The Brooklyn Nets threw everything at the possibility of being a serious contender right now during the past offseason. They went all out on a major trade to acquire veterans Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics, and also made a major gamble by signing Jason Kidd to be the team’s new head coach. A 3-6 start and injuries to just about all of the team’s star players already might suggest that the Nets have always been pretenders rather than contenders.
Anyone watching the Celtics in the playoffs last spring would have been concerned about the idea of Garnett and Pierce being serious answers for a line-up that got dumped in the first round by a short-handed Chicago Bulls last year. The idea of a starting line-up featuring Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Pierce, Garnett and Brooks Lopez may have looked good on paper, but in reality even those hopes and expectations needed to be marked by ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’.
Garnett and Pierce were not able to be serious contributors for Boston last offseason. Celtics’ GM Danny Ainge reportedly hoped to blow that team up before the 2012-13 season anyway and never considered the possibility of hanging onto his core for another season.
That is looking like a pretty good decision early on in 2013-14. Garnett and Pierce were both absent from Saturday’s loss against the LA Clippers. Before that Garnett was averaging less than six points and less than eight rebounds per game. Those are not Garnett type numbers. Meanwhile, Pierce’s 13.5 points per game represents a five-point drop on recent numbers. Even throughout his difficulties last season Pierce still averaged more than 18 points per game.
Johnson’s usual shooting erraticism and ankle injuries for Williams have only gone to make things worse for a team that doesn’t look competitive. The lone bright spot has been some impressive offensive play from Lopez, but the 25-year old is still struggling to battle physically and on the defensive end in the way that a big man eventually has to.
Of course, once Williams is healthy this team will be one of the top five or six teams in the conference. There’s no denying the point guards ability in that regard. The problem is that Williams’ arrival in 2011 has yielded nothing better than a little regular season success. The feeling has been that he is a player who just needs that little bit of extra help.
The evidence from the period of time where he has been struggling with ankle problems suggests that this roster won’t be providing that extra support this season. Williams will still be over-dependent on the unreliable Johnson and Lopez for support.
More importantly, there’s little evidence that Garnett and Pierce have been able to bring over that ‘Celtics’ gritty spirit to Brooklyn. Garnett transformed the culture in Boston when he arrived in 2007. He forced the team to support and be accountable to one another. There are few signs of that sudden increase in spirit in Brooklyn. Instead, Garnett himself has cut a frustrated and tired figure with the Nets. Garnett and Pierce appear to be looking for inspiration themselves, but they are not likely to find it from this franchise right now.
The gamble on Kidd is increasingly looking like one that will need to pay off in the long-term rather than short-term. The rookie head coach is being asked to do a lot and his veteran help is looking less and less like help right now. Being asked to produce results with this roster right away was always going to be a challenge. Maybe the future hall of fame point guard can find something from this line-up before the end of the year, but more likely than not, he won’t be able to.