Deron’s right: New Yorkers think they’re tough. And it’s dumb

Brian Erni

New York is a difficult place to play, and it hasn’t been easy for Deron Williams since he arrived. So is he feeling the heat of the bright lights and the crushing cries of  some of the sports world’s most infamous tough guy fans? Maybe, and that should make us a little ashamed.

“What constitutes a New Yorker,” Williams joked in a recent interview with Resident Magazine, “Taking the subway … which by the way I love to take. Yes, of course, I have a chauffered car, but the subway is always faster. Second thing is the New York/Brooklyn accent — which I don’t have. Third thing is New Yorkers are tough. Or at least they think they are.”

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Let’s make no mistake: Williams is joking. He’s not taking an overt potshot at New Yorkers, so I’ll do it for him. Why do sports fans in this town feel it’s okay to act like it’s our birthright that pro athletes fawn at our feet? And when they don’t, why do we think it’s okay to chastise him to the point of aggravation?

I’ve seen fans literally try to give players advice on their game. Yes, I’m sure David Wright has never heard that he shouldn’t swing at pitches in the dirt before, or that Carmelo Anthony should look for the open man. Why is this considered normal behavior in this city? It’s as if braving an hour trip on the LIRR or daring to grab the hand rails on the C line has given us some entitled, survivalist mentality.

In Williams’ joke hides a glimpse of the frustration that comes with what the modern athlete has to deal with on a day-to-day basis. These aspects are undoubtedly amplified in the media capital of the world, and even more so when fans tagged you as “overpaid.”

There are huge media and public appearance obligations for even the role players in this town, no less the cornerstones of a franchise. Then there’s the continuous evaluation of a player’s game by the aforementioned array of outlets (this one included). Not to mention Twitter tough guys who are ready to send a player off the Brooklyn Bridge for a missed shot. Oh, yeah. And being a professional basketball player.

That’s a lot for anyone to deal with, and it’s made harder when fans act really stupid. It’s always a fan’s right to express himself, but we live in an age where athletes are harassed at the drop of a hat. As New York fans, we pride ourselves on being smart about our sports (despite what empirical evidence on WFAN says), so can’t we rise above? Do we really want the reputation of being pseudo-tough guys? Can’t we leave that to Philadelphia?

I don’t expect this post to change how anyone thinks about, acts around, or roots for their team. But I would hope it frames how athletes on our own hometown teams view us, and it’s not particularly pretty.

FIBA World Cup Day 2: Tracking the Nets

Bojan Bogdanovic had 16 points and seven rebounds in Croatia’s 90-85 win over Argentina Sunday in the FIBA World Cup in Spain. He shot 6-for-11 (3-for-6 from three) in 37 minutes for Croatia (2-0). Bogdanovic is averaging 21 points through two games.

Mason Plumlee played four second-half minutes and an all-zeroes scoreline in Team USA’s 98-77 win over Turkey. The U.S. , which trailed 40-35 at halftime, is 2-0.

Guard Jorge Gutierrez scored eight points on 3-of-8 shooting and had two assists for Mexico (1-1)  in its 89-68 loss to Slovenia.

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Lionel Hollins loves Bojan’s versatility, Plumlee’s development

Lionel Hollins is optimistic about his new club, specifically because of how some of his new pieces are coming together.

In a Q&A with ESPN New York’s Mike Mazzeo, Hollins said he was excited about the Nets because of their “potential and possibilities,” and gave a glowing review to one of Brooklyn’s newest imports:

“I think he’s got great size, he’s also got great speed and quickness,” Hollins said of Bogdanovic. “He can shoot the ball, but also put the ball on the floor. He can post up. I’m looking for players. Players that have multiple skills and are not just one-dimensional.” 

In addition, Hollins praised Mason Plumlee, who is currently competing for Team USA in the FIBA World Cup.

 “I think Mason’s had a wonderful camp, and I’m excited for him and I’m happy for him that he’s made Team USA,” Hollins said. “It’s a good experience for him, and hopefully he’ll be able to catapult that into an opportunity this season.” 

Brian Erni

How Hollins utilizes Bogdanovic will largely say a lot about how he plans to use his lineups. As we know, Hollins and his system are very bullish on big lineups (which bodes well for Plumlee and his chances of starting), but how he uses his shooters — guys like Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic — will be indicative of how he plans on getting the most out of this roster. That will be no easy task for Bojan, who not only has to transition to the American game, but try to win a job in the process. But it seems like he already has a fan on the Nets bench, and that’s quite a first step.

