Since Brooklyn and East Rutherford, New Jersey are both part of the New York metropolitan area (or, in Brooklyn’s case, New York City itself), one cannot consider the franchise’s move in 2012 into the Barclays Center to constitute an entirely new Brooklyn Nets franchise.
Which is a fortunate quirk of geography, because in 2009-10, the Nets barfed out not only the worst season in the history of the franchise, they put together one of the most utterly putrid seasons in the entire history of the NBA.
Twice in NBA history, teams have won 70 games; six times, teams have lost that many contests, with one franchise—the Philadelphia 76ers—having done it twice (we’ll get to them and have a nice debate about the 1973 and 2016 editions of the team.)
The 2010 Nets are one of those teams, going 12-70.
Let’s take a look at one of the Association’s true garbage fires, a team that has won 50 games only once in its history (in 2002), but which has elevated futility to a true art form.
The On-Court Record
New Jersey opened the season 0-18, an impressive feat in its own right, and the Charlotte Bobcats, who came into that 19th contest at 7-11 and would actually make the playoffs that year at 44-38, ought to be ashamed of themselves for being the team that broke the Nets’ streak of futility to open the season.
The Bobcats would go on to lose a second time to the Nets, which is just embarrassing and is a fate shared by the Chicago Bulls (who also made the playoffs, at 41-41) and the New York Knicks (29-53; their playoff fortunes were still yet to come when they got Carmelo Anthony and Amar’e Stoudamire and ended up in the playoffs in 2011.)
Looking at the rest of their victims, we see the Boston Celtics (who would make the Finals that year), the Los Angeles Clippers (29-53; they too would soon emerge from the depths when Blake Griffin got good), the Sacramento Kings (25-57 as part of their ongoing horror show post-early-aughts glory), the Detroit Pistons (27-55 and dead in the water after their dominance in the same prior era), the San Antonio Spurs (50-32 on their way to a second-round exit against the Suns), and the New Orleans Hornets (37-45 and swooning after some early success with Chris Paul.)
So they beat a couple of teams with winning records. They’ll always have that.
And as a silver lining, they weren’t even the worst team by Net Rating, although minus-9.9 is pretty bad. The Minnesota Timberwolves, also at minus-9.9 but taken out to a second decimal place just a bit worse than New Jersey, were the worst team on paper and the second-worst in the league that year at 15-67.
But losing 70 games is special. Losing 18 in a row at any point is bad, but starting the season 0-18 is how you etch your name into the history books.
The Featured Players
Brook Lopez, in his second year in the league, was the star of this show, putting up a solid workmanlike performance with 2.5 VORP and .125 WS/48. Indeed, his lone All-Star appearance three years later featured a 3.0 VORP season.
The problem, as you’d expect, is that everyone else on the team stunk. If they hadn’t had Lopez, this team might not have cracked ten wins; they might not have won even the nine games required to tie the ’73 Sixers for the worst-ever 82-game record. Lopez was, after all, worth five wins on paper with that 2.5 VORP, and his backup was Yi Jianlian.
Two guys besides Lopez—Courtney Lee and Devin Harris—posted measurable positive VORP, at 0.4 and 0.7 respectively. Everyone else was below G-League level…well, D-League at the time, Gatorade having not yet sponsored the minor circuit, but you get the idea.
The team and everyone on it not named Brook Lopez stunk, it’s that simple.
Lawrence Frank got shown the door at 0-16, his presiding over of the Nets’ post-Finals decline complete. He took over in 2003-04 and the team, despite hanging around and posting a 49-33 record in 2006, got steadily worse before crashing into the ground.
Frank would emerge for two futile seasons in Detroit, and he was last seen as an assistant for the Clippers in 2016. His coaching career appears to be over as he’s been kicked upstairs to run the Clippers front office. At least on that front he managed to land Kawhi Leonard and Paul George and put together what became the only conference finals team in franchise history, so he may have found his calling.
Bad coach plus bad roster equals bad team. So it is written and so the Basketball Gods will see it done.
Kiki Vandeweghe took over after a couple of losses under interim coach Tom Barisse. He went 12-52 at the helm, never to be seen or heard from again as a coach or an executive.
If there’s a silver lining, at least all this idiocy paved the way for…
…for one of the worst trades in NBA history, as the utterly incomparable Billy King, one of the NBA’s worst-ever executives, traded the draft picks that basically became Boston’s 2022 Finals team for one year of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, in which the Nets went 44-38, made the playoffs, and then dropped off the face of the earth, unable even to tank because the Celtics would get whatever the Nets tanked their way into.
When it comes to NBA trades, there are two rules, one written and one unwritten, that govern draft picks.
The Ted Stepien Rule, which is officially on the books, disallows teams from trading their first-round pick in consecutive years.
The Billy King Rule, which is unofficial, states effectively that only an idiot trades the future of the franchise to win now. If a team has done this in the past decade, it’s pretty well universally panned in the media and the executive better win the title or he’ll be cashiered and disgraced like the French general staff in 1940 when the Germans showed up.
There’s no silver lining here. The Nets mortgaged the future for a 6 seed. They then put together a decent, up-and-coming roster out of spare parts and duct tape, finding Jarrett Allen, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Caris LeVert and building the foundation for a return to respectability, even making the playoffs in 2019.
They then squandered that young core for a bickering bunch of franchise killers and fell flat on their faces against the Celtics in the first round in 2022, with Kyrie Irving, dumped by the Celtics into the Nets’ laps, combining with a broken-down Kevin Durant to go 44-38—the same record Pierce and Garnett bought Brooklyn in 2014. It’s poetic.
Nets fans haven’t had anything to cheer about since they were the New York Nets and Dr. J had them flying high over the old ABA.
But 2010 was the true rock bottom.
NEXT: Charlotte Hornets/Bobcats. You know where this is going.