Joe Johnson doesn’t view the core of this Nets team coming back together next season.
The sad obit of Brooklyn’s Big 3 was delivered Saturday morning by Joe Johnson, the realist of the group who sat puffy-eyed in the practice facility with a full understanding of the circumstances.
Even if the core manages another season together, Mikhail Prokhorov’s experiment failed.
“Something’s going to happen. I don’t know what. I don’t see us coming back as the same team,” Johnson said about 11 hours after Nets were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. “This is my third year here. I could see if we were getting better each year, but it’s kind of been the opposite. So to not even be a .500 ball club in the East, it’s disheartening and I don’t know. I think everyone in that locker room is unsure of the future here.”
Baggie Day for the Nets arrived earlier this season with a mood best described as uneasy, while the front office enters an offseason with no cap space and the 29th pick in the draft. Brook Lopez, the best player this season, will likely exercise his option to become a free agent. Thaddeus Young could do the same. Johnson and Deron Williams are headed back to the trading block.
The question wasn’t so much whether the Nets could keep their core, but rather why would they after squeaking into the playoffs with the most expensive roster in the NBA?
“I thought we had a higher basketball IQ as a group than we did,” coach Lionel Hollins said. “That was a big thing. I thought we had more toughness and all of that. But as a coach, looking from the outside, that’s why I always say until you come in and coach a team you don’t know for sure. I thought the skill level was better and all of this, but we worked around it and that’s part of coaching.”
Williams, who three years ago signed a $ 98 million contract, didn’t speak to the media following his worst season since he was a 21-year-old rookie. A trade would be a
Deron Williams comes off his worst season in the NBA since his breaking in as a rookie.
welcomed development for the point guard, considering the circumstances: he has butted heads with Hollins; he hasn’t adjusted well to being a family man living and playing in New York; he has regressed every year — both mentally and physically — since being traded to the Nets in 2011.
“He’s not a franchise player anymore. He’s a good player, he’s a solid player, but I don’t think he’s a franchise player anymore,” Hollins said. “That’s just my opinion. He’s a good player. I’m proud of the way he’s bounced back and played and there’s so much pressure on him to be a franchise player, and everybody talks about a franchise player, and we need to have a franchise team.”
Lopez, who has a one-year, $ 16.7 million contract option, is the closest thing Brooklyn has to a franchise player. But Hollins isn’t convinced.
“I think when you look at Brook, I think you can look at him in that way,” Hollins said. “He has some limitations. When I say limitations, I think that if he developed his postgame, he could be a franchise player, but I don’t want to put that pressure on him, to say that if he doesn’t do that, he isn’t. I’m just saying that potentially with size and athleticism and the whole nine yards, from an offensive perspective. But there’s a lot more that goes into a franchise player than just skill, so I don’t even want to go there.”
So the Nets are again in a state of flux (what else is new?), while the owner celebrates his 50th birthday on Sunday in Turkey — reportedly with models being paid $ 20,000 to show up. GM Billy King has one year remaining on his deal, but assistant GM Bobby Marks didn’t have his contract picked up and is likely headed elsewhere.
Marks, an expert capologist, has been with the Nets for 20 years, starting as an intern. He is also the last holdover in the basketball operations department from the pre-
Prokhorov era. One thing that won’t change is the practice facility in East Rutherford, N.J., because the $ 50 million replacement under construction in Brooklyn won’t be ready for the start of the season.
So players will continue to grapple with bumper-to-bumper commutes.
“They kill my soul,” Young said of his drive from Jersey to Brooklyn.
And the Nets have killed their window of opportunity.
“When you’ve been together for quite some time — two, three years, you expect to have some type of chemistry,” Johnson said. “We never had that going into seasons. That’s probably the thing that hurt us the most because you can have coaching changes but as players, you have to have cohesiveness to be successful in this league.”
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