How bad are the Nets? Contrast with the Spurs

Tuesday November 26th, 2013

Both Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan are averaging career lows in points, but one is 3-10 and one is 13-1.
Maddie Meyer and Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Who has been this season's biggest turkey? -- Devin, Ann Arbor, MI

The easy answer is the Nets, who have spent $189 million on a 3-10 team that has lost to the Pistons, Bobcats, Kings, Wizards, Magic and Cavaliers. Only the Bucks and Jazz are off to worse starts. Brooklyn is on pace to win 25 games this season, in which case Mikhail Prokhorov would be paying $7.6 million per win.

The troubles of the Nets create a remarkable contrast with the discipline and focus of the 13-1 Spurs, who had every reason to start this season in a funk. Nobody (apart from Gregg Popovich) would have blamed them if they had needed a month or two to recover their will after surrendering the championship in the final moments of Game 6 (and Game 7) last June in Miami. But here they are right back where they've always been, on their way to the equivalent of a 17th straight 50-win season (having gone 37-13 on their way to the championship in the 1999 lockout season).

There has never been a team like the Spurs, who are equaling their best start in franchise history just five months after they suffered their most painful disappointment. A few weeks after the Nets had lost on opening night at Cleveland, San Antonio blew out the Cavaliers 126-96 while all 13 active Spurs scored at least six points each -- a first for the league's model franchise.

The NBA Finals appears to have made them more stubborn than ever. The Spurs have upped their effort while ranking in the top five in scoring and field goal defense. Every Spur but Tony Parker is averaging fewer than 30 minutes per game, and no Spur ranks among the league's top 25 in points or rebounds. Keep in mind, all of this is being done for roughly one-third of the cost that Brooklyn is spending.

On Wednesday, San Antonio will bring its 12-game winning streak to Oklahoma City for a potential preview of the conference finals. The elderly Nets, meanwhile, are facing four games in five nights, including three on the road. The Nets would be the first to tell you that what the Spurs are doing isn't as easy -- they're just making it look that way.

Which team has a better chance of bouncing back this season: Knicks or Nets? -- Tony W., New York

The Nets absolutely have more talent. They've suffered more injuries than the Knicks, and the Nets ought to be showing more pride. The return of Tyson Chandler will improve New York defensively but he won't help the Knicks with their scoring around Carmelo Anthony. If the Nets are able to restore most of their stars to the rotation then maybe one or two of them will show some leadership. The East is so bad that an extended winning streak should be able to put them back in playoff contention. To answer your question, Tony, I'll say it's the Nets.

Will Derrick Rose ever be able to showcase his full potential -- @ThisNBAgirl

The easy answer is to say that he'll never be quite the same, but who knows? The best players find other ways to perform as they age, so maybe Rose will have to find that other way a few years earlier than normal.

We know he's going to be conservative in his rehab and won't return until he's ready. I'm thinking there are three primary issues here: (1) Will his surgically repaired body allow him to play his old MVP style? (2) Will he be cautious about exposing himself to further injury? (3) Should he be playing as recklessly as ever, because what is the use if it creates more injuries? But that last issue is going to be hard for him to judge. An aggressive player like Rose can't perform if he's worrying about potential injuries.

Who is the third-best team in the Eastern Conference right now? -- Andrew, Seattle

That's a great question, Andrew. The answer is that there isn't a third-best team in the East. There isn't a fourth-best team and there isn't a fifth-best team, either. In the East the hierarchy goes like this: Miami, Indiana, void, void, void, and then Chicago as the equivalent of a sixth-best team. The only teams from the East that would make the playoffs in the West are the Heat and Pacers; I understand that Atlanta's 8-6 start would qualify technically for the last spot in the West, but all of the Hawks' victories have come against teams currently below .500. Right now the East is horrid.

Which team will miss their star more: Grizzlies (Marc Gasol) or Warriors (Andre Iguodala)? -- Tim, Chicago

The Grizzlies are going to miss Gasol the most, Tim. So long as Stephen Curry is healthy the Warriors will be fine. But Memphis will be aching for the passing, scoring and leadership of last season's top defensive player. The Grizzlies will try to make do with more minutes from Kosta Koufos and Ed Davis, but that will enable defenses to focus more on Zach Randolph.

Will the Raptors trade Rudy Gay even if they are still in first place in February? -- @ChrisMonti

If they're first in the Atlantic at .500 team or worse, then there will be no reason to keep the team together. Whether they trade Gay or other players is going to depend on the market. Hardly any trades were made at the deadline last season, and the Raptors aren't going to accept bad assets in exchange.

Who is your MVP so far? Is LeBron going to win his fourth straight this year? -- Mike, Cleveland

It's his, Mike, so long as he stays healthy. Kevin Durant, Paul George, Chris Paul and Tony Parker will rank among the challengers, but James deserves the MVP once again for his impact on all phases.

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