Tuesday NBA Roundup: Brooklyn Nets' Process Is One We Can't Trust

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 8, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 9:  Sean Kilpatrick #6, and Brook Lopez #11 of the Brooklyn Nets look on during the game against the New York Knicks on November 9, 2016 at Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

So much about the Brooklyn Nets' 2016-17 season isn't unfolding according to plan.

Jeremy Lin has missed most of the schedule with hamstring issues. The Anthony Bennett experiment was short-lived. Playmaking responsibilities have been delegated to a committee of wings and guards, in large part because of Lin's absence—an extreme even within head coach Kenny Atkinson's free-flowing offense.

But for all that has gone wrong, the Nets are precisely where their roster suggests they're supposed to be: in last place, on track for fewer than 15 wins, steering into an extensive rebuild that has no discernible end.

Tuesday night's loss to the Charlotte Hornets, the Nets' 10th in a row, offered an accurate portrait of the entire season. They fell behind by as many as 17 points, committed a bunch of turnovers, clawed within striking distance and left with the "L."

In some ways, this game encapsulated recent Brooklyn's struggles in reverse. It was the first half, not the second half or fourth quarter alone, that yanked the score out of reach. And the miscues were worse early on, rather than down the stretch. Close matchups like this have hurt the Nets as much as anything. They are 3-10 in contests decided by five points or fewer and 6-20 when the outcome is determined by single digits.

Something within Brooklyn seems to crumble in crunch time. Leads evaporate. Deficits mushroom. Execution falters. Mistakes multiply.

The Nets are speeding toward the NBA's worst record, and they have little to show for it.
The Nets are speeding toward the NBA's worst record, and they have little to show for it.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

The Nets have been outscored by a league-worst 25.5 points per 100 possessions in the clutch—defined as the final five minutes of games in which no team is ahead or behind by more than five points.

Only the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers have a higher turnover rate during these situations. Look at just the last two months, and an NBA-high 18.2 percent of Brooklyn's crunch-time plays have ended with a squandered possession.

Such is life when you're trying to rebuild and reinvent from the ground up.

"They're just flat-out mistakes from younger players who need more experience," Atkinson said at a recent practice. "And it's not just the younger guys. We've got to cut down on these mistakes, because at the end of the day, they cost you big time. And then, when the pressure mounts, I think the mistakes can multiply with younger players. I think they just need more experience."

These growing pains—for both youngsters and veterans taking on more prominent roles—wouldn't be an issue if the Nets were in a different situation.

Losses improve draft-pick status; better draft picks give you a greater chance of acquiring transcendent stars; transcendent stars are how unpolished projects become finished products. Just ask the Sixers, who collected assets, established a Process and have officially shown signs of life this season with Joel Embiid as the face of the franchise (at 22 years old, nonetheless).

But the Nets don't control the rights to their own first-rounder until 2019. The Boston Celtics get to swap selections with them this summer and own their 2018 choice free and clear.

Without control over their next two first-round picks, the Nets find themselves in a uniquely fragile situation.
Without control over their next two first-round picks, the Nets find themselves in a uniquely fragile situation.Nathaniel S. Butler/Getty Images

It's entirely possible, if not overwhelmingly likely, Brooklyn limps through three sub-25 win campaigns, including last season, while forfeiting a top-five pick each year.

There is no remedying this debacle—there's only enduring it.

The Nets will search for diamonds in the rough and see if they hit, as they did with Sean Kilpatrick. They will pray Isaiah Whitehead's defensive flashes turn into constants and then translate to the offensive end.

They will give run to journeymen veterans—such as Quincy Acy, Trevor Booker and Randy Foye—in an attempt to drive up their win total and establish a lasting culture amid rampant turnover and losing. They will hope Rondae Hollis-Jefferson one day pairs his defensive versatility and improved playmaking with better ball control and a jump shot.

They will be aggressive in free agency, offering to overpay for burgeoning flyers (a la their failed Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson pursuits). They will look to Caris LeVert as the face of their restoration, as a wing who defends three positions, drills threes, attacks off the bounce and initiates pick-and-rolls.

And, yes, the Nets will consider trading present assets for future dice rolls. The going rate for 28-year-old Brook Lopez, as an example, is two first-round picks, according the New York Post's Brian Lewis.

