The Nets are on their way to a historically bad season. With only three wins midway through the season, they look like a lock to set a new record for futility by winning fewer than nine games. The real question is, why are they so bad?
The Nets have three recent lottery picks in their starting lineup and another one coming off of the bench in Terrence Williams. Just by sheer innate talent, they should have won more than three games. How has this happened?
Teams do not get this bad unless there is poor leadership. And the Nets have had the misfortune of being owned by Brett Ratner who bought the Nets for real estate purposes and never cared about the basketball side.
He obviously ordered Rod Thorn to cut payroll to the bone so that he could sell the team (which he thankfully managed to do). However, by giving away Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter, the Nets have been left with incomplete players who have no clue how to be big contributors on a winning team.
The old expression is that a fish rots from its head down and that is very true with the Nets. It started with the trade of Kenyon Martin to Denver for draft picks. While the trade had its merits, it signaled to everyone that the Nets were no longer serious about contending. The Nets have lacked quality baseline defense ever since.
The second biggest reason for the state of the Nets is the failure to acquire top notch talent in the draft. This part is the cumulative failure of both Ratner and Rod Thorn.
In 2002, 2003, and 2004 the Nets drafted an international player so that they would not have to pay a rookie. Of those three picks, only Nenad Krstic had any positive contribution to the Nets. While hindsight is the epitome of second guessing, it is useful to see how the Nets handled the picks.
In 2002, Krstic was actually a quality pick at 24. Carlos Boozer or Luis Scola would have been better, but this pick was good.
In 2003, the Nets drafted Zoran Planinic with the 22nd pick, which was a bust. The Nets could have drafted Travis Outlaw, Kendrick Perkins, Leandrinho Barbosa, Josh Howard, Maurice Williams, or Kyle Korver.
Oh, wait a minute. The Nets actually drafted Kyle Korver in the second round and immediately traded him to Philadelphia, even though they needed a shooter at the time and still do. Kendrick Perkins would have been the ideal selection at the time as the Nets needed more size and Perkins was a big man with upside.
In 2004, the Nets drafted Victor Kryapa with the 22nd pick and traded him to Portland to save money. Once again, the Nets blew an opportunity to obtain a quality player over money. The Nets could have drafted Delonte West, Tony Allen, Kevin Martin, Anderson Varejao, Chris Duhon, or Trevor Ariza. Any of those players could have at least contributed to the Nets, but instead, the Nets got nothing.
It got no better in 2005 to 2007 when the Nets returned to drafting college players.
2005 was a banner year for talent in the draft. The Nets drafted Antoine Wright with the 15th pick because he was a shooter, but he could not shoot. Meanwhile, two picks later, the Indiana Pacers drafted a future superstar who plays the same position in Danny Granger.
There are too many players who have outperformed Wright who were drafted after him, but the Knicks got David Lee with the last pick in the first round. This was a deep draft and to not get a player who could actually be a rotation player was a big mistake. They could have even drafted Louis Williams with the second round pick, but missed there as well.
2006 was a poor draft year and the Nets were not awful. Josh Boone and Marcus Williams had their moments. With Marcus Williams, it was when he was traded for a future first round pick, but at least he gave the Nets another chance. Josh Boone has been a disappointment, but the reality is that while there were better players drafted late like Kyle Lowry, Jordan Farmar, and Paul Millsap, the difference in production is not so great as to warrant much criticism.
2007 is a different story. The Nets drafted noted knucklehead Sean Williams even though he was kicked off of his college team. He was a reputed pot smoker with an attitude problem. Things did not change much. Williams cannot shoot and had no understanding of how to position himself defensively except to block shots.
Instead of gambling on Williams, the Nets could have drafted Wilson Chandler, Aaron Brooks, or Carl Landry. Any of those three would be a huge improvement over what the Nets got out of Williams.
Until drafting Brook Lopez, the Nets had not received any real production from their draft picks since the 2002 draft. That lack of new talent goes a long way to explaining the current mess.
However, there is a third reason. They fired Lawrence Frank. Because of that, the Nets have played no defense and without a strong defensive foundation, the Nets have virtually no chance to win. Frank was a good coach who was willing to sit a veteran (such as Devin Harris and Vince Carter) when he felt like the effort was not there.
Now, when Yi Jianlian or Douglas-Roberts fail to rotate over on defense, because Devin Harris or Courtney Lee fail to keep their player away from the basket, there is no one who makes them accountable. Or, if a double team occurs, the weak side help is late which allows the opponents easy looks.
Kiki Vandeweghe did not want to be the coach and it is clear that he is not a coach. He is coaching like a GM. He is trying to justify the acquisition of Yi Jianlian by force feeding him the ball. Yi does hustle more than his teammates, but he often seems clueless with stupid fouls and poor shot selection.
The reality is that this Nets team no longer cares to play hard and they are completely unwatchable. Unless things change quickly, no one is going to take the Nets' money and they will continue to be awful for years.