FIBA World Cup Day 1: Tracking the Nets

It was generally a good debut for the three Nets playing in FIBA World Cup openers Saturday in Spain.

Forward Mason Plumlee played 11 minutes, scoring six points with a rebound in Team USA’s 114-55 rout of Finland.  Afterward, he fended off yet another question if his ties to coach Mike Kkrzyzewski and Nike played a role in his selection to the team.

Forward Botjan Bogdanovic scored 26 points,  including six in overtime, to lead Croatia over the Philippines and Andray Blatche 81-78Bogdanovich was 9-for-18  shooting (2-of-4 on threes), He had four rebounds, an assist and six turnovers.

Guard Jorge Gutierrez had 13 points for Mexico in its 87-74 loss to Lithuania. Gutierrez shot 6-for-9 (1-for-2 on threes) and had five turnovers and one assist.

Just come home in one piece, Mason

Brian Erni

Mason Plumlee’s first official contest as a member of Team USA kicks off Saturday afternoon at 3:30 against Finland. So as a Brooklyn Nets fan, what do I want to see out of Plumlee in the FIBA World Cup? Frankly, not all that much.

plumlee usaWhy? Plumlee may just be one of the best things the Nets organization has going for it nowadays. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are shrouded in their respective clouds of uncertainty. Joe Johnson is another year older (though he shows little-to-no signs of slowing down), and the Nets’ key acquisitions this year are question marks (Bogdanovic for his inexperience in America, Karasev for his youth). Some of us may not have expected it when the Nets drafted him in the summer of 2013, but Plumlee could be the eventual cornerstone to the franchise.

That might sound too lofty of a goal, but at the very least, Plumlee is going to be a part of this team’s core for the foreseeable future. His ascension has been quick, from a pick with defensive reservations to a member of Team USA. I’m excited about the prospect of Plumlee starting at power forward this year, getting another year under Kevin Garnett’s wing, and seeing him apply what he learned over the summer to his NBA game. And I don’t want anything to come in the way of that. Especially an injury.

I know, I know. I shouldn’t even think it. But after Paul George’s nightmare earlier this summer, I can’t help but think the sooner the World Cup is over, the better. As soon as Plumlee gets back to the PNY Center, I’ll breathe a sign of relief. I get that any time you step onto a court, anything can happen, but international play makes me especially nervous. Hey, I’m an Islanders fan, too. I saw John Tavares lose the rest of his season playing for Team Canada. I have scars!

That’s why I’m fine with Marc Stein’s latest report that DeMarcus Cousins has “cemented” himself as the back up big to Anthony Davis on Team USA. Good. Enjoy! Let Kings fans do the worrying. For me, Plumlee has done enough to prove his worth simply by making the team. He has elevated (no pun intended) his game and take a huge stride towards becoming a formidable force in the NBA.

Just get home safe, Mase.

blatche phillipines

The curious case of Andray Blatche: Filipino

Andray Blatche is a member of the Philippine national team, and he’s fitting in just fine.

In a must-read feature by Grantland’s Rafe Bartholomew, Blatche’s new head coach, Chot Reyes, discusses his thought on Blatche assimilating to the team’s system and his new nationalized culture.

“We said, we’ll take a risk,” Reyes told Bartholomew about the decision to add Blatche. “We may not be sure about the other parts of his personality, but at least we’re sure about his athletic ability [...] In my mind, we could assimilate anyone as long as that person is open. Working with imports, bringing them from the cold into a team — we have a lot of experience there.”

“I’m discovering more and more every day that he is very coachable,” Reyes continued. “To be very honest, that was at the back of my head: Unless a guy is willing to be coached, to play with the system, then it’s gonna be difficult. What I’m seeing now is Andray being willing to play with his teammates.”

Brian Erni

Say what you want about Blatche, but he seems to reward those who take a chance on him. When Blatche was amnestied by Washington, Brooklyn gave him a shot, and Blatche emerged into a viable off-the-bench scoring threat. In truth, he was one of the Nets’ most valuable players in 2012-13. When he could have bolted for a bigger deal last offseason, Blatche chose to stay.

Eventually, condition problems resurfaced, and his strained relationship with Jason Kidd ultimately ended his tenure with the Nets four months before he officially opted out of his deal. But Blatche still have size, strength, and agility that is rare in a big man, and the Philippines should reap the reward for the risk they took on using their one nationalized roster spot on Dray. If nothing else, it should provide a great visual.

