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After 10 games, it's too early to write off the Nets

NEW YORK -- It's time to start piling on the Nets, time to start ridiculing Mikhail Prokhorov and his $87 million luxury tax bill that has gotten him an old, broken-down team that's started the season 3-7 and has lost five of its last six games.

Just not here. Not yet.

The Nets moved like a glacier against the faster, more passionate, more organized Portland Trail Blazers on Monday night in a 108-98 loss that brought out the boos and inspired some vocal cheers from a smattering of Blazers fans. Kevin Garnett climbed out of his basketball grave and connected on his first six shots from the field, then made exactly two more the rest of the night. He finished 8-for-19.

The Nets went quietly into the unseasonably warm Brooklyn night without much resistance. The two basketball teams in New York are in shambles at the moment, but there's something we ought to remember -- at least where the Nets are concerned.

It's November.

This is not something that the Nets' rookie head coach, Jason Kidd, wanted to hear about or discuss in his postgame news conference. Despite his youth in the job, Kidd pulled out one of the oldest coaching tricks in the book on Monday night: He blamed himself.

"Just bad coaching," Kidd said. "I take the blame for this. The guys played hard and we got a little stagnant on the offensive end, so this falls on my shoulders. ... In the third quarter, we came out a little flat, and that falls on me."

Kidd knows from his years playing here that there's a golden rule to survival in the coaching business in this town: If you can't provide a winner, at least provide a story.

"If we don't score, we've got to play the other side," Kidd said. "Again, that falls on me."

Never mind that 40 percent of the Nets' starting lineup is new this season, in the form of Garnett and Paul Pierce (who was 2-for-12 against the Blazers, by the way). Never mind that 40 percent of their starting lineup also was missing on Monday night, in the form of Deron Williams and Brook Lopez. Two nights earlier -- and 3,000 miles away in LA against the Clippers -- the Nets were missing 80 percent of their starting lineup due injuries.

Sure, this is what happens when you pay a lot of money for old players, except that two of those injured players -- the ones who were still out Monday night against Portland -- are not yet 30 years old. (Williams is 29, while Brook Lopez is 25.)

So, no, this was not a distinguished 10-game start to the season for Prokhorov's reincarnation of Doc Rivers' Celtics here in Brooklyn. When you assemble multiple stars and blast through the NBA's prohibitive luxury-tax line as though it didn't exist, you open yourself up to ridicule and criticism. If the Nets continue down the road to mediocrity and spectacular failure, Prokhorov will deserve his comeuppance.

"It's a process," Kidd said. "We've still got a ways to go. We've got quite a few games left. ... Again, as the coach, we've got some work to do."

Back in July, it was Kidd who closed the deal to get Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry from the Celtics -- a thunderclap that was supposed to change everything in the East. Someone had to persuade Garnett to waive his no-trade clause and make this happen, and that someone was Kidd -- who won Garnett over in a series of phone conversations that gave GM Billy King the green light to do the deal, league sources said.

So in that way, whatever happens with this Nets team is on Kidd. Right now, this roster, its age and fragility, and the expectations that come with it all -- those are his problems to solve.

But we haven't learned anything through 10 games about how this will turn out, except that it won't be easy -- as is usually the case when star-stacked teams are assembled on the fly. (See the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers, among others.)

All we learned on this night was that the Blazers are one of many teams in the West that are exceedingly fun to watch. The Nets, by contrast, are one of many teams in the East that are exceedingly not. There are at least three teams in the top-eight in the East that won't be there in April: Philadelphia, Orlando and Boston. To think the Nets won't be one of the teams to fill that void would be an extreme viewpoint, to say the least.

Should Prokhorov, King and Kidd be worried? Sure they should. Ten games is too small of a sample size to draw sweeping conclusions, but it isn't small enough to dismiss.

"We just have to learn to play together," a relaxed King told me before the game.

Mostly, I agree. The Nets are a playoff team, not the 3-7 train wreck we're looking at now. But if you look at the teams that are poised to achieve something important this season, they're the teams that have continuity on their side -- Indiana, Miami, San Antonio, Golden State, Oklahoma City. The Clippers have a new coach, but mostly the same core players.

So in the end, Kidd will be proved right to have persuaded Garnett to set these dominoes tumbling from Boston to Brooklyn. He's also right that he -- and everyone else involved -- has a lot of work to do.

But it's November, leaving plenty of time to do it.

 
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