What the Nets should do when the lockout ends…

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PBT is working its way through what every team in the NBA should do when the NBA lockout ends. To see all the teams we’ve done so far, click here. Today, we talk New Jersey Nets.

Last season in New Jersey: Remember when the Nets were going to get John Wall, and if that didn’t happen, they were going to get LeBron James? That was a neat idea. The Nets wound up getting neither of those gifts and subsequently, spent a lot of money on a pretty marginal set of talent. And to make things worse, the mediocre talent underperformed. Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, and Jordan Farmar all took steps back in points per 36 minutes and Morrow and Outlaw dropped in PER considerably. It was another disaster of a season. Their best attribute before February was getting Sasha Vujacic. When “the Machine” is your high point, you’re doing it wrong.

Then, the Nets got suckered into being involved in Melo talks, despite the entire time looking like they were only being used as a negotiating ploy. Prokhorov himself was brought in to close the deal, and couldn’t pull it off. That’s twice in seven months the Nets tried and failed to out-maneuver the Knicks. So what did they do? They pulled a rabbit out of a hat and got Deron Williams for a fairly obscene package of assets that shocked everyone.

The value of Williams is obvious. But so is the fact that if the Nets don’t garner and capitalize on some momentum, Williams is a free agent in 2012 and could leave New Jersey without them getting a single thing out of the deal. That’s the worst nightmare for the Nets. They weren’t good even after Williams came on board, and his injuries including a wrist problem that required post-season surgery didn’t help matters. Brook Lopez went from being a stud young center to “that center who doesn’t rebound” in the East, and Avery Johnson clashed with several players.

So, no, not a great year for the Nets.

Since we last saw the Nets… They’ve announced their transition to the Brooklyn Nets for starters. They’ve cleared $18 million off of their cap with the expiration of Dan Gadzuric and Sasha Vujacic, who bailed for Europe. Kris Humphries is a free agent that they’ll need to spend heavily on to get back, if they don’t go for an upgrade in David West or someone similar. Deron Williams is struggling in Turkey (and taking a lot of contact, to boot).  They’ll be mostly the same team next year but they do have a window of opportunity to improve through free agency.

When the lockout ends, the Nets need to… rectify the mistakes they made in 2010 and prove to Deron Williams he needs to be in Brooklyn. The Nets are clearly taking a “buy their way into contention” approach. If that’s the plan, they’ve got to hop to it. Williams leaving in free agency would set them back five years, and that’s assuming they can buy their way out of a larger rebuilding plan. They gave up so much to get him, including Derrick Favors, that losing him would decimate what they’re building towards. They clearly want the triple-star combo like New York does.

One of the quietly bubbling but starting to froth storylines is Brook Lopez. The Nets really thought Lopez was their star for a long time. But now, it’s possible that they could actually let Lopez go in an effort to acquire Dwight Howard in 2012. Getting Howard would not only be the ultimate bird flip to the Knicks, it would put them in the top of the league in terms of contention. But before they get there, they have to build a base.

Moving Outlaw should be top of the list, if only because it’s hard to see him contributing on the level they need. They need space for the stars they want to acquire. From there, anything they can do to get young talent should be done. Expect them to be heavy-hitters in free agency again, and with Williams, it’s possible they’ll have better luck than last year when they were largely passed over. Lopez is entering the biggest year of his career. He’s either going to cement himself as a building block, or write his own ticket out of town. And not to Brooklyn. This is confusing.

Johnson needs to try and gel the team better. Being a discombobulated mess with a guy yelling at you isn’t going to do wonders. He’s not going to change, but there needs to be some chemistry building. The way Anthony Morrow was used last year was near criminal. He was part of it, to be sure, but he should be used more as the perimeter weapon.

Oh, and if there’s an amnesty clause? It should be used on Johan Petro. Not because his contract needs it the most. Just out of principle.

Pacers’ Lance Stephenson will get his chance, but coming off the bench

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Indiana is Myles Turner‘s team now. Gone from last season are Paul George, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks and more. More than just Turner, everyone on the Pacers’ roster is going to get a chance to shine.

That includes Lance Stephenson.

But he will do that coming off the bench, coach Nate McMillan told the Pacers’ website.

Coach Nate McMillan said he has a starting lineup in mind heading into training camp, but wouldn’t reveal it. He did acknowledge, however, that Lance Stephenson likely will start the season as the sixth man…

“I hope he can establish (that role),” McMillan said. “A sixth man is like a starter, and he can be a guy who can do a lot of things with that second group with his ability to handle the ball, score the ball. He’s an unselfish player.”

Stephenson was only with the Pacers for a few games at the end of last season, but he was their second best player in the postseason brought an energy and toughness the team lacked. He hit threes (62 percent for the Pacers), played hard, and looked more like the guy Indiana had years ago than the guy who has bounced around the league since. But that was a very small sample size, it’s something else to do this over the course of a season.

Indiana is rebuilding but they did not bottom out and tank, they brought in guys who can handle the ball such as Victor Oladipo (the George trade), Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph. Stephenson is going to have to accept and find a role behind and with those guys. But he’s going to get a chance, and he has played his best ball in a Pacers’ uniform.

