EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -Nenad Krstic took the pass on the right wing, squared his shoulders and fired a 15-footer at the basket during the New Jersey Nets' scrimmage.
The shot hit nothing but air.
``It was a pass. It was a pass,'' coach Lawrence Frank said of the play after the practice ended Wednesday.
``It was probably fatigue,'' Vince Carter said in giving Krstic a free pass.
A 53 percent shooter from the field last season, Krstic knew those statements weren't entirely true. The reality is that the Nets' center is returning to action after undergoing major surgery on his left knee and it is going to take time for him to play at the level he did last season.
Krstic, who averaged career-highs of 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds before tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 22, is going to miss the preseason opener on Friday at Philadelphia. There are no assurances that he will be ready for the regular season opener on Oct. 31 against Chicago.
``You have to be frustrated,'' Krstic said of his recovery, which was slowed when he sprained his medial collateral ligament this summer, causing him to miss almost six weeks of work. ``At one moment (you're frustrated) and the next moment I think I haven't played for 10 months. Anybody who hasn't played in 10 months is going to feel like that. It's OK.''
When the Nets starting training camp a week ago Tuesday, Krstic could only watch. He wasn't allowed to practice until Monday. Even now, he is limited.
While his teammates played two 8-minute periods at the end of practice, Krstic played only the first period. After his air ball, he was called for a foul on a drive by Josh Boone - a play on which he did not jump to block the shot.
On the positive side, Krstic showed a flash of what excites coach Lawrence Frank and his teammates. With the first team trailing, he took a pass from Jason Kidd and then passed the ball to the wing, finding a wide-open Vince Carter for a 3-pointer.
``I am not worrying about my playing time,'' the 7-foot Serbian native said. ``It is going to get better. I am struggling a little bit right now. The biggest thing is I am working with my knee. It feels almost normal. I just need to continue to get better and stronger. I need to play more and more and get in shape. It is going to take time.''
The Nets got a little lucky last year after Krstic was hurt. Veteran backup Mikki Moore moved into the starting lineup and had a career year, averaging 9.8 points while leading the NBA with a .609 shooting percentage from the field.
Moore signed with Sacramento as a free agent after the season. New Jersey responded by signing veteran Jamaal Magloire, who averaged 6.5 points in 81 games with Portland last season. He may be the opening night center.
However, the hope is to get 24-year-old Krstic back in the lineup.
Forward Richard Jefferson expects Krstic to regain his old form, noting that he is a ``gym rat'' who is one of the hardest workers on the team.
``Those type of people when they get injured, they are used to being in the gym,'' Jefferson said. ``They are used to being here four or five hours. So when you tell them they have to rehab, they do all that stuff and then work on their game.''
Krstic also is going to have to deal with the uncertainty of taking that first hit on the court and getting knocked down again.
The Nets aren't babying Krstic, and he hasn't held back this week.
``He has been great, competing, shooting the ball, driving to the basket and trying to dunk the ball on people. Up here he is fine,'' Carter said pointing to his head.
What Krstic has to do is get his body back in shape after missing 10 months.
``Right now I am just thinking to be healthy,'' Krstic said. ``You can't forget playing basketball or anything for 10 months. I will be the same once I get my stamina back. It will be all right.''
Jefferson, who missed 27 regular-season games last season with ankle injuries, warned not to expect too much too soon.
``It might be 25 games before he is his normal self, and even then he might have his ups and downs,'' Jefferson said. ``It might not be until after the All-Star break that he is the consistent player that we are accustomed to.''

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