A brutal Game 7 loss to a severely undermanned Chicago Bulls squad was a rude awakening for the Brooklyn Nets. A new arena, a new name, some new faces and big-time expectations only to go one-and-done in the first round is hardly what most fans of the Nets expected.
Regardless, the Nets are not without hope. They have a key piece that could be parlayed into something greater, and they also have a lot of things that are fixable. From the coaching staff to personnel moves, the Nets would be wise to make some key adjustments in preparation for the 2013-14 NBA season.
A Clear Leader On The Bench
At the professional level, coaches have to be as masterful with managing egos as they are with drawing up strategies. The Nets need a strong leader as their coach, and they need one badly.
After Avery Johnson got the ax after a terrible stretch this season, good ol' P.J. Carlesimo stepped in and brought with him a motion offense that got things clicking after a bad scoring drought. Carlesimo ended his time as the Nets head coach 35-19, and following the Game 7 debacle, the Nets front office made it clear he would not return as head coach next season. Carlesimo was a decent substitute, but for him to lose in the first round considering their circumstances won't save many interim coach's jobs.
So who should Brooklyn look to bring on board?
Well, there are a lot of names, and some are more realistic prospects than others. The grail acquisition would of course be the highly coveted Phil Jackson—seen as the de facto basketball mastermind any franchise would kill to have in their front office let alone as coach.
Unfortunately, Phil is likely out of the game as far as coaching for Brooklyn goes. After Avery Johnson was fired the Nets made an initial run at Jackson, but to no avail. The Zen Master unequivocally announced his lack of interest in coaching the Nets, so while Brooklyn will likely try in vain to acquire him yet again, they would be better served getting someone with similar ability minus the unattainability.
A great target would be former Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy. SVG's tenure as coach of the Magic will forever be remembered for his awkward clashes with Dwight Howard, but above the media hoopla, Van Gundy was an excellent leader.
He is a vocal, confident teacher of sorts, and his prior experience with coaching elite level talent at Center in a Dwight Howard would make his hiring a perfect fit as far as working with Brook Lopez and how he'd fit in an offense. If his tough-love mentality resonates with the veterans on the Brooklyn squad, then there is no doubt he would be a long-term option, but it all depends on whether or not the Nets are realistic as far as their coaching candidate alternatives go.
It's possible they pull out all the stops and go for broke in getting Jackson, but a solid alternative in Van Gundy is still available if given the opportunity.
Ah yes, the bread and butter of offseason strategy—personnel moves, personnel moves and more personnel moves.
The greatest coach is only as good as the men he has available to deploy, and as it stands the Nets have a decent contingent.
The Nets broke the bank in agreeing to acquire Joe Johnson's horrendous contract, and the decision means that Brooklyn is committed to making Joe Johnson a Net for a long time, but then again, it's not like they have a choice—no one (except Billy King) would be foolish enough to trade for that type of salary.
They're also stuck with Gerald Wallace, Deron Williams and thankfully, premier big man Brook Lopez. On paper, it's not a bad core grouping at all. Here's the problem, though: the Nets are seriously lacking depth outside of their core four guys, especially in the frontcourt.
Andray Blatche is an unrestricted free agent, Reggie Evans is offensively inept and there is no way that Kris Humphries will be able to back up Lopez and still provide solid minutes at power forward long term.
A small forward to back up Gerald Wallace would also be a smart move considering Wallace's pinball-like disregard for his well-being when attacking the basketball, which won't bode well as he gets older.
Small forward reserves in the NBA are readily available, but young, gifted big men aren't.
With the 22nd pick in the 2013 NBA draft, the Nets would be wise to try and acquire a guy like Jeff Withey or Gorgui Dieng—the latter of which is projected to end up in BK on some mock drafts.
The nearly 7-foot tall Dieng is not an immediate option to address offensive concerns, but he could very well be an immediate defensive playmaker thanks to his huge wingspan, instincts and athleticism. He's also shown way more offensive polish than Reggie Evans, and while he's still under contract, it would at least allow for more lineup looks with a bolstered roster.
If the Nets can resign Andray Blatche and give him some more minutes to flex his offensive capabilities, that would also be wise as far as depth is concerned. However, the most glaring issue aside from their frontcourt is definitely the future of MarShon Brooks.
Brooks has been compared by some to Kobe Bryant as far as his versatile scoring abilities are concerned, but he's simply not getting enough of an opportunity to reach his full potential with Joe Johnson starting. Brooks is a guy who could very well be a starting shooting guard on plenty of rosters, and the Nets are better off trading him elsewhere to try and get draft picks that would maximize their options as far as getting acquiring personnel are concerned.
Instead of having Brooks waste away being under-utilized, they should let the kid get a shot somewhere else. Because Billy King made his bed with Joe Johnson's contract, he now has to lie in it. Barring a catastrophic injury or an absurd trade going through, Joe Johnson is stuck on the Nets, and if he's stuck on the Nets, Brooks is stuck on the bench.
As a whole, Billy King is committed to the roster he constructed.
The sad reality of the Brooklyn Nets is their squad isn't going to look drastically different than this year; something that should be disturbing to a lot of Nets fans. If this roster wasn't able to get it done a weary Bulls team sans Derrick Rose, Kirk Hinrich and Luol Deng, what are the chances a slightly reworked roster will make any noise whatsoever in the postseason next year?
Well, Nets fans, it's going to have to come down to organized will and health. Joe Johnson was struggling with plantar fasciitis late into the Bulls-Nets series, and for him to score six points and go 2-of-14 from the field in a close out game is just not going to cut it—injury or not.
It's not a condemnation of individuals, but rather a plea for the Nets to strengthen their roster, and that's only possible if the Nets management allows it by providing a competent coach with the talent to divvy up minutes accordingly.
Older guys have to play fewer minutes, and if the Nets can try to move pieces around (like Brooks) or figure out what they're going to do with pieces (again, like Brooks) they'll be better off. Rather than being complacent and expecting the same results whilst doing the same thing, the Nets need to be surgical in their offseason maneuvers.
Surgical would be re-signing an Blatche. Surgical would be making a Stan Van Gundy your coach. And surgical would most certainly be shrewdly trading Brooks to a willing suitor for talent or draft picks.
Year one in Brooklyn wasn't anything to be ashamed of, but it's clear that a team with such immense talent is severely underperforming.
It seemed the Nets were more focused this season on marketing their brand through hip-hop artists and the namesake of a borough rather than hard work on the hardwood and consistent basketball all season long.
A team's identity doesn't lie in the logo or the namesake, it lies in the on-court product—the players.
Brooklyn needs to get a clear leader as their coach, draft younger talent and move some awkward-fitting pieces to solidify some depth. Most of all, they need to forge an identity.
Are the Nets for real, or are the Nets frauds?
It's up for them to decide come next season, but it all starts with getting off to a good start in the coming weeks following playoff elimination.
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