New Jersey Nets: A Step-By-Step Guide On How The Franchise Can Win Again
Despite Mikhail Prokhorov declaring his team was done dealing with Camp Carmelo and its negotiation tactics (read: shenanigans, politics, feminine indecisiveness), the New Jersey Nets remain a significant transaction away from becoming an ambitious playoff opponent overnight.
What will management do? Should they press the Denver Nuggets into pulling the trigger on Anthony's future? What if the Russian billionaire wasn't bluffing? What's Plan B? What steps can the Nets take to further the team in the right direction?
Here's one Nets fan's step-by-step blueprint for how his team should proceed.
Step One: Identify the Nets' Strengths and Weaknesses; What Does the Team Need?
Yes, the New Jersey Nets won only 12 games last season and are currently on pace to win 24—what they would have won last year if not for a ridiculous number of injuries—but that doesn't mean the team isn't without its merits.
We need to identify what the team does well, preserve that as much as possible, and then work on improving trouble spots.
What do the Nets do well, you ask? For starters, they rebound well. That may come as surprise because of Brook Lopez' fear of glass—seriously dude, how are you going to be 7'0" and 260 pounds and average just 5.8 boards per game?—but overall, as a team, the Nets are sound in this department, their differential ranking 13th overall.
Thanks to Lopez, who's possibly the best shooting center in the league, the Nets are excellent from the charity stripe. Lopez shoots 80 percent from the line, as do five other key rotation players, including point guard Devin Harris (.833).
Overall, the team shoots 77 percent, which ranks 15th overall and just 1.3 percent off from the 10th-place Dallas Mavericks.
What else does the team do well? Unfortunately, not much.
The Nets score an average of 92.6 points per game, which is second-worst only to Milwaukee's 91.0 rate. Of course, while the Bucks don't score much, their defense is excellent (92.8 points allowed ranks fourth overall). The same can't be said for the Nets, who give up nearly six more points per game than they score.
This means not only is scoring a problem, but so is defense.
Defensively, the Nets rank 27th in field goal percentage against. They rank dead last in turnovers forced. Anthony Morrow and Travis Outlaw are like turnstiles; opposing wings torch these guys.
The Nets also struggle shooting from the perimeter, part of which is due to an often hard-to-watch, incredibly stagnant offense. They have some good shooters, but they're taking way too many contested shots due to poor ball movement. Only two players on the entire roster are averaging more than 1.9 assists per game. Abominable.
Clearly, the two biggest areas in which the Nets need to improve are defense and play-making.
Step Two: Analyze Personnel And Payroll; Make Improvements Wherever Possible
Below is a snapshot of the Nets' roster and financial situation:
Bold Player: Free Agent-to-Be/Expiring Contract.
Bold Italics: Qualifying Offer/Team Option.
First off, let's identify the elephants in the room:
-Troy Murphy isn't 100 percent healthy, can't shoot a lick this season (.342/.174/.529 percentages) and is frustrated beyond belief. His expiring contract becomes a valuable commodity to a team seeking cap relief.
-Sasha Vujacic is playing well in New Jersey, but one has to wonder if he has any interest in re-signing. "The Machine" just spent the past six-plus seasons out in Hollywood and is currently dating Maria Sharapova. More than likely, the Nets will have to overpay to keep him—this won't happen. Vujacic becomes trade eligible on February 15, two days before the deadline, and could be moved.
-Defensive specialist Quinton Ross doesn't get any burn and is expendable.
-Kris Humphries has been a pleasant surprise. Despite averaging just 26 minutes per game, the 6'9" power forward has posted 14 double-doubles. He's 12th in the league in field goal percentage, 10th in rebounds and ranks just behind Kevin Love and Marcus Camby in rebound percentage.
A free agent at season's end, Humphries' next contract will be a significant raise over the $3.5 million he made this year. The Nets would like to re-sign him; however, if he's asking for too much, don't rule out dealing him at the deadline.
-Considering how stagnant the Nets' offense is, it would be ideal to move Devin Harris and the remaining two-plus years and $18-plus million left on his contract. Harris is an ideal sixth-man scorer masquerading as a starting NBA play-making point guard. He's a good player but bad here.
-Travis Outlaw has been a complete bust after signing a five-year, $35-million deal over the summer. The Nets are stuck with him until he plays well enough to pique some outside interest. Don't hold your breath.
-Johan Petro was another bad signing. The Frenchman is producing at the same rate he did last season with Denver, with the only difference being he's earning $2.5 million more. His contract isn't crippling, but the team would move him in a heartbeat to upgrade.
The rest of the roster is worth keeping, especially Brook Lopez, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar, and Derrick Favors. That is, of course, unless the right deal comes up. To borrow a friend's comical approach to fantasy basketball trading: "only children are untouchable".
Step Three: See What's Available on the Market and Make a Shopping List
Here's a list of some of the more notable players who can be had in a trade prior to the deadline:
Al Harrington, Andray Blatche, Andre Iguodala, Andre Miller, Andrei Kirilenko, Andrew Bynum, Andris Biedrins, Antawn Jamison, Baron Davis, Ben Gordon, Boris Diaw...
Carmelo Anthony, Charlie Villanueva, Chauncey Billups, Chris Kaman, Corey Maggette, David West, Elton Brand, Gerald Wallace, J.R. Smith, Jamal Crawford...