But there's no Embiid—or even Ben Simmons—waiting to emerge. Brooklyn hasn't picked in the lottery since 2010, and even that selection, a young Derrick Favors, was traded to the Utah Jazz eight months later for a quickly aging Deron Williams.

Sure, there's an air of relief in being able to focus on development for the first time in the Mikhail Prokhorov era. But there is an equal trace of fatigue and gloom in the long road ahead when it promises no destination.

In the meantime, the Nets will try surviving on whatever silver linings they can find.

They have played more crunch-time minutes than the Los Angeles Lakers and Detroit Pistons. They generate almost as many wide-open threes as the Houston Rockets. Most importantly, they have a coach in Atkinson and general manager in Sean Marks who are on the same page—and who get the effort from those on the court to show for it. As SB Nation's NetsDaily pointed out:

"I do feel really, in my heart, that we're improving," Atkinson said. "And it's hard to see, because the fans and the media go, 'How can this guy say that? They have nine wins.' But I do feel like there's improvement happening."

The Nets can only hope these moral victories are enough to see them through to that next phase—whatever it may be, and however long it takes them to get there.

    

Who Needs A Hyper-Efficient James Harden?

HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 07:  Trevor Ariza #1 of the Houston Rockets drives on Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic for a layup at Toyota Center on February 7, 2017 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloadi
Bob Levey/Getty Images

Not the Rockets, that's for sure—at least not against the Orlando Magic, who still generally stink on offense, per Orlando Magic Daily:

Though Harden wrapped Tuesday night with 25 points and 13 assists, his output came on 6-of-21 shooting. But that is all the Rockets needed.

Trevor Ariza went supernova by his own standards, finishing with 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Good things tend to happen when he gets going from deep (4-of-9); Houston is now 15-2 when he drains four or more triples.

As Bleacher Report's Michael Pina said, Ariza matters:

Eric Gordon also continued his Sixth Man of the Year tear, pumping in 18 points on 5-of-10 shooting en route to a game-high plus-26. Clint Capela pitched 17 points and nine rebounds, while Nene (13 points) partied like it was 2010—further proving Houston's trainers are magicians (or something), per Locked on Rockets' Ben DuBose:

Those three days off the Rockets enjoyed leading into this one look to have paid off—and they were much-needed. They've scraped together two straight victories but were working off a stretch during which they went 5-8. The Jazz are 3.5 games off the Rockets' pace, so Houston isn't quite locked into the Western Conference's No. 3 seed. It's important to get back on track and avoid the Golden State Warriors until the Western Conference Finals.

And with their next five games coming against sub-.500 opponents, now is a good time for the Rockets to start pulling away from those behind them.

    

C.J. McCollum Doesn't Care for Dirk's Immortality

Let's start at the end of the Portland Trail Blazers' victory over the Dallas Mavericks—the final 48 seconds, to be exact. First, Dirk Nowitzki (25 points, five rebounds, three assists) turned back the clock with this three:

Then, McCollum (32 points, three assists) rained on his immortality:

But then Nowtzki did it again:

Only to have McCollum (figuratively) spit in his face with a game-winner:

Remember this frenetic finish as the season winds down, because it may have playoff implications: At 23-30, the Blazers have won five of eight and moved within one game of the West's final postseason spot. The Mavericks are now 3.5 games outside the bubble at 20-32—a small miracle considering they began the year 7-21.

Five of the West's seven lottery teams are within five games of the eighth-place Denver Nuggets. Not even the 14th- and 15th-ranked Lakers and Phoenix Suns, respectively, are out of contention. Neither of them is eight games behind Denver.

Put in layman's terms: The race for the West's get-obliterated-in-the-first-round-by-the-Warriors seed is crowded and ugly and unpredictable and very, very reminiscent of the recent Eastern Conference.

    

Tuesday's Final Scores

  • Hornets 111, Nets 107
  • Rockets 128, Magic 104
  • Trail Blazers 114, Mavericks 113

    

Dan Favale covers the NBA for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter (@danfavale) and listen to his Hardwood Knocks podcast co-hosted by B/R's Andrew Bailey and Adam Fromal.

Stats courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com and accurate through games played on Tuesday, Feb. 7.