Loyalty is great, Lionel… But it’s not the world we live in

Brian Erni

I love people with strong values; a highly-developed sense of self-awareness and sympathy for others. I, personally, consider myself a very loyal person. It probably have worked in my detriment in the past, whether it was staying with an old girlfriend too long or getting stuck helping a friend move on a holiday weekend. Lionel Hollins would like to see more of guys like me in the NBA. The problem? I’ve never been offered a nine-figure salary to see just how deep my loyalties lie.

The Nets new head coach was asked by his alma mater’s (Arizona State) radio station if he thinks that players and coaches in the NBA need to be more loyal, an obvious allusion to both his predecessor here in Brooklyn and star players who have changed addresses this offseason. What followed were thoughts that sounded like the mission statement penned by Jerry Maguire:

“I think it’s up to players to play, coaches to coach, and management to do what they have to do to provide the talent for the coach for the great players that are on their team to help them go further,” Hollins said. “I think everybody — our society — has moved towards now not a lot of loyalty, run for this, run for that, whether it be money, whether it be for to be with better players.”

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What happened to a little thing called loyalty, right, Lionel? I get it, but it seems like you’re talking about two different things. Management’s job is to provide talent to coach? Okay, so how does that happen? Yes, by drafting players and developing them.  But also by trades and free agency, and the majority of the roster Hollins has in Brooklyn is here because of the latter.

Sports are a business, and this loyalty guilt trip we feed to players is the ultimate double standard. A team can trade a player whenever it wants and never is tagged as disloyal. So why complain when a player moves on to a different situation for reasons that can run the gamut between more money, better teammates, or moving closer to their family? I just don’t think Hollins gets that those are the kind of comments make him seem a little out of touch.

In the modern sports world, loyalty is the exception, not the rule. Guys who play their whole career for one team — players like Cal Ripken, Jr. and Tony Gwynn, that came to personify their franchises — are few and far between. Let’s not kid ourselves, though: Those players didn’t play for free. They were handsomely rewarded for their services, and would have been whether they played in Baltimore, San Diego, or Mars.

“Well,” the argument would go, “then why not just stay and be loyal?”

Ask me that again the next time you see an ESPN talking head ring-shaming some player that is “good, not great” because he hasn’t won a championship. Or the next time Mike Francesa pontificates that a player is only as good as the hardware on his fingers. Would we still be talking about LeBron James being overrated if he had stayed in Cleveland the whole time, never won a title, but still be other-worldly productive? Of course we would! Because: RINGZ!

I get it, Lionel. It’s personal. Stay for your fans, for your teammates! But none of those guys sign checks or pick the school your kid is going to. And I’d suggest that you may want to tone down the rhetoric, particularly with a room filled with mercenaries at your disposal.

Was Kobe right? Is Deron Williams in his own head?

Brian Erni

We’ve now learned, albeit through second hand information, that Kobe Bryant thinks Deron Williams psyched himself out in the playoffs against Miami. Gotham Chopra, the director of “Kobe Bryant’s Muse,” a documentary on the Lakers legend due out in November, recounted Kobe’s thoughts on D-Will’s 0-for-9 performance in Game 4 of the Nets’ second round defeat to the eventual-Eastern Conference champs, and it has me wondering: Does Kobe have a point?

deron sadWilliams hasn’t been what many of us expected since arriving on the scene for the Nets. There have been flashes, sure, but has he been the top-tier point guard that Nets fans expected? Not even close. It should be no surprise then that this story has been echoing in my head for the past 18 hours.

“Deron Williams went, like, 0-for-9,” Chopra said, relaying an exchange he had with the four-time NBA champion. “I was like, ‘Can you believe Deron Williams went 0-for-9?’ Kobe was like, ‘I would go 0-30 before I would go 0-for-9. 0-for-9 means you beat yourself, you psyched yourself out of the game, because Deron Williams can get more shots in the game. The only reason is because you’ve just now lost confidence in yourself.’”

Yikes. Just re-reading that quote made me shudder, and it resounds even more because I think Kobe has a point. Fans and media members alike point to Williams’ chronic ankle problems as the main culprit for his struggles in Brooklyn, and I think that’s fair. There have been stretches that Williams has been unstoppable (primarily, the second half of 2012-13). But there has been something holding him back, and maybe it’s not just his ability to cut and drive to the basket the way he used to. Maybe it’s his willingness to do those things.

The health and the psyche aren’t mutually exclusive. In fact, I’d argue there’s almost certainly a link between the two. If Williams isn’t confident that his body can hold up under the pressure of what he had grown accustomed to expecting in Utah, that could hold him back. Maybe Kobe senses that, and that could even be what he’s eluding to. After all, we just have an anecdote from a filmmaker. But it’s certainly a confidence issue somewhere, and it’s even affected us fans.

