Is a top four seed realistic for the Nets?

Brian Erni

Billy King has laid down the gauntlet for his revamped roster. The Nets general manager made his first comments to the press since the summer and spelled out his expectations for the boys in Brooklyn: a top four seed in the East.

dwill king“We’re not around beating our chests and stuff,” King said, whose Nets were looked at as one of the odds-on favorites to get to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. “The goal is the same as it was the last two years, and that’s still to finish in the top four [in the East] so you have homecourt advantage.”

Interesting, encouraging, but realistic? Maybe.

I’ve been pretty vocal that I don’t think the Nets are as bad as some of the pundits have predicted. I understand the skepticism, but I don’t agree with it. From an outsider’s perspective, losing Paul Pierce is a blow, but it’s not nearly as much of a subtraction as Shaun Livingston’s departure. Livingston played the best basketball of his career, and contributed 4.4 win shares (2.6 offensive, 1.8 defensive: both career highs), while providing lineup flexibility and valuable Deron Williams insurance. That’s a huge hole to fill, and Jarrett Jack gets to try to step into those shoes this season. The going might be tough. Hindered by a bad Cleveland team (probably the last time we say that for a while), Jack took a major step back offensively, but remained effective on D. Even in a down year, he was still able to register 1.4 defensive win shares and provided solid support of Kyrie Irving. It will be tough for Jack to fill Livingston’s shoes, but possible? Yes.

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pierce game 2

King: Paul Pierce’s asking price was too high

The Nets wanted Paul Pierce back, but the initial sticker shock led to his departure.

Nets general manager Billy King spoke to reporters yesterday at an NBA Cares event in Staten Island and said that Brooklyn made an effort to get The Truth back, but the asking price was too rich for the Nets’ blood.

“We did [want Pierce back],” King said. “That was the plan of attack, and I think as we started negotiating, the numbers that they asked for were, you know,” King said, implying Pierce’s request was unrealistic. “I thought at one point that he was definitely leaving, and then you started switching gears because you start hearing that he’s going to end up at a different place, so then you start preparing. When he came back to us, we already moved on.”

Brian Erni

This is a nice example of the Nets’ financial restraint this offseason, and how they can operate on a budget without necessarily cutting the quality of the on-court product. In the past two offseasons, King probably would have jumped at Pierce’s number — or something close to it — to make a splash. A “Pierce staying in Brooklyn” headline would have been considered a win, but overall, I think it would have hurt the overall unit. Yes, Pierce was instrumental to the team’s second half success last year, but he’s not getting any younger.

The Nets want to be more athletic and prep themselves for a run at some big free agents in the future, and I think they’re much happier with Bojan Bogdanovic and some flexibility than they would have been with Pierce.

Nets to sign Willie Reed

The Nets will sign Willie Reed for their training camp roster (Bondy, Sept. 22).

Reed has never played in an NBA game, but scored 9.2 points and 5.6 rebounds in 20 minutes per game for the Pacers Summer League team this year.

Was Andray Blatche blackballed by the NBA?

Brian Erni

North American sports leagues are fickle and quick to judge. Advanced analytics were perceived as voodoo for close to two decades before they gained traction. Players are routinely discarded based on “character,” despite ranking anywhere from useful-to-exceptional in their respective field. In baseball, this is commonplace (see: Arizona Diamondbacks), but admittedly, going out of style. In hockey, it’s still the industry standard (see: Josh Ho Sang). So the question is: Does the NBA do the same? Does the Association blackball a player that plays by a set of rules traditional minds don’t understand?

Blatche sadI ask because I’m struck by the Andray Blatche conundrum. News over the weekend that Blatche was headed to China on a one-year deal really didn’t sit right with me. Not one of the 30 NBA teams could use the services of Blatche? This is a league where big men are viewed as attractive prospects if they possess shoes and a pulse, and not one of the franchises deemed Blatche a suitable investment?

In 155 games with Brooklyn, the former second round pick averaged 10.7 points, 5.2 rebounds, and a steal per game. By contrast, Hamady Ndiaye, who the Nets brought in momentarily to compete for the third center spot, has 33 career games in the NBA since his debut in 2010-11 and a 0.8 rebound-per-game average. Okay, maybe Blatche and his million dollar-plus wasn’t justifiable to the Nets, who are loaded at center, but no one wanted to take a chance?

