"Slash and burn, return, listen to yourself churn." - Michael Stipe
It's almost July 4th, which means I've been watching my favorite movie: Independence Day. It start's with the R.E.M. song "It's The End Of The World As We Know It", which has pretty much been the sentiment among Nets fans after last Thursday's events. The above lyric sums it up: the roster has been slashed and burned, we've returned to being the league's doormat, and everybody just has a knot in their stomachs.
I admit, on Thursday I felt the same way, too. It was tough to enjoy the draft, as I couldn't really focus, thinking about how the team would be next year. The only thing I knew for certain that would be positive about this trade was that it would give me something to write about for the blog. So I've organize my thoughts, and tried to put my honest opinions down.
1. Vince Carter. Well, I have to admit, I was never a fan of Vince Carter's game. As mention in last week's Keith Van Horn article, the late 90s gave birth to a lot of "highlight reel" stars, which are stars that were all flash, but couldn't guarantee you victories. VC, arguably, is one of them. He has not been on a team that has won more than 50 games in a season, and has never been past the second round of the playoffs. Now, that MOST LIKELY will change in Orlando, but it's still indicative of a lack of having that killer instinct (like Kobe and Duncan have).
It was always tough for me to fully embrace Vince the way others did. As a kid, my favorite players weren't Shaq or Jordan, but rather Penny Hardaway and Shawn Kemp. I liked guys who were very fast, pass-oriented, run-and-gun type players. And, clearly, Vince does not fit that mode. Another issue I had with him were the end of the game "heroics". He took too many contested jump shots, rather than driving the lane or getting other teammates involved. Granted, this strategy was not a total failure, as there were tons of times where VC was successful and produced some of the most memorable highlights of the last 5 years. Basically, having Vince Carter on your team is a lot like playing blackjack. You'll have hot streaks (as the Nets won 14 games in a row, and an Atlantic Division crown), and cold streaks (the last two seasons). In the end, if you play your cards to the best of your ability, your odds of winning are just 50/50. The Nets winning percentage since trading for Vince Carter on December 17th, 2004? 49.74%.
That being said, I'm not trying to be overly negative with Vince. Vince became a leader last year, and was clearly the best player on the team. The Nets have won 0 games without him since he joined the team (that is to say, they are 0-fer on games that Vince has missed due to injury). His lack of presence on the team will be glaring and extremely difficult to overcome. I believe the scientific term to describe the drop in talent from Vince Carter to Courtney Lee is "ginormous". All I am doing is pointing out that it is an arduous task to build a championship contending team with Vince Carter as your best player. On the Orlando Magic, Vince should only need to be the second or third best player, which will give him more success.
2. Ryan Anderson. Conversely, I am REALLY going to miss Ryan Anderson. While his numbers aren't particularly impressive, he showed some good basketball instincts - making little moves while positioning for rebounds, defending, and playing offense - that many other players take years to develop. His style of play should fit Orlando perfectly.
However, after initial vitriol on Thursday, I have accepted his departure. The reason he was thrown in and not Boon or Sean Williams was that he was on the books for 2010. Will free agents want to play with Devin Harris? Maybe. Will free agents want to play with Brook Lopez? Maybe. Will free agents want to play with Yi and get international exposure? Maybe. Will free agents wants to play with Ryan Anderson? That's probably a No. There are many more "Ryan Andersons" in the future. But, he should have a good NBA career.
In Bill Simmons' Draft Diary, he joked that Terrence Williams will be able to dress up as Star Wars characters with Brook Lopez. Ryan already beat him to the punch:
3. Courtney Lee. I don't know much about him, other than that silly mask and that missed layup in the Finals. But, he had pretty good numbers last season and is still very young. Could he break out like Devin Harris did last season? Both were role players on disappointing Finals teams that were traded for Nets icons. All I know is that Magic fans hated losing him, which brings me to my next point...
