Before I start this 2012-2013 season preview for the Brooklyn Nets, I feel the need to give you my background in doing so.
Growing up in Brooklyn, basketball really wasn’t my sport. I loved my Yankees, and I loved my Giants. However, it was about 2001 when basketball intercepted my sports soul, and I was at an impasse.
You see, I hate being like everyone else; I have this knack for going against the grain. When it came to basketball in Brooklyn, and New York City as a whole, being a Knick fan was the norm. Naturally, I wanted to be the exception to the rule (plus, I really hated Latrell Sprewell for some reason.)
The first time I saw Jason Kidd handle the rock, I knew I had found my team. I won’t lie; I was 11-years old, so the fact that they were competitive certainly didn’t hurt the cause either. They were the example of everything I wanted in a team, and the values I still hold to this day when rooting for my squad. Primarily, they worked hard, and they defied odds.
If you look at that 2001-2002 New Jersey Nets roster, you don’t exactly see an NBA Finals team. Since the NBA boom around 2003 with LeBron and company coming into the league, that Net team would be fortunate to win 30 games.
However, they did it as a team, and that was the essence of the Kidd era Nets. They were a group of players that definitely weren’t the most talented, but they fit together well.
I’ve been watching a lot of Cake Boss lately (don’t ask why, but I am obsessed with the show,) and building a great team is like building a great cake. Every cake needs a base to sit on, and Kidd was that base. He was the stable cog in the whole regime; the guy that brought stability to a franchise that was foreign to the word prior to his arrival. The next step to a cake is to build on that base, and further detail your work. In your second tier, you had Kenyon Martin setting the defensive tone, and Richard Jefferson slashing to the basket. Next, you throw in your role players, decorations if I may, and the Nets had plenty of guys that just filled their roles, and did their jobs. Shooters like Kerry Kittles, (which is still one of the greatest names in the history of the NBA), Keith Van Horn (before he became “wow, THAT guy is STILL in the league” Keith Van Horn,) and Lucious Harris. A cake requires bakers that are willing to do the dirty work like icing the cake, putting the fondant on etc., just like guys that put their bodies on the line for the cause; guys that will just do the dirty work. Garbage men like Aaron Williams, Todd MacCulloch, and Jason Collins, who is still making a living picking up the trash on the court.
The last ingredient of a winning recipe is the token white guy cheerleader, and the Nets didn’t know it at the time, but they had a hall-of-fame white guy cheerleader on their hands in Brian Scalabrine. The White Mamba, as he is known now, is the kind of player that guys look at, and consequently can’t understand how they can’t somehow make it into the league.
That team is what made me fall in love with the Nets, and basketball as a whole. As a Brooklynite, the news that they were moving to my city, and giving us the first professional team we have had since the Dodgers was just icing on the cake (see what I did there? Full circle.)
That brings me to this year’s squad, and I do see some big similarities between this team, and that inaugural squad of my basketball loving life.
First and foremost, it is undeniable that the Nets are not one of the top tier teams in the league in terms of pure talent. Their supporting cast isn’t exactly Kerry Kittles and company, but in comparison to teams like the Heat, Lakers, Spurs etc., the Nets aren’t up to snuff. Talent wise, Brooklyn falls into that second tier, with the Philly’s and Atlanta’s of the world. However, as we’ve learned time and time again, the games aren’t played on paper, they are played on the court.
The base of this year’s team, as it was in the past with Kidd, is their point guard, Deron Williams. Last year’s team was pretty hard to watch because of the massive amount of injuries suffered, but Deron proved to me that he is the league’s best point guard.
For me, it has always been Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and then the rest of the guys fighting for third place. Now I know what you are thinking, “the best point guard wouldn’t have had a team with a losing record.” I hear you, it’s a valid point, but the point I am making is this: Deron Williams displayed his versatility, having the league’s best point and assist game last season (the assist game is tied with Rondo, who actually had 20 twice, but until he gets a jump shot, he will never be in the best point guard discussion. Instead, he will just frustrate me.) He can do anything on the court that he wants, and has a knack for knowing when he needs to score, and when he needs to facilitate. That’s what I want out of my point guard. And his handles? Ridiculous. I could get into it further, but this isn’t a point guard debate; this is a season preview. All I know is that I believe Deron Williams can be the best player on a championship team, and that’s a pretty good place to start.
I am not going to sit here and justify Joe Johnson’s contract with you. If I were Billy King, I would have opted to execute a sign and trade, and overpay OJ Mayo, merely because I think he’s a better fit on this particular roster. Joe Johnson is overpaid; we all know that, but let’s not act like JJ is a scrub either. Johnson can get buckets consistently, and the way this team is put together, he should get a fair amount of open looks. The best thing for me about the Johnson acquisition is simply this, he has something to prove to all of us. There is no better motivation for a player than when everyone writes you off. If this wouldn’t light a fire under him, nothing will.
Along with that base of Williams and the compliment of Johnson, the Nets have very talented role players. When I think of dirty work, I think of Gerald Wallace. “Crash,” as he’s known around the league, puts his body on the line every game, which is probably why he tends to be so injury prone. If you watch Gerald Wallace play, and you question whether he has left anything on the court, then I don’t respect your basketball opinion, and that kind of effort is contagious. Similar things can be said for Kris Humphries, regardless of how many tracks Kanye writes about him. I can’t end this garbage man part of the team without mentioning Reggie Evans, who literally scares me. I don’t think I would be able to meet Reggie Evans, and come out of it without needing a new pair of boxers.
