing now -– should have extra juice playing against the Nets.

    But both teams are coming off a back-to-back. The Bucks will be flying in late after hosting Miami, so they’ll either be tired if they are competitive or rested if the Heat blow them out.

    ***

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

     

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    Humphries starts something off the bench

    Wednesday, January 5, 2011, 11:44 PM [General]

    This was the night Derrick Favors was given his first NBA start, but he didn’t necessarily earn it. But Kris Humphries earned the respect of everyone associated with the Nets for the way he handled this demotion.

    He probably already had it for how hard he’s worked to become a starter after starting just eight games in his career before this season.

    But true professional is the phrase that comes to mind after the Nets’ 96-94 victory over the Bulls that snapped a five-game losing streak.

    The Nets don’t win this game without Humphries, the rugged power forward in the midst of the best season of his career.

    Humphries didn’t do anything to warrant being sent to the bench. He called it “circumstance.”

    It was a coach’s decision that it was time to start developing Favors, the 19-year-old rookie who the Nets took with the No. 3 pick. Favors has struggled all season, the way most teenage rookies do.

    But Avery Johnson looked at the Nets’ record and circled this as the day he would put Favors with the first team.

    Early on, Johnson said the 41st game. Then he said it would be before that. He told the writers before the game that he planned on doing it the first home game after the New Year.

    Humphries knew it was coming. He was told about it last week. But he never said a word, continued to play hard, was one of the few bright spots in the Nets’ awful loss in Minnesota on New Year’s Day with a double-double.

    Then when the demotion actually happened, the journeyman who knows more about coming off the bench than starting, accepted it as a true professional. He was in the locker room before the game, chatting with the beat guys on a personal level. Then he said he understood why Johnson made this move and it wouldn’t change how he played.

    The Nets don’t win this game without Humphries.

    You knew Favors would struggle against Carlos Boozer, and he did, picking up two fouls in 3:50. In came Humphries, and he was instantly a force and a factor off the bench.

    Sasha Vujacic was in the right place at the right time, retrieving a deflected lob for Brook Lopez and hitting the game-winning basket inside with 5.3 seconds remaining. Vujacic provided a big lift off the bench. But Humphries was huge.

    He ran the floor, defended, rebounded and just played 38 minutes of all-out ball. He played the way every NBA player should. He was determined and didn’t wallow in self pity. And he produced 20 points, making 10-of-15 shots, and 11 rebounds.

    “He could have pouted about his demotion coming off the bench, but he stepped up and gave us a big effort tonight,” Devin Harris said.

    If Humphries was a different person or a different player maybe he would have acted differently. But he’s matured this season.

    Coming out of college he was a scorer so he always looked to score when he came into games. But that’s no longer a strength of his as much as out-working, out-hustling and out-muscling some of his opponents. That’s what he did against the Bulls, showing the team is more important than the player.

    “Every night I’m motivated to go out and play hard,” Humphries said. “We’re trying to turn this around. Whether I’m starting or coming off the bench, whatever my role is I got to play hard.

    “If you look around the locker room, [Stephen] Graham’s been inactive and now he’s starting and playing. Whatever people’s role is you got to accept it and try to do it the fullest.”

    Humphries has done that and continues to do that.

    It’s a contract year for him, so that definitely is motivation to play hard and produce. But playing hard has always been something Humphries has done. He’s just producing more than ever before, and thus playing more.

    He also proved with this performance he’s a true professional.

    ***

    Coach’s Corner

    “That’s how Devin drew it up and it was great. We’re glad [Vujacic] was in the right place at the right time. We were looking at a lob for Brook and if the lob wasn’t there we wanted to get the ball to Sasha and then post Brook up. But Devin thought he saw something and boy we got a good bounce. As hard as we’ve been working here recently, we needed something fortunate to happen for our team and I was just excited. Devin had a really strong performance tonight with his double-double and I guess I should have been starting Favors the whole year, right? Maybe we’d have a better record.”

    - Johnson on the final play

    ***

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

     

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    Nets keep waiting and hoping

    Monday, January 3, 2011, 4:26 PM [General]

    The two categories the Nets lead the league in are waiting and hoping.

    Every team goes through that. But waiting and hoping are all the Nets seem to do these days, which has to be gut-wrenching for their fans.

    All season the Nets have been waiting for many things, hoping for many things and in some cases it could all be in vain.

