New Jersey Nets Offseason Preview: Team at a Crossroads
After having made the playoffs each of the previous six seasons, the New Jersey Nets struggled all year throughout the 2007-2008 season. The Jason Kidd era came to a merciful conclusion as he finally was able to force his way out of New Jersey after years of constant rumors.
Kidd's departure made the team as a whole less talented for the time being, but it also relieved the team of a major headache.
Devin Harris came in from Dallas, and while Harris is far from a star, he combines with Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter to provide three quality scoring threats from the three smaller positions.
Despite that, scoring troubles were a constant problem with the Nets. A weak offensive frontcourt and a poor bench led to the team only scoring 95.8 points per game.
This leads to the team heading into the offseason with countless directions they can go into. The "Big Three" of Kidd, Carter, and Jefferson failed, leading into the Harris, Carter, Jefferson era.
General Manager Kiki Vanderweghe could opt to try to win now and compliment those three with another big player. The Nets were rumored to want Carmelo Anthony, but when they didn't get a top three pick in the NBA draft, that deal died out.
It had been Ron Thorn's motus operandi to try to win now. With Vanderweghe replacing Ed Stefanski, who bolted midseason to take the same position with Philadelphia, the Nets could try to blow up the roster and finally try to rebuild again.
Or, they could hope Richard Jefferson returns to form defensively and Vince Carter somehow recaptures his old form and try to compliment them with a big man. Or they could try to swap Jefferson for a similar player to provide a minor shakeup.
Any way they choose has its pluses and minuses. What Vanderweghe will hopefully do is take a wait-and-see approach and see how the market looks this offseason.
Carter and Jefferson are clearly the two pieces that the Nets will either try to move or build around, but backup point guard Marcus Williams is also clearly on the block. Here's a list of the Nets' roster.
SF Richard Jefferson
Jefferson is coming off the best scoring season of his career, averaging 22.6 points per game. However, while his scoring was up, he regressed greatly defensively, and his rebounding total was his worst as a Net since he first became a starter in 2002-2003.
Two years ago, Jefferson would have been looked upon as a small forward who provides great defense, athleticism, decent rebounding, some scoring, and a clean off-court image.
Today, an assault charge in Minnesota hurts his off-court image, and his on-court image has morphed into more of a pure scorer.
He's still probably the most tradable player on the Nets, as he's shown the ability to do a whole lot of things since he's come into the NBA, and he's only going to be 28 when the season starts.
I expect the Nets to openly shop him and eventually move him by the time the season starts. Enough teams like him, and the Nets clearly want to shake up the roster.
PG Devin Harris
Harris is likely the second most valuable asset on the team, though many could argue that he's No. 1. Either way, it's hard to see the Nets trading this lightning-quick point guard, whom the Nets are treating as their point guard for the foreseeable future.
Plus, getting him in the Jason Kidd trade, they really hope that he can be his replacement.
Vanderweghe has already stated that he hopes to build the team around Harris. The Nets won't move him.
SG Vince Carter
With three years left on his deal at over $15 million per, Carter's value is not as high as Nets fans wish. Carter is 31 years old, and his stats fell off last season as Jefferson became the team's top scorer.
By now, everybody knows what Carter is. The best dunker ever with a pretty good jump shot, though he fades away. His previous injuries make him fear contact now, so he doesn't use his talents the way he used to, and he often struggles defensively.
As much heat as Carter took last season, he still is a scorer with good rebounding ability and pretty good passing.
Many people think that a team can't win with Carter as a primary player, which is what he's paid, but then again, how much should a guy who put up 21.3 PPG, 6.0 RPG, and 5.1 APG in an off-year be paid?
Carter is no doubt an enigma, and while the Nets might love to move him, they're likely stuck with him.
PF/C Josh Boone
Yes, Boone is the fourth most valuable player on the Nets. Before you laugh, he did put up 8.2 PPG and 7.3 RPG in just over 25 minutes per game. He showed that he might have the ability to average a double-double, but his free throw shooting remains awful, at just over 45 percent.
In fact, in one game Golden State tried to play Hack-a-Boone in the third quarter.
But the Nets love Boone, and why not? He's locked up cheaply for a few more seasons, and he can be a legitimate starter for them for the next several years.
Unless the Nets make a blockbuster and the opposing team really wants him, they will keep him.
C Nenad Krstic
For about a year and a half, Krstic was a rising star on the Nets, averaging more points per game every season. In fact in 2006-07, he was averaging 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds per game until he tore his ACL.
That ACL tear kept him out for the rest of the season, and it ruined his 2007-08 season as well. He tried to play the beginning of the season, but the Nets shut him down late in November.
He came back, and while he improved his play down the stretch, he still wasn't the same player.
If Krstic returns to his pre-injury form like he says he can, then his value is high, but as an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season, he needs to have a big season, or he will not make nearly as much money as he hopes to.
Krstic will be back next season, as his injury prevents a lot of teams from wanting him, and his salary is too low to be thrown into most deals.
C Sean Williams
The Nets drafted Williams 17th overall last season, despite being kicked off the Boston College basketball team. He blocked 1.5 shots in just 17:30 minutes per game, earning the nickname of "Swat" by many fans, but the rest of his skills lagged behind.
He's raw offensively and defensively, and he fouls anything that moves, but his athleticism and shot blocking ability make him valuable.
Williams is a valuable piece for the Nets to shop, as his freakish athleticism and shot-blocking ability make him appealing to many teams. The Nets might not be willing to let the rest of his game mature.