4. Magic Fans Don't Like It. It is very tough to judge any trade involving your favorite team without rose-colored glasses. My initial gut instinct was I felt the Nets needed just a little more to make it even - a future first round pick, two second round picks, etc. But, over on the Orlando Magic message boards, they felt giving up Courtney Lee was too much. Many suggested giving up JJ Redick instead. Even the Magic GM has called Vince Carter "Fool's Gold" in the past. So, perhaps it is not as lopsided as many Nets fans believe. In fact, there have been many columnists who have praised the trade as beneficial to both teams. I particularly liked this analysis by Kelly Dwyer of Ball Don't Lie.
5. It's about the championship. In high school, I finished 3rd in my graduating class. My mom told me that this is just as good as finishing 103rd, since only the top 2 students give speeches at graduation. Really, the same principle applies to the NBA. There's the NBA champion, and then there's 29 other teams.
From the Orlando Magic point-of-view, their window of opportunity is right now, so they mortgaged their young talent and cap space for a chance at the big cup. The Nets were a 34-win team for two consecutive seasons, and were stuck in that 8-14 pick lottery hell. To me, winning 40 games and missing the playoffs is more frustrating than winning 15 games and missing the playoffs. As a fan, I've seen the Nets make the playoffs. I've seen the Nets make the Finals (twice)! I want to see a championship, and clearing cap room and acquiring young talent is at least going in the right direction.
6. History repeating. This, unfortunately, isn't the first time the Nets have made moves that caused fans to throw up their arms and declare the franchise dead. Many remember the Summer of 2004, and I will go into that in detail next week. But, do you recall the outrage after draft day in 2001? When the Nets acquired Jason Kidd and Richard Jefferson for Stephon Marbury and Eddie Griffin? Surely, I cannot be serious. But, reactions were mixed at the time, and there were accusations of - get this - the owners not wanting to spend money on a winning team. Sound familiar? Read this excerpt from Peter Vecsey (found in the Joe Netsfan archives):
"Thorn views Jefferson, Collins and Pepperdine's Brandon Armstrong as roster fodder, er, assets, something the team conspicuously lacks. Especially in terms of big men who can make shots. More importantly, ownership doesn't have to overpay for veterans, particularly one at the mid-level $4.5M cap exception [...]
"Now comes word of the impending (soon as the clock strikes midnight, July 18) Sayonara to Stephon Marbury. [...] The packaging of point guards may or may not make the Nets better. But, in keeping with the grand scheme of the Garden State, it'll eventually reduce the budget and help avoid paying any luxury tax [...] Marbury has four more years left on his contract, worth $52M, while Kidd is on the clock for half that time for the relative bargain of $17.6M. [...]
"You've heard of winning at all cost. Meet the New Jersey Nets, proud practitioners of lose at no cost."
Well, here we are 8 years later, and many are writing the same on blogs and internet forums. Vecsey, obviously, looks foolish in retrospect, seeing that the Nets went on to have their best season in franchise history. How will we look at what people are saying about this trade in the future?
7. Into the Great Unknown... Honestly, I have no idea how history will look back at this. Loyal readers know I suck at predictions. If Orlando wins a ring, then they clearly will have no regrets about the trade. But, this trade raises many questions. Will Vince Carter, now 32, be able to remain healthy? Is Courtney Lee ready to break out? Will the Nets be able to sign a big name free agent with their cap space? Like the Richard Jefferson trade last summer, it cannot be evaluated until the big summer of 2010. And even if the Nets fail that summer, there is always next summer.
That's the beauty of following a sports team - it doesn't end. Nothing is permanent. The Nets will still play 82 games next year, regardless of who is and isn't on the team. Let's look at Orlando's franchise. in the early 90s, they hit the lottery - twice - and were suddenly transformed into a championship contender, making the Finals in 1995. Then, Jordan came back, Shaq left, Penny got injured, they dumped a lot of salaries, signed Tracy McGrady and Grant Hill, Hill got injured, got knocked out of the first round, lost 19 games in a row, dumped a lot of salaries, won the lottery, signed Hedo and Lewis, and, 14 years later, they were back in the NBA Finals. That franchise has had a few ups and downs, wouldn't you say so? Like the Nets, Orlando has a small but proud fanbase, and if they can stick with the team on that decade-long roller coaster ride, we should too.
As of right now, the Nets are tied for the best and worst record in the NBA. I cannot wait for the start of the season.