And here are the Brooklyn Nets, on their fourth coach in three seasons, off to yet another slow start, 0-fer against quality opponents, trying to figure out who they are and what kind of team they want to be.
In these parts, it's become a tradition, this sort of identity crisis, an annual ordeal.
That's not the case in San Antonio, site of Brooklyn's latest loss, where stability reigns and continuity is key.
It feels like those guys have been there forever.
"It's a team you envy because they've had a system, they've had a coach, they've pretty much had the same group of guys for a long time," Williams told reporters Saturday night after the Nets fell to the Spurs 99-87. "And you can just tell they're comfortable playing with each other. We haven't had that luxury. We're trying to get to that eventually."
In many ways, the Nets have already tried to emulate the Spurs. At one point, their coaching staff consisted of Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo and Mario Elie -- three Popovich disciples. But their tenures did not last long.
Johnson was fired 28 games into his third season and replaced with Carlesimo, who guided the Nets to a 35-19 record only to be let go after the team was bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
In came the best player in franchise history: Jason Kidd. He made it through one season and two playoff rounds, making a failed power play and going through a messy divorce with GM Billy King, who has presided over all these coaching changes (and has a history of changing coaches) before departing for Milwaukee.
Veteran Lionel Hollins is here now, and the hope is that he's here for the long haul.
Popovich became the coach of the Spurs 18 games into the 1996-97 season. San Antonio went 17-47 from there. Their reward: the No. 1 pick in the 1997 NBA draft and Duncan.
Over the next 17 seasons, the Spurs have won five championships and haven't missed the playoffs.
They are the pinnacle of small-market success, a model of consistency, an organization that drafts well and makes wise decisions. International cornerstones Parker and Ginobili were plucked later in the draft. Kawhi Leonard, 23, the 2014 Finals MVP, was acquired on draft night in 2011 in exchange for George Hill, another late draft pick of the Spurs.
The Nets went 12-70 in 2009-10. Brook Lopez, who has never played for another organization and is the longest-tenured player in Brooklyn, was on that roster. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov officially became majority owner after the season, promising a championship by 2015.
Heck with a rebuild. They were going to be a big-market team playing in the biggest market in the world. The search for stars was on.
Trades by King for Williams, Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce (he also tried to land Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard to no avail) cost first-round draft picks (that were or became) Derrick Favors, Enes Kanter, Damian Lillard, Shane Larkin and Gorgui Dieng. The Atlanta Hawks have the right to swap first-rounders with the Nets this season (Johnson trade). The Boston Celtics own Brooklyn's unprotected firsts in 2016 and 2018 (Garnett/Pierce trade). They can also swap firsts with the Nets in 2017.
Since moving to Brooklyn in 2012, the Nets have spent $187.6 million on player salaries and $118.6 million on luxury taxes. Add in this season's projections and those numbers rise to $281.6 million and $154.2 million. That's $435.8 million! Only Williams, Johnson, Lopez and Mirza Teletovic have been on the roster over that span. Only Johnson has been a mainstay due to injury or, in the case of Teletovic, inexperience.
The Spurs, on the other hand, do not have a single player on their roster making max money. Parker is their highest-paid player. He will make $12.5 million in 2014-15.
This is the price of relevancy, a regularly sold-out Barclays Center and a 1-2 record in playoff series. Is it better than the alternative? Depends on whom you ask. The Nets lost $144 million in basketball-related business last season, according to Grantland, causing them to curtail their spending (relative only to their past precedent) in 2014-15.
And what does the future hold? What is Brooklyn's plan? The Nets are expected to be armed with a ton of cap space in the summer of 2016, but will that, along with a beautiful new waterfront practice facility, be enough to convince the likes of Kevin Durant to take their max dollars? What is the rest of the roster going to look like? Bojan Bogdanovic and Teletovic seem like attractive pieces. What else?
The Spurs are everything the Nets want to be. They have the ideal culture and cast of characters. Roles are clearly defined. If there is ego in San Antonio, it cannot be seen. Its offense is like poetry in motion, its defense ready and willing to get stops seemingly on every possession.
The Nets remain a work in progress, a cast of highly paid individuals in need of an identity (as well as some rebounding, defense and athleticism). If history is any indication, they will turn things around in 2015.
