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.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.