- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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Not only do the New Jersey Nets lead the NBA in WAGH -- an advanced metric which measures the hotness of players’ wives and girlfriends -- and trade rumors, they are also amongst the league leaders in futility.
At the midway point of the season, the Nets, who rank 29th in the NBA averaging just 92.4 points per game, are currently 10-31, dismal enough for the second-worst record in the Eastern Conference. And at this juncture, any chance of them making the playoffs hinges on whether or not they can finally stop all the Melo Drama and acquire Denver Nuggets superstar Carmelo Anthony.
Amidst a plethora of rumors and speculation, the Nets have lost six straight and 11 of their last 12. But who could blame them? Half the roster is currently being held hostage, unsure of where its future lies.
Nevertheless, it’s safe to say that most Nets fans agree with New York Jets linebacker Bart Scott when it comes to the following: Closure on the Melo Drama and probably, the end of the season:
And now for what you’ve all been waiting for: The Midseason Report Card.
Mikhail Prokhorov: When the Russian Billionaire bought the Nets, he promised free agent acquisitions, playoff berths and a championship in five seasons, giving stability and hope to a descending franchise. But so far, all he’s managed to do is put up a huge billboard across from Madison Square Garden in a failed effort to intimidate the New York Knicks, and a couple steel girders in Brooklyn. Prokhorov has proven he can talk the talk, but from what we’ve seen, he’s failed to walk the walk, setting himself up for ridicule and mockery in the process. Maybe he eventually wants the Nets to become like the Los Angeles Lakers, but that won’t happen unless they land a proven superstar in his prime. That’s why Prokhorov’s rumored meeting with Anthony this week looms large. If he can convince him to sign an extension, he’ll be lauded for his ability to deliver. If not, he’ll return to his homeland a failure. At this juncture, it really is Melo or bust. Therefore, we won’t judge him until there is finality to the situation.
Billy King: We’ll reiterate what we’ve said before: King’s legacy is going to be defined by what likely transpires this week -- leading up until the NBA trade deadline. If he's able to orchestrate this complicated trade to get Anthony, he will get his do. But, like Prokhorov, if he fails, it might prove to be his first step toward GM exile. King’s body of work is small. He went out and traded for Troy Murphy, with the expectation that he would be the stopgap while rookie Derrick Favors developed. The move, however, backfired greatly. Murphy quickly fell out of favor with Johnson. And his $11 million expiring contract has been very undesirable -- and will likely end up costing the Nets a downgrade at point guard from Devin Harris to Chauncey Billups. Still, we’ll withhold judgement, pending the outcome of all the Melo Drama.
Avery Johnson: No coach gets used to losing -- especially one that came into this season holding the NBA’s all-time record for regular season winning percentage. But it’s something Johnson has had to deal with ever since he accepted the position. Still, he’s remained upbeat -- and continues to work just as hard as he did when he was with the Dallas Mavericks. Sure, from the lack of scoring and defense; to Brook Lopez’s failure to grab rebounds; to his team’s inability to close games, it’s been frustrating. But we know Johnson will continue to teach and mentor these players, with the hopes that things will eventually turn themselves around. What we do question is some of the offseason signings -- namely Travis Outlaw and Johan Petro -- which we don’t believe were former GM Rod Thorn’s doing. Still, Johnson, given the roster he has to work with on a daily basis, gets somewhat of a pass -- for now.
Kris Humphries: Just your classic case of we want you to reject your $3.2 million player option so we can have more cap space to sign superstars because you’re an end of the rotation player to you’re clearly our most valuable player -- and by the way, your celebrity girlfriend is gorgeous. You really can’t make this stuff up. Not only is he dating and reportedly looking for a Chelsea apartment with Kim Kardashian, the 25-year-old Humprhies (8.7 ppg, 9.3 rpg) has 11 more double-doubles than Lopez. The man who has done everything the Nets have asked of him and more, will be a free agent at season’s end. And all of a sudden, he’s become worthy of at least $6-7 million a year. We’re just not sure if he fits into the Nets’ future plans, although he should.
Sasha Vujacic: The Machine has truly elevated his game since being acquired by the Nets from the Lakers in the three-team trade that sent Terrence Williams to the Houston Rockets. In 15 outings with the Nets, Vujacic is averaging 12.1 points per game, while shooting it at a .355 percent clip from 3-point range. Plus, he’s also being his usually pesky self on the defensive end of the floor. And who could forget his game-winning score against the Chicago Bulls on Jan. 5? Ironically, of course, that’s the last time the Nets have won a game. Plus, he’s engaged to Maria Sharapova. What’s not to like? Another player with an expiring contract who may or may not be part of New Jersey’s plans going forward.
Devin Harris: It must be tough for Harris with the Nets losing basically every night and his name being mentioned in constant trade rumors. Still, the 27-year-old floor general is the straw that stirs New Jersey’s drink on the offensive end. He ranks second on the team in scoring (16.1 ppg) and first in assists (7.1). Harris may be guilty of taking too many 3-pointers -- he’s shooting just .292 percent from beyond the arc -- but who else does he have to turn to? Many times, with the offense stagnant and the shot clock winding down, Harris is the Nets’ only hope. The only question is, will he be around much longer?
