Going into the season, the Nets were expected to be a poor team. They traded away Vince Carter for Courtney Lee and made no real additions. We expected a bad team but 0-13 is even worse than was reasonably be expected. The Nets are probably not quite as bad as they have looked so far. They have had a rash of injuries (Devin Harris, Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Jarvis Hayes), though only Devin Harris was a really significant loss, the cumulative loss is significant. The Nets have been above average defensively (12th) but are, by far, the worst offensive team in the NBA. Outside of Chris Douglas-Roberts and Brook Lopez, the offense has been awful. Most notably, Rafer Alston has really struggled the most. In 35 mpg, Alston has 10.2 ppg and shot .333% from the field and has coughed up 3.0 topg versus 4.8 apg, which all adds up to an awful 7.6 PER. Once Harris gets his legs back, the chances are that the Nets have to improve off this bad start enough to be just a regular bad team that we expected.
Though the Nets should improve, they have a serious shot of breaking the 1988-89 Heat for the worst losing streak to start a season (the old expansion Heat were 0-17 before beating the Los Angeles Clippers). The Nets have the misfortune of hitting a West Coast trip just as the losing streak has hit unlucky 13. The next four games will be in Denver, Portland, Sacramento and Los Angeles (against the Lakers), putting the Nets at 0-17 with a game against Dallas in New Jersey with the record on the line. It would seem that the only game the Nets have any shot of winning to stop breaking the record is the game in Sacramento this Friday. The Kings have been surprsingly strong so far (5-7 overall, 4-2 at home) and the Nets shot of winning even there is not great. So, the Nets are staring at a record breakingly bad start. This awful season will also cost Lawrence Frank his job, though it’s hard to blame him too much as the team is defending hard (as a practical matter the new ownership probably wants its own coach no matter what Jersey does this season).
Despite this fact, the Nets will avoid the worst single season losing streak of All-Time of 23 straight losses set by the 1995-96 expansion Grizzlies and the 1997-98 Nuggets (the longest streak over two years is 24 losses by the old Ted Stepien Cavs, who lost 19 straight to end 1981-82 and lost the first five of 1982-83). Does having a horrific losing streak guarantee a bad season? Pretty much. But I was wondering if the bad streaking losers were so bad as to be the worst NBA team the seasons when they went streaking. Here’s a look at the each of the longest streakers and how bad they actually were:
–1995-96 Grizzlies (23 straight losses and 19 straight losses): 15-67 (worst in NBA)
–1997-98 Nuggets (23 straight losses): 11-71 (worst in NBA)
–1972-73 76ers (20 straight losses): 9-73 (worst in NBA)
-1993-94 Mavericks (20 straight losses): 13–69 (worst in NBA)
-1981-82 Cavaliers (19 straight losses): 15-67 (worst in NBA)
-1981-82 Clippers (19 straight losses): 17-65 (2nd worst in NBA)
–1988-89 Clippers (19 straight losses): 21-61 (3rd worst in NBA)
-1992-93 Mavericks (19 straight losses): 11-71 (worst in NBA)
-2003-04 Magic (19 straight losses): 21-61 (worst in NBA)
-1981-82 Jazz (18 straight losses): 25-57 (3rd worst in NBA)
-2006-07 Celtics (18 straight losses): 24-58 (2nd worst in NBA)
-1988-89 Heat (17 straight losses): 15-67 (worst in NBA)
-1991-92 Magic (17 straight losses): 21-61 (2nd worst in NBA)
So past history tells us that the Nets are not headed for a pretty season, as long losing streaks mean pain. Still, the streak does not mean the Nets are definitely going to be the worst team in the NBA. Of the 13 streakers, five of the teams did not end up as the absolute worst in the NBA for whatever that’s worth. Another interesting note is that the bad streakers can tend to cluster. The 1981-82 season and 1988-89 seasons had multiple teams that were bad streakers (the 1981-82 seasons also had the historically bad Cavs).
The Nets, if healthy, should avoid being the worst NBA team. Despite the bad streak, the Nets have some good pieces (Harris, Lopez, Douglas-Roberts, and possibly Lee too). This team is far more talented than many of the really bad Nets teams of the 1980s and 1990s, who avoided such a long losing streak. In addition, New Jersey is actually in a pretty good position to rebuild for next year. The core is solid, they should be getting a very good draft pick (John Wall?) and have a good amount of cap room. Assuming the new ownership with money to spend materializes, this team could have a nice future. But in the meantime, we’ll be seeing a more pain in Jersey short term.