The Brooklyn Nets step into the fray against the Phoenix Suns laden with postseason expectations. Their starting lineup is dotted with All-Stars and the sideline is run by a Hall of Famer. What could go wrong? Well, a 2-5 start has a lot of people wondering if money really can't buy everything.
It's important to know your opponent, and there's few better ways than an insider look at the team. Enter SB Nation partner NetsDaily, who cover the Brooklyn Nets. Dennis Velasco and I exchanged questions about our teams this week in prep for the game tonight (US Airways Center, 7pm).
Bright Side of the Sun: Both the Suns and Nets have rookie NBA coaches, though Jason Kidd went straight from playing to coaching. How has that worked out so far for the Nets?
Dennis Velasco, NetsDaily: Well, considering the Nets' 2-5 record headed into tonight's match-up versus the Suns, it isn't going so well. You know that old saying, which I'll paraphrase here - "It's not like the coach played the game" - well, it may be an improvement if Jason Kidd actually threw on a uni and laced up his kicks another season. There is a clear lack of leadership that many fans were expecting to come bursting forth when Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce came to Brooklyn. So far, it's invisible. And, except for extreme cases such as Gregg Popovich, coaches are the ones that should be invisible. However, this being Kidd, him being a rookie head coach with zero experience as any type of coach, and most importantly, this being New York, Kidd is very much NOT invisible. He is thrown under a microscope everyday and it seems now, under a bus. For the most part, he's been the scapegoat, inspiring the Twitter hashtag, #FireKidd. Fair or not, Kidd's judgement by the fans will be harsh as long as the Nets don't produce and meet expectation. However, should the day come when the Nets string together Ws during the season and play well into the postseason, you'll see #WeBelievedInKiddFromTheBeginning trending on Twitter. Such is the beast.
BSotS: The Suns hired Lindsey Hunter to coach the team without, despite his not having any previous coaching experience at all. The results were disastrous - he didn't know how to manage a game (the lead assistant did that for a month) and didn't get the respect from players because he was flying by the seat of his pants. How has Jason Kidd handled game management and earning player respect?
NetsDaily: From the beginning, Kidd's credibility as a person of basketball - Olympic gold medalist, NBA champion, one of the best all-time point guards - was atmospheric. To a certain degree, you always have respect for those that did the things you want to do, and every single Nets player not named Garnett, Pierce and Terry revere Kidd. The aforementioned trio certainly respect the man. So, the respect is there, although, it has to be understood that it will take Kidd some time to fully get into a coaching groove. He has some top-notch assistants in Lawrence Frank and John Welch, who are very hands-on and interact very well with the team. Heck, Frank runs sprints with the team during practice! So, the trust and respect is really there for that collective and it's strong. As far as game management, the problem right now is rotations, which is a problem when Andrei Kirilenko isn't healthy. It's also a problem when Kidd says that he'll let the team play through runs by the other team. That's kind of blew up in his face this season. Kidd seems to be putting too much in the team and not grabbing them by the testicles and leading. Yes, the team is talented and should be doing way better than they are, but it still needs direction from the sidelines. Kidd seems to have disappointed in this regard.
BSotS: Garnett and Pierce are in the sunset of their careers looking for one last shot (or two) at a ring. I know their stats are down, and their skills are fading a bit. But, at the least, are they playing with that kind of passionate focus they brought in Boston in 2007?
NetsDaily: If we're speaking honestly, heck no. Other than getting up for the Miami Heat game, I don't see any of the passion we were all expecting as Nets fans. One of the main reasons being how badly Garnett has played. Offensively, forget about it, or as the natives say, fuhgeddahboutit! However, as you stated, skills are naturally fading. But, here's the problem - Garnett, quite possibly the greatest help defender ever and definitely one of the better defensive players to play the game, is making really dumb mistakes on defense. Just really bad decisions you would expect from a rookie! Pierce actually looks like he can still play, but there hasn't been any consistency yet. Part of that is a lack of a concrete rotation and what seems like an "up in the air" approach on how to give these old guys minutes from game-to-game this season. I'm honestly dumbfounded right now because I pinned so much hope on Garnett changing the entire culture, off and on the court. Disappointing.
BSotS: Brook Lopez has really stepped up this season. He's been fantastic offensively, though his rebound rate has dropped a bit. Is this an All-Star year for Brook like a year ago?
NetsDaily: Well, the problem is that the NBA took away the center position for the All-Star Game! Well, not really a problem, but more of a hindrance that lessens the chances of Brook getting chosen. There are a lot of really good forwards, both at the 3 and 4 in the East. Do I think Lopez is the best center in the East? No question. However, he isn't a household name and hasn't appeared in the postseason nearly enough to be recognized by the voters that are casual fans. Bropez could very well be selected after the open vote, however, as he was last year. My hope is that the Nets right the ship and with their winning, he gets more notoriety, because for the Nets to do well, Lopez will actually need to be a big part of it.
BSotS: What's your prediction for game on Friday, in terms of score and how it will play out?
NetsDaily: The Nets have had BIG-TIME trouble with younger athletic teams that can run up and down. The Nets took the day from practice on Thursday, in all likelihood because of the anticipation of needing their legs for the Suns and Los Angeles Clippers the next night. However, it had to have also been for that mental break - to clear their heads. I've been a fan of the Pacers offense that controls tempo and for the Nets to succeed, I think they need to follow that model. It'd be nice if they actually played D like the Pacers too, but we can't always get what we want, right? Previously, my gut instinct has been that the Nets would win... and that's objectively speaking too... and the Nets have lost. My gut instinct here is that they'll lose because of the aforementioned athleticism and speed, so if symmetry is a friend of mine, they'll win. However, I'll go with my gut and say the Suns run the Nets out of the building and win 112-89. But, let's go symmetry!!!
Check out NetsDaily throughout the day for great coverage of tonight's game, including my own Q and A with Dennis on the Suns' hot start and glimmering future.