Let’s face it: when Deron Williams has an open look at the end of the game, we’re nervous. How is that possible?! How did we get to the point that when our franchise player has no one in his face with the game on the line, we’re surprised if he comes through? That’s not the D-Will I grew to admire from afar, and I don’t necessarily think it’s the Williams we’re resigned to seeing for the rest of his career.

If Deron’s ankle troubles are behind him, maybe the confidence issue that Kobe picked up on melts away. Maybe the aggressiveness we saw flashes of in round one against Kyle Lowry and the Raptors becomes an every night occurrence. But there’s certainly an air of foreboding here, and for the Nets’ sake, I hope Williams sheds any hang ups that may be holding him back.

Different roles for Plumlee, Bogdanovic in final FIBA warmups

Mason Plumlee had a cameo and Bojan Bogdanovic a leading role on Tuesday in the Nets forwards’  final warm-ups with their national teams before the FIBA World Cup this weekend. (NetsDaily, Aug. 26).

Plumlee played two minutes in the late stages of Team USA’s 101-71 victory over Slovenia in Gran Canaria, Spain.  Bogdanovic had 24 points in 23 minutes for Croatia’s 94-80 win over Lithuania in Zagreb, Croatia. Bogdanovic was 10-for-15 from the floor, 5-of-9 from behind the arc.

Bogdanovic, who was named Croatia’s player of the year Tuesday, also had three rebounds and four assists.

The U.S. plays the Philippines and Croatia meets Mexico in World Cup openers Saturday in Spain. Former Nets center Andray Blatche plays for the Philippines, Nets guard Jorge Gutierrez for Mexico.

Brian Erni

Obviously, the Croatian roster is a little thinner, so it makes sense Bojan is playing a more central role. Bogdanovic is very accustomed to the international game. Most notably, he played extremely well in last year’s EuroBasket, while Plumlee is in a bit of uncharted water. That said, both of these players should get exactly what they need from their international teams for their NBA season ahead. For Bogdanovic, it’s a chance to get a ton of reps and work on his skills, making them as refined as possible until he steps into a competition for playing time on the Nets roster. For Plumlee, it’s about learning the game’s intricacies from some of the best players in the NBA, while gaining confidence that he can thrive as a starting player in the Association. It’s a good opportunity for both, one they should both relish.

Vegas hates the Nets, and that’s crazy

Brian Erni

Oddsmakers. To steal a line from Patches O’Hoolihan, they’re about as useful as a poopy-flavored lollipop. When it comes to determining a team’s chances as success, they’re only relevant in the most quiet of times, and that’s August in the NBA. But they seem to be making some noise in Brooklyn over the last 24 hours, so it’s worth addressing just how outlandishly bad they’ve evaluated the Nets’ chances at a title.

deron meloThe Nets aren’t clear-cut championship contenders, so that should be reflected in their odds to raise the Larry O’Brien Trophy. This probably isn’t a team that will go all the way. It’s not that it couldn’t be, but everything has to break right (and then some). Simply, there is certainly less room for error in Brooklyn as there is in…say…Cleveland. So at 66-to-1 to win the NBA title, it’s doesn’t strike me as outlandish. But then I see that’s tied with the Lakers’ odds, and worse than the Knicks’ chances (50-to-1). What?! Did I wake up and it’s suddenly four years ago?

Vegas’ sole purpose is to get even money on both sides of the coin, and when you’re handicapping, the idea is to factor in risk to gauge the reward. But the notion that the Nets are actually in worse shape than the Knicks is crazy to me. Did I miss a big signing? Is Jose Calderon an alias for Michael Jordan circa 1998? Did Jeremy Lin get medical, physical therapy, and wizard world degrees to ensure Kobe would stay healthy? I’m just so confused.

We all know the volatility that exists in the Nets’ season. Everything hinges on Brook Lopez and Deron Williams. If they’re healthy, they establish a much more impressive baseline (think data, not basketball) for this team. The longer those two can stay on the floor together, the higher the ceiling is for this season. Is it likely? Hard to say, but to me, it’s certainly more probable than Carmelo Anthony and his band of merry men looking like anything that resembles an NBA team.

Could I be wrong? Sure. But I think if you’re a Nets fan, I wouldn’t take these early season odds as much more than water cooler fodder. Maybe the Nets will use  them as a rallying cry to inspire an “us versus the world” mentality. Crazier things have happened.