Thursday, May 18, 2006

Good . . . . byes

Talk about how much has changed in a year . .. After last season, Jason Kidd was clearly irritated about the repeated questions of what the Nets’ needed. (He hates that GM stuff). The Nets still have needs, but this time Kidd seemed happier to answer the questions . . . because of their starting lineup and the increased balance in the conference.
”You look around the league,” Kidd said. “The league is getting tighter and becoming compressed. If you look at the top 10 or top 5, it could go either way going into the fourth quarter.

“We probably won’t be mentioned, but at the end of the day, hopefully we can get there to be one of those top teams because the league is starting to shrink. It used to be one dominant team and the rest is good. Now there are just a lot of good teams out there and it can go either way. So hopefully next year we can be in that situation.”

They probably will be . . . so long as no one in the Atlantic improves like Cleveland and Chicago has.


XXX

Lots of talk about Cliff today, who was here at the practice facility, but did not talk . . .which all may be moot, because the Nets certainly aren’t going to exercise the $2.5 million option on his contract. And it would seem unlikely that management would want to offer the veteran’s minimum.

The players basically said they’d take him back (they’re union guys, you know). Lawrence perfectly pointed out the great shame of it all (besides the fact that he probably cost them a game or two against the Heat).

“Cliff, if you take out what happened at the end, really had a super year,” Lawrence said. “It was very, very unfortunate that what happened because it takes away from how good he was for us. That he really had a great year obviously gets lost because of what happened.”

So does Lawrence want him back?

“With any free agent, it's a joint decision, so I'm not going to make any statement.”

Stop your giggling. Lawrence didn’t mean it that way.

XXX

Thanks for reading the blog during the playoffs . . we’ll see if we can get this thing back up and running next season.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Now what?

The Nets’ issues are never as glaring as they are the day after the season is over.

So let’s remove the blinders and see them for what they are.

Issue No. 1: The Nets need a huge shakeup this off-season.

They may try for one with their semi-annual Kevin Garnett call, which will likely be politely refuted once again. The reality is the Nets think they have one of the better starting fives in the league. Nenad and Richard still have upside. Vince is Vince. Kidd is Kidd. For now. Richard and Vince can play alongside each other, although the selfless RJ would probably not like to be the odd-man out offensively so much.

Issue No. 2: The Nets’ bench needs to be blown up.

Put it this way. Their best reserve of the season missed the last three games for a drug suspension and probably won’t be back. Their second best reserve didn’t play all season, but was a very good contributor in the postseason. The Nets in their history have never had such an imbalance of starters vs. reserves (of course, there were times when both were terrible).

Can they actually improve it? It won’t be as easy at all. Their two first-round picks (No. 22 and 23) probably won’t result in anything much and there’s certainly not any certainty they’ll use ‘em both. They can find someone to help with their $5 million midlevel exception, but it’s only one piece. And there’s no guarantee they’ll use it (although Mr. Ratner has said just being over the luxury tax won’t make or break him) The Nets need someone who can get dirty defensively, they need a 3-point shooter and they still need someone to back up Kidd (that whole McGinnis thing didn’t quite work out).

Issue No. 3: The Nets need a new coach

Sorry. We know this is a popular opinion. But we don’t buy it from the standpoint of how much LF prepares in all facets and how much he has the respect of his most important players. It’s so easy to dump on a coach. Even LF dumps on the coach. But the guy is still young. He’s getting his playoff experience and big-game experience. He’s getting his respect around the league. He’s cost-effective, which an owner would prefer if he’s doling out national budgets for players.

Questions of how he phased out certain players, never to be seen or heard from again, are valid. Take a look at Lamond Murray, for example. But we seriously doubt LF just went on blind (lack of) faith. The bottom line is, the Nets improved under Lawrence Frank this season. At least give the team to take a step back before requesting the axe.

More on the Nets’ needs tomorrow in your Gannett papers and in our final blog of the season…

Please feel free to post your questions, comments or complaints.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

True Believers?

