How can the second-round losers take the next step?
Posted: Monday May 21, 2007 2:25PM; Updated: Monday May 21, 2007 4:34PM
So close and yet maybe not so far. Such is the lot in life of the NBA's second-round losers. But the task facing the Nets, Warriors, Bulls and Suns is a delicate one. On one hand, you need to keep the general structure of a club that reached the second round; on the other, you need to tweak -- perhaps in a significant way -- the roster enough to win an extra two or three games.
Put another way, these teams don't need to rent a van for the trip to Home Depot, but they should fill up the trunk of a car. What do these clubs need to fill their shopping baskets with? Well, that's what we're here for ...
New Jersey Nets
Projected room under the salary cap (estimated to be $55 million): None
Are mid-May playoff exits enough? For a team with as sorry a history as the Nets had before president Rod Thorn and Kidd arrived, the answer would probably be yes. But Thorn and general manager Ed Stefanski are smarter than that.
They know this club barely has the assets to remain in the playoff mix in the woebegone East, let alone compete for title with the behemoths of the West. They know that for all the defense Jason Collins offers and unexpected scoring Moore can provide, the Nets must get something more from their frontcourt. And they know that if Carter chooses to opt out of his contract and test free agency this summer, New Jersey would get far more value in the long run out of signing-and-trading their supposed superstar than in giving him the $10 million-plus per year he will likely want in a long-term deal.
The season-ending ACL injury to center Nenad Krstic killed the Nets in the second round, when Krstic's 7-foot frame would have helped counteract Cleveland's size and strength in the paint. Assuming Krstic returns to full health next season, that still leaves the gaping hole at power forward that New Jersey hasn't filled since Kenyon Martin left. And as the Cavs series demonstrated, if the Nets are going to lob brick after brick at the hoop, they need someone to chase down those misses. Maybe a P.J. Brown might come cheap for a one-year rental?
That plan assumes the Nets ride the 34-year-old legs of Kidd for another season. And after he averaged a triple double in the playoffs, why shouldn't they? At his best, Kidd can beat almost any team by himself. And on those nights when age and injury make him look every one of his 34 years, his court command and leadership keep the Nets in most games. There probably aren't 10 players in the league you can say that about. That's worth rolling with Kidd until at least next February's trade deadline, isn't it?
On the contrary, Carter has shown little of late to convince any team to roll with him. Perhaps worse than the tank job he pulled when he was angling his way out of Toronto, Carter revealed he can't succeed in the clutch. Despite his otherworldly physical gifts, Carter demonstrated in the postseason that he is at his best when the pressure is least, when Kidd can draw defenders and feed him the ball, when the scoring slack needs to be picked up in the first quarter, when the boos aren't pelting him in a hostile arena.
Carter does have the option of returning for one more season in New Jersey at $16.4 million, but with his family in Orlando and the Nets' uncertain future, Carter may look for a bigger paycheck elsewhere. That might deprive Jersey of his 25 points a game, but it could also provide a jump-start on rebuilding via trade. Combined with a healthy Krstic and a savvy Kidd, that would be the type of play that may be risky on paper, but smart in the long term.
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