    Here are four things just off the top of our heads: the Carmelo Anthony situation to be resolved; Brook Lopez to develop into an All-Star caliber center and go-to guy; Devin Harris to return to being the player he was when he first got to the Nets and Derrick Favors to show something on a consistent basis.

    When you’re losing at the rate the Nets are –- five straight losses by an average of 15 points, including a humiliating 15-point drubbing at Minnesota -– you wonder how much longer they can wait.

    Favors is the only one you can give a little leeway to because he’s only 19 and he’s had to deal with a lot from nearly being traded before camp began, to having to continue to listen to the trade rumors to being called out by Avery Johnson on more than one occasion.

    Lopez is probably the most confounding to people inside and outside of the organization because at times he’s shown such progress. He was dominant at times last season, even when he was unhappy with the way he was being coached or plays not being called for him.

    One double-double in 34 games and the fact that it came in a triple-OT contest is sad. To put it in perspective, Favors has two. San Antonio’s DeJuan Blair has five and he only plays 20.4 minutes a game and has someone named Tim Duncan playing with him and controlling the boards.

    All of this is troublesome, but the one really hanging over the Nets’ heads is Anthony. They can’t do anything until that matter is settled, but they need to do something because they’re not getting any better and this was a season when things were supposed to get better.

    The Nets can’t back out either. They have too much to offer and gain if it goes through, and they have to be smart about not losing too much. Although that’s the one thing the Nets are good at -– losing.

    Everyone knows it’s all up to Denver. Yet if the Nets push right, Denver will try to get even more out of them and the Nuggets already are asking for five first-round picks. The Nets can’t seem desperate, even though it seems they are or would be, especially with how bad things have become.

    The Nets can’t push too much either. The trade value of some of their players couldn’t be lower. Favors has been unimpressive. Troy Murphy hasn’t lived up to expectations and it certainly doesn’t look good that he can’t play for this team.

    The only things the Nets really have that are valuable right now are any draft picks they own since it is going to be a high lottery pick.

    But while they’re waiting on Denver and ultimately whether Anthony will sign an extension or not, they can’t really make other significant moves.

    Sure, they probably can deal someone Denver isn’t interested in like the Nets did with Terrence Williams and Joe Smith. But the Nets can’t trade players like Harris and Murphy or even Favors -– people who can get you something in return -– because they could be needed for Anthony. They need to make a trade that shakes up the roster, upgrades it.

    And so the Nets wait as Johnson tries to get more out of Lopez, Harris, Favors and everyone else.

    Waiting and hoping is nothing new for the Nets or their fans.

    For years they waited and waited and are still waiting for the team to move to Brooklyn. They waited for someone with ridiculously deep pockets to come in and buy the team from Bruce Ratner so winning and spending to win could become a priority. Prokhorov has but the winning hasn’t begun yet.

    The Nets didn’t make any significant moves last season because they were waiting and saving for the summer of 2010.

    They – and just about every other team – waited for LeBron James to make his decision and the Nets hoped he would pick them. After James picked Miami, they wound up with, well, you know by now.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

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    New Year, Same Nets

    Sunday, January 2, 2011, 12:35 AM [General]

    MINNEAPOLIS – The Nets had every intention of putting 2010 behind them, all they went through, all the change, all the heartache, and start 2011 the right way. But the New Year opened with even more heartache, more headshakes and looked an awful lot like 2010.

    The only thing that turned was the calendar. The Nets aren’t that much different as they showed in a dismal 103-88 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves.

    This was as embarrassing and deflating a loss as the Nets have suffered all season because of the opponent. The Nets weren’t playing the Lakers, Magic, Celtics or Heat on New Year’s night. They were playing the Minnesota Timberwolves, one of the few teams that came into 2011 with a worse record than the Nets.

    This was a game that should have at least gone down to the wire considering neither team is fighting for anything except Lottery combinations. The Nets (9-25) may not even be fighting for that if they give up their first-round pick for Carmelo Anthony or anyone else.

    But in all fairness, why would Anthony look at this team and agree to sign a long-term extension?

    The Nets will give him $65 million reasons to join them. They may want to consider giving him more.

    If Anthony looks at this game, looks at this box score, sees that the team he would be joining couldn’t score 90 points against the worst defensive team, sees that Brook Lopez was outplayed by Darko Milicic and by Nikola Pekovic, he couldn’t say ‘I’m in.’

    The only way Anthony could is if it’s all about the money or the Nets somehow make multiple deals and bring in a supporting cast because this team needs a major overhaul.

