For a little perspective on the professional basketball predicament in Sacramento, the frantic and panicky among us might want to look across the continent at a real disaster.
In the borough of Brooklyn, the situation with the Nets looks as if it’s going to be a problem for the rest of the decade. All we need here is for our big man to mellow out, to maintain his health and for all the guys around him to get the feel for one another. Then they need to get right with the coach.
Maybe it will happen, and maybe the little skull session the team forced on itself Tuesday will help. Maybe the Kings can win more than 30 games this year, and maybe they can challenge for a playoff spot.
In Brooklyn, the feeling is you can forget about it. It’s bleak for the Nets as far out to sea as you can see.
Entering Wednesday night’s game in Houston, the Nets had not won this season, which makes them the perfect opponent for the Kings, who had won only once through eight games. If any of the Kings’ first 10 contests is a must-have, it will be Friday’s at Sleep Train Arena against Brooklyn. The Nets must be beaten, no matter what the deal is with DeMarcus Cousins and George Karl.
Brooklyn buried itself for the next half-decade by giving up three – and possibly four – first-round draft choices in the July 2013 transaction that brought in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. It’s always nice to have a couple Hall of Famers, but like all of us consigned to the human condition, the advanced years can take a point or two off our games. In Pierce’s case, it was about five – even more so for Garnett, when he played.
The trade helped Brooklyn make the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2014. It also likely will result in as many as seven years of famine, the consequence of trading the future for a couple of names out of the past to deliver a present that turned out only so-so. Pierce left after his first season in Brooklyn, Garnett midway through the next.
Besides the missing draft picks, the Nets have another problem in veteran shooting guard Joe Johnson. A scorer of more than 18,000 points coming into the season, the 15-year veteran is barely averaging 10 points. Unfortunately for Brooklyn’s owner, Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov, Johnson is being paid $24.9 million for the season. It is the second-highest salary in the league, behind Kobe Bryant’s $25 million. And Johnson hasn’t won five NBA titles.
In another season, in another era, such a performance could have led to a trade of Johnson to Siberia, where it is unlikely he would have found his touch on the sub-zero game nights up on the steppes.
Entering Wednesday’s game, the Nets were last in the league in scoring and three-point shooting and second to last in defensive rebounding. Their best player, Brook Lopez, the 7-foot center out of Fresno by way of Stanford, hurt his foot Saturday night and had to come out. This was extremely bad news for a player who has missed nearly two full seasons with similar injuries.
Mike Fratello, who coached 17 seasons in the NBA, is the Nets’ color commentator. He was asked to assess the Nets and how they might work their way out of the mess they’re in.
First thing the team needs to worry about, Fratello said, is Lopez’s injury. Despite news that it isn’t serious, big guys with bad feet can have a real problem on their hands, as well as with their feet. Lopez is one of only two tradeable players the Nets have if they’re looking to acquire a draft pick. The other, Fratello said, is forward Thaddeus Young, whose feet are pretty good.
Johnson remains an asset, despite his poor start and a steady decline since coming to Brooklyn in 2012, and he could figure into a deal to a top-tier playoff club, according to the former coach. Fratello said the timing of Johnson leaving Brooklyn likely would hinge on an injury to a scorer on a championship contender.
Next on the agenda, the Nets need to make long-term decisions on young players such as small forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and second-year point guard Shane Larkin. They also have Thomas Robinson, the Kings’ 2012 first-round draft pick who has tailored his game in Brooklyn to focus on rebounding. He’s averaging 5.3 rebounds in just 13 minutes a game.
To summarize the Nets, “It’s really a challenging situation for the front office,” Fratello said.
Enough of the problems of Brooklyn. Nobody in America cries for the Nets, just as there is little sympathy for Sacramento’s basketball angst. Cousins the other night texted his teammates to get together for a players-only meeting. The next day, general manager Vlade Divac preempted the labor-only gathering. He called for a staff-wide conference in which the bosses joined.
Hopefully they’ll get everything figured out and we don’t wind up with a real long-term wreck like the one they’ve got in Brooklyn.
The Kings have a year to figure it out.