It’s only after we’ve lost everything that we’re free to do anything. -- Fight Club
A year after their reckless move to grab Deron Williams at the trade deadline, things are not looking good for the New Jersey Nets. Instead of building a team around Brook Lopez, Derrick Favors and a pick that could have been Brandon Knight or Kemba Walker, the Nets have one of the weakest rosters 3-12 in the NBA.
While Dwight Howard would change everything, if the Orlando Magic decide to deal their All-NBA center, the Nets potential trade chips pale in comparison to Andrew Bynum. If Orlando keeps Howard until the end of the season, Dallas, Williams’ hometown, is a much more attractive destination for both marquee free agents this summer.
Without Howard, there’s no reason for Williams to remain with the Nets. Without Williams, the Nets will be trying to open their new arena in Brooklyn without a single marquee player. Mikhail Prokhorov was supposed to help attract free agents, but he seems to have lost interest in his NBA franchise, as he’s currently running against Vladimir Putin for the Russian Presidency.
If New Jersey cannot get Howard before the trade deadline, there’s a very good chance they will crater out as one of the worst franchises in the NBA as they attempt to open their new Brooklyn arena. Even in a best-case scenario, they would probably be two to three years away from seriously contending for a playoff berth. At the same time, the New York Knicks, their main competition for eye-balls and dollars in the Tri-State area, have the core of a title contender in place as well as a player whose popularity transcends the sport.
That’s what makes their mid-season signing of Gerald Green so interesting. A super-athletic 6’7, 195 shooting guard with a 6’10 wingspan, he was the No. 1 player in the country coming out of high school in 2005. As a 20-year-old rookie in Boston, he had a per-36 minute average of 16.1 points on 47.8% shooting.
However, he was never able to integrate his talents into an offensive scheme or play with consistent effort defensively, washing out of the NBA at the age of 23. Now, three years later, he’s been humbled by stints in the D-League and Europe. An AAU star whose career fizzled due to off-the-court issues, he fits the profile of late-blooming players in the modern NBA.
In his first game with the Nets, a 93-92 victory over the Dallas Mavericks, Green played 19 minutes, scoring 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting. The legs which let him blow out a candle on top of the rim still have plenty of spring in them: in one sequence against the Mavericks, the 2007 Slam Dunk champion nearly hit his head against the rim as he threw down an alley-oop.
With so few top young shooting guards behind Dwyane Wade and Kobe Bryant, Green is as purely talented a two-guard as there is in the league. What does New Jersey, a 11-25 team with a -6.5 point differential, have to lose by featuring him offensively?
But even if Green became a far more consistent contributor in his second stint in the NBA, the Nets are still one big man away from playoff contention. Lopez, while an excellent scorer at 7’0, 265, is averaging a pitiful 4.4 rebounds per-36 minutes of action since returning from a broken foot. Kris Humphries, a replacement-level power forward, is best suited coming off the bench and the less said about Johan Petro and Shelden Williams the better.
Without many trade assets, New Jersey will need to go long on another reclamation project if they want to upgrade their front-court. One name comes to mind, another 2005 high school senior who has squandered a prodigious amount of talent in his first seven years in the NBA -- Washington Wizards PF Andray Blatche.
Blatche, who was ranked behind only Green, Josh McRoberts and Monta Ellis in 2005, is a five-tool 6’11, 250 forward with a 7’2 wingspan. While he’s an atrocious overall defender, he’s physically capable of playing solid defense at both interior positions and he’s skilled enough offensively to have offense run through him in the high and low post. He was compared to Chris Bosh when he first entered the NBA and is easily among the top 20 most gifted players in the world.
Of course, he’s done a magnificent job of throwing all that away during his time with Washington, one of the NBA’s most dysfunctional franchises. His overall demeanor and lack of professionalism is so glaring that he makes Javale McGee (!!) look like the voice of reason in the Wizards frontcourt. Nothing encapsulates his career so far better than the morbidly hilarious video of his futile attempts to secure the final rebound for a triple-double a few years back.
He clearly needs a chance of scenery and a fresh start after seven long and mostly miserable seasons with the Wizards. In joining the Nets, he’d have the benefit of playing with an elite point guard who could create easy offense for him as well as a tough-minded coach (Avery Johnson) who would demand accountability on both sides of the ball. As a player, Johnson was the emotional leader of the San Antonio Spurs and, as a coach, he doesn’t get nearly enough credit for changing the culture in Dallas in the middle of the decade. If there’s anyone who can light a fire under Blatche it’s the Little General.
Unless Billy King can conjure up a miracle in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes, the combination of Blatche and Green is the most realistic hope the Nets have of turning around their franchise. That’s how bad things are in New Jersey right now; they have everything to gain from taking a few chances and absolutely nothing to lose.