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Friday, February 17, 2012
Don't blame Johnson for Nets' woes

By Mike Mazzeo

The Nets are 8-23 right now. They have become irrelevant, and baring a miracle of “Linsane” proportion, they aren’t making the playoffs.

But don’t blame that on their coach.

Blame it on the lockout. Blame it on the injuries -- specifically the one to Brook Lopez before the season started. Blame it on the lack of talent on the roster.

Don’t blame Avery Johnson. Red Auerbach couldn’t win with this team.

Johnson goes into each game without a legit post presence. Most nights, he doesn’t even know who’s going to be available to start until an hour or so before tip-off. Think about that.

Deron Williams is far and away the Nets’ best player. But even he -- for all his offensive prowess -- is prone to streaky shooting, turnovers because the ball is in his hands so much and lapses on defense.

Kris Humphries would be a great player on a great team, but his weaknesses -- shooting and finishing -- get exposed. Shelden Williams is starting and giving it his all, but he’s a role player who has trouble catching post-entry passes. Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow are lethal shooters who can fill it up, but they’re lousy defenders. Rookie MarShon Brooks may end up being as prolific a scorer as Kobe Bryant, but he isn’t that player now, and has a long way to go before he gets anywhere close.

As ESPN’s John Hollinger points out, the Nets have the worst small forward tandem in the NBA. Lately, Johnson has been starting veteran DeShawn Stevenson, who was a valuable contributor on the Mavericks championship team last season. Now, he’s a 25 percent shooter who is gutting it out every night on balky knees.

Johan Petro? Sundiata Gaines? The 2011-12 version of Shawne Williams? The argument could easily be made that none of these players even belong in the NBA -- certainly not on the end of the bench of a bad team.

Put this collection of players together, and what you see is what you get: A plethora of jump shots. Long offensive droughts. Bad defense. No rebounding. Bad basketball.

Already, the Nets have started 15 different lineups. More than any team. Already, they’ve started 13 different players. More than any team. Shelden Williams is the only Net to appear in each of the team’s first 31 games.

Throughout it all, Johnson has maintained a positive attitude -- at least publicly. After each game, he sits down and gives the same answers, mostly about how hard his team fought; how they showed “winning spirit;” how they’ve been decimated by injuries, but how that shouldn’t be an excuse.

Johnson knew what he was getting himself into when he took this job. He wasn’t going to keep his spot at the top of the NBA’s all-time winning percentage list. He was taking over a 12-70 team in transition. It was going to be “a process,” and it has been.

GM Billy King has put the franchise in a great position to become a contender with an up-and-coming nucleus. And if he can somehow land Dwight Howard without having to give anything up, he’ll look like of the greatest executives of all-time.

But nothing is set in stone, and as Steinbeck put it, “The best laid plans often go awry.”

There’s a possibility the Nets could go to Brooklyn in 2012-13 in worse shape than just about every team but the Bobcats, trying to sell a product that isn’t worthy consuming.

In year one, that works. It did at Citi Field. But then the allure wears off. Then what?

None of that is Johnson’s fault. He’s doing the best with what he has.

Don’t forget: Doc Rivers was nearly run out of town in Boston after winning 59 games from 2005-07. Then Danny Ainge went out and got him Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and Rivers won it all. Now, he’s one of the most well-respected coaches in the league.

Remember that on Saturday night, when it’s very likely the Nets will lose their ninth game in a row to the Bulls.

At that point, 34 games will be all that’s left for the franchise in New Jersey. It’s unfortunate it’s going to end this way, but it is what it is.

Remember that when you’re about to snap and blame Johnson. Wait until he has a real team first.

And if it doesn’t work out, that’s when you can fire him.