<
>

Assessing Nets at the halfway mark

Will Brook Lopez be a Net after the trade deadline? Change could be in the air in Brooklyn. AP Photo/Alex Brandon

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Brooklyn Nets head into the second half of the season in a state of flux.

Owner Mikhail Prokhorov is attempting to sell the team, while center Brook Lopez is expected to be dealt prior to the Feb. 19 trade deadline.

Like Lopez, guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson have also been on the trade block since early December, though their massive salaries make it likely that they are in Brooklyn to stay.

In the meantime, the Nets, who have the NBA’s highest payroll ($91.2 million), are on pace to win just 34 games. They have lost eight of their past nine games and sport a 3-17 record against teams with .500 or better records (at time of game played).

“I thought we would be much better,” Nets coach Lionel Hollins said following Monday’s practice.

Can they turn the 2014-15 campaign around?

“That’s a good question,” Hollins responded. “I don’t know. I hope we can. That’s what we’re striving for.”

It will be difficult. Thirteen of Brooklyn’s next 17 games are on the road. Eleven of those 17 games are against playoff-bound teams (if the season ended Monday). The Nets are just one game in front of the Charlotte Hornets and Detroit Pistons for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

And missing the playoffs would be disastrous for Brooklyn. The Atlanta Hawks have the right to swap this year's first-round picks with the Nets as a result of the Johnson trade.

“Well, we could be better,” Kevin Garnett said. “Obviously every season presents its ups and downs, and we’re no different from that.

"I’ve always said when you’re trying to perfect your craft, there’s always room for improvement. But we’re a hard-working group, we’re a young group and we’re a group that wants to be better, but we have pluses and minuses like everybody else.”

One positive to come out of practice: Williams was seen getting some shots up on the far court. Since Jan. 4, Williams has logged just four minutes. He’s currently sidelined with a rib cartilage fracture and will be re-evaluated Wednesday, when the Nets begin a three-game West Coast road trip through Sacramento, Los Angeles and Utah.

Even though Williams has shot just 39.9 percent from 2-point range, the Nets miss their starting point guard. With him on the court (1,000 minutes), the Nets are averaging 101.8 points per 100 possessions. That total drops to 96.8 with backup Jarrett Jack on the court (1,188 minutes) and 88.5 with third-stringer Darius Morris running the show (143 minutes).

Another positive of late: Mason Plumlee. In 22 games since joining the starting lineup, the second-year forward is averaging 15 points and nine rebounds on 65.2 percent shooting. He’s hitting 56.3 percent of his free throws, though Hollins says he wants to see that number up to 75 percent.

Hollins also wants to see Plumlee improve his face-up game. Developing a jumper to about a range of 10 feet would be nice, as well.

“He’s just scratching the surface,” Hollins said of Plumlee’s potential.

And then there’s Bojan Bogdanovic.

The 25-year-old rookie is averaging 11.6 points on 46.5 percent shooting over his past five games -- though he’s made just two of his past 11 attempts from 3-point territory. The Nets have tried to get Bogdanovic to play closer to the basket, which he’s doing with some success.

Lopez has also been better of late, though inconsistent overall since returning from injury. Over the 15-game span (four starts), he’s averaging 13.8 points and 6.2 rebounds on 52.1 percent shooting.

As for negatives, well, there are several. Mostly, they reside on the offensive end.

Brooklyn Nets 2014-15 season

We’ve written about this before, but Johnson’s January stats cannot be forgotten. He’s averaging 13.9 points on 35.8 percent shooting in a staggering 38.5 minutes per game. And in the last five minutes of games in which they are tied or trailing by three or fewer points, the Nets are shooting 30.6 percent from the field. Only two teams are worse.

In Saturday’s loss to the Washington Wizards, the Nets missed six of their final seven shots.

Hollins has been consistent in his message that he wants to get things figured out by February. That’s when teams really need to be in peak form.

“I have a pretty good sense of how we are and who we are,” Hollins said. “We just keep battling. I’m not gonna tell you exactly who we are, but I do know, and I understand perfectly.”

What needs to change?

“We have to execute both offensively and defensively for 48 minutes to win,” he said. “We gotta be consistent in what we do.”

With so many question marks facing the organization, is it even feasible?

“I wanna say, ‘Yeah we can turn it around,’ and I hope so,” Garnett said. “But it’s about the work you put into this and that’s what we’re trying to do here: practice and get better.”