Look for his name to come up in many trade talks, but the Nets probably want to keep him another year at least. The Nets don't have anyone who brings what Williams can potentially bring to the table on the defensive end, so they might want to just try to let him develop.
PG Marcus Williams
He slipped in the 2006 draft all the way to the 22nd pick, where he was viewed as a steal (no laptop jokes, please) by virtually everyone. However, he's been an enigma as a Net, not working hard enough and not providing any stability as the backup point guard.
He's had a few games where he's shown the ability that made him highly touted from UConn, but the negatives have outweighed the positives, and with Devin Harris as the point guard for both the present and the future, it's hard to see where Williams fits on the team.
Williams will be shopped this offseason, and it would be surprising to see him back in a Nets uniform.
The rest of the team.
SG Maurice Ager - Former first round pick has done nothing in the pros.
PF Stromile Swift - Nets traded for him last season, but doesn't really have a role on the Nets or on any other team with his $6,200,000 salary this season. Expiring contract could be appealing.
SF Trenton Hassell - Defensive specialist who has been known as a bad contract for seemingly forever. Makes $4,350,000 this year and likely next year if he picks up his player option.
NBA Draft possibilities
The Nets own the 10th, 21st, and 40th picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. With a starting lineup of Harris-Carter-Jefferson-Boone-Krstic (for now), the Nets will likely look to come away with a skilled big man and a backup guard in the first round. Here are some possibilities.
SF Danilo Gallinari, Italy
Gallinari would be a perfect replacement for Richard Jefferson if he slipped to 10. He's likely the Nets dream pick (unless Kevin Love somehow fell). He produced big numbers as a youth in perhaps the toughest European league, and his size, maturity, fundamentals, and intensity, in addition to his craftiness and jumper make him an ideal prospect for the Nets. He's listed as a SF, but he can play minutes at both guard positions as well.
PG/SG Russell Westbrook, UCLA
Westbrook is an unbelievable athlete and defensive player. His slightly smaller stature (6-foot-3) and mediocre outside shooting might limit him to a backup, but he had a breakout season for UCLA, and his athleticism, defensive ability, coach ability, and transition offense give him a lot to like.
PF/SF Anthony Randolph, LSU
Randolph had a very good freshman season for a very bad LSU team. His thin frame is his biggest detriment. His size, athleticism, and fluidity are all major pluses, and he probably has the highest upside of anyone at 10. He also has the highest bust potential of potential draftees in that spot (besides DeAndre Jordan).
SF/PF Joe Alexander, West Virginia
By the time Nets fans started coming around to the idea that Alexander might be worth the 10th pick, many draft analysts think he might not even be there. He is a phenomenal athlete with a great work ethic, and he does a lot well offensively. However, he needs time to develop, and right now he has a very difficult time creating his own shot and he might struggle defensively.
Other possibilities at 10
C Kosta Koufos, Ohio State - Skilled center with a high upside. Might be a reach at 10, but likely won't be there at 21.
C DeAndre Jordan, Texas A&M - It would be a surprise if they opted for such a project, but Jordan has been highly rated despite a lack of production in school.
C Brook Lopez, Stanford - Probably won't be there, but even though his stock has been falling, the Nets might not be able to pass up the skilled Stanford big man.
PF Darrell Arthur, Kansas - Very athletic, but slightly undersized and often lacks focus on the court. Improved his stock in the NCAA Tournament.
SF/PF Donte Greene, Syracuse - Like Koufos, he might not be worth it at 10, but he probably won't last to 21. Has all the skills offensively, but he was a chucker in college, and he didn't play much defense.
21st pick options
SG Brandon Rush, Kansas - The Nets would love Rush to fall to this pick, but it's looking less and less likely. If he does last, the Nets would likely pull the trigger on the skilled shooting guard who does almost everything well.
PF/C Marreese Speights, Florida - Whichever team drafts him likely will have trouble spelling his first name. He's an outside option at 10, but if they opt for a guard at 10, they'll pray Speights falls to 21 because he's big and has a lot of offensive ability. He might be frustrating with his tendency to coast through many games, but if he's focused and motivated, he is a steal in this spot.
PF/C Robin Lopez, Stanford - He'll probably be gone, but he can be a defensive and rebounding presence on a team. Doesn't do much offensively.
SG/SF Chase Budinger, Arizona - Great size, speed, and perimeter shooting ability for a shooting guard, but he's a liability defensively at this stage.
PF Serge Ibaka, Congo - Unbelievable athlete, with the ability to block shots and the range to shoot all the way out to the 3-point line. Extremely inexperienced.
C JaVale McGee, Nevada - Whoever drafts McGee is drafting purely on upside. He's legitimately seven feet tall with a huge wingspan and great athleticism, but he was light on production in school and hasn't looked great in workups.
SG/SF Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis - Below average shooter and rebounder, but he may have been the best player on the No. 2 team in the nation, and he's big enough, quick enough, and tough enough to be able to play a role as a slasher with solid defensive ability.
SF Nicolas Batum - Might be the best athlete in Europe, but that has not translated as well as many thought it would to the basketball court yet.
Best case scenario: Gallinari and Speights/Koufos.
Likely scenario: Gallinari and Speights (I edited this after reading Dave D'Allesandro's blog, which says that Gallo is "Jersey or Bust" and has made it clear to teams that he will probably play in Italy for a few years if anyone other than New Jersey or New York picks him).
Prediction for 40th pick: SG J.R. Giddens, New Mexico
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