The Nets are making a run for the worst record in NBA history and the 10-win mark is looking farther away after every loss. With Kiki Vandeweghe as head coach and players becoming more frustrated every game, the Nets have gone so far as to give anyone the chance to become the team's coach for a day. Lawrence Frank has likely already entered the contest with a chance to prove that he was let go much sooner than he should have been.
Despite the Nets horrible record and dismal season, they have a lot of talent and will have a significant amount of cap space barring anything unforeseen. With that talent and space, the Nets can make a major turnaround by the beginning of next season. Likely free agents Lebron James, Chris Bosh, and Joe Johnson will probably be either staying put or going elsewhere and Amar'e Stoudemire is not the player he was when he broke into the league.
Yet the Nets can make moves in the next few months that can greatly impact the team and set themselves up for success in both the present and the future. There are five particular moves that are not only possible for New Jersey, but very reasonable considering the Nets' talent and expiring contracts. With such attractive assets in mind here are those five moves:
1. Trade Bobby Simmons and either Chris Douglas-Roberts or Courtney Lee to the Wizards for Caron Butler.
If the Wizards are looking to dump salary and accept Al Harrington's expiring contract from the Knicks, why would they not take the salary relief and a young wing that could contribute next year? Lee would be easier for the Nets to lose because he is not the type of player that fits a team trying to rebuild.
With the Magic, he was a complementary player and is the perfect player for a team looking to find the last piece for a championship run. No matter the moves the Nets make, that run will probably not be happening next year. At the very least, Lee gives slowly-developing Nick Young some competition at guard and flexibility if young moves over to small forward.
Douglas-Roberts, also known as C.D.R., is the more likely option to leave since the Nets seem intent to rid themselves of the young swingman. C.D.R. is also the better option for Washington since he is the better scorer of the two and is truly the ideal sixth man for any team. Douglas-Roberts has gotten bad publicity for the majority of the season, yet he only wants to win and speaks openly about his frustration. He could easily provide a scoring punch for Washington for years to come and his ability to get to the basket is something that any team would want.
In Butler, the Nets would get a swingman that would be on the payroll next year and provide them with a mentality they have been lacking. Known as "Tough Juice", Butler would give New Jersey a legitimate defender and scorer at small forward. He's a team-oriented player and would give the young Nets a veteran presence. If the Nets decide Butler isn't in their long-term plans, he comes off the payroll after next year.
Letting go of Butler would give the Nets the cap flexibility to sign Carmelo Anthony next year or make a trade for a younger and more talented small forward. If the Nets don't trade for Butler, they could always make a move for Andrei Kirilenko as a one-year rental so they at least remain competitive for a spot in the playoffs next year.
Overpaying Rudy Gay and signing him to an expensive contract would probably be the worst move for a team looking for toughness and defense, since Gay is among the worst defenders in the league. Watching small forwards in the Eastern Conference overpower and blow by Gay would probably not be conducive to a team that has had very little defense from the three position this year.
2. Sign David Lee to an $11-12 million dollar contract.
Last year I would have probably said Lee's future would be mainly as a sixth man providing energy and hustle off the bench. He has quickly turned himself into a legitimate starter. Playing out of position with the Knicks, Lee would finally have the opportunity to play his natural power-forward position with the Nets. He has turned himself into a consistent double-double player and provides the Nets with skills they don't have now.
His rebounding and willingness to do the dirty work would complement Nets center Brook Lopez perfectly. This year Lee has a developed a consistent jumpshot out to 20 feet, which complements Lopez's post-game. He may not be the best defender, but he's adequate and never takes plays off.
Besides that, Lee is a teammate that everyone seems to love and Knicks fans will vouch for the type of player and fan favorite that he is. The lack of dominant power forwards in the East and the fact that he will be a fifth scoring option during most games makes him a perfect piece to the Nets' puzzle.
3. Draft Evan Turner.
It is rare that the worst team in the NBA ends up with the first pick in the draft. With the last five drafts being won by teams without the worst record, the Nets should expect the same to happen. New Jersey's brass should pray for that number two pick because that is where they can draft a true franchise player.
Yes, everyone loves John Wall, but he is not the player that can take the Nets to the the next level next year. Although Wall is a very good player and his athleticism is off the charts, the Kentucky point guard is very similar to Derrick Rose except with better passing skills. Both are extremely athletic and can attack the basket with ferocity.
Comparisons of Wall to Jason Kidd and Dwyane Wade are completely off the charts, as Kidd is an other-worldly passer and Wade is a tremendous scorer. Wade continues to fill up the stat sheet every night with rebounds and assists, while Wall will likely never come close to his level as a superstar. The same comparisons to Kidd were being thrown at Derrick Rose last year and those comparisons have quickly been forgotten.
