Very few teams had so many ups and downs in the same season as the Brooklyn Nets had last season.
The hype was huge at the start of the season and it wasn’t even bigger because the Nets failed to sign Dwight Howard after a very long “soap opera”. As they couldn’t sign Howard, they decided to lock up Brook Lopez with a long term contract.
On paper, the Nets would have an incredible starting lineup with Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, a tough matchup to almost everybody due to their superior size in almost every position. In fact, things started great for Brooklyn, who ended November with an 11-4 record and with their coach Avery Johnson winning the Eastern Coach of the Month award.
However, the Nets basically took advantage of a soft early schedule (six of those wins were against Orlando (x3), Cleveland, Toronto and Sacramento), but as soon as their schedule got tougher, the Nets lost 10 of their following 13 games, with Avery Johnson getting fired because of that.
Avery Johnson’s job with the Nets will always be related with his inability to make Deron Williams be the player that he was in Utah. Of course the main culprit of that has to be Deron himself, but the truth is that Johnson’s style of managing didn’t help Deron one bit: the Nets were one of the slowest paced teams in the league (#3 slowest), something predictable given their lack of speed, however Avery had the tendency to call almost every offensive set, something that removed Deron from having any kind of creative freedom on court, something ridiculous considering the fact that Deron is one of the most talented PG’s in the league.
Under P.J. Carlesimo, the Nets improved dramatically mostly due to Deron Williams’s much better form, but we were still in front of a quite unbalanced team.
Kris Humphries lost his starting spot to Reggie Evans and as great as he was in rebounding, Evans was a black hole on offense, whose job was just to screen and rebound. To make things even worst, Gerald Wallace lost all his self-confidence on offense and he confessed that to the press:
“My confidence is totally gone.” Gerald Wallace told The Post Saturday. “I’m just at the point now ... I’m in a situation where I feel like if I miss, I’m going to get pulled out of the game; you know what I’m saying? So my whole concept is just that you can’t come out of the game if you’re not missing shots. I think I lost the confidence of the coaching staff and my teammates. So my main thing is those guys can score, so instead of thinking about it so much, just trying to focus on defense, try to move the ball and get those guys shots.”
Gerald Wallace had a terrible second half of the season with an awful 33.5% FG, 13.5% 3pts and 60% FT! If it’s tough to hide a non-offensive threat on the lineup nowadays, then imagine playing with two players on their starting lineup who aren’t offensive threats! It’s a recipe for disaster in the playoffs, something that would eventually really happen to them in the postseason.
Anyway, Brooklyn had home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs, as they were #4 in the Eastern Conference, with a solid 49-33 record. The experience gained from last season could have been positive if it wasn’t for the ridiculous way that they got eliminated in the playoffs, on a decisive Game 7 at home, where they lost to a depleted Bulls team.
Chicago’s coach Mike Thibodeau took advantage of the problems that I mentioned previously to completely ignore both Reggie Evans and Gerald Wallace when the Nets had the ball. It was bizarre to watch Nate Robinson “guarding” Gerald Wallace, but that worked great for the Bulls. The lack of mental toughness and competitiveness from the Nets was crystal clear and that gave them a bad taste from what happened last season.
After this ridiculous elimination at the hands of the Bulls, it was obvious that P.J. Carlesimo wouldn’t continue being Brooklyn’s head coach for this new season. Some rumors said that the Nets were interested in signing Larry Brown, Indiana’s assistant Brian Shaw or Lionel Hollins, but their decision ended up being on Jason Kidd, who went from retired player to head coach in just a few days.
It looks like the Nets with their owner Mikhail Prokhorov are destined to be big players in every offseason given the fact that Prokhorov doesn’t mind spending in order to improve the chances for the title.
This time, the Nets took advantage of Danny Ainge’s desire to end the Celtics’ “Big Three Era” and so, they dispatched the useless Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace to get Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry.
But even more impressive to me was the fact that they got Andray Blatche on a one-year, $1.4 million contract for the next season, while they also signed Andrei Kirilenko on a $3.1 mini-midlevel exception that created suspicions around the league.
A lineup with Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams will scare any team in the league. The upside is tremendous, but if things don’t work out then we can’t consider that as a huge surprise as most of these players are already past their prime.
Jason Kidd will have this season the double task of not just finding the best way to maximize his players on his schemes, but also to find the right chemistry between them, something that won’t be easy at first sight. Let’s not forget that Jason Kidd was at the Knicks last season and his team’s biggest rivalry was against the Nets, besides the fact that Kidd was also involved in a tough playoff series against the Celtics, where both Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were playing.