It will be interesting to see what MarShon Brooks brings to the table this season. His rookie campaign, like most, had peaks and valleys. However, you would have to think he was motivated more last season because the prospect of him starting was very realistic, and thus came to fruition. On the other hand, this season is different in that respect, and it will be interesting to see how he responds. Part of me is petrified that Brooks is going to come off the bench with a little too much to prove and go all Nick Young every time he comes in the game, shooting everything in sight. That will land him in Avery’s doghouse quick, and it may go downhill from there. The other part really believes in this kid, his game, and the growth he made last year. Plus, I was extremely pleased to see his goals for this year start with winning the sixth man award.
From most of the tape I’ve seen, and analysis I’ve read about Mirza Teletovic, it seems like he is a decent acquisition that can really help spread the floor. Teletovic looks like he has a pretty versatile game, an above average shooter that may be good at many things, but great at none (then again, I think I just described a young Dirk Nowitzki..) Keep in mind, international players are always a mystery until you see them play at the NBA level. The game is just so much faster in the NBA, so it is hard to know how any of these guys will adjust. I am going to assume I don’t need to remind Net fans of the Yi Jianlian experiment..
The rest of the team are guys that I call “punch the clock” kinda players. They punch in, they do their work, and they punch out. Every team needs guys like that. Guys like CJ Watson, who may have been one of the better pickups of the NBA off-season in my opinion. It’s hard to believe no one wanted to pay a young guy with upside, who averaged 10 points and four assists last season with an elite team more than the minimum. A rookie like Tyshawn Taylor is exactly the kind of player Avery Johnson loves; a tough kid who hustles and plays defense. Taylor can definitely find a role on this team in the 8th-9th man role.
From there, the Nets took a couple of low-risk, high-reward gambles on players like Josh Childress and Andray Blatche. If either one works out, they could be a valuable asset to the team, especially Blatche, as the Nets are pretty slim up front. Want to give a quick shout-out to Jerry Stackhouse for still collecting that game check. Stack’s main role will be his veteran leadership, considering he’s been in the league since the Civil War AKA he’s basically an assistant coach in uniform.
So there’s your preview. Enjoy the season…..
Wait…. I am missing someone aren’t I? 7-foot goofy looking fella that looks like he just got back from an epic Dungeons and Dragons convention you say? My bad.
In all seriousness, I saved Brook Lopez for last because he is the key to the entire season for so many different reasons.
The first thing Lopez has to come to grips with is the fact that the Nets, from the top of the organization to his coach, have been trying to sell him down the river to Orlando, or anyone who would help get them Dwight Howard for the past two years. (And yes, I did get almost 1800 words through this preview without a Dwight Howard mention, I will be expecting my prize in the mail. Make all checks out to Sports-Kings.com please and thank you.) Part of that will be Billy King’s responsibility as well, which I assume he has already done most of that damage control. Basically, you just sit Brook down and say “Brook, the only reason we would even consider trading you is for the best center in the game, and that’s it. We believe in you, and we paid you according to that belief. You are one of the most, if not the most important part to this franchise’s success in the next five years.” All of which would be true.
Lopez’s defensive improvement will be imperative to the team’s success this season and beyond. Aside from him, the Nets have no other player that can be a defensive presence in the paint, and it is amazing what one dominant presence in the paint can do for a team defensively (See: Chandler, Tyson). Avery Johnson will want to build this team on defense, and without Lopez performing at least above average in that respect, the whole team falls apart.
In it’s most basic form, the only way he can perform that way will be if… you know, he is actually on the court. Last year was the first major injury of Brook’s young NBA career, so there is no need to panic. Plus, his identical twin suffered the same injury and came back just fine.
Offensively, Lopez may be the biggest beneficiary of the new-look Nets. Lopez has a very impressive arsenal of offensive post-moves, and surrounding him with shooters and guys that can slash to the hoop as the Nets have done will only give him more room to operate in the paint.
I don’t feel that it is unrealistic for Lopez to be one of the elite offensive centers in the league, especially with the position being so watered down. Combine that with his work ethic, and the fact that he may be the most motivated player in the league this season to prove to everybody that he shouldn’t just be a chip in a Dwight Howard deal, and that makes Brook the key to the Nets 2012-2013 campaign. The amount of improvement he makes this season will determine how far the Nets can go this year.
Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s there yet, but that’s not to say he can’t get there. I see the 2013-2014 season being the real time that the Nets can realistically compete for a championship. There are just too many things that have to go right for it to work this year, mainly because there are SO many new faces on this roster. It takes time to gel, and build chemistry, and the elite teams are already years ahead of them. Realistically, I see the Nets as a 4-5 seed, and a great step for them would be to win that first series, and give a team like the Heat one hell of a scare in the second round, much like the Pacers did last year.
However, I would never be happier to eat my own words and be wrong about this preview. In fact, if the Nets make it to the Finals, I may need to make a trip to Hoboken, New Jersey, and have Buddy the Cake Boss and Carlo’s Bakery make me a celebratory cake.