Saturday, December 26, 2009

Netcade - Top 10 Nets Players of the 00s

Once the calendar hits December of any year ending in a 9, it is time for the masses to declare the top 10 of whatever the previous 10 years provided us. I have seen numerous lists recounting the best of film, television, music, sports, etc. But, where is the New Jersey Net love? As always, Slippery When Nets is hear to provide a voice for the little man! And now, I proudly present:

The Top 10 Nets Of The Zeros!

10. Jason Collins

Towards the end of his Nets tenure, Jason Collins became a divisive figure amongst Nets fans. Many argued he was too slow, and shot too poorly (as his below 50% free throw percentage can attest to). However, I don't want to spend too much time picking him apart, because there are so many forgotten positives.

First, if one looks at his numbers in his first four seasons, you will see a solid NBA center. I remember his free throw shooting was so good that he would often take the technical shots. But, the first word when talking about Jason Collins' career is one word: DEFENSE. He was an immense defensive presence on the Nets for six and a half season. He anchored the defense on and off the court. His defining moment has to be in the 2007 playoffs, where he absolutely owned Chris Bosh. It is no surprise that as soon as he was traded, the Nets' defense has steadily declined.

So yes, he will have his critics. However, as a Net, he brought everything he could to the game. He left nothing on the table. And for that, I am giving him the 10-spot.

9. Lucious Harris

Lucious gets the nod partially based on him sticking with the team through the worst of times in the 90s. When Jason Kidd arrived, Harris stepped up his game and became the most integral member of a solid Nets bench. In the middle of the 2002-2003 season, he started 25 games in place of an injured Kerry Kittles, and filled in admirably. He also shined in the famous triple-overtime game versus Detroit in the 2004 playoffs, hitting many clutch 3s. There are probably more talented Nets players than the first two I've listed, but there aren't many with more heart.

8. Brook Lopez

This is a complete potential pick. He has had only a season and a half so far, but I have high hopes for him. He is easily the most talented big-man the Nets have had this decade. He looks like he will be a future All-Star and a perennial 20/10 player. Will the Nets management get its act together and have a roster of decent players he can work with? That is the the question. It is a shame to watch him this season busting his ass and playing 40 minutes a night while the Simmons and Alstons of the world chuck up ugly 3-pointers.

7. Keith Van Horn

I already slobbered all over Mr. Van Horn in a previous blog post, so no need to go over the basics. Although, to be honest, I think it is time to rethink he career again. In the 2000 season, Keith was the second best player on the Nets, behind Stephon Marbury. The rest of the starters were Jim McIlvaine, Kendall Gill, and Kerry Kittles. How many games did they win? 31. This current team, whose two best players are Lopez and Devin Harris, are on pace to win 6. Perhaps the players on that team are better than we remember them.

6. Devin Harris

Well, I'm going to make this quick, before my rage takes over and I remove him from this list. He came in, and filled in admirably for the Captain. In the 2008 season, he helped the Nets get off to a good start, and made the All-Star team. However, this season, he has been abysmal - showing no leadership, playing no defense, and possibly undermining Lawrence Frank. However, he is still young and talented, but I fear I'll look back on at this list next decade and just shake my head.

5. Kerry Kittles

Like Lucious Harris, this is a longevity award. Kerry Kittles is perhaps the one player of the decade you can definitively call a "True Net". People forget, but the 2001-02 season not only marked the Nets' best season, but Kerry Kittles playing every game after missing the entire 2000-01 season due to injury. A starter for the two NBA Finals teams, Kittles made the most out of his injury-shortened career, and will be appearing a surprising number of times on ESPN Classic in the future.

4. Richard Jefferson

Like Kerry Kittles, a "True Net" through-and-through. He gets the nod over Kittles for three reasons:

1. He was better than Kittles in his prime

2. He played more seasons than Kittles in this decade.

3. When he was traded from the Nets, he said he wanted to remain a Net.

What? Read point #3 again. That has never happened in my recollection. EVER. And it may never happen again.

3. Vince Carter

I have made no secret of the fact that I am not a fan of Vince Carter. I eviscerated his game in this embarrassingly optimistic column this summer. But, you cannot ignore his contributions to the Nets from 2005 to 2009. He may not be the best player on a championship team, or on conference finalist team, or even on a 50-win team. But, you can count on VC for being the best player on a 30-to-40 win team. With the way this season has gone, I miss Vince more and more.

2. Kenyon Martin

1. Jason Kidd

Could it be any others in the top two? Kenyon Martin was the heart of the operation, while Jason Kidd provided the brains and the willpower. Kidd was more important, but neither has found the same sort of success in their careers that they had from 2001 to 2004.

