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.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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