The assessment of the Nets’ chances of rebuilding has always been that the job will be nearly impossible because they lack the one commodity absolutely needed: Their own draft picks, presumably franchise-changing lottery selections.
Wednesday’s preseason finale was a reminder of just how tough it’ll be.
The Nets got an up-close look at the opposite end of the spectrum, hammered 133-114 at the refurbished Nassau Coliseum by a 76ers team that tanked its way to a roster full of high lottery picks. And they also got a glimpse at Joel Embiid, exactly the kind of transformational talent they gave away any chance to get.
The oft-injured but uber-talented Embiid made his preseason debut and “The Process” had 22 points and seven boards in just 14 minutes showed why Philadelphia locked him up with a rookie-max deal.
Too agile and athletic for Timofey Mozgov and too big and strong for any other Nets defender, Embiid had 20 points and seven boards in just 11:28 of first-half action, putting the Sixers on his back and putting the Nets in a 76-51 hole. Dario Saric had a game-high 26 for the Sixers.
Trailing by as many as 36, it was a galling quasi-homecoming for Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, who grew up less than 20 miles away in South Huntington. It was a sobering way to end what had been a previously perfect preseason.
The Net had rolled to a 3-0 start with lopsided wins over the Heat and the Knicks (twice), but Wednesday they were on the other side of the caning. After possibly starting to believe they’d turned a corner, the Nets practiced poorly Tuesday.
They played even worse Wednesday in their final tuneup for their Oct. 18 season-opener at Indiana. The Nets clearly have more talent than last season’s NBA-worst 20-62 squad; but not as much as the 76ers, and not nearly enough to sleepwalk through a game. Wednesday’s drubbing will be a useful reminder of that.
The only saving grace was the Nets using the same starting lineup they had all preseason — Jeremy Lin, D’Angelo Russell, DeMarre Carroll, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Mozgov — and showing some cohesion. They jumped out to a 17-7 lead and played the Sixers’ starters capably. But the bench was atrocious.
Russell — the former No. 2 overall pick whom the Nets are banking on blossoming into that transformative player — looked the part again. He had a team-high 24 points, Lin added 14, while Hollis-Jefferson had 12 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the floor and actually flashed a nice jump shot.
But the Nets’ bench — with Crabbe just 1-for-8 as he works his way back from ankle woes — got the Sixers rolling on a 31-5 run that spanned the first and second quarters. It turned a 10-point Nets lead into a 16-point hole that they quickly became a gaping chasm — kind of like the top-end talent gap.
While the Sixers clearly are not the Warriors — or even the Cavaliers or Celtics — the very nature of the Sixers’ process underscored how badly ex-Nets general manager Billy King’s trade with the Celtics has hamstrung the franchise.
The Sixers took guard Markelle Fultz in June with the top overall pick that King had sent to the Celtics. Last year Philadelphia nabbed No. 1 overall selection Ben Simmons, while the Nets forked over the third pick to Boston.
The year before that it was Jahlil Okafor and in 2014 — when the Nets first started handing over first-rounders to the Celtics — the Sixers’ tanking brought Embiid, the prodigy that may be the best of the lot. And the Nets don’t have this season’s pick either, which was handed over to the Cavaliers.
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