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Unlovable Losers
JOE POSNANSKI
March 01, 2010
The future is bright for the Nets. The present? Decidedly less so, as they stumble toward NBA infamy without any of the endearing quirks that can make terrible teams so much fun
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March 01, 2010

Unlovable Losers

The future is bright for the Nets. The present? Decidedly less so, as they stumble toward NBA infamy without any of the endearing quirks that can make terrible teams so much fun

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"They've taken sharp objects away from me," Lopez said to reporters after that.

There's the ongoing contest, being put on by Zappos.com: Coach the Nets for a day.According to the official rules, "Coach of the Day position shall be strictly honorary and Winner shall not make any material or other coaching decisions." As more than one person cracked, it's hard to tell how the Coach of the Day position differs from Vandeweghe's.

Ah, Kiki. He is pointedly not funny. Despite the whimsy that his name evokes, Kiki Vandeweghe is the opposite of funny. With New Jersey in the midst of an NBA-record 0--18 start, longtime Nets president Thorn fired Lawrence Frank and asked Vandeweghe, his G.M., to take over. He had never been a head coach. By all accounts, he had never wanted to be one, and it shows. ("You can tell he doesn't have a passion for coaching, and the result is the players have no passion to play," a scout says.)

But the team is in a fluid situation. The Nets are planning to move to Brooklyn, but ground has yet to be broken on a new arena there, so they will spend at least the next two years in Newark. Russian billionaire and International Man of Mystery Mikhail Prokhorov is on the verge of buying an 80% stake of the team from Bruce Ratner for $200 million. "Different owners want to do different things," Thorn says. "We weren't going to hire a coach on a [permanent] basis, so that limits your alternatives. I thought Kiki would be our best option. It's obviously a tough position for him."

Obviously. But the Nets won two of Vandeweghe's first four games, and it seemed that this crazy thing just might work.

Then they lost 21 of their next 22.

In December the Nets brought 72-year-old Del Harris out of retirement to help Vandeweghe coach. Harris lasted only two months. He claimed he'd left because Vandeweghe had blossomed as a coach and no longer needed help. Nobody bought that. Reports soon circulated that Vandeweghe, in an effort to get off the bench, had offered to make Harris coach, something that came as a surprise to Thorn, who as president tends to believe he makes those decisions. Thorn reportedly nixed the deal, and Harris left.

Whatever the truth, Vandeweghe is still on the bench, where he seems to be dying a slow death. Night after night he wanders wearily into the postgame press conference, saying earnest things like "We didn't make shots" and "We need to learn how to finish games" and "At least we were in the game, so that's a good sign."

It is Vandeweghe's bland professionalism that best reflects the Nets' personality. They are not lovable losers like the '62 New York Mets or an overmatched expansion team in creamsicle uniforms like the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. No, there's something, well, professional about these Nets. They just go out night after night and lose.

They can lose big. On a West Coast trip in January, they lost by 11 to the Clippers, 24 to the Suns, 33 to the Jazz and 32 to the Warriors. For a stretch, New Jersey worked much harder at losing. The Nets were in the game and then scored 13 points in the fourth quarter against the struggling Wizards for Loss 41. They were in the game and then scored 12 points in the third quarter against the dreadful 76ers for Loss 42. They led the Atlantic Division--leading Celtics in the fourth quarter before succumbing by nine points for Loss 45. In Losses 46, 47 and 48 they got off to terrible starts against the Pistons, Cavaliers and Bucks and never quite came back. These Nets can lose in a variety of ways.

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