Could the 2016 Brooklyn Nets be the worst NBA team ever?
By JOHN DORN
If you ask the NBA's owners, basketball has a tanking problem. At a 2014 Board of Governors meeting, the owners voted, 17-13, in favor of draft lottery reform -- but without two-thirds approval, the league couldn't move forward.
Still, the vote revealed a sentiment throughout the league that tanking is a real issue -- with teams like the Philadelphia 76ers putting together rosters of, at best, NBA talent, without placing any value on the win column. The result: a seemingly endless wealth of high lottery picks that could eventually turn the team's fortune.
The tanking debate has drawn so much attention to Philadelphia over recent seasons under general manager Sam Hinkie, and for good reason. The 76ers have won 37 games over the last three seasons, and their unprecedented rebuilding method is an intriguing case study.
But it seems now that the incessant tanking fodder blinded us this summer from one very real possibility.
This year's Brooklyn Nets team could be on track to become the worst in NBA history -- without the benefit of their first round pick, which was traded to the Boston Celtics in 2013 without restrictions.
While the Sixers are 0-11 thus far -- becoming the first team in NBA history to start with 10 straight losses in back-to-back seasons -- they've played only one team currently under .500 (Orlando, at 5-6). Brooklyn (1-9), who earned their lone win against 4-7 Houston, has surrendered defeat to the Lakers (2-9) and Sacramento (4-7).
But aside from anything that a 10-game sample can tell us, the Nets' roster construction from the very start should've been enough to tip us off to how bad Brooklyn could truly be.
After cutting ties with Deron Williams, Jarrett Jack has actually handled full-time point duties well. Brook Lopez has put up good numbers at the center position with 19 point and 8.5 rebounds per game, and Thaddeus Young is shooting at over 52 percent.
Yet the Nets just keep losing.
According to Basketball-Reference, Joe Johnson's net-rating had steadily declined in each of the last three seasons -- from plus-9.5 in 2012-13, to plus-4 in 2013-14 down to plus-2.1 last year. This year, that number is down to minus-9.4 points per 100 possessions. With 26 percent of his shots coming from the 3-to-10 foot range -- an area where he's posted just a 32.3 field-goal percentage -- him being a detriment to the team comes as no surprise. With more than 40,000 minutes under his belt at 34, expecting a stark improvement at this point would be foolish.
With a bench squad of Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, Thomas Robinson and Andrea Bargnani, there just isn't much competing going on at all.
But what makes this Nets team's ineptitude all the more painful is that things won't be turning around any time soon.
With Lopez, Young and Deron Williams' buyout figure accounting for nearly $50 million in payroll next year, plenty of cap space will already be taken up by the incumbents -- even with the impending massive cap jump. There are no major trade assets on this year's roster aside from Lopez, who's even strapped with major injury concerns.
Almost all of their draft picks through the rest of the decade have been traded, dating back to general manager Billy King's attempt at assembling a Big Three in 2012 in acquiring Johnson -- and his ludicrously expensive contract -- from Atlanta.
Perhaps what makes the Nets so depressing, compared to a team like the Sixers, is that there seems to have been legitimate effort to contend -- yet this is the product they ended up with. Philadelphia's misery is the beginning of what hopes to be a successful process. This Nets team is the end result of a wild chase for playoff relevance, which hardly ever had a chance in the first place.
After leaving New Jersey a last-place laughing stock, the Nets desperately tried to make a push as big and boisterous as their Brooklyn brand. Now, they're right back where they started -- just a river away.
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