If the Nets really want to be like the Spurs, they have their work cut out for them.
Bogdanovic did not make a shot on the team’s two-game road trip through Oklahoma City and San Antonio, going 0-for-12 from the field -- including 0-for-6 from 3-point range.
“He’s in a slump,” Hollins told reporters in San Antonio following Saturday night’s 99-87 loss to the Spurs. “He isn’t making shots, and he doesn’t get to the free throw line, he doesn’t get to the basket, so he’s counting on long shots. And when you miss them, you go 0-fer.”
Bogdanovic got to the charity stripe twice against San Antonio. He hasn’t gotten there at all in six of his first 13 games in the NBA, never attempting more than four free throws in a game.
“All I know is you gotta get to the free throw line, you gotta be tougher and you can’t just stand out there and count on making shots all the time,” Hollins said. “Because sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t. The guys who still score are the ones that drive and attack the basket and get to the free throw line.”
Bogdanovic ranks third in rookie scoring (9.9 points per game), behind only the first two picks in the 2014 NBA draft, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker.
He has gone 21-for-28 on shots from less than 5 feet of the basket, according to NBA.com. He’s also been blocked on six attempts from less than 5 feet. On all other shots, Bogdanovic is 26-for-84 (31 percent).
More Brook points: Saturday night, using statistical evidence, we suggested that the Nets might want to bring Brook Lopez off the bench. A couple of points we missed:
• Only two five-man combinations (minimum 10 games played/100 minutes played) in the entire NBA have been worse than Brooklyn’s starting five:
Orlando Magic: Evan Fournier-Channing Frye-Tobias Harris-Elfrid Payton-Nikola Vucevic (minus-15 net rating).
Los Angeles Lakers: Carlos Boozer-Kobe Bryant-Jordan Hill-Wesley Johnson-Jeremy Lin (minus-22.4 net rating).
The Nets’ starters haven’t been that bad, but they’ve still been unproductive compared to the rest of the league.
• Lopez has just seven assists on 425 touches, according to NBA.com. The Nets would be able to dump the ball into him in the post with the second unit and let him operate against reserve bigs when he’s fresh.
• At the very least, Lopez may want to think about moving in his game. He’s 5-for-17 on shots from 16 to 24 feet.
Average Joe: The YES Network showed a nice graphic after the game which showed Joe Johnson’s splits.
First six games: 19.8 PPG/47.9 FG/13-for-28 3-PT
Last seven games: 13.9 PPG/40.7 FG/6-for-13 3-PT
Asked about Johnson’s 5-for-16 shooting night, Hollins pointed out that the 33-year-old veteran had just logged 52 minutes Wednesday, and it may take him some time to get back.
“It’s part of the game. It comes with what we do,” Johnson said. “I would never use that as an excuse. I just didn’t make shots.”
Johnson attempted only five shots against Oklahoma City. It was odd considering he is a good scorer who likes to get up shots and makes them with solid efficiency.
“It’s nothing that I’m worried about,” Johnson said. “I’m just being patient, just letting the game come to me. If I can make a play for the next guy that’s what I try to do -- especially when I’m in pick-and-rolls. If I get a chance to shoot and score, I will, but if not, I just keep playing.”
Sked unkind: The Nets just wrapped up a 1-6 stretch in which they played seven games in 11 days. They’ll only play once in the next seven days -- at Philadelphia on Wednesday night. This will give them some much-needed rest and practice time as they attempt to come together and figure things out.
The Nets (5-8) still haven’t beaten anyone, going 0-6 against teams with winning records. They face Chicago (Nov. 30), San Antonio (Dec. 3) and Atlanta (Dec. 5) coming up.
If you buy into Brooklyn’s annual “new coach, new system, new players, new identity, it takes time and we don’t figure it out until the new year, so relax” tradition, the Nets have 18 games remaining until Jan. 2, 2015, when they face Orlando. So if they tread water until then, they’ll be OK, right?
Can this really work again?
With his bigs struggling mightily, Nets coach Lionel Hollins went small -- employing Mirza Teletovic at center -- and his team made a nice comeback before falling to the Spurs in San Antonio for the 12th straight time, 99-87, at AT&T Center.
