The New Jersey Nets started the season in lowly fashion, losing their first 11 games by an average of 10 points.
But just how bad is their start?
The team launched a marketing campaign called “10 is Enough” after their 10th loss, giving each of its season ticket holders two additional tickets. They also encouraged Nets fans to rally around the team like never before for their home game against the Indiana Pacers.
The team still lost.
Yet, as always, the numbers only tell half of the story.
When you take a closer look at the team, the circumstances surrounding their current roster, and the quality of basketball played within those 11 losses, you begin to realize that maybe this team isn’t as bad as they appear.
First and foremost, the Nets have been decimated by injuries. Currently, the Nets have seven players listed on their injury report: Devin Harris (groin-out); Jarvis Hayes (hamstring-out); Keyon Dooling (hip-out); Tony Battie (knee-out); Yi Jianlian (knee-out); Courtney Lee (groin-questionable); and Eduardo Najera (back-questionable).
In their most recent defeat, the Nets had arguably one of the most overmatched starting lineups of all time. Rafer Alston started at point with Chris Douglas-Roberts at the two, Terrence Williams at the three, Trenton Hassell at the four, and Brook Lopez at the center position. This wouldn’t even be a good second unit for a championship-caliber team.
That said, this team proved they will not go down without fight, and, despite their setbacks, they have still found a way to be competitive.
The Nets nearly beat the Philadelphia 76ers twice this season (losing by a combined six points in the two games), and they took a very good Miami Heat team to the final one-tenth of a second before succumbing to Dwyane Wade’s game-winner.
Once their players return from injury, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team start winning these games.
Devin Harris is nearly at full strength, and Courtney Lee hopes to be back by Saturday’s game against the Knicks. Najera, a key energy guy, should be back in the lineup by then, too. Keyon Dooling returned to practice last week and is anticipated to be back in the lineup by late November.
They certainly won’t be world beaters, but I think the Nets at full strength are far from the worst team in the league.
I bestow that dubious honor to their cross-town rivals, the New York Knicks, with the Minnesota Timberwolves coming in a close second.
There are pieces in New Jersey to build around, so all hope is not lost. The Nets have an All-Star caliber point guard in Devin Harris and a young, talented center in Brook Lopez, who is capable of eventually becoming a double-double type player. These are two pieces that should be very attractive to big time free agents as they move into the feeding frenzy of the 2010 offseason.
Courtney Lee was a shining star in last year’s playoffs with the Orlando Magic and looks to return to form with the Nets as he is healthy.
Yi Jianlian has been impressive, yet inconsistent. The jury is still out on his abilities, but if he lives up to his potential he will be a nightmare matchup.
They have other solid contributors: Chris Douglas-Roberts (CDR), who is probably better suited as a sixth or seventh man; Keyon Dooling, a good combination guard; Jarvis Hayes, a long-range specialist; and Terrence Williams, a young and athletic shooting guard.
Lawrence Frank has proven himself to be a good coach and deserves to see this team through to the end of the season. Rod Thorn has always been a Frank fan and will certainly do his best to spin their early season struggles around their injury woes, and rightfully so.
For New Jersey, the future is actually much brighter than it looks right now. A healthy Nets team can still finish with 25-30 wins despite their poor start, and they have some very good pieces in place to build around.
A key acquisition in the 2010 free-agent period coupled with the momentum of a change of scenery might be just enough to put this team back in the picture of NBA relevance.