The Nets are a contradiction. On one hand, they are—as one NBA scout says—"a disaster." On the other, they could have the league's brightest future. Look: They have Lopez. They're the favorite to get the No. 1 draft pick in the lottery and a shot at Kentucky's John Wall. They are not weighed down with bad contracts. They have enough cap space to take a run at any free agent this summer. Prokhorov, a precious metals magnate who is ranked as the 40th-richest man in the world by Forbes, appears to be the kind of owner fans dream about. (His Moscow CSKA basketball club has won the last seven Russian league titles.) And if the Nets move to a new arena in resurgent Brooklyn—which looks more likely all the time—there is every reason to believe that they can attract fans (and players) put off by Manhattan's dysfunctional Knicks.
"We still have to follow through with it, of course," Thorn says. "We still have to make the moves to get us to another level. We have to make good choices. But, yes, we are in position to get better pretty quickly."
That makes this season's futility seem oddly beside the point. The Nets went into full rebuilding mode last June when they traded Vince Carter to the Magic in a salary dump. "We knew we were rebuilding," Thorn says. "But we certainly thought we would be a lot better than this."
And that was the point—to just win enough games in 2009--10 to avoid embarrassment, to help young players such as Lopez and Harris get better as the team prepared to move on. It hasn't worked. Lopez has been terrific, almost heroic, in the losing role—"He's the next big thing," Thunder star Kevin Durant said after Loss 29. But Harris has found it tough to penetrate and create because defenses can collapse on him. Other young players have not developed. They're the NBA's lowest-scoring team (90.0 points per game through Sunday), and their average point differential of minus-11.2 is the worst in the league in 10 years.
"Look, there are a lot of reasons," Thorn says. "But if you want to cut through the gray area, we just hit spells when we don't make shots. I don't want to say it's that simple, but in many ways it really is that simple."
There it is again: making shots.
They don't want to break the record. That sounds obvious, but you would be surprised how often players on bad teams will hide their feelings about such things. They will say things like "Oh, we're not thinking about that" or "That's for other people to talk about" or "We can't worry about records, we just need to win our next game."
Here again, these Nets are different. They sit in front of their lockers after another loss, and the locker room is deathly quiet. No music. No chatter. But as the loss sinks in, everyone answers questions and the quotes are surprisingly candid. They're quite open about it. They don't want that record.
"We hear about it every day," backup guard Keyon Dooling says. "We don't want to go down in history with that record. Believe me, everybody in this room feels the same way. We don't want to be that team."
At this point the players and coaches and management still believe that the Nets will not become that team. "I'm certainly confident that we won't break that record," Thorn says. When you ask him where that confidence comes from, he pauses for a couple of beats and then says, "I think we're better than that. We're obviously not a good team. But I keep looking at our players and thinking we have some good players. We're not that bad. I keep believing that." Then he says, "Of course, no matter what I believe, we actually need to win some games."