The Nets picked up their first win of the season over the weekend which wouldn’t be such a big deal if it was the first night or even the first month of the season. A whopping 36 days elapsed in the 2009 NBA regular season before the Nets got a “W.” Teams don’t lose 18 consecutive games on accident. The Nets are horrendous. They’ve lost by an average margin of 11.3 points per game. Six of their 18 losses have come against the 76ers (2), T-Wolves, Wizards, Pacers and the Knicks who are a combined 27-71. This team isn’t remotely close to being good this season and it will likely threaten the record futility of the ’73 76ers for fewest wins in an 82-game season (9).
Considering the Nets started the season 0-18, I’m certainly not telling you anything you didn’t already know by saying they’re dreadful. What you might not know is that New Jersey's ineptitude isn’t a fluke or even unexpected. In fact, New Jersey’s brass purposefully put the Nets in a position to be terrible this season. Clearly, they had no idea that their team would be this poor, but I think it would be a mischaracterization to suggest that anyone in the Nets organization is truly upset by what has transpired this season. They might even be happy about it.
Despite its record, New Jersey boasts two All-Star caliber players under the age of 27 along with a young and talented supporting cast. Brook Lopez (21)—in just his second season—has become a beast in the post. He is already one of the top five true centers in the NBA. Devin Harris (26) is an elite point guard (21 ppg and 7 apg in ’08) who is one of the top penetrators in the league. The Nets also have first round pick Terrance Williams (22), Chris Douglas-Roberts (22), and Courtney Lee (24). All three have been major contributors this season. It’s not the age of these players that could have New Jersey playing in the NBA Finals in the near future, however. It’s the salary. Lopez, Harris, Douglas-Roberts, Williams, and Lee will make a combined $15.8 million next season. There are 18 players in the NBA this season alone that make more than that. Oh, and did I mention that $30 million is coming off the payroll at the end of the season?
The Nets have long been rumored to be one of the leaders to land LeBron James when he becomes a free agent next summer. My guess is that will depend considerably on whether ownership can overcome opposition to their planned move to Brooklyn. It’s possible that LeBron ends up with the “Brooklyn” Nets but for the purposes of this post, I’m going to assume that doesn’t happen. While it would make winning a championship easier, the Nets don’t need to come away with LeBron next season. The “Summer of LeBron” is full of headliners including D-Wade, Dirk, Amare, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, and Joe Johnson. Regardless of how the LeBron situation goes down, the Nets will be in position to add a superstar.
Earlier I mentioned that New Jersey’s front office might actually be happy with the way things have turned out this season. That’s because a "1-18 start" generally coincides with having the #1 overall pick in the draft. Assuming the Nets win the lottery, they will land a superstar. Who they choose will depend on which free agent they’re able to sign. If they come away with a big man (Dirk, Amare, Bosh etc.), to pair with Lopez, then they’ll probably take Kentucky’s John Wall who has drawn comparisons to Derrick Rose. If they land a backcourt player (LeBron, Wade, Joe Johnson), then they’ll probably take Georgia Tech’s Derrick Favors who is a dominant power forward in the mold of Chris Bosh. Either way, the Nets are going to come away from the 2010 Draft with a superstar.
Even with $30 million to burn in the “Summer of LeBron” and the likely #1 pick in the NBA Draft to go along with Lopez and Harris, the Nets aren’t guaranteed to win championship but they’d have to make some horrible decisions to not at least contend. The extent to which the Nets can challenge for a title will depend on who they’re able to sign next summer. If it’s a good-but-not-great player like Joe Johnson, then it could be a few years before we know how good this team can become. If it’s someone like Chris Bosh or Amare Stoudemire, then this team is going to be a force in the Eastern Conference. If ownership can move this team to Brooklyn and get LeBron on board, then it’s not a matter of “if” the Nets will win a championship but rather “how many?”