Out of the Swamp and Into the BK – Brooklyn Nets Preview

Starting Five: PG Deron Williams, SG Joe Johnson, SF Gerald Wallace, PF Kris Humphries, C Brook Lopez

Key Bench Players:
PG CJ Watson, SG MarShon Brooks, F Mirza Teletovic, PF Reggie Evans, PF/C Andray Blatche, G Tyshawn Taylor

Notable offseason additions: SG Joe Johnson, F Mirza Teletovic, PF Reggie Evans, PF/C Andray Blatche, G Tyshawn Taylor

Notable offseason subtractions: PG Jordan Farmar, SG DeShawn Stevenson, G/F Gerald Green, G/F Anthony Morrow, PF Johan Petro

It was a huge factor,” Williams told us about the Nets moving to Brooklyn. “I don’t think I would have even thought about staying if it (the Nets franchise) was staying in New Jersey.Yahoo!

I had never been to Brooklyn until the press conference, and that was something like I’ve never experienced before. It was unbelievable — all the fans coming out to welcome us. It was something I’ve never been a part of.  I had a great time.“–Joe Johnson from SI.com

The one thing Brook [Lopez] always said was he wanted to play in the building [the $1 billion Barclays Center] when it opens“–Nets GM Billy King from ESPN

Whether or not you believe that the wholesale changes to the Nets franchise will make them into a title contender, there’s no doubt that the Nets are made better this year merely by moving out of the New Jersey wasteland and into a civilized country. 

The team recently made their debut on the Barclays Center hardwood, a sparkling, state of the art arena located right on top of one of the busiest public transportation hubs in all of New York City. The Nets were the ugly, toothless, red-headed, lice-ridden step-sister of metro area sports; from their location in the decrepit IZOD Center (formerly Continental Airlines Arena) and later the Prudential Center in Newark, both located well out of city limits to tepid fan support even at the team’s early decade zenith. The former New Jersey franchise had the least cache out of any professional sports team attached to the back page of the Post, including the anonymous New York Islanders

(All of that was very politically correct–the summary is that no one gave a shit about the Nets. Last year, BockerKnocker and I went to a Houston Rockets/Nets game for $2.50 a seat. That wasn’t a typo. Two dollars and fifty cents. Needless to say, I happily footed the entire bill)

Ever since the team‘s move to Brooklyn was made official with the ribbon cutting ceremony at Barclays, the striking black and white BK Nets gear has been ubiquitous around town. With their ownership attached to the greatest rapper alive and their location in the hippest part of town, the Nets somehow became a source of…credibility, a noun that has rarely been associated with a franchise that ranks amongst the country’s most disgraceful. So far, fan support has followed, as evidenced by full arenas in preseason games and general excitement throughout the five boroughs. 

However, like any major market with several competing teams vying for front page attention, the Nets have to actually put it on the floor and churn out consistent victories to matter. To do so, they’ve fortified a team that’s won 58 games in the last three years combined. This past summer, the Nets managed to re-sign four of their starters, including Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and the Shaquille O’Neal-endorsed “best big man in the NBA” Brook Lopez, as well as traded for six-time All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson. Though the team wasn’t able to complete a blockbuster trade for Dwight Howard, it’s miraculous how proficient of a squad GM Billy King was able to cobble together considering that last year’s squad gave major NBA minutes to the likes of Johan Petro, Shelden Williams and someone named Jordan Williams. The question isn’t whether or not this team will make the playoffs–there’s little doubt that they will. The real question is how good are they exactly? 

The answer is very good, but with a caveat. Deron Williams is undoubtedly great, and can hang his hat over his very mysterious hair as one of the top ten to fifteen players in the league. Joe Johnson, for all of the criticism over his laughably gigantic salary and juxtaposing void of personality, is still one of the best shooting guards going today. Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries are certainly limited players, but both are playing the peak of their powers and are willing defenders. Brook Lopez has a lower rebounding rate than Derek Fisher (I don’t know if that’s true), but he’s a gifted scorer who’s only 24 years-old. The Nets starting five has as much talent as most teams in the league, and with so many weapons by his side, Deron should be able to make every single one of these players better than they’ve ever been. Offensively, the team should be able to play several styles, though pick and roll basketball should be one of their deadliest weapons. Even with Brook Lopez‘s allergy to boarding, Humphries and Wallace complement him nicely with their insatiable hunger for rebounds. Overall, this should be a plus defensive starting five, with athletic players who should be able to rotate crisply and cover ground, if so they desire. So why isn’t this team a title contender now?  

The biggest problem with this Nets squad, and the biggest thing keeping them from being a two or three seed, is that they have absolutely no margin for injuries. PG CJ Watson is the only reliable bench player the team has, though he himself isn’t as much of a facilitator as he is a scorer. As for the other players? MarShon Brooks showed a lot of promise, but he took the fourth most shots on the team last year, which he certainly won’t get with a returning Lopez and Joe Johnson. How will that affect his game? Reggie Evans is the next best sub, which speaks volumes in itself. He’s a great rebounder and defender, but if he’s not sharing the floor with a gifted scorer, he’s an offensive wasteland–one of the worst in the NBA. The two rookies, foreign import Mirza Teletovic and Tyshawn Taylor are both of unknown quality, and can’t be counted on to adjust to the NBA game immediately. Lastly, cast-offs Andray Blatche and Josh Childress are now Nets, hearkening back to the days in the Jerz when the team would collect useless players like Ivan Johnson collects paterinity lawsuits. Needless to say, both Blatche and Childress won’t amount to much in the BK. 

If the starting five is to suffer any injuries, this team‘s fortunes will take a massive blow. Only Wallace and Lopez have any sort of notable injury history, so hopefully for the Nets, nothing freakish will happen to their stars this season. Realistically, nothing less than a five seed should be acceptable for this team as currently constructed. They’ll have to rely on the greatness of Deron and Silent Joe to prop up their awful second unit, but with an actual crowd and fanbase to cheer them on in full arenas all year long, I don’t doubt that they can do it. Allow me to re-introduce myself.

Best case scenario: The starting five stays healthy, and with surprising contributions from Brooks, Watson, Teletovic and Taylor, the Nets capture the Atlantic division crown. They win their first postseason series in five years, shocking the world and ending up in the Eastern Conference Finals. They fall to the Heat, but with a few tweaks, some people think that this team could end up in the NBA Finals next season. Wow.

Absolute Apocalpyse: Lopez gets hurt early in the season, destroying the team’s only inside presence. Wallace begins to show his age, making two of the four major Nets signings look junked already. The bench is as feeble as they look on paper. The team still makes the playoffs on the strength of Williams and Johnson, but get swept in the first round by their cross-town rivals. Ain’t no love in the heart of the city.

Expected outcome: 3rd in the Atlantic Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference

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