The Brooklyn Nets, increasingly worried about a recent lack of competitiveness, have launched an in-season evaluation of various facets of the team, including new coach Lionel Hollins, according to league sources.
The Nets lost consecutive road games last week to the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz by 39 and 35 points, respectively, sparking concern within the organization about whether Hollins' message is getting through. It's just the fifth time in NBA history that a team has lost back-to-back games by 35 points or more.
Nets ownership, sources said, is monitoring the situation closely, with Brooklyn having just fallen out of the East's top eight after a 2-10 slide that coincides with the franchise being up for sale.
Hollins is insulated by the fact that he is in the first year of a four-year contract believed to be worth in excess of $20 million when including incentives, with the Nets holding a team option on the fourth season.
Sources said Monday that the Nets, in hopes of sparking a change to their fortunes, will continue to pursue a shake-up trade or two before the Feb. 19 deadline. ESPN.com first reported in December that the Nets were actively shopping former franchise cornerstones Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson in an attempt to aggressively launch a rebuild.
Brooklyn management strongly considered firing Jason Kidd in December of his first and only season in charge, but Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov and his advisers ultimately concluded that Kidd still had the support of his players and decided to stick with the rookie coach. Brooklyn bounced back from a 10-21 start under Kidd to finish 44-38 and ultimately win a first-round playoff series against Toronto despite losing Lopez to a season-ending foot injury in December.
The current squad is not without its injuries -- former All-Star Williams, for example, has missed Brooklyn's last nine games with a rib problem -- but there would appear to be little hope of such a turnaround this season. Sources say locker room tensions between the outspoken coach and some of his players are rising as the Nets continue to falter, with sources telling ESPNNewYork.com's Mike Mazzeo that Hollins' public criticism of various players this season, such as Lopez and fellow big man Mason Plumlee, has rankled ownership.
Having surrendered so many future assets to surround Williams with the likes of Johnson, Kevin Garnett and the since-departed Paul Pierce, Brooklyn is counting on making the playoffs this season to get something out of the highest payroll in the league. The Nets are paying in excess of $90 million in salaries this season and don't have total control over a first-round pick until 2019.
ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard reported earlier this month that the Nets engaged the Charlotte Hornets and Oklahoma City Thunder in serious three-way trade talks that would have landed Lopez in Oklahoma City and brought Brooklyn native Lance Stephenson home before abruptly backing away from the table. Sources confirmed a Yahoo! Sports report Sunday that the Nets and Hornets have re-opened trade dialogue -- this time focused on a swap headlined by Johnson and Stephenson -- but one source said Monday that those talks began at the time of the three-way discussions and insisted that no Brooklyn/Charlotte deal is imminent.
Sources say the Nets have had no luck generating interest in their attempts to shop Williams but have discussed Lopez trade scenarios with various teams, including the Denver Nuggets in addition to Charlotte and Oklahoma City.
In any deals it manages to strike between now and the Feb. 19 trade deadline, Brooklyn will undoubtedly be hoping to start replenishing its stock of draft picks and change the current dynamics of the roster. The East-leading Atlanta Hawks have the right to swap first-round picks with Brooklyn this summer as a result of the Johnson trade in the summer of 2012. The Nets owe unprotected 2016 and 2018 first-rounders to Boston as a result of the Garnett/Pierce trade in 2013, with Boston also possessing the right to swap first-rounders with the Nets in 2017.
"It's not really a strategic thing anymore," Plumlee told reporters in Utah of the Nets' recent struggles after Saturday night's rout. "I don't know if it was. We just have to give more."
The loss to the Clippers was somewhat easier for Nets officials to rationalize, given that it came in the second half of a back-to-back set on the road. Sources say losing so heavily in Utah two nights later, to a young Jazz team, was seen as far more alarming within the club.
Hollins is the fourth coach the Nets have had since moving to Brooklyn and the $1 billion Barclays Center before the 2012-13 season. The 61-year-old left the Memphis Grizzlies after a highly successful five-season run that culminated with a 56-26 mark in 2012-13 and a trip to the Western Conference finals.
The Grizzlies chose not to renew Hollins' contract, despite his strong relationships with team stalwarts such as Zach Randolph and Mike Conley, and replaced him with longtime Hollins assistant Dave Joerger. Brooklyn moved quickly in July to hire Hollins after reaching terms on a separation with Kidd, who has since moved to Milwaukee and has the Bucks at a surprising 22-22 despite a young roster and a slew of injuries.
The Nets will co-host 2015 All-Star Weekend with the New York Knicks from Feb. 13-15.