If the Nets want to be a real contender team, then Deron Williams will have to play at a similar level of the one he showed in the second half of the past season, where he reached MVP-level numbers at one point. His second half of the season numbers were excellent: 48.1% FG, 42% 3pts%, 22.9 points/game and 8.0 assists/game. With so much talent around him, Deron won’t need to score that much and Jason Kidd has already said on this offseason that his goal for Deron on the upcoming season is to make him have double digits assists numbers per game. If his ankles are healed, this could be indeed Deron’s best season ever, but this will also be the season where he will feel the most pressure.
Brook Lopez was the bright piece of the Nets last season. He was healthy (played 74 games) and proved that the Nets management was right when they gave him on a long-term contract. He posted a solid 19.4 points/game, while shooting 52% FG and his post up game was smoother than ever! Not only he attempted a career high 6.3 shots at the rim/game, as he had a career high of 69.4% FG on that area. Lopez also improved his defense and his rebounding ability a bit as well. He continues to be a subpar rebounder with 6.9 rebounds/game, but he was more active on defense with 2.1 blocks/game. For this season, Jason Kidd’s main challenge will be to take advantage as much as possible from Lopez’s offensive skills, if the Nets want to dethrone the Heat on the East, then Lopez will have to step it up, as he will be the key piece on a potential matchup against Miami.
On his first season in Brooklyn, Joe Johnson was a major disappointment. He has “overpaid” written on his forehand due to the monster contract that he signed with Atlanta and last season’s performance didn’t help him one bit in making people believe that he deserves to get the amount of money he is getting. However, Johnson wasn’t lucky with his injuries last season as well and after the season ended, he admitted that he was basically playing on one leg:
"I can't really push the basketball if I get a rebound, I can't really run pick-and-rolls, so basically I'm a decoy, a spot-up shooter, I can't really do a whole lot." Joe Johnson said. "Like I told Deron [Williams] and Brook [Lopez], I'll be the bailout guy. If you get into a sticky situation just try and find me."
Like Deron Williams, health will also be the key for Joe Johnson, while Jason Kidd will also have to find a way to eliminate the “ISO Joe” from the Nets playbook due to the offensive talent that the team will have on its roster for the upcoming season.
Regarding the former Celtics’ players, the trade was great for Kevin Garnett, who will have every condition to end his career in a high note. Garnett was great during Boston’s Big Three Era and he was the main reason why the Celtics had such a great rim defense during most of his tenure in Boston. However, the Celtics were the #7 worst rim defense on the league last season, but that was due to the fact that Garnett played at the Center position last season, something that didn’t allow him to do what he does best on defense: being a help defender! Garnett will be back at the PF position in Brooklyn, as the Nets have Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche for the Center position. In fact, the Lopez/Garnett duo will be very interesting to follow closely. Lopez is one of the best low post offensive players in the league, while Garnett has been a solid mid-range shooter over the last few years. The differences between Reggie Evans and Kevin Garnett are tremendous and therefore, the floor spacing of the Nets’ offense will significantly improve on the new season.
Regarding Paul Pierce, he is still a great player and he had an underrated last season in my opinion. Since Rajon Rondo went down with a knee injury, Paul Pierce took over the Celtics’ offense and he was excellent in that. In March, Pierce had a 50.3% FG, 19.9 points/game, 7.3 rebounds/game and 5.9 assists/game! These are All-Star numbers! His last image in Boston was that he struggled on the playoffs series against the Knicks, where he shot 36.8% FG and committed 5.3 turnovers/game, but Boston simply lacked a decent backup for him and asking a 35 years old player to be on court for 42.5 minutes/game was asking too much to him. Now in Brooklyn, with more depth in the roster, Paul Pierce won’t be forced to play as much as he had to in Boston.
Jason Kidd will also have great depth on the bench that will help him to manage his veteran players, such as Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko, Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche, who will provide useful minutes to the team.
We are in front of a team that will immediately be a contender in the East alongside Miami, Indiana, Chicago and the NY Knicks, given their talent and experience. Jason Kidd has the necessary depth to manage all the veteran players to keep them fresh for the playoffs as well. The major question mark around this team will be to know if Jason Kidd has the ability to coach this team with no previous coaching experience. If things go well, then Jason Kidd will receive some media buzz to be the Coach of the Year, but as we have seen last season with the Lakers, a lot of things will need to go their way to make this Nets project work.