“We went small, opened up the court a little bit, started driving on them and making them play and we made some buckets,” Hollins told reporters in San Antonio. “Early on, when we were bigger, we weren’t making any buckets around the bucket, and we weren’t stopping them and we got behind.”
Brook Lopez was the main culprit. In 25 minutes, Lopez went 3-for-8 from the field, scored six points, grabbed four rebounds and was a minus-16. He did not play in the fourth quarter -- again.
After the game, Lopez, in an out-of-character decision, decided to blow off the media, according to reporters in San Antonio.
Recently, he has been down on himself, frustrated that his touch has been off. Clearly, yet unsurprisingly, Lopez has been slow to come back from foot injuries.
The Nets said Lopez would be ready and able to go without restriction, but the production hasn’t been there.
• In his last three games, Lopez has 13 turnovers.
• Since Nov. 9, Lopez is averaging 15 points and 4.9 rebounds on 47.6 percent shooting in 29.3 minutes.
• On the season, Lopez ranks seventh-worst among big men (eight or more attempts per game and 10 or more games played) in rim protection (54.3 percent).
• In the fourth quarter, he’s averaging just 1.8 points and 1.2 rebounds in 5.9 minutes.
• And the relationship between the old-school Hollins and laid-back Lopez has frequently been put under a microscope.
“Brook’s a resilient guy,” Deron Williams (24 points, seven assists, five rebounds) told reporters. “I don’t think he’s being bothered right now. He missed all of last year. It’s gonna take somebody that missed all of last year with a foot injury [a while] to kinda get his rhythm, get his feel back, and that’s what’s he’s doing.”
And while Hollins would probably never do this because he has always loved playing big, the Nets should consider bringing Lopez and his max salary off the bench and moving the slick-shooting Teletovic (22 points, 4-for-8 3-point range) into the starting lineup alongside Williams, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Johnson and Kevin Garnett.
What’s the harm?
After all, Brooklyn’s regular starting lineup -- Lopez, Garnett, Johnson, Bogdanovic and Williams -- has produced a negative-5.7 net rating in 125 minutes, scoring 100.4 points per 100 possessions, while surrendering 106.1.
Going small worked for Jason Kidd out of necessity last season after Lopez went down. The Nets started switching on defense and firing up a ton of 3-pointers, which led to them becoming a force on both sides of the ball.
Splitting up Johnson and Lopez would allow Johnson to become the focal point of the first unit and Lopez to anchor the second unit. The Nets would be able to run flex action with Williams at point guard, then go into a slower, plodding style with Lopez coming off the bench.
And Teletovic -- who has taken off since Hollins spoke with him a week ago -- is having the best season of his career, averaging 11.7 points and 5.1 rebounds on 47 percent shooting. He’s playing with confidence, taking the ball to the rim and playing aggressive defense as well.
The Nets are 5-8 and have yet to beat a team with a winning record (0-6).
It’s time to change things up. It’s time to try something new.
Johnson, who made headlines for calling his teammates selfish, is averaging just 13.9 points on 40.7 percent shooting in his last seven games. Bogdanovic failed to make a shot on the roadtrip (0-for-12), prompting Hollins to suggest that he’s not attacking the basket and getting to the free throw stripe enough. And Mason Plumlee is slumping like many sophomores do, prompting Hollins to insert the likes of Jerome Jordan and Cory Jefferson into the rotation.
“I was just trying to give us some life and energy,” Hollins told reporters of his decision to bring in his reserve bigs.
The Nets remain a work in progress, a team of highly-paid players still searching for an identity.
“I don’t know what kind of team we are,” Hollins said.
So when, exactly, are they going to figure it out?
“I wish I knew that, then I wouldn’t be so stressed,” Hollins replied.
Williams admitted he wants the Nets to have what the Spurs have.
“It’s a team you envy because they’ve had a system, they’ve had a coach, they’ve pretty much had the same group of guys for a long time,” Williams said. “And you can just tell they’re comfortable playing with each other. We haven’t had that luxury. We’re trying to get to that eventually.”
