The New Jersey Nets have no intention of contending in 2008-09. They have no intention of contending in 2009-10.
Like half the teams in the NBA (most notably their neighbors across the Hudson), the Nets are shredding their core nucleus from the last few seasons in order to have money to spend in July 2010.
First to go was Jason Kidd and his $21,372,000 per year contract in a trade to Dallas. All-Star Richard Jefferson, at $13,200,000, was next to go, getting shipped to Milwaukee for Yi "The Chairman" Jianlian and Bobby "I won't be here in two years" Simmons.
In the same offseason, the Nets let starting center Nenad Krstic leave to sign in Russia instead of giving him a new deal. Vince Carter is still there, for now, but his departure seems imminent.
The only explanation for these moves, which isn't a bad one, is the Nets are preparing to enter the LeBron sweepstakes in two summers ready to duke it out with anyone else in the league. James is good friends with New Jersey part owner Jay-Z, and has said he loves Brooklyn, where, very conveniently, the Nets plan to move in 2010.
While all the talk is about the Knicks, the Nets could be the dark-horse club that ends up with The King.
New Jersey, for this reason, have a club that currently resembles a combination of an NBDL and a FIBA Europe team. The other day I turned on YES and the five Nets on the court were Keyon Dooling, Trenton Hassell, Jarvis Hayes, Eduardo Najera, and Josh Boone.
It was the second quarter of a close game. I think that five wouldn't be in the Top 25 of the AP poll.
And yet, the Nets have gotten off to a 7-7 start, with wins over Detroit, Atlanta (twice), and Toronto, and in position to possibly make a playoff run in a watered down Eastern Conference. If Philadelphia continues to be a bust, Miami continues to be inconsistent, Toronto fails to take the next step, Derrick Rose continues to be the only Bull who can play, and Washington continues to suck, the Nets could conceivably get themselves a No. 4- or 5-seed and be in position to make the second round.
Obviously they're not close to the level of Boston, Cleveland, Orlando, or Detroit, but as long as they keep on playing this way they could make a season that was supposed to be nothing into one that's somewhat exciting.
The main reason for their fast start is the rejuvenation of Carter and the play of Devin Harris.
Carter, always one of the league's most dynamic and creative scorers, has stepped up his play this year, shooting less off-balanced threes and playing the inspired ball that made him a fan favorite at the beginning of his career.
Harris, a steal in the Kidd trade and one of the fastest players in the league with the ball, has shown an uncanny ability to get to the free throw line as well as make great decisions on the fast break. If the Nets hold onto him, he could become one of if not the best point guards in the Eastern Conference.
In addition to these two, several young draft picks and acquisitions have displayed promise. Brook Lopez, despite his extreme awkwardness, has shown that he could be one of those goofy guys who still manages to go for 15 and 10 a night. Sean Williams jumps as high as anyone in the league, and is sure to provide highlights on both ends of the floor, even if he can't hit a jumper to save his life. And Yi, despite not living up to his high expectations, is an athletic seven-footer capable of scoring 25 any night.
All of you Nets fans out there (if there are any), I understand if you've decided to stop paying attention to the court until July 2010, seeing as management seems to be doing the same thing.
If you're doing so, though, you're missing out on a team that probably won't win a championship, but won't be winning the Draft Lottery either.