NEW YORK -- On most nights, even the nights that followed one of the far too many disheartening losses in this dysfunctional Nets season, Jason Kidd will shuffle out of the Nets locker room, toss a few cliches at a roomful of reporters and try and move on to the next game. He will be generic, offer little in the way of meaningful insight into why a team that is costing Mikhail Prokhorov $189 million can't snap out of a season-long slump, and try and escape without stirring the pot.
On Monday, Kidd, after lingering behind closed doors for 20 or so minutes longer than usual, came out swinging. When asked about the mental state of his $189 million men, Kidd didn't hold back.
"It's getting very close to just accepting losing," Kidd said. "We're kind of getting comfortable with losing. We've got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in? Most of the time right now, we do."
Kidd's right. A roster full of NBA champions (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry) and All-Stars (Deron Williams, Joe Johnson) is playing like they would rather be doing anything else. Indiana, a team on the second end of a back to back, a team playing its third game in four nights, pasted Brooklyn, 103-86. And it wasn't even that close. Trailing 45-39 at the half, the Nets were beaten up 30-19 in the third quarter. The Pacers decision to let Danny Granger (0 for 7 from the floor) brick his way back into shape was one of the few things keeping it from being a 30-point defeat.
The $189 million men? They were nowhere to be found. Pierce missed his first seven shots, then decided he didn't want to play anymore, clotheslining George Hill in the third quarter and getting ejected. Deron Williams chipped in with nine-points-- on 3-9 shooting. Garnett had 12. Watching Garnett, it's obvious he is trying. But it's just as obvious that, at 37, he doesn't have much left.
Kick Kidd all you want. Say he was shortsighted for letting Lawrence Frank go. Say his team has no offensive identity. Say his defense--29th out of 30 teams in points per 100 possessions coming into Monday night--is terrible. Say it, because it's all true. But for 19 years as a player, Kidd was one of the NBA's best competitors. And this team he is coaching simply won't compete.
Facing the media, Kidd admitted he didn't have many answers.
"We don't have enough timeouts," Kidd said. "I can only call as many timeouts to slow it down and call the play and get us in the zone, but we still have to find a way to put the ball in the basket and get stops. That's not just an individual, that's a team. And that's what we have to find out."
Losing Brook Lopez for the season hurt. Duh. The Nets have spent the last two months trying to build an identity around Lopez, as good an offensive center in the NBA today. Without a true post presence, the Nets need Williams, Johnson and Pierce to produce more in the paint, and they may not be equipped to do it.
But let's be real: This was a team with a whole lot of problems before Lopez continued down his Bill Walton-like career path.
With Lopez, the Nets lost to Philadelphia, Washington and New York this month. Armed with a 20-point per game pivot, Brooklyn still fell to teams with significantly less talent
This team plays with no heart, no passion, a baffling reality for a group with so many prideful players. And there's not much the Nets can do about it, either. Brooklyn mortgaged its future to put together the NBA's most expensive roster. It was a bold move and, at the time, a smart one. Who could have known that Garnett, after carrying Boston for stretches in the second half of last season, would be a shell of his former self? Who would have known that Pierce, who Doc Rivers has said could play forever, would appear so disinterested in playing in a Brooklyn uniform? Who knew that injuries would ravage the lineup to the point where we have never really seen this team at full strength?
Well, maybe that last one was a little predictable.
There will be calls for G.M. Billy King to break up the roster, to start selling his stars off to the highest bidder. But what will that accomplish? Is there a team out there willing to fork over a first round pick for Pierce? For Garnett? For Johnson, and the $48 million he is owed the next two seasons? Houston reportedly dangled Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin for Deron Williams? Yes, the Rockets believed things were so bad in Brooklyn they could poach Williams for a pair of overpaid role players.
The truth is, the Nets are, amazingly, still in a position to salvage the season. The Atlantic Division, the NBA's JV, could be won by a sub .500 team. Toronto "leads" the division at 11-15 and the Brooklyn, at 9-18, is only 2 1/2 games back. We're only a third of the way through the season. There is plenty of time to climb back into it.
It's on the players to do it. Kidd has been a pedestrian coach, to the point where it's fair to question whether the Nets made the right call hiring him over Brian Shaw. But he can't force his players to hustle. He can't make them want to defend. To get back into the playoff mix, the $189 million men have to play like they are actually worth it.