The Brooklyn Nets enter the 2012-13 season with something they haven’t had since the Jason Kidd era: expectations.
The owner, fans, and league expect the Nets to emerge as one of the better teams in the NBA. They welcome an All-Star in Joe Johnson and bring back a healthy Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace.
Only five players returned from the 22-44 Newark version, so the atmosphere is certainly different. Deron Williams brought the team together three weeks before the start of training camp to work out and gain continuity.
The leadership is there, the talent is there, the excuses better not be.
Playoffs: Sixth in East
If the Nets can stay relatively healthy, they should have no problem collecting 45 wins. That number might not get them home-court advantage in the first round, but it will give them a playoff appearance. The Nets have not made the playoffs since 2006-07 when they went 41-41. Mikhail Prokhorov spent $315 million on offseason contracts to bring this team back to relevance. There are no excuses for this team’s failure.
MVP: Brook Lopez
Brook Lopez is the most under-appreciated center in the NBA. He was easy for the national media to forget since he played in only five games in 2011-12 but his foot is now healthy. In those five games, he averaged 19.2 ppg and scored 38 points in a 93-92 win over the defending-champion Dallas Mavericks. Defensive questions will persist, and he has to prove he is ready, willing, and able to rebound the ball. During the 2012 preseason, Lopez shined in limited minutes. He posted 16.4 ppg, second among active centers, and grabbed 7.4 rpg. Avery Johnson limited him to roughly 26 minutes a night in an effort to get Lopez back into game shape. The Nets missed his inside presence during their 22-44 2011-12 campaign, and his health and performance is crucial to Brooklyn’s success.
Odd Man Out: Kris Humphries
The Nets re-signed Humphries to a 2-year, $24 million deal but don’t expect those figures to foreshadow his impact. On a nightly basis, the power forward will likely gather eight points and six rebounds in 20 to 25 minutes of action, give or take. With the Nets going up against smaller lineups featuring LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Danny Granger, and Josh Smith at power forward, Avery Johnson may opt to shift Gerald Wallace to the four. Joe Johnson’s build and strength impressed the Nets, giving them faith he can play the three as well as the two. After career years in New Jersey, Humphries may return to earth in Brooklyn.
Surprise: C.J. Watson
Since Deron Williams has been dealing with ankle inflammation dating back to the Olympics, Watson’s presence is even more welcomed. Williams intimated that he may need offseason surgery on his left ankle, a scary proposition considering the season has not even started. Watson brings tenacity and leadership to a Nets’ backcourt in dire need of it. He boasts the ability to start and play alongside Williams or spell him off the bench. The Nets went 1-10 in games Williams missed in 2011-12 while Watson helped the Chicago Bulls stay above water during Derrick Rose’s injury-plagued season. In five preseason games, Watson shot 50 percent from the field and averaged 9.2 ppg. He converted six of his 12 three-point attempts. Avery Johnson on Watson: “He’s been better (than we expected). We thought he was good, but he’s good. He’s good at what he does.”
Bust: Mirza Teletovic
If the preseason is any indication, Teletovic may not even crack Avery Johnson’s rotation on a nightly basis. After his arrival in Brooklyn, many thought he had the potential to start or contribute as a sixth man. Nets fans should hold their applause for the EuroLeague’s leading scorer in 2011-12. In the preseason, he has appeared lost on defense and streaky with his shot. Teletovic went 8-of-31 (25.8 percent) from three during the six games. Even if his season average his 38 percent, it may not be enough to keep him on the floor if he cannot keep pace defensively.
Prediction: Atlantic Division toughest in East
There are no cakewalk games in the Atlantic this season. The Boston Celtics remain the class of the division while the New York Knicks and Philadelphia 76ers made the playoffs as well last season. While the Knicks made several sideways moves that should keep them in the same ballpark, the Sixers added elite center Andrew Bynum. Provided Bynum can get healthy, Philly should be a force. Unlike seasons past, the Toronto Raptors should compete if nothing else. The Raptors added guards Kyle Lowry and Landry Fields, two players bringing depth to the backcourt. In addition, Jonas Valanciunas joins the team from Lithuania. Valanciunas was the Raptors fifth-overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and brings a decorated resume from overseas.
Point Guard Deron Williams, C.J. Watson, Tyshawn Taylor
Shooting Guard Joe Johnson, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Jerry Stackhouse
Small Forward Gerald Wallace, Josh Childress, Toko Shengelia
Power Forward Kris Humphries, Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic
Center Brook Lopez, Reggie Evans