Nets ’10-11 Preview
30 teams in 30 days.
by David Cassilo / @dcassilo
In almost every way possible last season, the New Jersey Nets were the worst team in the NBA. They finished the season with a record of 12-70, the League’s fourth-lowest win total since it went to an 82-game schedule.
Keep in mind that the Nets won five of their final 12 games and you’re looking at a team that, through 70 games, was poised to become the worst in NBA history.
But then look at the Nets again, this time without looking at their record. What do you see?
All-Star point guard? Check.
Best young center in the NBA? Check.
Solid core of young talent headlined by the No. 3 overall pick? Check.
The Nets are the Oklahoma City Thunder without Kevin Durant. The young, exciting supporting cast is there but right next to it is a huge gaping hole that desperately needs to be filled with an alpha dog scorer.
But make no mistake, New Jersey is trying everything to fill that hole. The Nets want so desperately to be the League’s new hip team, and no one wants it more than Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov, whose deep pockets also now hold the keys to the organization.
With dreams of being the NBA’s first global team, Prokhorov has worked closely with minority owner Jay-Z to finally bring the Nets to Brooklyn in 2012 after a two-year stop in Newark.
Plans of taking over the NBA world start with taking over New York first, and while the success of that is yet to be determined, a billboard next to Madison Square Garden donning Prokhorov and Jay-Z did successfully ruffle a few feathers within the Knicks organization.
But phase two of “Take Over New York” did not go as smoothly. The Nets shot for the moon during free agency, clearing out cap space to sign two free agents to max contracts while pushing the hardest for LeBron James, but never were able to lift off.
To sum up their offseason in one signing, the Nets got their former No. 1 overall pick they wanted so badly. It just turned out to be Joe Smith instead of James.
The Nets tried for James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire, Chris Paul and Danny Granger, but wound up with Smith, Troy Murphy, Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro and Jordan Farmar. Also insert new general manager Billy King and say goodbye to one of the NBA’s best front office minds, Rod Thorn.
Consolation prizes don’t get much worse than that.
Yet, just like their season last year, it’s easy to look at the bad and miss the good. The Nets hired Avery Johnson, the head coach with the NBA’s highest career win percentage. They drafted Derrick Favors, a power forward that has earned rave reviews with the organization and might finally shut the revolving door left at the position since Kenyon Martin left for Denver.
And speaking of Denver, you’d be hard pressed to be an NBA fan and not have heard this past weekend that the Nets might be very close to landing Carmelo Anthony. The rumored four-team trade would send Favors and draft picks to Denver, as well as point guard Devin Harris to Charlotte. The main holdups at this point are Anthony mulling over whether to sign an extension with New Jersey, and the Nets asking for D.J. Augustin back from Charlotte to pair with Farmar at point guard in an effort to replace Harris.
There should be a resolution by Monday, but, as of now, the only trips Anthony will be making to Brooklyn is to visit his wife La La’s hometown.
While it’s possible Anthony could be a Net at any moment, it’s still no given, so we must instead focus on what’s currently in New Jersey while we wait. The locks in the starting lineup would be Harris and center Brook Lopez. Joining them should be Murphy at power forward (until Favors is ready), Terrence Williams at small forward and most likely Morrow at shooting guard.
It’s not your ’95-96 Chicago Bulls, but it’s also not your ’09-10 Nets either.
The most important player in that lineup is Lopez, perhaps the only Net that is untouchable in trade talks. Lopez didn’t get a lot of publicity last season, but his invitation to the Team USA camp (and likely inclusion on the team before coming down with mononucleosis) shows you how those around the League view him.
Lopez is a budding star, and to know just how good he could be, look at how his second season statistics stack up against what Yao Ming and Dwight Howard, the best two centers drafted in the last decade, did in their second season.
Throw in that Lopez has played all 82 games the last two seasons, and the center position is the least of New Jersey’s worries.
What is more of a concern for the Nets is the way Harris’ play fell off last season. Fresh off of an All-Star appearance the year before, Harris was supposed to assume the role as the team’s star player with Vince Carter having departed for Orlando. Instead Harris saw his scoring average dip from 21.3 ppg to 16.9, and his assists per game fall from 6.9 to 6.6. Harris also appeared in just 64 games, marking the third-straight season he failed to play in more than 69 games.
With an emerging supporting cast, Harris might not need to be the face of the franchise like originally planned, but he still needs to get closer to his level of play two seasons ago and stay on the court.
One of the more overlooked members of that emerging supporting cast is Terrence Williams. Entering his second season out of Louisville, the do-it-all and fun-loving swingman fills up the stat sheet in every category. He has the potential to be the Nets’ version of Andre Iguodala.
Williams was finally given major minutes in March and April of last season and the lottery pick shined bright, averaging 14.2 ppg, 6.8 rpg and 5.3 apg over the season’s final two months.
In Summer League, Williams at times looked like a man amongst boys averaging 23 ppg in his first four games before scoring just two points in five minutes in his final game. But Williams also averaged 19 shots per game in those first four contests. He won’t shoot nearly that much during the season, but he still should be amongst the League’s most improved players.
The great unknown for the team, though, is Favors. The team has absolutely fallen in love with him since they drafted him, especially the coaching staff. Avery Johnson has even went as far as saying that Favors is comparable to Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan. Of course, he could be on his way to Denver at any second, but if he stays and Johnson’s prediction is correct, it could be the right move to keep him in the end.
Without Anthony, the Nets offseason is officially over. No alpha dogs, just a little tinkering to the roster but all in areas that should help.
Morrow should only improve the Nets’ three-point shooting that sat 29th in the League overall at 31.8 percent from beyond the arc. Murphy’s 10.2 rpg from a season ago, good for seventh in the NBA, should do the same for a Nets team that was 28th in the NBA in rebounding. Meanwhile, Farmar will give the Nets insurance if Harris gets hurt or traded, and rookie Damion James showed flashes of potential in Orlando Summer League action where he finished second in scoring.
When it all adds up, there is a buzz around this year’s team. It’s a buzz that wasn’t there a season ago. It’s a buzz that rarely surrounds teams coming off a 12-70 record.
The Nets might not have that star player that can join Prokhorov and Jay-Z on billboards, but they have built a team the old fashioned way – from the ground up. It might not be their original blueprint or even their second, but as Jay-Z can attest, the third blueprint can do pretty well sometimes too.
Prediction: Without Anthony, 30-52, contend for eighth seed. With Anthony, 48-34, fifth seed in East.
Previous Season Previews can be found in the archive.