A few caveats to my position. First, maybe Blatche did get some offers that we haven’t heard about, but my suspicious is that his agent would have leaked that information by now in an effort to use it as leverage. I would find that hard to believe, though. The concession of going to China had to have been a last resort. Point blank: it’s where careers go to die. If there was an NBA offer on the table, I have to assume Blatche would have taken it. Secondly, I’m not in the locker room every single day. I don’t know what it was like to manage Blatche from an X’s and O’s standpoint, nor do I know his personality well enough to say if he’s a difficult person to get along with.

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blatche phillipines

Blatche heading for China

A Chinese website reported Andray Blatche is headed to China to play for the Xinjiang Flying Dragons (NetsDaily, Sept. 20)

Blatche opted out of his contract with the Nets in July and was unable to land with another NBA team. Blatche’s move is “a done deal,” according to a NetsDaily source. Blatche didn’t attract strong interest despite his FIBA World Cup performance for the Phillippines. He averaged 21.2 points (second-best in the event) and tournament-best 13.8 rebounds.

Blatche’s Nets tenure was marked by controversy. A woman claimed she was sexually assaulted by Blatche’s friends in his hotel room, but she said Blatche was not involved and he was not charged. Blatche took a “personal leave” from the Nets last December said to be tied to conditioning and lifestyle.

Brian Erni

Personally, I’m shocked Blatche didn’t get a deal with an NBA team. I know there were whispers he may have made some inroads with Miami at some point this offseason, a team that competed for his services both times prior to Blatche signing with the Nets, and I’m a little take aback that nothing got done. Andray and Jason Kidd struggled to see eye-to-eye last year, culminating in Kidd sending Blatche home in the middle of the season to get into shape, but there’s no denying that this is a player that made a big-time impact off the bench in his time in Brooklyn. Maybe a season-long retreat to China will allow Blatche to eventually ink a contract stateside next season.

ndiaye nope

Nets void Hamady Ndiaye’s contract

The Nets announced on Friday that the team has voided the contract of Hamady Ndiaye.

Ndiaye failed the required physical, according to the team, where they found an elbow injury that needs two-to-four weeks of rest (Wojanrowski).

The Nets signed the seven footer to a training camp deal on September 17.

Brian Erni

That was quick! I actually thought Ndiaye was a nice depth signing, but there’s no point in having a player for depth if he can’t pass a routine physical. No word yet on why he failed, but it is worth nothing that he was waived by the Delaware 87ers (the Sixers D-League affiliate) back in March due to a season-ending injury. Maybe Ndiaye’s body wasn’t fully healed. If that’s the case, the Nets probably avoided a minor headache.

UPDATE: I can understand the Nets thinking here. If Ndiaye was going to miss up to four weeks, he would have had to miss camp. According to Woj, the Nets want him to compete for the third center spot, so there wouldn’t have been a point to staying in the contract.

dwill high 5s

D-Will fine with the Nets going unnoticed

Deron Williams doesn’t mind that the expectations for his club have been tempered.

Williams told reporters earlier this week that he’s fine with pundits taking a wait-and-see approach to a Nets roster that has undergone some change.

“It’s good. I think that’s good,” Deron Williams said Monday when asked if lower expectations are motivating him and his teammates. “We’re flying under the radar. We’ve got a lot of work to do. When you get between the lines, anything can happen, so it’s our job to get better, gel as a team over training camp an the first month, and be ready to go in November.”

Brian Erni

Last season, it seemed like the weight on the championship dreams along with meshing under a rookie head coach were just too much for this club. Even when the Nets hit their stride, it always felt like they were trying to live up to a standard that had been built up in fans’ minds since July. Now, the Nets certainly don’t have that problem. Between the skepticism surrounding Brook Lopez’s foot, the loss of Paul Pierce and Shaun Livingston, and the perceived-decline of Williams, Brooklyn has been pegged as a bubble team this year. I know the us-against-the-world mentality seems trite in sports, but it works. At times, the Nets have seemed like a team that lacked an edge, and I think the prediction of their demise will be a good motivation tool for Lionel Hollins to have at his disposal. It may amount to nothing, but there’s still a lot of talent on this club, and I don’t think you can dismiss them in the least.