Jordan Farmar: The 24-year-old has provided leadership and heady play at the point guard position behind Harris. His field goal percentage (.384) is a little low four our taste, but his scoring (9.7 ppg) and assists (4.2 apg) are right where they need to be. Plus, the feel good story of the season so far had to be when he received his championship ring in Los Angeles. Farmar is also great with the media -- so we have to give him high marks for that.
Stephen Graham: Talk about someone who has emerged after riding the pine for much of the first quarter of the season. Graham has stepped into the starting shooting guard spot and performed admirably in place of the injured Anthony Morrow. Normally in charge of locking down the opposition’s best perimeter player, Graham can also stick a 15-footer when asked. While not much of an offense threat (3.8 ppg), the 28-year-old has proved valuable for New Jersey with his intangibles and free throw shooting ability late in games (.852 percent from the stripe).
Brook Lopez: This was supposed to be the 22-year-old center’s breakout season. Instead, he’s taken a step backward. While Lopez’s is averaging a career-high 19.0 points per game, he’s grabbing an abysmal 5.9 rebounds per game and has just one double-double on the season. His rebound rate -- an advanced metric compiled by ESPN.com’s John Hollinger -- is 10.2, or 62nd out of 64 NBA centers. In his last three games, Lopez has really asserted himself more on the offensive end (29.2 ppg, 64.2 fg pct). But he needs to do so more consistently and get his field goal percentage (.469) back up to around .500. He also must get more aggressive on the inside, because at 7-foot tall, he should be able to snag more boards. Consider Lopez a work in progress.
Quote of the season: When asked about if he dreams about getting Anthony, Johnson responded: “I dream about our center getting 10 rebounds.”
Derrick Favors: The centerpiece to a potential Melo deal, Favors, the NBA’s youngest player at 19 years of age, has been somewhat of an enigma this season. There’s no question the rookie has the tools to become a future star, but he has yet to have that breakout game. Known for missing dunks, getting into early foul trouble and making highlight reel blocks from the weak side with his freakish athleticism, Favors is averaging a modest 6.5 points and 5.0 rebounds in almost 19 minutes per contest. He was inserted into the starting lineup on Jan. 5 and has had three-double digit scoring efforts since. Will he be the Nets’ future or the Nuggets’ future? We’ll find out soon enough. Fun fact: New Jersey’s No. 3 overall pick in the 2010 draft has one more double-double than Lopez.
Travis Outlaw: Sigh. What can we say about Outlaw? We’ve heard all the cries about how he’d be a great stretch four-man if the Nets were to acquire Anthony. At the same time, we can’t help but wonder: How can you be a great stretch four-man if you can’t knock down open shots? But we digress. The Nets are likely to be stuck with Outlaw for the remainder of his 5-year, $35 million albatross of a contract. His shooting splits -- .385/.257/.785 -- are painful to look at.
Johan Petro: This signing deserves a “What were you thinking? Common, man!” As of now, Petro, who takes more 15-foot jumpers from the top of the key than seemingly any big man in the NBA, is set to be jettisoned to the Detroit Pistons in the mega Melo deal. His contract, a 3-year, $10 million pact, doesn’t seem warranted whatsoever. It’s one of those good luck and good riddance moves if he does get traded. The key word being “if.”
Troy Murphy: Now that he’s become irrelevant in New Jersey, Murphy could sure use a change of scenery. As he’s said all season, “It is what it is.” Unfortunately, there’s really no way we can’t give Murphy anything but a failing grade.
Anthony Morrow: The Nets sure could use Morrow’s perimeter skills and shot-making ability. He’s been out with a hamstring injury, but is expected back on Friday night against the Detroit Pistons. Morrow, who is averaging 12.1 points per game and shooting .411 percent from 3-point territory, hasn’t played since Dec. 12.
Damion James: The Nets’ other rookie first-round pick was just starting to play his best basketball of the season when he suffered a broken right foot injury during the first start of his NBA career against the Dallas Mavericks on Dec. 9. He underwent surgery over a month ago and could be back before the end of the season. Before the 23-year-old got hurt, he had scored a career-high 10 points in 19 minutes off the bench on Dec. 7 in a win over the Atlanta Hawks.
Ben Uzoh: The undrafted rookie out of Tulsa hasn’t garnered enough playing time to deserve a grade. The kid does have a motor though and can finish at the rim with authority, as evidenced by his emphatic one-handed breakaway dunk during the Nets’ blowout loss to the Milwaukee Bucks on Jan. 8.
Quinton Ross: The veteran has been a consummate professional during his time in New Jersey, providing minutes -- even stepping into the starting lineup -- when needed. Even though the stats don’t show it, Ross has been invaluable. And we’ll grade him as such.
Agree? Disagree? Feel free to comment below.
1662dChris Broussard and Marc Stein