New Jersey Nets star forward Richard Jefferson sat in the somber visitor's locker room at EnergySolutions Arena where he was asked by a media member how he was doing.
"Never better," Jefferson responded, his voice filled with sarcasm.
Jefferson and the Nets have been better much better as one of the top teams in the NBA's Eastern Conference for years. But they've fallen on some hard times of late. Their 102-75 loss Monday night to the Jazz was their sixth consecutive setback Worse still, the Nets haven't even been coming close to winning. They've lost three of their last four games by 23 points or more.
Jefferson said the Nets are making opponents like the Jazz look like "the '97 Bulls or the '82 Celtics."
"We're struggling right now," said Jefferson. "We've been down big to quite a few opponents. We've been down big pretty much every game. You have to give credit to your opponent. They did what they had to do. But we're just not doing the stuff we need to do to be competitive."
The Nets fell to 4-7 with the loss putting pressure on fifth-year coach Lawrence Frank.
"Look, this is an unacceptable performance and I take responsibility for it," said Frank. "I'm in charge of the product out there and this is not going to work."
To be fair, the Nets have been without All-Star guard Vince Carter for the last five games due to an ankle sprain. Still, the Nets weren't looking too good even with Carter, losing one game to the Toronto Raptors earlier in the season by 37 points, for instance, with Carter playing.
"We were struggling offensively with (Carter) in the lineup," said Jefferson, who scored a team-high 22 points Monday. "Without him it's been magnified."
New Jersey has been especially poor offensively, averaging just 85 points and shooting only 39.4 percent from the field as a team.
Veteran point guard Jason Kidd is at a loss as to why the Nets are having such a rough time, but he's not about to panic.
"We're in a little rut, but this is something that every team goes through," said Kidd. "You don't want to have it happen at the beginning of the season, but we are all professionals and we've all been in this type of situation sometime during our careers. We just need to stick together and keep fighting."
The bad news for the Nets is that Monday night was the first game of a four-game road trip through the Western Conference. The good news is that their next two opponents Portland and Seattle are young teams going through growing pains, and Carter is expected to return soon.
"We have a bunch of veteran players in here," said Jefferson. "You've got to be able to figure this out. We have more than enough talent in here to win games."
If things don't improve in a hurry, chances are changes will be made with new personnel or perhaps in the coaching ranks. Nets executive Rod Thorn was at Monday's game and couldn't have liked what he saw from Frank's troops.
"We're showing bad habits," said Frank, "but we're going to turn this thing around."The Nets better or Frank may be looking for a new job.
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