From a good basketball sense perspective, not many teams will have a worse day than the Brooklyn Nets had Sunday. After rumors surfaced that the Nets were pursuing talented malcontent Josh Smith, the short-handed San Antonio Spurs treated Brooklyn like a desperate and under-achieving team.
The Spurs, minus Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, cruised to a 111-86 win in front of a less-than-thrilled Barclays Center crowd. Tony Parker dribbled circles around Deron Williams and every defender attempting to guard him, finishing with 29 points, 11 assists, and no turnovers.
The Nets received a dose of humility in how to run a franchise: big contracts don't win games, big players do. And Gregg Popovich has a plethora of players performing well beyond their salaries.
Parker, playing at an MVP level, earns $12.5 million per season. That seems like a lot of money, but Williams garners an average salary of $19.6 million per year. Even though Williams' counterpart missed his two sidekicks, the Nets point guard was the player in chaos.
Williams scored 15 points (5-of-11) but dished out only three assists to three turnovers. The Nets were also outscored by 25 points with Williams on the floor.
The Nets simply haven't gotten the production out of their high-priced stars that they need if they hope to contend for a championship any time soon. Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans combined for six points while no reserve scored more than eight points.
Outside of Brook Lopez, no well-compensated Net has played to his career average. Johnson is scoring less, shooting worse, and grabbing fewer rebounds than he did in Atlanta during the 2011-12 season, or his career for that matter.
The Nets will collectively throw out all the common lines about what's gone wrong. These being a few:
"Yeah, I am (surprised)," Johnson said. "I thought we had pretty much figured out our identity and it seemed like everything was going well, and now it seems the past few games we just have been in a little funk and it’s unacceptable."
"I think it was a lot of us," Williams said. "I think it was similar to the first time we played them where we played them pretty tough in the first half and then everything fell apart at once. Offensively, we were stagnant, we didn’t execute, and we didn’t move the ball like we did in the first half and I think it made things easy for them."
The players can talk about execution and urgency, but these concerns linger following every "unacceptable" loss. The execution has lacked,but the design has not shifted at any point this season. The Nets rely heavily on isolation offense that halts ball movement and off-the-ball motion.
Unlike the Spurs, the Nets don't get those easy baskets and when they do, they are fleeting. Popovich tried to throw the Nets a bone in the post-game by sounding like a Brooklyn apologist. No wonder, he worked with both Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo.
"We’ve been together a long time. Brooklyn doesn’t have that advantage," Popovich said. "They are still getting to know each other and put things together. Our guys have been running the same system for 1,000 years. It’s easier for a team like that to endure a first quarter like we had, to come back and believe in the system. P.J. will work at it and they will get there, but it takes time."
Unfortunately P.J.'s system is the same as the coach he replaced. He said as much when taking the job.
With these players, however, the system isn't working. To further compound the Nets' struggles, they are reportedly in "aggressive" talks to acquire Smith from the Atlanta Hawks.
Smith most recently missed a game against the Nets after the Hawks suspended him, citing conduct detrimental to the team.
For those unfamiliar with Smith's game, he is a highly athletic power forward with the ability to play in transition or with his back to the basket. He also enjoys shooting three pointers, which he is not particularly successful with (32.4 percent), and shooting in general. For Smith's 16.9 ppg, he needs 15.7 shot attempts to get there.
He also manages just 50.4 percent from the free-throw line.
While Smith is an upgrade over anything the Nets boast at power forward, he is another volatile player seeking a substantial raise, despite his current $13.2 million salary. Smith will be a free agent following the season.
The Nets are grasping at straws at this point.
Instead of trying to develop that system that Popovich talks about, the Nets are always looking for the quick fix. Even though Mikhail Prokhorov's money is no object, playing with continuity and coaching is imperative.
Chemistry matters, and right now the Nets don't have it.