Nets struggle on court, await brighter future
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP)Russian tycoon Mikhail Prokhorov knew the New Jersey Nets were rebuilding when he agreed to spend $200 million to buy the NBA franchise and help move it to Brooklyn.
The richest man in Russia may need some more of his money to turn around one of the NBA's worst teams.
Seven games into the season, the Nets are the league's only winless team, and that's not all that's gone wrong in the franchise's worst start.
Four starters are sidelined - seven total - including one with the NBA's only reported case of swine flu.
Practices these days are mostly half-court drills or 3-on-3 or 4-on-4 games. The Nets don't have enough healthy bodies to go full court.
Tuesday's workout was even more short-handed because forward Bobby Simmons had to return to Chicago for an undisclosed personal issue.
"It is what it is. You deal with it. Every day you enjoy coming to practice, you enjoy the games and our job is, whoever is healthy, to get the maximum out of them," coach Lawrence Frank said. "That's the job of a coach - to get players to do what they don't want to do, to be the players they want to become."
Frank has kept his sense of humor in a season he knew could be a struggle after the Nets traded star guard Vince Carter and forward Ryan Anderson to Orlando for guards Courtney Lee and Rafer Alston and center Tony Battie.
That left New Jersey with All-Star guard Devin Harris and second-year center Brook Lopez to carry a team that is well positioned to be a player in free agency next season. It's a marketplace that might include LeBron James - meaning Prokhorov's deep pockets would come in handy.
The deal to sell Prokhorov 80 percent of the team is contingent upon current owner Bruce Ratner selling almost $600 million in tax-exempt bonds by a Dec. 31 deadline. The Russian must also pass an NBA background check and then get approval from three-quarters of the league's owners.
If the Nets have a bright future, they're paying their dues right now.
Harris has been out more than a week with a groin injury, the same injury that sidelined Lee, the starting shooting guard, late last week. Starting power forward Yi Jianlian will be out another 3-4 weeks following knee surgery and starting small forward Chris Douglas-Roberts might return this week after his bout with swine flu.
"A lot of times when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong and that's kind of been the case with the guys being hurt or sick," forward Josh Boone said. "As soon as we get one guy back another one goes down. Hopefully, we get this out of the way early and get everyone back soon."
The Nets have had their chances to win a game. New Jersey blew a 19-point second-half lead in the season opener against Minnesota and a double-digit second-quarter advantage against Charlotte in a game in which they scored 7 points in the third quarter and lost Yi to a knee injury.
Frank's team also led Denver at the half last Wednesday, had a chance in the closing minutes against Philadelphia two nights later and were right there with Boston the following night.
"When you lose seven in a row, it's a tough thing to deal with," Boone said. "But we haven't lost faith at all. We come out here, we work hard every day like we have been, actually working even harder than we have been because we only have eight guys. Tomorrow, we'll try to get a win against Philly."
The Nets might get some help soon. Lee has an outside shot at playing against the 76ers and Douglas-Roberts might be back this weekend.
Backup point guard Keyon Dooling is getting closer to making a return from offseason hip surgery and Battie had his knee re-examined recently and might be back next week.
Harris needs at least another week, while Jarvis Hayes, who pulled a hamstring in the season opener, is another couple of weeks away.
"Everybody is up and joyful and still playing basketball," said rookie guard Terrence Williams, who is averaging 10 points while filling in at almost every position on the floor.
The injured players are the ones who find it toughest coping.
"It's been a struggle to watch with only eight guys out there," Harris said. "You have to be proud of the way they have played, undermanned, and the fight that they have had. You want to get back out there, but you have to express some patience at this point in time. But I am anxious to get out there."