James Posey, Jarrett Jack, Jason Terry, Joel Przybilla, Luke Ridnour, Marc Gasol, Marvin Williams, Mehmet Okur, Mikael Pietrus, Mo Williams...
Nene Hilario, OJ Mayo, Rashard Lewis, Rip Hamilton, Sam Dalembert, Shane Battier, Shannon Brown, Shawn Marion, Stephen Jackson, Tayshaun Prince, Trevor Ariza, Tyson Chandler, and Zach Randolph.
Bold: Players who would be a good fit for the Nets.
Underline: Players who would be a bad fit.
Step Four: Scout the NCAA And Foreign Leagues To Gauge Draft Quality and Depth
The Nets have the following draft picks:
-Nets' own First Rounder, which at this moment, odds say will be a No. 5, No. 6 or No. 7 pick.
-L.A. Lakers' First Rounder, which will probably be the No. 28, No. 29 or No. 30 pick.
-Nets' own Second Rounder.
-Nets' own First Rounder.
-Golden State's First Rounder, which is top seven protected.
-Houston's First Rounder, which is lottery protected.
-Nets' own Second Rounder.
-Miami's Second Rounder.
With the draft having become the crapshoot it is, and few players being ready to step into the league and contribute right away, I think the Nets should trade the picks.
If they don't deal the picks, their focus in the draft should be (a) landing either Ohio State's Jared Sullinger or Duke's Kyrie Irving, or (b) moving down and taking a more polished product like BYU's Jimmer Fredette or Duke's Nolan Smith.
The focus should be on effective play-makers, not projects or raw talent. Kansas' Josh Selby and Purdue's JaJuan Johnson are also worth consideration with the Lakers' pick.
For 2012 and 2013, keep the great Bob McAdoo's nephew, James McAdoo, on your radar.
Step Five: Try To Make At Least One of the Following Trades
Trade No. 1: To Denver for Carmelo Anthony, Chauncey Billups, and Arron Afflalo. The Nets would send in return: Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, Sasha Vujacic, Troy Murphy, the L.A. Lakers' first-round pick in this year's draft and Golden State's first-round pick in next year's draft.
People want to believe this deal is dead, but I don't think it is. The Nuggets are facing a rebuilding situation and need to budge. The Nets simply have the best offer, one no other team can come close to matching.
Trade No. 2: To Charlotte for Gerald Wallace, Stephen Jackson, and DeSagana Diop. The Nets would send in return: Devin Harris, Troy Murphy, Johan Petro, and Golden State's first-round pick in next year's draft.
Michael Jordan apparently wants to clean house in Charlotte—possibly to get rid of Larry Brown's Guys—and atop his list is moving any combination of Wallace, Jackson and Boris Diaw. The 'Cats want a veteran point guard and some size down low. This deal would give Jordan just that, plus a pick and some cap relief. The Nets would get their defensive small forward, scoring guard and a backup center.
Trade No. 3: To Portland for Andre Miller and Marcus Camby. The Nets would send in return: Devin Harris, Troy Murphy, Ben Uzoh, and the L.A. Lakers' first-round pick in this year's draft.
While the Blazers have a good shot at securing a playoff spot, we all know their future past this season is quite murky. Miller could be a free agent at season's end, while Camby has one more year. Portland needs some scoring punch and could use Murphy's rebounding prowess and offensive versatility. The Nets would get their pass-first floor general and defensive/rebounding center to take the pressure off Brook Lopez.
Trade No. 4: To Utah for Andrei Kirilenko, Mehmet Okur, Raja Bell, and Earl Watson. The Nets would send in return: Devin Harris, Troy Murphy, Sasha Vujacic, Johan Petro, and Golden State's first-round pick in next year's draft.
The Jazz are already worried about Deron Williams, who could opt out after next season. This deal would allow them to stay competitive in the short term, give them a temporary replacement in Harris should Williams leave, provide them with some cap relief and gain them a valuable draft pick. The Nets would get significant size, defensive help and veteran leadership.
Trade No. 5: To Memphis for OJ Mayo and Hasheem Thabeet. The Nets would send in return: Devin Harris and a future second-round pick.
Mayo is simply wasting away in Memphis and could shine with a change of scenery. Harris helps the Grizzlies with their playoff chase. Thabeet, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2009 draft, is worth a look. The Nets shave money in the process. If the Grizz fall out of the playoffs, don't be surprised to see such a deal expand to include Zach Randolph and The Usual Suspects (Troy Murphy & Co.).
End Result: A Return to the Franchise's Winning Ways of the 2000s.
With the cap flexibility, young talent, quality role players, multiple first-round picks, a new arena, aggressive ownership, and celebrity marketing (Jay-Z), the Nets are in excellent position—maybe in better position than any other team—to become a major player in the league for the foreseeable future.
The hard part, of course, is making that first big move. It took a wise trade by a wise man (Rod Thorn) to bring Jason Kidd to the swamps of New Jersey.
In the season prior to Kidd's arrival, the Nets won just 26 games. In the six seasons afterward, the Nets averaged 47 wins a year and reached the playoffs six times, including back-to-back trips to the Finals.
The Nets need another Jason Kidd-caliber move. Considering all circumstances, Carmelo Anthony clearly makes the most sense. But if they can't land him, there are still many options out there, as outlined in this slideshow.
And especially with the uncertainty surrounding labor negotiations, the setting seems ripe for another Pau Gasol-like robbery to take place. It doesn't seem likely, but don't rule out the possibility of either Chris Paul or Deron Williams playing in Newark.