One thing that’s always interesting to me around this time of year (re: when the Nets are on the brink of elimination) is to see how their self-belief is tested.

The vibe right now around this team is only slightly better than it was when they were down 3-0 last season against Miami. Completely different circumstances, of course, but there is still the palpable sense that the end is near. There isn’t any talk about how getting it to a Game 7 would be a lot easier than getting it to a Game 6, should they do so tonight. There isn’t a sense they can survive the series.

But you try to get the closest, on-the-record gauge you can as to what they’re really feeling. You wonder aloud what the past two fourth quarters have done to their confidence level. You hope to extract something acknowledging a hit. You listen. You learn that the truth will only come out when it’s over.

“We are still a confident team,” Vince Carter said this morning at shootaround. “It’s not like we don’t know what’s the problem or where the breakdown is. We understand we didn’t execute and didn’t do what we needed to get the win. For us to win games, we have those two turnovers, whatever, game-changing mistakes late in the game, one mistake can be the cause of the game.

“That is how playoff basketball goes. It is not like the regular season. It is a little different. A little more on the line. We understand that. And that is why we are still a confident team. We know we are right there. You just have to eliminate some of those things to beat good teams.”

XXX

The Heat are a little freer with their emotions, as evidenced by the Dwyane-Payton sideline undercard in the first round.

Pat Riley, in fact, simply owns up to the doubts he had about his team in the regular season, when they couldn’t stop anybody on the defensive end.

“We always have doubts. Everybody,” Riles aid. “I’m an Irish Catholic pessimist. I always thought that the worst was going to happen. Sometimes my players reflect that on me too, they say, ‘Coach, we don’t need to hear that today. We want to win.’

“But you always have doubts. Players have doubts. And I think that’s what creates the faith. If the team that keeps faith in each other and you go through the tough times and you win games, it creates a bond.”

XXX

Some other sinking feelings (Hey, it’s raining here in Miami)…

Anyone else out there think Shaq still has a 30-20 game in him? This would be the time to rise to the occasion, with a chance to close out the Nets tonight on the Heat’s home floor. We think Shaq may step up the aggression a tad more, with the whistles possibly a little more reluctant to blow given the circumstances.

Whatever happens with O’Neal, credit Jason Collins for having a very good series on the Big Fella. He’s gotten better and smarter on him, by making it less about strength. He also didn’t have any help from Cliff Robinson the last two games.

“I think it's just a matter of me getting more comfortable guarding him,” Twin said. “The first time I played against him was in the Finals my rookie year. And there's a difference between watching somebody play on TV and then actually going out and playing against him, learning what they like to do out on the court, what's effective in guarding them, trying to make it tougher on them.

“I'm kind of used to him. Like when he wants to do a spin out. He's only gotten one this series on the baseline spin. I remember first playing against him, it was hard to gauge when that move was coming. So it's just a matter of experience and playing against him all the time.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

Walking the plank

It’s all over but the re-routing, as the Nets will head to Miami for Game 5 to either finish their season or delay the inevitable.

Jason Collins was noting how the Suns were able to come back from 3-1 down to get past the Lakers last series in the first round, one of eight teams that have done it out of 163 like scenarios.

The problem there is the Suns are better than the Nets, and the Heat are better than the Lakers.

Still, we look for good intent from New Jersey in Game 5 . . . These guys usually warm to adversity. An elimination game on the road qualifies as such.

“I have more success to think about than failure,” Richard Jefferson said. “In that case, you have to go out there and believe in that every single time that every shot’s going to go in, that you’re going to make every play. You keep playing until the buzzer sounds.”

XXX

Cliff Robinson was here today. He sends his best.

Nets were pretty much mum on what he had to say, although our guesses at an apology were not poo-poo’ed.

“What goes on in that locker room stays in that locker room,” Lawrence Frank said. “But he was here. He was an active participant, what we were doing.”

Cliff isn’t allowed to be in the arena during the games, so he’s not going to Miami. Wouldn’t imagine it being very comfortable if he did go.