    Things would be better if they had Anthony Morrow and Jordan Farmar healthy. The Nets could use shooters and more scorers. But even when they were healthy, the Nets were struggling to knock down shots. And too often Lopez and Devin Harris aren’t doing enough to lift the Nets and carry them through tough stretches.

    Teams key on Harris and Lopez and allow Travis Outlaw, Stephen Graham, Kris Humphries or whoever is on the floor to beat them. But Harris and Lopez have to find ways to do more, especially on the offensive end.

    “Offensively, we’ve got to work out some issues,” Harris said.

    In last night’s game, the Nets led 55-54 at halftime and then didn’t score in the first 5:53 of the third period. They ended up with nine points in the quarter and 33 total in the second half - against a team that allows 109.6 per game.

    Avery Johnson pulled Lopez and Harris early in the third and most of the starters because they weren’t doing anything on either end.

    Harris was effective in the fourth, getting to the basket and drawing fouls. But he had just eight points in the second half and zero field goals. After halftime, Lopez had as many points as turnovers – four – and as many fouls as rebounds – one.

    Harris at least took “most of the blame” and “full responsibility.” Sometimes when you talk to Lopez after games, you wonder if he played in the same game everyone else is watching.

    “We had a terrible third quarter,” Johnson said. “We started off the quarter not focused on defense and then our offense went [down] the tubes.”

    This is the norm for the Nets. You just thought in this game it would at least happen in crunch time, if it did.

    It wouldn’t have been any better, and would have put their execution issues and lack of a go-to scorer under the microscope again, but to be humiliated by Minnesota (9-25) is really an indictment against the whole team.

    But you have to look directly at the on-court leadership, at Lopez and Harris. They are the captains, the ones who are supposed to carry them through difficult times. They have, but not nearly often enough.

    Just like last year.


    ***

    Coach’s corner

    “It’s amazing sometimes how we come out of the locker room. We weren’t focused. We were passing up open shots. We weren’t passing the ball to the open man. We just didn’t look like we knew anything we were doing coming out of the second quarter where I thought we were pretty good on both ends of the floor. Not a good second half for us, not a good third quarter. They took control of the game in the third quarter and never looked back.”

    - Johnson on what happened after halftime

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***


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

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    Biggest Nets' stories of 2010

    Friday, December 31, 2010, 7:58 PM [General]

    The year ended for the Nets exactly how it started – with a narrow loss.

    The Nets fought hard against the Bulls, but Chicago pulled away late in the fourth quarter to win, 90-81. For New Jersey, there was too much Carlos Boozer and Derrick Rose and not enough Brook Lopez and Devin Harris.

    Now the Nets have a chance to open 2011 on a good note. They play Minnesota on New Year’s night in a game LeBron James probably wouldn’t watch -- even if he wasn’t playing.

    With 2011 right around the corner, we continue to remember the top Nets’ stories of 2010. If you missed the start of the countdown or need a recap, here is 11-through-6 on our list.

    Here's the top five...

    5. Melo talks: Since before training camp, Carmelo Anthony and the Nets have been linked like Dick Clark and New Year’s Eve. Anthony-to-the-Nets discussions and rumors have dominated newspapers, websites, blogs, tweets, my YES appearances and television crawls. It’s been the longest-running soap opera of the NBA season, and to this point, it’s been a lot of wasted time, energy and space.

    Will the Nets get Anthony? Won’t they? Will he sign a three-year, $65 million extension with them? Are the Knicks the only club with a chance to sign him?

    There will be a conclusion soon, one way or another. After all, the NBA’s trade deadline is February 24. But a decision could be reached before then because many teams, including the Nets, are growing tired of waiting for the Nuggets to make a decision.

    4. Record avoided: The Nets made sure they wouldn’t even own a share of the worst record in NBA history when they won their 10th game of the 2009-10 season on March 29. The win came over an unlikely opponent -- the San Antonio Spurs.

    Here was part of what we wrote in The Record:

    No champagne bottles were uncorked. The lockers weren’t covered to prevent damage and no one jumped on the scorer’s table with arms raised after the most important victory of the season.

    The Nets were happy, pumping fists and pumping each up during the game. But after the final seconds ticked down on their tenth win of the season, an unexpected 90-84 victory over San Antonio that meant the Nets would have no part of the worst NBA record of all time, they did nothing out of the ordinary, except for maybe a group exhale.

    The Nets still lost 70 games, though.

    3. Lottery losers: If you lose more than 85 percent of your games, you should automatically get the No. 1 pick. But the Nets didn’t win the Lottery, which should have been a bad omen for how the summer would go.