Suns’ center Alex Len expected to sign qualifying offer, head to camp

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In the free-spending summer of 2016, Bismack Biyambo got a $72 million contract. Timofey Mozgov got $64 million.

Those kinds of contracts — and there were plenty more of them — had a lot of NBA big men (and players in general) heading into this summer thinking they were going to get PAID. Instead, teams learned the lessons from their drunken spending binge and the market got tight. Especially for centers.

Which leads us to the news Suns big man Alex Len is going to bet on himself and sign his qualifying offer before coming to camp, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen change of events, Phoenix Suns center Alex Len is planning to sign the team’s $4.2 million qualifying offer before training camp, clearing the way to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, league sources told ESPN….

Phoenix wants to study’s Len’s progress in the 2017-18 season before committing to a long-term, lucrative contract extension to him. Len has started 80 games over the past two seasons, including 34 in 2016-17 when he averaged eight points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game.

Phoenix wants to leave its options open. Len is mobile, can protect the rim, and has some skills that would help him fit in a modern NBA style offense — he could play with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson — plus last season he improved his shooting around the rim and in the paint. However, he’s not consistent on either end of the court. He shows his potential in flashes, but the Suns need to see more.

Len will now be an unrestricted free agent next summer — he is playing for his next payday. If that can’t motivate him, nothing will.

Report: Lottery reform will really help teams in middle of lottery

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Tanking in the NBA is a problem more of perception than reality — Adam Silver and the league office doesn’t like that there are portions of team’s fan bases rooting for their team to lose. It doesn’t like that tanking is openly discussed on radio shows and online. Combine that with the resting of star players on the road, and in nationally televised games, and the league sees sports talk radio talking points as real problems for the league’s image.

Spreading out the NBA’s schedule is done, and with that the resting of players’ in those high-profile games will decrease (of course, if teams want to sit LeBron James or Stephen Curry or Kawhi Leonard in a nationally televised game, they will just say he has a sore back/ankle/shoulder that needs rest).

Lottery reform looks like it will pass as well, even though it’s putting a band-aid on a broken leg. The league’s new rules will decrease and flatten out the odds at the top of the lottery, and it will reward the teams more in the middle, according to a new report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

 The worst three teams’ odds would now have an equal chance at the No. 1 overall pick: 14 percent. Presently, the teams with the three worst records have descending chances of 25 percent, 19.9 percent and 15.6 percent. Also, the worst record can drop as far as No. 5 in the new lottery proposal, down from No. 4….

Teams in the Nos. 7-10 range will have a stronger chance to move up into the top three picks, ESPN has learned, with No. 7’s chances improving from 15 percent to 23, No. 8 from 10 percent to 19 percent, No. 9 from six percent to 15 percent and No. 10 from four percent to 10 percent.

He adds that the odds for the three teams at the top of the lottery — picks 11, 12, and 13 — increase only a couple of percentage points, which the league believes means teams will not try to tank their way out of the playoffs and into the lottery. There is extra money in terms of ticket sales and revenue — at least $5 million for a couple home games — for teams that get into the postseason, and that money can matter to teams.

That said, teams are still going to tank for picks. The league seems to be chasing the ghost of Sam Hinkie with this proposal, trying to make it less likely teams go on a multiple year deep dive, but that was never really a problem anyway — few owners would have the stomach for that, and the one that did (Joshua Harris in Philly) eventually bowed to the pressure from the league and others and canned Hinkie as GM. No GM is trying to put his job at risk with a rebuilding plan.

Tanking will continue because teams need one of the game’s franchise changing stars — of which there are maybe 10 in the league at any one given time — to compete at the highest levels, and for 24 or so markets the only way to get that player is via the draft. What’s more, land that player and thanks to the CBA, teams control that player for four years at a very affordable salary, then thanks to extensions/restricted free agency the team can keep that player for another four or five years. They have this great talent locked in for at least eight or nine years (for example, Kevin Durant spent nine years in Seattle/Oklahoma City before moving on, same with LeBron the first time he left Cleveland, and that list goes on). Now with the “designated player” designation — call it the Kevin Durant rule — teams are more likely to keep that star for another four or five years beyond that.

If you really want to end tanking, make rookie contracts two years then they become unrestricted free agents. Now the motivation to tank for a pick goes away, but of course, small and mid-market teams would rightfully complain about that because then they will have a very hard time keeping talent around.

Bottom line, if you have a truly elite player you win more basketball games, and for most teams the only way to get that player is the draft — so tanking will continue. It’s a smart strategy to rebuild.

The new lottery odds will pass, and they are not a bad thing, but it is far more about perception than reality. And you can be sure there will be unintended consequences.

Jeopardy uses “crying Jordan” meme for question

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You know a meme has jumped the shark when it appears on Jeopardy. (Also, the phrase “jump the shark” has jumped the shark.)

The “crying Jordan” meme reached that level this week when Alex Trebek asked a question about it.

This in no way means we should stop using the crying Jordan meme — even if it bothers MJ himself, and it does — because it’s still funny.