The New Jersey Nets had another difficult season. The team finished 24-58. However, as terrible of a record as that is, the team did double its win total from a season ago.
Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov bought a majority interest in the Nets last summer and immediately guaranteed great things. He promised the team would win a championship within five years. This was a bold prediction and one that doesn’t seem like it will come true anytime soon.
The Nets only have one more season in New Jersey and then move to Brooklyn in 2012. The team will be playing out of the state of the art, Barclays Center. However, as it stands now the Nets are still in New Jersey and having a hard time attracting talent.
New Jersey failed to land any marquee players during the most widely anticipated free agent summer ever. The team then, out of desperation overpaid for Travis Outlaw, signing him to a five year, $35 million contract.
Next, the Nets were used as pawns by the Denver Nuggets and Carmelo Anthony. Melo never had any interest in joining the Nets, but New Jersey had the most attractive group of assets and was used to increase the eventual offer made by the New York Knicks.
New Jersey did shock the basketball world however when they acquired Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz. There were no rumors. No one imagined Williams was would be moved.
Williams is one of, if not the best, point guard in the league today. The Jazz decided instead of risk losing him through free agency and to avoid constant rumours and speculation to stage a pre-emptive strike and trade him.
Williams automatically becomes the face of franchise in New Jersey. However, there is no guarantee he will sign an extension and remain with the team beyond 2012.
The only other potential building block the team has is Brook Lopez. Lopez increased his scoring average again this year, but took a step back in terms of rebounds.
Aside from Williams and Lopez the Nets have a few nice pieces, but not enough to bring the franchise its first championship.
Kris Humphries had a solid season averaging 10 point and 10 rebounds per game. However, he will get more media attention for his relationship with Kim Kardashian then anything he’ll ever do on the court.
The Nets signed Anthony Morrow to a three year, $12 million contract after a breakout season in Golden State. He is a very effective three-point shooter and should benefit from playing with a point guard of Williams’ caliber.
The only other player of note on New Jersey’s roster is Brandan Wright. He was acquired by the Nets at the trade deadline. Wright has shown flashes, but hasn’t really received any extended playing time because of injuries. If Wright can stay healthy he could develop into an above-average power forward.
Outside of the five above-mentioned players there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the New Jersey Nets.
Ric Bucher of ESPN reported that he expects the Orlando Magic to trade Dwight Howard in the offseaon. Bucher listed Los Angeles and New Jersey as possible destinations.
I can’t imagine Orlando trades Howard, and if even Otis Smith does, I don’t think he’ll end up with the Nets.
The Magic are over the luxury tax threshold and committed to winning now. Moving Howard makes no sense, especially when Jameer Nelson, Hedo Turkoglu and Gilbert Arenas are all locked up for the next three seasons.
However, even if the Magic do decide to move Howard it’s unlikely he’ll end up with the Nets. The team simply doesn’t have the assets to acquire him. Lopez and first round picks won’t be enough to get the best center in the league.
Looking towards the future there are a lot of decisions management needs to make.
The team traded Derrick Favours, Devon Harris, their 2011 first round pick and Golden State’s 2012 first round pick for Williams. Add to that the 2011 first round pick this year goes to Utah no matter what, there is no lottery protection.
However, even if the team extends a qualifying offer to Wright there is only $39 million committed salary for next season. Depending on the new collective bargaining agreement the team should have at least $10 million, maybe as much as $20 million, to spend in free agency.
Luckily the team has filled to the two toughest positions in center and point guard. The Nets desperately need help on the wings. The only problem is there aren’t a lot of great options this summer.
The team could go older and look at Tracy McGrady, Michael Redd, Caron Butler, Jamal Crawford or Josh Howard. Or the team can attempt to outbid a team for a young, restricted free agent, Wilson Chandler, Jeff Green or Thaddeus Young.
It seems unlikely Denver, Boston,or Philadelphia respectively, will let their players go without a fight. As for the older players, they are all flawed and don’t really fit into the long term plans.
McGrady is a shell of his former self. McGrady could help a veteran team but is no longer the dynamic scorer he once was and is no longer able to be a team’s go-to-guy.
Redd and Butler are both coming off injuries and it is unclear whether either one is able to regain their form. Butler is a better risk to take over Redd.
Crawford is still a potent scorer. He is a great sixth man for the Hawks and the team will likely have to let him walk. Crawford made $10 million this season and the team has already committed $57 million committed to Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, Marvin Williams and Kirk Hinrich next season.
Then there is Howard. He has only played 53 games over the last 2 seasons. Howard was once a promising player for the Mavericks. However, he hasn’t been the same since injuries and his widely publicized affinity for marijuana.
This leaves the Nets in a difficult position. The team must show signs of improvement because Deron Williams only has one year left on his contract and if the team doesn’t look like it can compete it is unlikely he’ll sign an extension.
What would be even worse is to see Williams leave for the cross-town Knicks. New York is relevant again for the first time in a decade and on the market for a young point guard to join Melo and Amar’e to form their own big three.
Only time will tell, but it is time for Prokhorov to step up and show everyone he can deliver.