Since moving to Brooklyn, the Nets have had four different coaches. They’ve also had two excellent stretches: the second half of 2013 when Williams was healthy and the second half of 2014 after going small.
Williams is healthy again, so they have that going for them.
Why not go small again too?
San Antonio led by as many as 18 points in winning its 12th straight regular season home game over Brooklyn.
Tim Duncan had seven points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, four blocked shots and three steals in 25 minutes. The Spurs chose to rest Duncan for the remainder of the game after the 38-year-old forward played the first 7 minutes of the second half.
Brooklyn, 2-21 in its last 23 against San Antonio, is 0-6 this season against teams with winning records. The Nets would cut double-digit deficits to single-digits on a couple occasions. They just could never get over the hump.
Players of the game: Tim Duncan put up seven points, 10 rebounds, seven assists, four blocks and three steals. Deron Williams posted 24 points, seven assists, five rebounds, two steals and two blocks for the Nets. Mirza Teletovic, starting in place of Kevin Garnett (rest), had 14 of his 22 points in the third quarter.
Stats of the game: The Spurs shot 52.6 percent. The Nets shot 37.4 percent.
Bojan Bogdanovic did not make a shot on the roadtrip (0-for-12). Brook Lopez (six points, four rebounds) was very ineffective. The two combined to post a minus-37.
Play of the game: D-Will’s missed 3-pointer turned into a pretty fast-break give-and-go that ended in a Kawhi Leonard dunk from Danny Green in the third quarter.
Up next: The Nets face the tanking Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center.
This will be the first game that Garnett misses this season. Garnett, 38, is averaging 7.3 points and 8.3 rebounds on 45.7 percent shooting in 23.8 minutes. Options to replace Garnett in the starting lineup include Mirza Teletovic and Mason Plumlee.
Can’t win here: The Nets (5-7) have lost 11 straight games in San Antonio. Their last regular-season victory? Jan. 22, 2002. The Spurs are 20-2 in their last 22 against the Nets. Brooklyn did score a home victory Feb. 6, but San Antonio rested Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard that night.
Fun with numbers: During Friday night’s game, Nets coach Lionel Hollins got upset with center Brook Lopez because he didn’t help quick enough, which allowed Serge Ibaka to finish as the rim. The two argued for a bit, and Hollins replaced Lopez with Jerome Jordan.
I checked out some net rating statistics, and there were a couple of surprises, most notably that the Nets are a better team both offensively and defensively (on a points per 100 possessions basis) with Lopez on the bench.
297 minutes on-court: 103.2 offensive rating/106.2 defensive rating
294 minutes off-court: 106.4 offensive rating/101.4 defensive rating
On the other side of the ledger, look at how valuable Teletovic has been.
286 minutes on-court: 105.8 offensive rating/97.4 defensive rating
305 minutes off-court: 103.8 offensive rating/109.9 defensive rating
The Nets had 19 turnovers and were outscored by 15 in second-chance points.
But Reggie Jackson missed an open 3-pointer at the buzzer, and Brooklyn was able to snap its five-game losing streak with a 94-92 victory over depleted Oklahoma City at Chesapeake Energy Arena.
“I just think we showed some fight,” Jarrett Jack, who scored 23 of the Nets’ bench’s 46 points, told the YES Network after the game. “Coming off a triple-overtime game, everybody was a little bit fatigued, a little bit exhausted from putting all that effort out there, and then coming up with a loss. But we were able to come out here, bounce back and fight hard.
“It wasn’t pretty, but in April when you’re looking back at all the W’s, they all look the same.”
Deron Williams (17 points), Brook Lopez (16 points, 10 rebounds) and Joe Johnson (eight points, 2-for-5 shooting) had four turnovers each.
Fortunately, Williams picked up his game in the fourth quarter, scoring six points and wowing the crowd with some nifty dribbling as the Nets completed their comeback. They trailed by as many as 10 late in the third.
Despite having an up-and-down performance, Lopez finished with his first double-double since Game 5 of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs.
Johnson, who sported tape on his left wrist, was ineffective. He split a pair of free throws prior to Jackson’s miss.
The trio had logged heavy minutes in their team’s loss to former coach Jason Kidd, so it was important that the reserves were able to pick up the slack.
