Mike D'Antoni: The Only Hope for the Brooklyn Nets?

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Mike D'Antoni: The Only Hope for the Brooklyn Nets?

This is as sad a time to be a New York basketball fan as any.

Syracuse missed out on the Final Four, with one having to consider “what if” had Fab Melo played.

St. John’s didn’t even come close to the NCAA tournament.

The Knicks have a top-five team as far as talent, yet are struggling to make the playoffs.

And with news that Deron Williams will opt out of his deal with the Nets at the end of this season, New York will be inheriting another losing team—the Dwight-less, Deron-less Brooklyn Nets. There are many reasons to point to the recent failures of St. John’s, Syracuse and New York; however, one need only blame one man for the state of the Nets—Mikhail Prokhorov. In looking at the Nets for the last two years, it's easy to make the case that:

  • He whiffed on pretty much every free-agent signing, or rather, he hired Billy King as general manager, the only man who would whiff on free-agent signings such as Travis Outlaw for a five-year, $35 million contract.
  • He failed in every attempt to woo a superstar to come to the Nets—Dwight Howard, LeBron JamesCarmelo Anthony, Deron Williams.
  • He panic-traded for Gerald Wallace after realizing he couldn’t lure any other big name to Brooklyn. While they will have an abundance of cap room next year with Wallace being the only player locked up for next season, the Wallace and Williams trades effectively crippled them in acquiring young building blocks for the future. Instead of building around a young stud (a la John Wall, Washington Wizards; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers; or even the Charlotte Bobcats, with Kemba Walker and Bismack Biyombo), the future of their franchise will be built on Gerald Wallace.

He was supposed to make the Nets into a global franchise due to his connections, he was supposed to turn into "Mutant Russian Mark Cuban" (MRMC), he was supposed to create an intra-state rivalry with the Knicks; yet in two years, for all his efforts, he has brought the Nets...Gerald Wallace? This is not a slight on Wallace, a phenomenal, do-it-all, hyper-athletic combo-forward who has gotten significantly better over his career, but it may be a bit of a stretch to call him the "face of a franchise," or, in the case of the Nets, the hope for a franchise that is otherwise hopeless at the moment.

Should the Nets pursue Mike D'Antoni as their next head coach?

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It’s a sad time to be a basketball fan. As much as people hate the Knicks, as well as any person who loves the Knicks, the NBA just feels different when there are meaningful games played in New York. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov was supposed to bring excitement to the Nets franchise. He was going to make the Nets into a global franchise with his influence and charisma which would attract stars to Brooklyn and force fans to take notice of that other team in New York. Thus far, it’s been—as the kids are calling it these days—"an epic fail."

After terrible free-agent decisions, he rolled the dice on arguably the best point guard in the league, Deron Williams, somehow believing he could “woo” him into staying after his contract expired this year. His grand plan: try to woo one of the biggest stars in basketball, Dwight Howard, to come to Brooklyn to be the face of the franchise and form one of the best inside-outside combinations in the last 20 years.

However, things couldn’t have gone more disastrously for the Nets, as their biggest trade chip, Brook Lopez, suffered an injury that would keep him out half the season, which all but ruined talks of a trade with the Magic

Now, they head into next season with a clear roster other than Lopez and Wallace, with seemingly no one noteworthy wanting to play for them. They must pray that their 2012 draft pick lands in the top three to secure any of the talented prospects who could be potential building blocks for a franchise—Anthony Davis, Harrison Barnes, Perry Jones III, Michael Kidd-Glichrist—or risk losing their pick to the Portland Trailblazers as part of the Wallace trade.

However, just when you think MRMC and King had all but let this franchise to die, a new hope emerges. If they can’t build around Williams, Howard, Davis or even Wallace, the only other option left to save the Nets...Mike D’Antoni.

Without a superstar player, they need a superstar coach, and D’Antoni is one of the most recognizable coaches in basketball. We still don’t know if his brand of basketball will ever win a championship, but at its best, it sure is fun to watch, and, at the very least, they’ll need to be watchable in their first few years trying to establish themselves in New York, since they won't contend.

However, as the epic failure in New York showed us, the D'Antoni system doesn't work unless you have guys that can actually run the system. With practically a clean slate to start next year, it would behoove the Nets to get "D'Antoni guys" who will be, or could be, available for them. None of these names will make people rush out to buy replica jerseys, but it will sure make them watch

Point Guard

Goran Dragic/Leandro Barbosa

Two men who know and have thrived in the D’Antoni offense. Dragic is one of the more underrated players in the league as he was a very good guard for Phoenix in stretches when Nash was out or sitting, and he’s proving it again with his play in Houston.

 

Shooting Guard

Louis Williams/Josh Howard

Williams could be primed for someone to overpay him. He thrives in a Jason Terry role, but he would have a hard time turning down starter’s minutes and money if the Nets were to come knocking. This would make for a small, ultra quick, lacking defense backcourt—ideal for the D’Antoni offense.

 

Small Forward

Gerald Wallace

The de facto franchise player after failing to reel in Howard and Williams. D’Antoni can move him all around the court the way he did for Boris Diaw. Except Wallace is about 50 times more talented than Diaw.

 

Power Forward

Ryan Anderson/Reggie Evans

Anderson is another player primed to be overpaid. The Nets, given their recent history, would be the team to give him David Lee-type of money as a poor man’s version of him. Evans is insurance for Kris Humphries getting big money elsewhere, as the team would need at least one big man that can play defense and grab rebounds since it isn’t coming from Anderson or their projected center.

 

Center

Brook Lopez/Robin Lopez

Guess they are “stuck” with Brook Lopez. After a year in which it was evident that the Nets wanted to acquire Howard and Lopez’s name was constantly thrown into trade discussions, what else can the Nets do to repair his psyche?

Sign his brother.

Robin is no slouch himself, and the energy spawned by two brothers playing with one another may be an intangible factor in boosting both their games.

 

Conclusion

 I realize that this piece not only lambasted MRMC, threw King under the bus but also all but threw coach Avery Johnson to the curb. While I believe he is a very good coach, unfortunately, he walked into a no-win situation. The Nets will be in "saving face" mode, and without a championship to his resume, Johnson won't inspire the type of hope that a D'Antoni, and his recognizable/entertaining brand of basketball, would.

That's the key word here when it comes to the Nets...hope. Without, they lose potential fans, they fail to attract free agents and, most importantly, they lose money. This could turn into the most inauspicious start for a franchise in sports history, but in D'Antoni, at least there's a flicker in an otherwise dim situation.

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