Following the Nets: No Pity, Please
They'll take your questions, settle for a little of your empathy and will brush off the occasional snide remark. But frankly, they can do without the sad looks, the sympathy and the "Oh woe is them" sentiment.
The Nets have no use for it. They have work to do and time is getting short.
After Luis Scola scalded them for 44 points on 20-for-25 shooting Saturday at Toyota Center, the Nets have a 7-59 record and now only 16 games to get three more wins. Of course, what they're trying to do is get to 10 in order to avoid finishing with nine wins -- which would tie the all-time futility mark of the 1972-73 76ers -- or worse, which would be the Nets stopping at seven or ending up with eight.
They're better than seven, eight or even nine wins. They know they're better than that. Their record, however, doesn't reflect it.
It's a mark they don't want. Who can blame them? The Nets already set one record for futility when they lost 18 consecutive games to open the season. Adding another is just piling on.
Former Sixer Fred Carter may call himself the best player on the worst team of all-time and the Nets wouldn't mind letting him keep that self-imposed sobriquet. It's cute and it gets Carter interviewed every time a team comes out of the gate lame, but it would be hard to imagine that the Nets' cornerstones -- Devin Harris, Brook Lopez or Courtney Lee -- would want to take those calls 20, 30 or 40 years after their careers ended.
Like all players, the Nets would rather be famous for winning titles. That, of course, is not happening this year. Yet, the drive for 10 continues. If the Nets reach 10 wins, decades from now, when someone glances at the NBA Guide that they can call up on their contact lenses, someone will say: "Wow, that team was bad, but still not the worst." People will wonder why they only won 10 -- injuries, a coaching change, lack of depth, youthful mistakes and the lack of a go-to scorer are just some of the reasons the Nets have been a rugged team to watch this season -- and essentially they'll be somewhat anonymous, which even pro basketball players can live with, even if it's just for a season.
That anonymity has cloaked this team at times during the last three games. In Dallas, as Harris headed to the court for pregame warmups, the security guard outside the locker room announced the former Mav's progress in his walkie-talkie: "Devin Harris to the court."
Not one minute later, the seven-foot Lopez, one of the best young big men in the game, made his way to the court. The same security guard, with his walkie-talkie echoing in another employee's down the hall, said: "Another Net headed to the court."
Or in Oklahoma City, when assistant coach Doug Overton made his way to the locker room a couple hours before game time, a camera crew started filming B-roll walk-in shows, after asking each other: "Is this one of them?" To be fair, Overton, who will be 40 in August, still looks as if he could play.
Such is the life of a Net right now, at least publicly. In the locker room, however, the group seems to be tight-knit and loose at the same time. They may be too loose for some.
"You could hardly tell," one locker room attendant said after seeing some Nets crack up at a joke, "that they've only won six."
Hey, pal, that would be seven. Yet, that's the perception that the Nets deal with these days. People expect them to be morose, especially with media vultures circling in the locker room. But the Nets aren't a sad-sack bunch. Disappointed, yes. Dead? No.
Lee may have said it best. The Nets need to, "keep working, keep staying together, keep playing for each other."
That's it, isn't it? Only 14 guys, the coaching staff and a few other people know what this team goes through on a day-to-day basis. They have each other. People can empathize, they can shake their heads and whisper, "Wow," when they are told the Nets' record, but only this group of guys knows the deal. Could you imagine what it would be like if the Nets didn't have at least a small affinity for one another, if they didn't find good times within the bad?
It would be as horrible as everyone thinks it is.
"We have to stay loose," guard Jarvis Hayes said. "We can't let it get to the point where we can't function. It makes our quest that much tougher. You still have to have fun playing the game of basketball, which we all love.
"Still, it's been kind of tough for us to get any kind of streak or consistency or chemistry."
When they hit the court, they may not play well and they definitely haven't won, but they play hard. According to Hayes, that's how they'd like to be remembered.
"Yes, that we play hard," Hayes emphasized. "We're a team that definitely doesn't want to be a part of history, but despite what happens on the court, we're a bunch of guys who are learning to play the game of basketball together.
"It's been tough for us with the losing streak and the injuries. But we do play hard."
Hayes, a free agent, would love a chance to come back and make amends.
"I most definitely would, definitely," Hayes said about returning to Nets for a third season. "This franchise, with all the guys in this locker room -- of course, we have a lot of cap space this summer -- we have a lot of young talent.
"We have Brook, Devin, Courtney has started to play well. CDR (Chris Douglas-Roberts) and Terrence [Williams]. There's just a lot of potential there. It's something I want to be a part of. The way this season has turned out, I missed the first 32 games this year, I would want a chance to redeem this year, not only for myself personally, but as a team. I can see myself here and want to be part of the turnaround."
That's what the Nets have to sell free agents: the future with the potential to turn this season into a faint memory, a quaint story that becomes a throwaway lead on deadline.
"Remember when the Nets went (insert historically bad record here)? Those days are long gone ..."
Those days could be gone sooner rather than later because of a solid core of young talent, a new deep-pocketed owner, a high draft pick, a shiny, new arena in Newark for two years and a year after that, an even shinier, newer arena in Brooklyn, a place, thanks to a powerful, wistful and nostalgic New York media, that still evokes strong memories of a passionate fan base and excellence.
That's what the Nets have to look forward to; that and possibly their 10th win this season.
So, the Nets would say to you: who are you feeling sorry for again? And you couldn't blame them for thinking that way.