By Matt Straub
It’s taken me more than a day to write this about the Brooklyn Nets. Not because there isn’t anything to say about this team, but because there’s so much to talk about and so little of it makes sense.
I’ve seen their last two games, one in person and one on television. I wanted to focus on them now that they’ve really turned the corner. What I saw was a team which still seems to be without any structure or coaching, has aging players and no chemistry.
And yet they’re winning, except when they’re throwing games away.
Since there are so many things going on with the Nets, this is going to be a little more random and scattered than I usually try and keep the things I write for the website. It’s appropriate, however, for one of the random, scattered teams in NBA history.
First, some thoughts on Sunday night. The Nets went to Boston to face the Celtics, which was the first game back in Boston for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Celtics did it well, putting together nice tribute videos for their two returning legends, and the ovations from the fans went on for minutes. Garnett, whose move to center is one of the things which has inspired the team’s recent run, enjoyed the festivities, but also enjoyed competing for his new team.
Pierce, as has been obvious all season, looked homesick. Granted he made 15 years of memories in the building, but he has appeared all season as though playing for the Nets was a duty. He has looked like he wanted to go home all year, and Sunday in Boston was the biggest example. This was a man who clearly was uncomfortable playing with a new team. It’s understandable, but it can’t be good for the Nets that one of their best players appears to want out.
More importantly, the Nets face a difficult task of trying to get Garnett and Pierce involved in the offense while using them in reduced minutes. Getting them the number of shots they need to get into a flow is hard when they’re playing less and are being asked to do less. It was by design that the duo would become just part of the team as opposed to the main cogs, but the transition has been harder than most, including I, thought it would be. Garnett has complained about a lack of understanding about his role, and Pierce has always been a guy who needs to have the ball to get into a rhythm. The two will fit into whatever role asked of them, just like they did in Boston, but their new assignments might not be the best use of their talents. Maybe making them the main cogs at the start and end of games is a better idea.
Of course, on this team, no one seems to have a role. Jason Kidd showed guts moving Deron Williams to the bench, and Shaun Livingston is one of the best stories in the league. But can a team thrive with their big-money guard playing a reduced role? Will Williams, who has a history of feuding with coaches, accept the second-unit role long term? On the other hand, will he dominate against second units in his new role?
Still, it matters more who finishes a game than who starts it. Williams made a hideous turnover at the end of the game Monday against Toronto, throwing the ball away on an inbounds pass with his team up one in the final seconds. He was great during the course of the game, but can he get it done when it counts? Can he be trusted running a team with championship aspirations? A player who isn’t known as the best team guy on a team without any structure sounds like a scary combination.
I recently read something which said Kidd was in line to win Coach of the Month now that the Nets are hot. I give him credit for shaking up the roster as needed, but I watched his team run a game plan which was devoid of much organized offense Sunday night. There’s a bunch of good players on the floor, but they don’t seem to be fitting together in any kind of way. The team’s talent and their own ability to figure each other out seems to be winning out, but any chemistry which develops seems to be coming from the veterans learning to work together more than the coach putting them in the right spot.
Still, coaching at the professional level is as much about managing egos and image as it is designing plays. Kidd, recently a player himself and said to be good friends with Garnett in particular, making him able to relate to the players, has managed to keep the ship from sinking during the dark times and now has the Nets looking happier again. If that’s his main job and he’s succeeded, does that make him a good coach even if he can’t really coach during the game?
So the Nets have a good but testy point guard who doesn’t start and might not be the kind of leader on and off the floor needed to win a title. They have a pair of championship-winning players who don’t seem to have a role, one who doesn’t want to be on the team, an offense which doesn’t seem to have a point, a rotation which seems capable of change at any moment and a coach who might not be very good at his job.
And they’re one of the hottest teams in the league.
That’s why this column took so long to write. There’s a million questions still surrounding this team, none of which I’m sure I can answer at the moment. I’m sure I saw a number of flaws when watching the team play in person. And yet, I could see them in the conference finals.
This season could still go a number of ways, but it will not be boring.