If New Jersey could make its problems go away, there is still the confounding nature of a Carter disposition that is too often indifferent to honoring his other-worldly talents as a basketball player. For a season and a half with the Nets, everyone had been willing to take the good and the bad with him. No longer. Patience has run thin with Carter.
All along, coach Lawrence Frank has been relentlessly consistent in his defense and deference of Carter, but he finally abstained on Saturday night in Milwaukee. After it had been confirmed that burgeoning young forward Nenad Krstic was lost for the season with a torn ACL, the Nets needed a statement game out of Carter. What he dispensed was beyond disappointing – something downright disturbing.
Carter had been merely 0-for-5 shooting until making his first basket midway through the third quarter, a rash inactivity punctuated with Charlie Bell torching his defense on the way to the Bucks constructing a 25-point lead and a 115-104 victory. For the first time, Frank didn't bother defending Carter, answering a question about him with a telling 12 seconds of sighs and silence.
Inside and outside the organization, people have been stunned at how willing Carter has been to mail-in games this season. Thorn defended Carter's larger body of work in Jersey but acknowledged an "inconsistency" this season. He would go no further, but others have been far less polite in describing Carter's performance.
As his history has shown: The more a team comes to rely on Carter, the more prone he is to checking out on it. He has the sheer talent to be considered with the elite players in the sport, but something in his DNA repels the idea of bearing the total burdens of a franchise player. It happened in Toronto, and it appears to be happening with the Nets, too.
Krstic is gone for the season, Jefferson hasn't been himself with an ankle injury and a Half Man-Half Bored Carter isn't enough with Jason Kidd to simply out-talent the rest of the Atlantic Division. Thorn promises that he won't try to make a move to salvage the season and steal the illusion of success with a hollow division title. "If we made a deal of import, it will be with the long-range view in mind," he said.
Thorn isn't conceding the Atlantic, but gone is the belief that the Nets are due for an inevitable winning streak that would distance them from everyone else. It's not happening. The Nets have played an inordinate amount of home games – 19 in Jersey against 12 by the end of the month – and never took advantage of it. The New York Knicks are playing better, but they've had a softer schedule so far, too.