The New Jersey Nets only won 34 games last season. They were eliminated from the playoff race with a few games left in the season. The attendance at the Izod Center wasn’t very good. They weren’t in the national headlines much, aside from speculation at the trade deadline that Vince Carter would be traded. So, was there anything to be excited about last year in New Jersey?
Well, for a start, Devin Harris was named to the All-Star Team and was a close runner-up to Danny Granger in Most Improved Player voting. At the same time, Carter had a tremendous, under-the-radar 12th season (though he was snubbed from the All-Star Team) and Brook Lopez had an absolutely outstanding rookie campaign. Lopez’s fellow rooks, Ryan Anderson and Chris Douglas-Roberts, showed some promise. And this happened.
I’d argue that the Nets’ performance last year is about all anyone could have asked of the group. Did they deserve to win more than 34 games, with a roster that consisted of the aforementioned players along with Yi Jianlian, Jarvis Hayes, Trenton Hassell, Keyon Dooling, Eduardo Najera, Bobby Simmons, Josh Boone, and Sean Williams? I say no. This team was undoubtedly in rebuilding mode after shipping Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson out of town.
This fact was made even more apparent before draft night, when New Jersey at last sent their veteran star Carter home to Orlando along with Ryan Anderson, in exchange for promising youngster Courtney Lee and a pair of vets with expiring contracts, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie. This was a salary dump move, similar to the Richard Jefferson trade of the previous summer but with the added bonus of the promising Lee. Replacing an All-Star quality wing with Courtney Lee should make the team worse next season, but that’s not the point. Even if you’re disappointed that Ryan Anderson had to be included in the deal, the Nets got what they wanted for Vince: salary relief and a young talent.
On draft night, the Nets came away with another promising wing player, 22-year-old Terrence Williams. This move and the Vince deal represent the sum total of the Nets’ 2009 off-season activity thus far. The organization plans to “improve from within”. Kinda boring, huh?
Yep, but boring is fine here. They don’t need to make a bunch of moves to improve for next season. In Harris (26) and Lopez (21) they have two young studs. In Williams, Lee, and CDR, they have other pieces who are years away entering their primes. I can’t say this is certainly the case with Yi, but that’s another story. What’s important here is that at the conclusion of season the Nets will have Battie, Alston, Hassell, Hayes, and Boone’s contracts off the books; they will have a team option on Yi Jianlin and Sean Williams’s contracts; and they will have the ability to waive Najera and Dooling, as their contracts for 2010-2011 are unguaranteed. The Nets will have a ton of cap space with which to re-tool the team and there should be a lot of quality free agents to choose from, free agents who should be excited about joining forces with Harris and Lopez. If they can grab a couple of legitimate starters next summer, and their young guys continue to improve and act as contributing role players, the outlook could be a hell of a lot better in 2010-2011.
So, I’m essentially telling you that Nets fans should be patient. Their team will likely not improve next season, but they will have two guys who are more than worth watching and a group of young guys and role players that should play hard under coach Lawrence Frank. I said in my Wizards post that the team would be better next season, but the overall plan is questionable. With the Nets, it’s the opposite – they’re not making the playoffs, but they’re on the right track. To me, this is better than the alternative.