Anyone can have a blog about an NBA team, but some set themselves apart from the rest with the dedication and valuable insight they bring to their craft. We’ll be sharing some knowledge from these dialed-in writers on Hoops Rumors in a new feature called Top Bloggers. As with The Beat, our ongoing series of interviews with NBA beat writers, it’s part of an effort to bring Hoops Rumors readers ever closer to the pulse of the teams they follow. Last time, we spoke with Akis Yerocostas of SB Nation’s Sactown Royalty. Click here to see the entire Top Bloggers series.
Hoops Rumors: How did things go so wrong with the Nets and Deron Williams? Do you chalk his struggles up to attitude issues, injuries, or do you wonder if he was never quite as talented as advertised?
Anthony Puccio: There were plenty of legitimate questions and reasons why Deron’s tenure in Brooklyn turned into a disaster. Talent was never one of them. It was more of a “perfect storm” type thing. You only relocate into a city like Brooklyn once. The Nets put all their marbles into Williams’ future with them, making him the first ‘face of the franchise’ in Brooklyn. They acquired certain players, lost picks, notoriously changed coaches several times, and spent a record-setting amount on their roster – all in order for D-Will to lead the franchise to success. Because of this, the expectations were justifiably high, thus meaning any disappointment on Williams’ part was emphasized even more so because of his power inside the organization.
Injuries certainly played a huge role in Williams’ on-court success with the team. But even that wasn’t the main issue. It was more that he couldn’t be the leader they expected him to be; the leader they expected to come when they handed over $100MM to him over the span of five years.
You know there’s something off when a future Hall of Fame player like Paul Pierce comes out and disses you to the public. You know something’s off when Joe Johnson – the epitome of what professional means – is said to have issues with you. You know there’s something off when you hear that the so called ‘face’ of your franchise allegedly tries to physically attack the fourth coach you’ve had in four years; the fourth coach they had all because they wanted to satisfy No. 8.
It was never about talent. It was more the pressure from the media and organization, lack of leadership, negative attitude, and of course – injuries, that put the sour taste in Brooklyn’s mouth. There are so many things that can be said as to why it didn’t work out. But above of all, Paul Pierce probably said it best – He just didn’t seem to want it.
Hoops Rumors: Given his age and salary, what kind of deal do you think the Nets could get for Joe Johnson?
Anthony Puccio: Over the summer, the Nets had talks with a few teams about trading (or dumping) Johnson. The Cavs were one team willing to take on Joe’s contract, but the Nets weren’t getting much in return. It was barely even a salary dump. One trade mentioned was between the Grizzlies and Nets, with the Nets possibly receiving guys like Jeff Green, Tony Allen, Courtney Lee, and/or Vince Carter.
If the Nets are out of playoff contention by the trade deadline, it wouldn’t surprise me to see a deal like this get done. Maybe not the Grizzlies in particular, but a similar situation: Nets looking to dump Johnson’s contract to a contending team looking to add one last piece. They’ll probably look for young pieces and/or picks in return.
Hoops Rumors: If you were put into Billy King‘s position today, what would your first three moves be to get the Nets back on track?
Anthony Puccio: No matter how important it is for the Nets to continue to win right now, I’d be looking out for the future. First, I’d somehow find a way to get some picks back. Then, I’d go out and find a legitimate starting point guard that doesn’t need ten-plus shots in order to be successful. With guys like Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Joe Johnson, the Nets need a pass-first point guard for their first unit. I’m not sure Jarrett Jack fits that role. Lastly, I would try to find some scorers that can log 15-20 minutes off the bench. I’m very unsure the Nets’ second unit can get it done with Andrea Bargnani and Wayne Ellington being the primary scorers off the bench.
Hoops Rumors: Speaking of King, do you think he’s the right man for the job? What’s your assessment of coach Lionel Hollins so far?
Anthony Puccio: King has taken a lot of the heat for moves that ownership wanted. Still, it doesn’t bail him out. Billy was hired to make bold, risky moves in order to transform a rebuilding team into championship contenders. No matter what unfortunate circumstances came about — namely D-Will — he’s failed to do so. And, for that alone, I don’t believe he’s the man for this job anymore.
Hollins, on the other hand, is the right man for this team. He has a bunch of young players with plenty of talent in need of some discipline and direction. His hard-nosed style was definitely tough for players to get used to, namely Brook Lopez, who clearly had a rocky relationship with Hollins at first. But in the end, Hollins made Lopez a tougher and more aggressive player towards the latter portion of the season, and it was just a sample of what Lionel has done his entire career. Just look at what he’s done for guys like Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and Allen.
Hoops Rumors: What were some of the things you liked about the Nets’ offseason?
Anthony Puccio: The Nets did plenty of good for their future this offseason. The first thing they did right was getting rid of Deron Williams. With D-Will gone, it gives the Nets a fresh start rather than sulking in his incompetence. They re-signed Lopez and Young, which gives them a nice frontcourt to start building around.
They nabbed two solid first-rounders in Chris McCullough and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, both whom the Nets viewed as lottery picks. The McCullough pick is interesting because they don’t have a first-round pick in 2016 – and being that he’ll be sidelined most of the season with an ACL tear, they’re essentially calling him their substitute pick for 2016.
I like the Bargnani signing only because the risk is extremely low. They paid him the veteran’s minimum to come off the bench and provide a scoring punch. With a happy Bargnani in Brooklyn, he may exceed the low expectations. Don’t let his past two seasons with the Knicks fool you. He’s averaged about 15 points per game during his nine-year career.