Unfortunately, these teams have been forgotten and occasionally disrespected as the decade has worn on. "They were boring." "The East was weak." "There were no fans in New Jersey." All of this is, of course, bullshit. I will leave you with my favorite YouTube clip of the past month. Keep in mind these factors: This was the second round. This was Game 5. The Nets were up 3-1. Basically, it was a pretty mediocre set of circumstances. However, listen to the crowd. We loved it (and I say "we", as I was at this game). Even when the Nets made the second round in 2006 and 2007, the intensity did not match this. Listen to the announcers' voices crack as Kidd and Martin put on a defensive clinic on the lowly Hornets. Savor these moments, Nets fans. Perhaps, next decade, we'll be lucky enough to enjoy them again.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gone Podcastin' Part 5

Click here to listen to me make another appearance on the world renowned Brad Bogner Show!

The subject is partial basketball, but mostly my upcoming stand-up comedy debut at Caroline's on Broadway. My set is killer, so if you are a fan of my writing, you should make an appearance. The show is on Sunday, December 13th, at 4:30PM. Caroline's is located on 49th and Broadway. Make sure to call 212-757-4100 to reserve tickets, and say you are there for me (Rory Toohey, that is).

If you are enjoying the Brad Bogner Show, make sure to subscribe on iTunes.

There will be a slight delay in Nets articles, but I will be back with a renewed fury next week.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Even The Losers Get Lucky Sometimes

It couldn't have been that easy to forget about them.

Yes, the Nets have finally shown up for the 2009-2010 season. And, it has been interesting to see the reaction from not just Nets fans, but sports fans in general. Since the losing streak became national attention, it seems that every casual fan began rooting for the Nets. I would discuss the streak with friends and co-workers, and even those that were Knicks fans (my sworn enemies) said they were looking for the Nets to break the streak.

After the final minutes of last night's victory, I received several congratulatory texts. In past articles on this blog, I discussed how when the Nets became successful in 2001-02, people would congratulate me (as if I had something to do with it at all). There were shades of this again after the win, but now with a stinging ironic flavor.

Before we move on, let me say a few words about the dearly departed Lawrence Frank. I was a Frank supporter since Day 1. I had gotten sick of Byron Scott, as the rest of the team clearly was. This team had been to two Finals, and now was playing .500 ball? Something was clearly wrong. In steps Frank, who introduces concepts foreign to Byron, such as watching game tape, talking during time-outs, and not sleeping before games. The Nets reel off 13 wins in a row, and are back in the championship hunt. I contend that Frank brought that Nets closer to the championship than any coach, as the Nets took the eventual NBA champions (the Pistons) to a seventh game. The previous Finals appearances ended in four and six games.

I always felt Frank did the most with a poor cast of characters. He yanked career seasons from NBA misfits like Mikki Moore and Boki Nachbar. He squeezed out productive years from aging veterans like Cliff Robinson and Travis Best. There has not been one player of note whose career has skyrocketed since leaving the Nets during this time. Frank's masterpiece definitely has to be the 2005-06 season. Take a look at this roster again. Excluding the players who played less than 10 games, that team had five players who were out of the league less than two years later (Robinson, McInnis, Jackson, Padgett, Murray). John Thomas had to play in EIGHT playoff games due to the lack of depth on that team. And they still won 49 games and got to the second round of the playoffs! The eventual champions, the Miami Heat, took them down, but I can't help wonder if things would have gone differently if Cliff Robinson didn't pick up a bong that week.

Frank was not perfect, but was still an above average coach. I always felt he suffered because he did not delegate enough work to his assistant coaches (something Lord Byron clearly did not have a problem with). However, Byron was flanked by two great assistants - Eddie Jordan and Frank. Once Jordan left, things went downhill fast. Frank's best assistant was Brian Hill - his mentor. Brian Hill was a fine assistant as well, but nothing close to having Jordan and Frank as your wingmen. Although, it should be noted that Brian Hill left this offseason to go to Detroit. While correlation does not equal causation, I think it should be noted how valuable having good assistant coaches is to a team.

Putting the praise and the excuses aside, I cannot oppose his firing. I don't care who you are or what your roster is, an 0-16 record is indefensible. At that point, you need to try everything. But, I had mixed feelings with Kiki coming in to coach.

