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Bench beauties and big-name beasts: A look back at a strange Nets start

for The Brooklyn Paper
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What do we have here?

As 2014 comes to an end in Brooklyn — and, I’m told, other places too — that’s the question the Nets are facing. The grand experiment to build an immediate title-contender upon the team’s arrival in the borough has grown as stale as the sidewalk hot-dog bun I indulged in this morning. Meanwhile, Coach Hollins seems to have found a rhythm with a starting five that puts Jarrett Jack and Mason Plumlee — presumed backups when the season started — ahead of oft-injured stars Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.

After watching the Nets beat Sacramento on Monday, I flew down into the bowels of Barclays to listen in on some of Hollins’ post-game comments.

“This is the Brooklyn Nets. Brook and Deron, yes, they were starters. They’ve been out and if you note, while they were out, we started playing better and winning,” coach said, according to some pigeon-scratch I scribbled on the back of a scrap of toilet paper. “So why would I go back and change the lineup for now? I would hope that they would play better and they did.”

If indeed Mr. Hollins’s Opus keeps the backups playing over the starters in 2015, the Nets will have to decide whether bringing “Big Lug” Lopez and D-Will off the bench — two guys owed a combined $37 million next season — is a worthwhile luxury or a foolish expense. To me, the current scheme is the equivalent of pounding Pabsts to start the night, then deciding to switch to some fancy craft-brew stuff once everything starts tasting the same. But others could argue having a stacked bench is an uncommon advantage for a team that has looked too downright common for much of its time in Brooklyn.

From my perch, part of this comes down to whether us Nets fans want the team to be successful or simply fun to watch. Mr. Lopez is a great guy and talented scorer, but his game reminds me of the turtles I used to heckle at Prospect Park Lake. By comparison, Young Plumlee bounds around like a giant frog. But beyond the excitement of seeing a young player getting his legs under him, is there really a strong argument to giving him twice as many minutes as a former All-Star? Plumdog Millionaire had a great game against the Kings, but he didn’t exactly shut down star big man DeMarcus Cousins, who made 75 percent of his shots, grabbed 13 boards, and posterized the Duke grad with a brutal dunk in the fourth quarter. And sure, as of Monday the Nets were 7–9 with Lopez starting this year, and 7–7 with him either out or coming off the bench, but the teams they’ve beat with Plums as a starter had a combined record of 57–124.

It’s been a blast to watch from the rafters as this gawky blonde-headed kid develops into a legitimate NBA player. But while Hollins seems reluctant to put Plumdog and Big Lug on the floor together, we’ve yet to at least see a healthy Lopez playing the same amount as this new, confident Mason. If our boys in black decide they want to still make a run at the playoffs this year, they’ll probably need a 50–50 split between the two to make that happen. Otherwise, it’s time to ship Brook out of town and go bottoms-up on rebuilding Brooklyn around a bunch of scrappy no-namers.

Speaking of which, spare a buck for a beer?

Read Crummy's take on the Nets every Thursday on BrooklynPaper.com.
Updated 10:17 pm, July 9, 2018
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