“I think all of us had the same mindset coming in,” Jack said. “We wanted to end this losing streak, and we didn’t want it to go a day further.
“We didn’t do a good job of taking care of business on that roadtrip out West, nor did we do it when we came back home the other night.
The only way to get better is the next time you have an opportunity, and we wanted to take care of business tonight.”
The Nets shot 27-for-30 from the free throw line, while limiting the Thunder to 6-for-22 shooting in the final period.
Unlike the previous two seasons, don’t expect a road victory in Oklahoma City to turn things around. The Nets (5-7) have yet to beat a team with a winning record (0-5).
They face the defending NBA champion San Antonio Spurs in the second-half of a back-to-back set Saturday night.
Maybe the Spurs, who routed Minnesota on the road Friday night, will even rest their starters.
Still, at least the Nets won for the first time since Johnson called the team selfish about a week-and-a-half ago.
Hey, it’s something to build on ...
Reggie Jackson, who led the Thunder with 21 points, missed what would have been a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Thunder lost their fifth straight and have the league's second-longest losing streak.
The Thunder, besieged by injuries all season and at times limited to eight active players, finally got some depth. Andre Roberson started after playing limited minutes the previous game and missing the seven games before that with a left foot sprain. Thunder coach Scott Brooks used 10 players in the first half, and Oklahoma City led 53-49 at the break.
Player of the game: Deron Williams carried the Nets in the fourth quarter, throwing in a couple highlight-reel dribbles which led to some pretty baskets during their comeback. Williams had 17 points, five rebounds and four assists.
Stat of the game: Lopez (16 points, 10 rebounds) recorded his first double-double since Game 5 of the first round of the 2013 NBA playoffs (April 29, 2013 against the Chicago Bulls). Again, he had an up-and-down performance overall. There were defensive lapses and turnovers, too.
Play of the game: Jarrett Jack did not use a screen that Lopez set for him. Lopez’s response was a bit surprising, to say the least.
Up next: The Nets get the defending champion San Antonio Spurs Saturday night in the second half of a back-to-back set.
Sources told ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk that the Nets and Sixers have discussed a deal that would send Kirilenko and second-year reserve guard Sergey Karasev to Philadelphia -- along with draft compensation or cash -- in a trade Philadelphia could complete by sending as little as a future second-rounder to the Nets.
The Sixers, at nearly $25 million under the salary cap, can take on those contracts as long as they have sufficient roster space. It's believed that Philadelphia would waive Kirilenko if such a deal goes through, enabling the 33-year-old to try to hook on with a contending team.
Depending on what else Philadelphia would ultimately ship out in such a trade, Brooklyn would also create one and maybe even two trade exceptions if the talks continue to progress.
Karasev, 21, is a 6-7 shooting guard who was drafted 19th overall by the Cavaliers in 2013. He has played sparingly. The Nets coveted Karasev on draft night and were able to acquire him in their trade for Jarrett Jack over the summer.
Kirilenko did not accompany the Nets on their two-game roadtrip through Oklahoma City and San Antonio due to personal reasons, the team announced Friday. Kirilenko has been out of the rotation and was listed as inactive in the last two games. He has not played since getting four minutes in Golden State Nov. 13.
Kirilenko had hoped to get a greater, more consistent role under new Nets coach Lionel Hollins, but had struggled in limited minutes. He has yet to make a shot this season (0-for-5 from the field).
Still, he has been professional about his situation.
“It is tough, but there’s not much I can do,” Kirilenko said recently. “It is what it is. I like our system, and I like our coach. I spoke with the coach. Obviously, I know he sees things a little different -- and he’s been honest about it. I really appreciate it, but it doesn’t make things better.”
Kirilenko said he is healthy, but did know what he needed to do to get himself back in the rotation.
He is in the final year of a two-year contract he signed with the Nets two summers ago; he opted into the second year of the deal in the offseason.
Kirilenko’s wife said on Instagram prior to the season that she was “looking forward” to her husband finishing his career with CSKA Moscow in Russia. CSKA Moscow used to be owned by Mikhail Prokhorov, who now owns the Nets.
Kirilenko, 33, was limited to just 45 games in 2013-14 due to persistent back spasms.
