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The Home Stretch

By Ted Remsnyder
   There are countless things to be depressed about as the Nets trudge towards the conclusion of another season. Currently 30-42 and sinking fast, they find themselves in the equivalent of NBA purgatory, being outside the playoff picture and yet needing a miracle to land a pick at the top of the draft. Most likely they'll end up in the 10-13 range, and while admittedly they did steal Brook Lopez with the 10th choice last year, Rod Thorn has already indicated that with this June's draft being projected as relatively weak, they'll probably just trade or sell the pick anyway. This of course relates to the Nets dire financial situation. They were already losing $20 million plus annually before the economy tanked and the intimate and comatose gatherings at the Izod Center this year are a bleak harbinger for the future, no matter what pumped up attendance numbers Nets Snake Oil Salesman, er, Marketing Director Brett Yormark tries to sell. Movie tickets are cheaper these days than Nets seats and if you're paying ten bucks would you rather see Clint Eastwood or Trenton Hassell? Take away the sea of freebies the team distributes and I'd guess on most nights they draw 8,000 or so paying customers, maybe 14 or 15 for the Cavs, Celtics, and Lakers. The franchise will have no sellouts this season, and from my perch in section 127, it appears the vast majority of the crowd may have been drugged, thrown in the back of a trunk, and then dropped off at the arena, only to sit confused and motionless in their seats with a dazed look upon their faces, only thinking to stand up and wave their arms when the T-shirt cannons start firing. To hear intelligent basketball talk in the stands at a Nets game would be about as likely as seeing an acoustic ballad at an AC/DC show. Then again if the few fans that do show up at the games actually sat and contemplated the reality that their ticket money was funding the salary of Vince Carter they would promptly leave the arena and drive their car off a cliff.

   Besides Carter, who I'll save for another day, you have the Infrastructure of Incompetence, otherwise known as the Nets front office, starting with owner Bruce Ratner. He clearly has no basketball knowledge, but still pushed hard to re-sign Carter to a five-year deal in the summer of 2007 when he obviously should have been traded.The Nets are now stuck with Carter through at least the '10-'11 season ('11-'12 is a $4 million buy-out option) and with the salary cap falling and his annual salary rising, it's a deadly contract and a killer to the hopes of a big time free agent acquisition in the Summer of 2010. To think only last summer, the Nets were being lauded for clearing salary cap space in the Jefferson -Yi deal and the Knicks were still a laughing stock. How quickly the Lebron sweepstakes have changed with the Knicks clearing out Crawford and Randolph and the Nets saddled with Carter (a reported deadline offer this February by  GM Rod Thorn to Portland of Carter plus two first round picks - the Mavs in 2010 and the Warriors in 2011, both possible lottery selections, for Raef Lafrentz's expiring contract was turned down) and the Brooklyn move looking more remote by the day. Most of the media blindly praised Thorn for the Jefferson deal, neglecting to mention the better offer from Cleveland - Carter for Szczerbiak's contract, and the fact that a large chunk of the Nets future now lay in the hands of Chairman Yi. Nickname courtesy of ESPNs Bill Simmons after footage came out prior to the draft in 2007 of Yi, in lieu of human competition, posting up a chair. Sadly for the Nets, during Yi's disastrous performance in their recent 0-4 Western road swing he was guarded by the likes of Marcus Camby and Kenyon Martin and not for example, an ottoman. 

   Working at Thorn's side is the inexplicably employed Kiki Vandeweghe, whose 2002 NBA Draft selection of Nicoloz Tskitishvili over Amare Stoudemire with Denver's fifth pick is easily grounds for lifetime banishment from NBA general manager work. As for Lawrence Frank, I'd need a book to chronicle the blunders he's overseen. 

   So with inept management, a non-existent fan base, shrinking cap space,and a tenuous plan to move to Brooklyn that could collapse at any moment and lead to the team being sold and moved to Kansas City, Seattle, Las Vegas, etc., the Nets have earned one thing this season - their distinction as the Clippers of the East.