Before I get into the Nets, let me just say that this next grouping of teams, #20-#16 are all teams I genuinely did not like watching last year. Granted some of them were fairly successful, and all but one of them should be looking towards the playoffs again this year. I know its always more fun to follow a winning team, but these are going to be guys I largely ignore until the postseason. Sorry.
The Brooklyn Nets. Ugggh, the Brooklyn Nets. For the last two years I have had a $50 bet with Knick-to-Net convert and Brooklyn hipster Plotz over which of our Big Apple teams would have the better regular season record. I was somewhat encouraged that the Nets started last season just as ice-cold as my Knicks, but these guys really pulled it together about halfway through the year when coach Jason Kidd decided to start using Paul Pierce at the 4 in hybrid lineups where all the forwards seemed to be undersized and all the guards too big for their position. Weird yes, but these long, rangy groupings forced a ton of turnovers and led the Nets to a HUGE turnaround in January, with these guys having the best home record outside of the LA Clippers and the best Eastern Conference record against the West. That and a little last minute tanking allowed the Nets to drop to the 6th seed, take on the Raptors instead of the Bulls, and then get the gentleman’s sweep from the Heat (after beating them 4 games to 0 during the regular season).
First things first, I hate the Nets. I completely buy into the BK-Manhattan rivalry and am only happier when the Knicks are able to beat the Bulls. This is a team that is either completely lacking in charisma (Deron Williams’ stupid arm tattoo and Joe Johnson’s cavemanlike speed of speech) or has had it imported in from Boston (selling your future for long-time assholes Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce looking pretty smart now huh?). This is a team that plays at an incredibly slow pace and ranked 21st in scoring last year. But the Jerseys are pretty goddamn cool, I gotta admit.
Pretty much everything with the Nets comes down to health. Williams’ ankles have been a nightmare scenario for the last several seasons, closing the door on a period when he was legitimately the 2nd best PG in the league after Chris Paul. Brook Lopez has all kinds of metal pins in his feet and missed pretty much the entire season last year. And KG? KG is old.
What this team does have is the ice-cold clutch scoring of Joe Johnson. Much as I love to hate him, Johnson is a MURDERER in crunch time and is deadly from both outside the arc and posting up smaller 2 guards. If I could pick any guy to take the last shot in a tie game, I guess I’d have to pick Lebron or Durant, but Johnson would be third after that. He’s pretty much the one constant on this team, and Nets fans should be happy that he is at a position that should allow him to continue playing until well into his late 30s.
But once again, health is everything. Deron Williams is not going to magically get that 2nd place spot back, but if healthy he’s a big guard who is a smart passer and a great 3 point shooter. Brook Lopez is possibly the best offensive center in the league and having KG to scream at other teams for a few minutes a night could go a long way to making these pretend tough guys in their all-black uniforms actually seem somewhat intimidating. With those guys suiting up, Brooklyn should return to the postseason. If not, Atlanta will be swapping to grab their lottery pick next summer.
X-Factor= Jarret Jack.
Jack had a rather lame season in Cleveland last year after being a pivotal part of Golden State’s success two years before. Jack will take on the departed Shaun Livingston’s role in backing up Williams, which is HUGE for this team. Livingston was excellent last year as one of those long-armed big guards who helped the Nets lead the league in turnovers (during their January resurgence), which means Jack has big shoes to follow. And bigger still if Williams misses significant time again.