XXX

Lawrence always gets asked if he plans on taking excerpts out of his big book of motivation, because it usually works. And he probably will tomorrow. But his words on how the Nets can get past these guys for at least one more tomorrow seem to be motivation enough, mostly because they’ve beaten Miami before.

“We can do it if we maintain our discipline and maintain our ball movement, maintain making the extra pass and extra penetration,” he said. “There are no secrets.”

Friday, May 12, 2006

Cliff diving

“First of all, I want to say this is a very embarrassing situation for myself, especially under the circumstances that we've been going through. So I definitely want to apologize to my teammates and the organization for putting the added stress on the team.”

No, this wasn’t Cliff Robinson today.

It was Cliff Robinson in Feb. 2001, when he was a member of the Phoenix Suns. He was charged with driving under the influence and with having marijuana and a pipe in his Porsche.

Those charges were dropped. But Cliff was ordered into the NBA’s drug program, meaning he had to respond to periodic phone calls from the league. He served a five-game suspension in 2005 for not participating in one of these calls – which is not what you think of when you hear ‘violation of the league’s Anti-Drug program.’

When and if Cliff addresses this latest turn of events, he’ll likely say something similar to the above quote. Truth is, Cliff’s a good guy. But that won’t stop you, the media or the Nets from scratching their heads and asking two questions, both beginning with the word ‘Why’…

Why can’t you pick up a phone?

Or why can’t you put down whatever it is that resulted in this suspension?

You can’t apologize for him either way.

It’s a shame that the Nets’ season as come to this, especially when Robinson was such a major part of it. At 39 years old and eclipsing some NBA milestone almost on a daily basis, Robinson seemed to be putting all this garbage behind him.

Now the Nets are down to one guy who can effectively defend Shaquille O’Neal. This is a major blow to their chances in this series.

It’s still early here at the Meadowlands… Rod’s going to talk at 6:30. Robinson can appeal, but according to the league, he hasn’t yet.

Yes, Cliff was at shootaround today. No, he hasn’t responded to phone calls yet.

Cliff diving

“First of all, I want to say this is a very embarrassing situation for myself, especially under the circumstances that we've been going through. So I definitely want to apologize to my teammates and the organization for putting the added stress on the team.”

No, this wasn’t Cliff Robinson today.

It was Cliff Robinson in Feb. 2001, when he was a member of the Phoenix Suns. He was charged with driving under the influence and with having marijuana and a pipe in his Porsche.

Those charges were dropped. But Cliff was ordered into the NBA’s drug program, meaning he had to respond to periodic phone calls from the league. He served a five-game suspension in 2005 for not participating in one of these calls – which is not what you think of when you hear ‘violation of the league’s Anti-Drug program.’

When and if Cliff addresses this latest turn of events, he’ll likely say something similar to the above quote. Truth is, Cliff’s a good guy. But that won’t stop you, the media or the Nets from scratching their heads and asking two questions, both beginning with the word ‘Why’…

Why can’t you pick up a phone?

Or why can’t you put down whatever it is that resulted in this suspension?

You can’t apologize for him either way.

It’s a shame that the Nets’ season as come to this, especially when Robinson was such a major part of it. At 39 years old and eclipsing some NBA milestone almost on a daily basis, Robinson seemed to be putting all this garbage behind him.

Now the Nets are down to one guy who can effectively defend Shaquille O’Neal. This is a major blow to their chances in this series.

It’s still early here at the Meadowlands… Rod’s going to talk at 6:30. Robinson can appeal, but according to the league, he hasn’t yet.

Yes, Cliff was at shootaround today. No, he hasn’t responded to phone calls yet.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

To play or not to play...

Lots of speculation on Richard’s status for tonight. He was listed as doubtful yesterday for Game 2 tonight. And we feel it should be the same right now.

But RJ wasn’t wearing a boot today. He wasn’t limping. And he was still holding out hope he could go.

Lawrence Frank put it best at the morning shootaround, in a crammed office in the locker room.