The "rumored" story goes like this - Kiki never liked Frank. Then Kiki would whisper to Devin Harris about Frank. Harris became the leader of the revolution. Unfortunately, the only people on his side were clowns like Bobby Simmons, Sean Williams, and Eduardo Najera. Since he was fired last Sunday, Frank has become a basketball martyr and Kiki has been painted as a scheming egotist. Is any of this true? I have no idea. But, through my years of watching and reading about the NBA, I have learned one thing - believe every single rumor you hear (even the ones that contradict each other).

I have met both Frank and Kiki in the past, and definitely was more impressed with Frank. He was more friendly and very attentive - I felt like he really listened to what I was saying. Kiki struck me as humorless and slightly defensive. So, while I didn't want to start rooting against the Nets' new coach before he even took the court, my guard was up. This article didn't exactly inspire me either. Shooting free throws for half of practice? Getting laughed at by Doug Moe? This did not sound like a recipe for success.

But, talk is cheap. And all that matters is the Nets have that new number in the left hand column of the standings. Is this another dead coach bounce like critics of Lawrence Frank have claimed in the past? It is hard to say, but it is suspicious that Kiki took over before a stretch of "winnable" games, as opposed to taking over Wednesday at Dallas. I will be on high-alert should more "evil Kiki" stories arise, but for now I have no complaints with the man.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Eighteen, I Get Confused Everyday

Eighteen. I just don't know what to say.

I've gotta get out of this place. I'll go running in outer space.

Well, I've been in New Orleans the past week, but returned home. Boy, did I miss quite a weekend. I'm going to ditch the "Three Point Land" format, since everybody already knows the scores and the games. But, I will be updating the blog regularly, at least every three games (if not more).

The Nets are now the greatest of all losers. It is quite an accomplishment. As a fan, I know I am powerless. I am not personally involved with the team's performance in any tangible way. So, rationally, I should be able to let this slide and get on with my day. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

Every time something awful happens to another team in sports, I do get a sense of joy. "Schadenfreude" is not quite the correct word, as I am not actively rooting for these events to happen. It was wonderful watching the Mavs lose to the Warriors, and the Detroit Lions go 0-16. Hell, I even found some satisfaction in the Yankees blowing a 3-0 lead against Boston, even though I am a Yankees fan. Why?

Because at least these things did not happen to the Nets.

Now, I cannot say that. The Nets were always able to skirt by the public with a low profile. Last week, I compared their franchise history to the Knicks and Magic. Both teams have had ups and downs, but the last 20 years of each franchise has been pretty unremarkable.

But, yesterday the Nets entered the record book as the first team to start 0-18. And, I have a feeling they will be entering the record book again at the end of the season. They are now in the rankings of the Clippers, Cubs, Pirates, Lions, etc. The feeling is pretty awful.

As a fan, the natural instinct is to find a scapegoat. And really, at 0-18, everyone is guilty in some degree. Management blamed ex-coach Frank, who I will discuss this weekend, after Coach Kiki's first game. The more I read about that whole situation, the more complicated it becomes. Ex-players like Kidd and Martin have blamed Ratner. I hate that guy as well, but aside from the Summer of 2004, he has been pretty hands-off. Sure, the Nets were working with a limited budget, but so are 75% of the other teams in the NBA.

For now, my blame on this goes to Rod Thorn. He has always been savvy with the media - I think his folksy drawl weakens their defenses. I'll admit, he's a hard man to criticize. But, in 2004 and 2007, he acted like a crooked Wall Street CEO, making rash short-term decisions that have finally caught up with him in the long-term. I speak, of course, of Richard Jefferson's and Vince Carter's contract extensions.

In 2004, after losing Kenyon Martin, fans were fuming, and Thorn panicked. He exceedingly overpaid Richard Jefferson to the tune of $78 million over six years. In 2007, in a bidding war with nobody, Thorn extended an aging Vince Carter for $60 million over four years. The latter contract pissed off Kidd, destroying the 2007-08 season and forcing this rebuilding process to occur. These two contracts became albatrosses, and the team had to gut its talent to take them off the books. Basically, the Nets let their second-best player, emotional leader, and starting power forward go to overpay their small forward, and resigned a shooting guard to sell a few tickets instead of their franchise changing point guard.

But, the blame game sucks. I'd rather play Hungry Hungry Hippos.

Anyway, I try to remain annoyingly positive, as this too shall pass. The previous record holder was the 88-89 Miami Heat, and they ended up winning a championship 17 years later. (What? They beat the Nets in the second round that year with dicey calls and a dumb suspension on Cliff Robinson? Fuck. Let me do another example).

The worst team of all-time is the 72-73 Sixers, and they won a championship ten years later. (What? They won because the Nets had to sell them their franchise leader and future Hall of Famer Julius Erving? Um...)