    Had the Nets gotten John Wall, who went first to the Washington Wizards, their offseason might have played out in a more positive fashion. They might have been more attractive to free agents.

    With the third pick, the Nets selected Derrick Favors. And while Favors could develop into a double-double guy down the road, he’s currently a raw 19-year-old major work-in-progress.

    2. Free agency flop: The Nets took a machete to their payroll and were ready to cut additional salary to sign two players if the first one was named LeBron James.

    On the first day of free agency, New Jersey met with James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Long shots to sign with New Jersey, they nonetheless agreed to meet with the Nets’ ownership and management team.  The lure of playing for Jay-Z and Prokhorov was not enough for the Big Three, though, as the talented trio would join forces in Miami.

    The Nets also missed out on their fallback options -- Rudy Gay and David Lee -- and ended up with Travis Outlaw, Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro and Anthony Morrow (through a sign-and-trade).

    1. Prokhorov takes over: The most significant move for the Nets' future came in May when Mikhail Prokhorov's ownership bid was approved by the NBA’s Board of Governors.

    The Russian billionaire’s arrival meant the end of cost cutting -– Prokhorov is the richest NBA owner -- and returned the organization to solid footing.

    The vision is clear under Prokhorov: Spend wisely, mindfully and in a way that puts the Nets in a position to win now and when they move to Brooklyn in 2012. He expects the Nets to win a championship within five years, and he will provide the resources to help them accomplish that.


    Happy New Year.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

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    Countdown of Nets' biggest stories of 2010

    Thursday, December 30, 2010, 5:57 PM [General]

    The Nets will play their final game of 2010 on Friday in Chicago. In honor of the year that was, we count down our view of the Nets' biggest stories from the past 365 days. Talk about dropping the ball.

    11. Traded Rod, Kiki and Billy: The Nets made seven trades in 2010 –- their most in any calendar year since the 1980s.  They were hoping, however, to make an eighth exchange for a certain high-scoring small forward.

    As a result of their trades, the Nets said goodbye to Eduardo Najera, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee and Terrence Williams.  In exchange, New Jersey was able to acquire the likes of Chris Quinn, Kris Humphries, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy, Sasha Vujacic, Damion James and Quinton Ross.

    10. The bizarre: Plenty of strange things happened this year, including an incident where CEO Brett Yormark pointed and shouted at an Izod Center fan who was sitting courtside with a brown paper bag over his head.

    By the way, the fan was given the tickets by the Nets.

    There was also Mikhail Prokhorov, who revealed in his introductory meeting with the media that Kiki Vandeweghe wouldn’t be back as Nets GM. While the departure was expected, Prokhorov made his announcement before telling Vandeweghe, who was traveling to Chicago for the Draft Combine.

    There was also the sudden departure of assistant coach Del Harris, who left because he wasn’t given the chance to be the head coach. Reportedly, Harris was told he would temporarily assist Vandweghe until he returned to being a full-time general manager, but Rod Thorn never wanted that.

    9. Fast start: After waiting until December 4 for their first win last season and December 10 for victory No. 2, the Nets opened the 2010-11 season with back-to-back wins over the Pistons and Kings. Ironically, the only two-game winning streak the Nets had in 2009-10 came with wins over Detroit and Sacramento.

    Those two October victories in their new temporary building in Newark, in Avery Johnson’s first two games as Nets head coach, made last year feel like so long ago for remaining players and the team’s long-suffering fans, especially since it took late execution to pull both out. But the Nets have struggled with that since.

    8. End of an era: After 29 years, the Nets stopped calling the Meadowlands home. The building formerly known as Brendan Byrne Arena and Continental Arena before becoming the Izod Center had a good run.  The building, which hosted the 1982 NBA All-Star Game and five Finals games between 2002 and 2003, welcomed Nets fans for the last time on April 12.

    New Jersey, which lost its Izod Center finale to the Charlotte Bobcats, finished with a 654-518 record in East Rutherford. Now playing in Newark’s state-of-the-art Prudential Center, the Nets expect to call Newark home until 2012, when the Barclays Center opens in Brooklyn.

    7. The Little General: He wasn’t the Nets first choice, nor were they his, but Avery Johnson has made an immediate impact as New Jersey’s head coach.

    Johnson has brought accountability back and, until recently, his team has played solid defense. He’s demanding, hard-driving and expects his players to give maximum effort on both ends of the floor.