“Oh, if he can play, he's gonna play,” L-Frank said. “We wouldn't put him in jeopardy. If he's on the floor, it's because we're all sure there's not going to be potential risk.”

XXX

Politician, salesman, martyr? ….Or sincere coach?

That’s what we were trying to make of Pat Riley this morning. Riles seems to want to downplay the impact of the officiating in this series for fear it could negatively effect the Heat later in the series.

Before today, Riley was reluctant to talk about Shaq’s problems with the whistles. Today, he might as well offered tonight’s crew a limo ride to the arena.

"I think we led the league in free throw attempts,” Riley said. “I don’t think we’re a team that gets hosed. I don’t. I try to get my players to stop it. Stop it! It’s not them, it’s us, okay? And it’s the opposition. So stop looking at somebody else and being a victim. Make the adjustment, you’ve got to make in this league.”

Jason Collins was expecting O’Neal to adjust…a lot of keeping the elbows in, perhaps curtailing his aggressiveness inside, like in the fourth quarter of Game 1, when Shaq scored 13 of his 20 points.

“His adjustment is probably that he's going to shoot over us instead of trying to go through us,” Collins said. “Our adjustment to that is as soon as he shoots it, we've got to get to him and block him out so he can't just reach over us and get the offensive rebound.”

XXX

Saw Kenyon Martin at a restaurant last night. In talking to him at halftime during Game 1 and seeing him last night, the guy seems very happy, despite all of the trouble in Denver.

We’re wondering where he’ll wind up, just like most people. The favorable situations seem few (New York and Portland aren’t good)…But maybe the Heat take an interest in him. They have pieces the Nuggets could entertain, if it means getting rid that albatross of a contract.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Getting a leg up

Good news and bad news travels fast…As you probably already know, Richard Jefferson is doubtful for Game 2 tomorrow. The upside, for the moment, is there isn’t a sense that this is a major, major injury.

RJ’s MRI was A-OK (We love initial-based sentences). No tears (rhyming with bears, not beers). They’re calling it a bone bruise in his right ankle, rather than a sprained ankle. It’s tender, but feeling better by the hour.

The Nets basically are more willing to keep RJ out tomorrow than running the risk of having him out, or at lesser strength, down the line. If he plays Friday in Game 3, that would be four days of rest. (We used our fingers for the math).

At the same time, the Nets seem to be setting themselves up nicely as far as motivation goes. In other words, just when you thought they were about to promote themselves to ‘favorite’ status, RJ’s probable absence keeps them collared with the underdog tab.

“They’re going to respond well because everyone is going to count them out,” Jefferson said today. “I’m not saying I’m not playing. But if I am not able to go, everyone is going to count them out and say they don’t have a chance.”

XXX

Game 2 could be ugly for the Nets, because the Heat will have a much easier time defending them without Jefferson. If Nenad is back in foul trouble or Kidd is missing his shots, it’s going to be tough for the Nets to be greedy in the series because Vince Carter will get loaded up on.

Vince was rallying the troops for the task at hand.

“We believe in each other out here,” he said. “If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be the third seed in the Eastern Conference because there were rough times when people wrote us off and we lost three or four in a row and everybody said , ‘Oh, maybe the Nets aren’t as good as we thought they are.’ We did it together. We stuck together as a unit. We believed in everybody.”

Lamond Murray will likely get the start and the Nets bench gets thinner. Rookie AntoineWright and Zoran Planinic should see minutes.

XXX
Before the series, we spoke of John Thomas’ likely role as a folk hero, playing against Shaq in the second round after playing just the final two games with the Nets. The vet set some strong picks and got some good fouls in Game 1. The legend is growing.

“When he was in Atlanta, I thought he separated my shoulder a couple of times setting screens,” Carter said.

XXX

Shaq, who didn’t talk to reporters after Game 1, seemed in decent mood today. He credited the Nets for playing a “smart” game. Didn’t rail too much about the calls.

And then a reporter asked him if he had any phone calls last night.

“Yes, your mother.”

What did she say?

“Happy Father’s Day.”