Tuesday, December 01, 2009
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On basketball: Future hopes make Nets hopeless now

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[December 01, 2009]  SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- The New Jersey Nets play in a place often referred to as the Swamp, a nickname that has never been more fitting because the Nets are definitely stuck.

Stuck between two states. Stuck between two owners.

Stuck between a future full of hope and a seemingly hopeless present.

So the Nets will have a hard time avoiding an NBA-record 18th straight loss Wednesday to open a season. And it wouldn't be a surprise if the skid reaches 20 or more games because the team wasn't that good in the first place, even before being forced to play without as many as four starters at a time.

"They understand the culture of winning, so it's kind of like a shock to them now," temporary head coach Tom Barrise said of the team after New Jersey's 106-87 record-tying loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday. "But that's going to be a positive for us later on. Long term that's going to be a real benefit for us, and we'll fight through this."


Just hours earlier, the Nets had fired Lawrence Frank, often praised by fellow coaches for being competitive with a roster that seemed sometimes better suited for the Development League.

"I just know that with the lineups he's had to put on the floor, I don't think any coach would have done anything better than he's done," Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said Sunday. "There seriously can't be people out there who think they were losing because of coaching."

Frank, the Nets' NBA career leader in victories, couldn't win with the roster, which features Josh Boone and Trenton Hassell as the Nets' starting frontcourt.

Perhaps Nets general manager turned coach Kiki Vandeweghe will fare better. A person with knowledge of the team's plans said Vandeweghe will take over the team, making his debut Friday night, with longtime NBA coach Del Harris as his assistant for the rest of the season.

"The coach really doesn't matter at this point," point guard Devin Harris said before Vandeweghe's decision to take over the team. "It's what we have to do, what we have to find within ourselves. It doesn't matter who's coaching."

It does matter who's playing.

Kenyon Martin, Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter are among the players the Nets have traded in cost-cutting moves in the last few years. With them, New Jersey was a perennial playoff team, even making back-to-back NBA finals appearances in 2002-03.

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Without them, New Jersey has a spot alongside the 1988-89 Miami Heat and 1999 Los Angeles Clippers as the worst ever to start an NBA season. Kidd, who led the Nets to their greatest NBA success, will be on hand Wednesday to take part in the potential record-setting loss when the Dallas Mavericks visit.

The trades gave Nets management what it wants: plenty of salary cap space for the loaded class of 2010, a chance to immediately upgrade the team into a contender by the time it hopes to make its long-planned and much-delayed move to Brooklyn.

Owner Bruce Ratner has a deal to sell 80 percent of the team to Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, a sale that is expected to be voted on by fellow owners by the end of next month.

Assuming it's approved, with Prokhorov's cash and the lure of a potential new arena in a few years, the Nets have reason to think they can entice LeBron James or another superstar available next summer. With Harris already an All-Star and second-year center Brook Lopez looking like a future one, New Jersey already has two building blocks in place.

But the Nets almost no chance of being competitive now.

So the Nets are asking their diminishing fan base in New Jersey to have patience, even as they finally lost theirs with Frank.

[Associated Press; By BRIAN MAHONEY]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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