Wall will be better than Rose, however, and is more than worthy of being selected first in the draft, especially since a point guard of his caliber is hard to find. Yet his 10-plus assists against UNC-Asheville, Rider, and Hartford along with the lack of high-caliber point guards in college basketball this year does not convice me that he is the best player to enter the NBA since Lebron James.
Turner, on the other hand, would be the ideal choice for a Nets team looking for a player with a scorer's mentality. At 6'7", Turner can get to the basket and create his own shot. At Ohio State he has become the type of player his team relies on at the end of the game, which is something the Nets desperately need. Turner can easily provide scoring in the last five minutes and finish off games that the Nets should win.
At Ohio State, Turner has averaged 19 point, 9 rebounds, and 5 assists, while playing three positions, including point guard. His abilities are very similar to Portland's Brandon Ro,y and we have all seen how quickly Roy has helped rise the Blazers to prominence. It is rare that a player like Turner comes along. If given the opportunity, there is no doubt that he can become the 20-point, 5-rebound, 5-assist player that the Nets lost when they traded Vince Carter. At 21, Turner will give the Nets the true franchise player they need.
Consequently, everyone has failed to realize that Devin Harris is still on the Nets. A young point guard like Harris is hard to find and since coming off ankle injuries from last year, he still has not gotten back to where he was. With Turner in the fold next year and a season in the books, Harris will become the third scoring option like he was when Carter was in town. If they do draft Wall and trade Harris, New Jersey will probably have trouble getting equal value considering the lack of talented swingmen available for trades at a modest price. If Harris doesn't fit into the long term plans of the Nets, he can always be traded later on considering his skill set and contract.
4. Hire Mike Fratello as head coach on a two-to-three year deal.
Fratello, also known as the Czar, should probably be the Nets coach right now. Signing him would give the Nets an actual coach, rather than a general manager pretending to be a coach. Giving him a two-to-three year deal would also give Fratello some insurance that he will be there when the Nets make their turnaround. Inheriting a terrible Grizzlies team in 2004, Fratello helped the team win 45 games and make the playoffs two consecutive seasons.
Fratello is the ideal coach for New Jersey's rebuilding effort and can get the most out of the young players the Nets have collected. The few fans that watch the Nets hear what Fratello thinks about the team and he clearly has the itch to get back to coaching.
The quicker the Nets can solve their coaching problems, the quicker they can make a turnaround. Every player on the roster is frustrated from losing and a breath of fresh air like Fratello would at least give them some hope. If Vandeweghe continues to coach all season, the record for the worst team in NBA history becomes much more likely. So, for the Nets' sake, a change at the coaching position is vital.
5. In the offseason, trade Yi Jianlian and the Mavericks first-rounder to the Houston Rockets, with the possible addition of Courtney Lee or Chris Douglas-Roberts, for the Rockets first-rounder and either Chase Budinger or Joey Dorsey.
Jianlian has been a disappointment for Nets fans all season after beginning the season strong. Yet, at 22, Yi still has the potential that could help a team like the Rockets in the long run. With that potential and the money and marketing possibilities, Houston has tons of incentive to make a trade with New Jersey.
With Yao already in town, the Rockets would be able to market "China's Twin Towers" as the future in Houston and bank on Yao helping Yi develop his game. Being comfortable is the ideal for any athlete, and with Yi's fellow countryman teaching him how to use his 7' frame, he might begin to realize his potential.
By trading Yi to the Rockets the Nets are not only ridding themselves of another $4 million from their payroll, but they're also acquiring an early first-rounder that could quickly help them draft another player for the future. With Turner already in the fold at shooting guard, the Nets would have a chance to acquire a legitimate backup for Brook Lopez and draft Kansas center Cole Aldridge. Not only is Aldridge the best center in the draft, but because the talent this year is so guard-heavy, he could eventually drop close enough for the Nets to draft or trade up for.
If not, this still gives them the option to draft a small forward like Damion James who could develop into a long-term solution at small forward. Acquring Budinger and his perimeter scoring or Dorsey and his interior defense would give the Nets depth at the end of the bench if they get bitten by the injury bug as they did this year.
* With all 5 moves in the books the Nets would begin next season with a payroll somewhere in the 50-53 million range and have the flexibility to make major moves next offseason. With Harris, Keyon Dooling, Turner, and Terrence Williams, the Nets would be able to compete with any backcourt in the league. With Butler (or Kirilenko), Jarvis Hayes, D. Lee, Kris Humphries, Lopez, and Aldridge forming the frontcourt, they would finally have the toughness and scoring they've been lacking all season.
With three picks in this year's draft, the Nets will be more than likely to make moves to bring in some veteran scoring. With very little perimeter scoring, they could look to draft a pure 3-point shooter like Nevada's Luke Babbit with their second-round pick. If the Nets front office is smart enough from the trade deadline onward, they could quickly become a threat in the East, similar to the 2004 Detroit Pistons, where everyone contributes to a winning season.