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NBA Sunday: Nets Haven’t Spent Enough?
Posted By Bill Ingram On August 25, 2013 @ 9:00 am In NBA | No Comments
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Brooklyn Nets Haven’t Spent Enough Yet?
Before the start of a new NBA season, every team would like their fan base to believe that they are about to witness something historic. In the case of the Brooklyn Nets, this year is absolutely guaranteed to be historic. If nothing else, the Nets will field the most expensive team in NBA history, and it won’t even be remotely close. As things stand today, the Nets will look forward to a luxury tax bill in the neighborhood of $80 million, and that’s on top of the $102.2 million they will pay out to their players.
The top dog in the East is, of course, the defending champion Miami HEAT, followed closely by the conference finalist Indiana Pacers. With Danny Granger healthy and back in the lineup, Indiana will be even better, perhaps even ready to challenge Miami for a spot in the Finals. They are certainly better than the Nets. Right behind Indiana is expected to be the Chicago Bulls since they will have Derrick Rose healthy and are ready to make up for lost time. Rose was the league MVP before injuries set him back for two seasons and if he returns to form or is even better, the Bulls will absolutely be better than the Nets. There’s even a possibility that the cross-town New York Knicks could make it hard for the Nets to grab home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“What? You’re crazy, Bill. The Nets are easily a top-four team in the East with all those great players added to the roster.”
Yes, I can already hear you scrolling down to type some version of the above message in the comments section. It’s OK. Go ahead and post that comment and then come back for my explanation. The rest of us will wait.
Last season the Nets, with Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez as the anchors, finished with 49 wins and were in a virtual tie with the third-seeded Pacers, who played one less game thanks to a cancellation due to the Boston Marathon bombing. It’s reasonable to expect them to win at least the same number of games with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko now in the mix, isn’t it? Certainly. The issue isn’t whether or not the Nets will be better, it’s whether or not they will improve as much as their peers at the top of the East will. Older, slower vets won’t help Brooklyn compete with the ever-improving Pacers and Bulls, and the HEAT should once again be in a class by themselves.
Most of all, however, we have to consider the clutch factor, or the number of games Brooklyn is likely to win when the final outcome is decided by the slimmest of margins.
Joe Johnson would seem to be Brooklyn’s closer if we consider his $21.5 million price tag. Anyone making that kind of money certainly should be a closer, but historically Johnson has never reliably filled that role. Under his guidance the Atlanta Hawks were never better than a second-round team, and even with his impressive supporting cast in Brooklyn he was victim of a first-round exit at the hands of a battered and bruised Bulls team last postseason. Last season, in games decided in the final five minutes, Johnson wasn’t even in the top 25 clutch players in the NBA. He ranked 31st, behind players like Lance Stephenson, Patrick Beverley and Marco Belinelli. If the Nets are going to improve, it won’t be on the back of Johnson.
Deron Williams might be expected to be next in line, as he is widely regarded as one of the top point guards in the NBA. Some would even argue that he is the best, though that argument doesn’t hold up well after last year’s colossal collapse. Despite being one of the most sought-after free agents in last summer’s class, Williams, too, struggled to deliver when his team needed him most. He ranked 56th overall in clutch delivery, right behind Chris Andersen and Cory Joseph.
Brook Lopez was actually Brooklyn’s top clutch performer last season, but despite his 12th-best ranking the Nets still lost 67 percent of their games that were decided in the final five minutes.
So who steps up to help the Nets ascend to the heights of the Eastern Conference? Paul Pierce is the knee-jerk response, but that’s based on his exploits during the Boston Celtics’ NBA Finals runs. Pierce has not been that player over the last two seasons, and ranked 44th last season, two places behind Kevin Garnett. Garnett is hardly that player, and the word out of Brooklyn is that he won’t play nearly as big a role for the Nets as the team looks to save him for the playoffs.
Three minutes left, Nets down five… who wins the game for them?
Contenders have an answer to that question, and four other Eastern Conference teams have at least one sure-fire answer. For Miami it’s LeBron James and Dwyane Wade; for Indiana it’s Paul George and Danny Granger; for Chicago it’s Derrick Rose and a nice combination of Luol Deng and Joakim Noah. The Knicks even have a better answer, with Carmelo Anthony ranking as the seventh-best clutch player in the NBA.
That’s $102.2 million in payroll, some $80 million in tax and still no one to reliably deliver when the Nets need a basket in crunch time?
It seems they haven’t spent enough money just yet.
Which Dwight Howard Will Houston Get?
It’s interesting that, even now, weeks after Dwight Howard chose to continue his career as a member of the Houston Rockets, the predominant story coming out of Laker Land is about the bridge that now lies in cinders and ashes at the edge of the Pacific. Dwight wanted this, Dwight wanted that. He wanted yet another head coach fired, he wanted the Lakers to amnesty Kobe Bryant. Blah blah blah.
The first thing that Rockets fans need to understand about their new star center is that he is absolutely nothing like their previous star centers. Yao Ming, Hakeem Olajuwon and Moses Malone all had a commitment to winning that superseded any individual concerns they may have had. They didn’t get caught up in coaching, they didn’t make excessive demands of the franchise and they certainly didn’t allow themselves to be a bigger story than the team due to immaturity and conceit.
Dwight Howard began his career a very humble, hard-working young man who seemed destined to make his mark on the NBA record books, but in recent years he has allowed his idiosyncrasies to derail his career and make him more of a villain than a hero to his previous two teams.
In a recent Sulia post, Ric Bucher aptly points out that the Rockets run a system that is quite similar to the one utilized by Mike D’Antoni’s Lakers, and that D’Antoni and Rockets head coach Kevin McHale have quite a bit in common:
Did Dwight have issues with his role in Mike’s offense? Yes. Was he enamored with playing for Phil Jackson? Apparently. But the fact is he’s headed to the Rockets, who run — or have run — practically the same pick-and-roll offense that D’Antoni employs and, as Jeremy Lin insinuated recently and I’ve observed firsthand, Kevin McHale can be as publicly ascerbic [sic] as D’Antoni or any other coach assessing a player. While there are those who insist the Lakers had the wherewithal to keep Howard, the feeling is not unanimous: some involved believe he never intended to stay. That, perhaps, is why it’s difficult to put this story in the rearview mirror — because the reasons that Howard is not a Laker are vital in defining both who he is and who the Lakers are in the wake of Dr. Buss’ death.
Rockets fans won’t lose too much sleep worrying about who the Lakers are or were, but the question of who Dwight Howard is should be extremely concerning to Houston fans who are preparing a championship parade based on Howard’s arrival alone.
There’s no question that Howard has the ability to lead a team to the NBA Finals. He has done it once, and when fully healthy there is every reason to believe he could do it again. He has a plethora of shooters around him in Houston, as he did in Orlando’s Finals year, and he has a superstar in James Harden to help share the responsibility of carrying the team. Harden has no desire to be in the spotlight and will happily let Howard have the glory all to himself if there is glory to be had. He also has one of the game’s all-time greats in Hakeem Olajuwon ready and willing to work with him and help him realize his impressive potential. It’s really a perfect situation for Dwight, but will he take advantage of it?
It’s time for Dwight to get over Dwight. It’s time for him to stop worrying about who plays when, who the offense runs through and whatever else the head coach is doing. It’s time for Dwight to shut up and play basketball at the highest level, which would lead to a very deep playoff run for the Rockets.
If, instead, we see more of the same from Dwight, the prima donna BS that made him a hated figure in both Orlando and Los Angeles, it could be a very long season in Houston.
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