Not good: From Nov. 9 -- the day Joe Johnson called out his teammates for being selfish -- until Friday, here is where the Nets rank in the NBA in the following categories:
Field goal percentage: 44.7 (22nd)
3-point field goal percentage: 28.2 (28th)
Rebounds per game: 41.7 (18th)
Assists per game: 19.7 (23rd)
Turnovers per game: 14.8 (23rd)
Offensive rating: 101.1 (22nd)
Defensive rating: 106.2 (20th)
Opponent offensive rebounds per game: 11.1 (23rd)
“I know how he is going to defend me,” Johnson said on Tuesday. “I know how he is going to play me. I know Kidd.”
In his first meeting with his former team, Kidd proved how well he knows Johnson, too.
Before the final play of the second overtime of the Bucks’ 122-118 triple-overtime win, Kidd was caught by YES Network cameras telling Johnson he knew the ball was going to him on the Nets’ final play.
“We know –- it’s going to Joe,” Kidd is seen mouthing with a smile toward the Nets sideline while Lionel Hollins is still in a huddle with his players.
Then Kidd walks closer to midcourt and says aloud, “We know! It’s coming to you” as he points to Johnson. Johnson smirked a little while walking back onto the floor coming out of the timeout.
With 19.6 seconds left, Johnson got the ball at the top of the key with Giannis Antetokounmpo guarding him. Johnson went to work in isolation, but ended up air-balling a jumper over Antetokounmpo’s long arms.
The Brooklyn Nets have lost five straight games and are coming off an exhausting and grueling triple-overtime loss to Jason Kidd’s Bucks at Barclays Center.
Just as things could spiral downward, along comes a trip to Oklahoma City. The Nets hit the road to play the Thunder and Spurs on a two-game road swing knowing that wins over the Thunder the past two seasons have coincided with a big turnaround.
Last season, the Nets limped into Oklahoma City on Jan. 2 with a 10-21 record. Joe Johnson drilled a buzzer beater, propelling the Nets to win 10 of 11 games. That win jump-started the Nets, who won 33 of their next 46 games after the abysmal 10-21 start.
And two seasons ago on Jan. 2, the Nets were 16-15 before going into Oklahoma City and coming away with a win. They won 10 of 11 games and improved to 26-16.
So can the Nets (4-7) use Oklahoma City as a spark again to turn things around? In each of the last two seasons, the Nets traveled to San Antonio first before facing Oklahoma City on Jan. 2.
This year, they go to Oklahoma City on Friday and then face San Antonio on Saturday. Regardless, the Nets need to turn things around and can't afford to lose to a Thunder team decimated by injuries to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.
“We got to try to find some way, somehow to get a win,” Johnson said. “Obviously, when you’re in a rut like this, it’s tough.”
The Nets did see some positives during their triple-OT loss to the Bucks. Brook Lopez had 26 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in 44 minutes.
“I was a little tired, I can’t lie, but it was great being out there,” Lopez said. “I think I just finished better. I got good looks. Guys hit me where I could score easily. Pretty simple.”
“Every game, I just feel my movement, touch, a little explosiveness I’ve never had,” Lopez added with a laugh.
Lopez did have seven turnovers, but Lionel Hollins stuck with his 7-footer and played the center during critical stretches of the game.
“He scored a lot of points,” Hollins said. “I don’t like to talk about one individual. Did we do enough? Did he do enough for us to win? Did anybody do enough for us to win? Our team didn’t do enough.”
“So one guy’s having a good game is OK, but we lost,” Hollins added. “I wouldn’t be celebrating. I wouldn’t go out and have a glass of champagne that he played well because the ultimate goal is to win.”
Like Lopez, Deron Williams (18 points, seven assists, five rebounds), Johnson (18 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic (19 points and seven rebounds) all played well during stretches.
Now if they can put together a more complete game, limit their mistakes and jumpstart another strong stretch of play with a much-needed win in Oklahoma City.
“Definitely concerned with five straight losses,” Williams said. “Who wouldn’t be?”
“We have to turn it around,” Williams added. “We want to avoid last year [and the 10-21 start]. We got to figure it out soon.”