    Johnson has been a good fit for the Nets, a team that needed a coach with a strong personality and an ability to teach and be tough. It hasn’t paid off in the standings yet, but the roster has something to do with that. It’s fair to note that Johnson picked some of the players on the Nets' current squad.  And as their coach, he's responsible for helping them maximize their potential.

    6. Thorn exits; King reigns: After calling the shots in the Nets' basketball department over a 10-year span -- a period full of highs and lows -- team president Rod Thorn resigned. The timing was curious because for the first time in a long time, he was going to have unlimited resources with Mikhail Prokhorov signing the checks.

    Before leaving the Nets to take on the role of president for the Philadelphia 76ers, Thorn, along with Johnson, anointed former Sixers’ boss Billy King as the Nets' new GM.

    King inherited plenty of flexibility and has added to it by acquiring the expiring contracts of Murphy and Vujacic and two future first-round picks. Furthermore, he has been the driving force behind the Carmelo Anthony trade talks.

     

    …. The countdown continues tomorrow.


    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

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

     

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    Bad weather outside, bad basketball inside

    Monday, December 27, 2010, 11:17 PM [General]

    The Nets can’t blame their performance on lack of energy from an empty building due to bad weather.

    Coach Avery Johnson wouldn’t have that if it was the case, which surprisingly it wasn’t.

    A better-than-expected crowd came out to see the Nets play the Magic last night. Many of them wanted to see Dwight Howard or boo Hedo Turkoglu –- for some strange reason there were derogatory chants directed at him –- but they also wanted to see the Nets pull off the upset.

    Perhaps the loudest reaction came when Kris Humphries stuffed a Howard dunk attempt, but the Nets didn’t do enough of that in a 104-88 loss at the Prudential Center.

    With 11,514 fans in attendance, many of whom probably spent the day digging themselves out of the snow, the Nets could have at least dug in defensively and made it a game.

    But they couldn’t against a superior team that has far too many weapons, made far too many shots and figured if they made the trip here they might as well leave with a win.

    You could say the Nets were rusty from having a few days off, just one practice and no shootaround because of the snow. But we’ve seen plenty of games to know the Nets could shootaround every day and it won’t help their shooting percentages.

    The truth was they were a step slow on defense and ridiculously sloppy on offense. Take Devin Harris and Brook Lopez out of the game and many of the Nets would have had trouble hitting snow if they took a shot outside. Harris and Lopez were 17-of-30; the rest of the Nets were 14-of-48.

    This helps LeBron James’ argument that earned headlines, upset some people and elicited reactions, including one from Johnson after the Heat superstar said if Harris and Lopez were on other teams the league would be stronger.

    He's not wrong. But everyone took it to mean that James said the Nets should be contracted. He said he never said that, doesn’t know what it means and was just speaking hypothetically. But if he’s checking the box score today, James might be nodding his head a little.

    There have been times this season, plenty of times, when the Nets needed more from Harris and Lopez. But they needed more from everyone else, all around the floor.

    The Magic put six players in double figures, but really took off after halftime, after they started establishing Howard. Foul trouble limited Howard in the first half, and he came out in the second half with dominating on his mind.

    Howard had 17 points and 10 rebounds in the last two periods, helping to spark a 35-12 run that turned a two-point Nets lead into a 21-point deficit.

    The Nets couldn’t stop him and couldn’t contain anyone else. They compounded bad defense with even worse offense that included 19 points in the second and fourth quarters.

    This performance blew whatever chance –- albeit slim -– the Nets had of getting Johnson to think additional days off or skipping a shootaround or two isn’t a bad thing. There may not be any more snow days allowed.

    ***

    The Nets announced that they would honor all tickets for tonight’s game, whether you were able to attend or not.

    Starting on Thursday at 11 a.m., anyone holding a ticket for the game against Orlando can exchange it for a home game in January.

    The Nets’ January schedule includes games against Chicago (Jan. 5), Utah (Jan. 19), Dallas (Jan. 22) and Denver (Jan. 31).

    Depending on what happens by then, that could be the return of some Nets or a chance to see Carmelo Anthony in what could be one of his last games as a Nugget.

    ***

    Coach’s corner

    “We’re a team, and now you should be really convinced we’re a team that needs shootarounds, especially in situations like this. We couldn’t get here to have a shootaround because of his inclement weather. We’re a team that needs shootaround. Now you understand why I bring them in for an 8:45 shootaround for a 1 o’clock game.”

    - Johnson on the team’s struggles

    ***

     Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone


    ***


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

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