Sunday, March 23, 2008

Musing About the Future, Part I

The Nets are not going to the playoffs, of this I am thoroughly convinced. Thus, on a night when I am not particularly angry about their most recent loss, I thought it would be constructive to begin speculating about the future of the team...

1. Forget draft position. Since they won't make the playoffs they will be a lottery team. But what do they need?

At every position they have either youth with rough talent or stardom. 1 is Devin Harris and Marcus Williams. There is not a 1 out there of NBA calliber sufficient to leapfrog ahead of both of them. 2 is VC, who is a star. They might get some strength there, but it is not apparent who that would be. 3 is RJ, a star, and Boki, as good as anything outside of Beasley, but why would you get Beasley just to sit him behind RJ? 4 is Boone and SWill, youth and talent, and I might add, intelligence. 5 is Krstic, who is coming back to form, if slowly (he had a creditable game last night), Stromile who is serviceable and Diop who is a question mark. Ager might surprise if given the chance. Hassell is expendable.

So what is really weak that any of the current crop of players can fix?

Whatever, whoever they get is not gonna turn a franchise around like a Magic or Duncan or Ewing or Olajuwon, LeBron or MJ or Bird. It would at best be more young talent.

With Kidd gone, RJ and VC are the leaders, and likely to be the only leaders, as Armstrong is almost definitely gone. Any trade of those two stars would just make the Nets even less able to mold their suddenly youthful roster. There are not blockbuster trades in the offing involving those two.

Even if the Nets get #1, don't expect much to come from it.

2. Fire the coach. Right at this moment, Frank is 186-170 with the Nets (which is to say all time). If they do indeed go 2-10 to finish the season, or even 5-7, aside from the 14 game winning streak he got as his honeymoon in 2004, he would be dead even. And that includes the 49-33 season of 2006. His last two seasons would put him somewhere between 15 and 20 games under .500.

He is not great at molding or inspiring talent, and aside from RJ and VC, this team will be nothing but young talent next year. Frank is not a great in-game coach, and does not show signs of great preparation either. Read this blog for a litany of his foibles. I'm tired repeating them.

Young players today respond to those coaches who played - the Mo Cheeks of the world. The Eddie Jordans of the world. The experienced teams like guys like Popovich, guys who have deep benches and know how to handle them. The Nets, however, are not going to be an experienced team next year.

More than Jason Kidd's supposed bad attitude, Frank has run this team out of contention and into the ground. A month into the post-Kidd world and it is clear that JKidd's "checking out" was not the source of the Nets' woes.

So Frank must go.

The problems, then, are twofold:
- Who'd wanna come an replace him in limbo?
- Would the apathetic owner expend the effort needed to find, woo and hire a new coach at this juncture?

3. The owner. My wife used to be a big Knick fan. The Dolans made sure that that ain't gonna happen any more.

I used to feel for Knick fans - bad coaching, bad player personnel decisions, but no change possible because the owners were that clueless.

Now, however, I feel almost as bad for myself. At this point, we still have Rod Thorn, thanks be to god! Were he to leave, all bets would be off.

I firmly believe the Nets have as much or better young talent than any team in the league. All they need is a decent in-game coach. At least, that's all they DID need. Now they need a good in-game coach who knows how to teach and motivate and integrate young players.

Problem is, Frank still has a year on his contract. No one is gonna pick him up, so there is no motivation to re-up him this summer to avoid him being a lame duck. Until very recently, I didn't see Ratner parting with the $1 million or less that he would have to eat to fire Frank.

But with the recent admission by Ratner that the larger Atlantic Yards project having to be postponed due to economic conditions, but still keeping to the plan to build the arena "on schedule" (ie, meaning just one year late), he should be more motivated than ever to keep the Nets as cogent and competitive a team as possible.

If he truly (and who really knows?) thinks that building the arena and moving the Nets is the best way to keep his wet dream alive, then it will become crystal clear that he needs to keep the Nets a happening thing - return them to being a perennial playoff contender. And Rod Thorn has already made sure that there is a nucleus of young talent to make that happen. All that would be needed is a better coach.

The idea of that coach bring his playoff team into a sparkling new arena as a conquering hero would be a tasty morsel to drop on the lap of someone. He could turn it into a selling point.

Assuming, of course, that he is serious about keeping to his plan to build the arena...

If not, if he sees that even with the arena already in situ, his larger project is doomed or delayed beyond all reckoning, he will sell the team. Post haste.

Imagine the potential wreckage from that!

Even if Ratner did decide to fire Frank and get the next guy, whom indeed would he get?

One could envisage Larry Brown being the conquering hero coming back to NY, this time with a decent roster and a great GM. But two years in limbo is a lot to ask of a Larry Brown.

Brian Hill could take over. Enh. He's actually coached in the finals. Of course, he had Shaq. Without Shaq he has not done very well. Especially in developing young talent.

What about a Mike O'Koren, or some other ex-Net, willing to take a chance on romance? Or (gulp) Mark Jackson..?

Whoever it might be, they would be consigned to 2 years in purgatory, with no guarantees that they would ever get out. The arena could be further delayed. Ratner might decide to cut losses and sell the team. The new ownership might be wooed by the NJSEA to stay in the swamp. It could be a mess for a decade to come.

Bad basketball and back to being the East Coast Joke (along with the West Coast Joke Clippers) of the NBA...

Without Ratner punting and selling the team, without him giving up the ghost of Atlantic Yards, Lawrence Frank is safe, simply by default.

And we can look forward to two or more years of bad basketball...

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