2006_11_snetslogo.jpgAfter bowing out in five games to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference semifinals iast season, the Nets didn't feel the need to retool their starting lineup. Who wouldn't be happy with Vince Carter, Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Nenad Krstic on the floor for the tipoff? Instead, they knew their reserves could be better, and that's the weakness they concentrated on in the offseason. Head coach Lawrence Frank should have a better team sitting next to him this season.

New Jersey's draft should prove a success, even with its No. 2 pick Josh Boone missing two months with a shoulder injury. In an all-Connecticut first round, the Nets selected Marcus Williams right before they picked Boone. In Williams, they'll have a backup point guard who can rest Kidd for some extended stretches. That's important since Kidd's not getting any younger. The veteran might even teach the rookie a trick or two.

In an Eastern Conference that suddenly looks wide open, the improvement to the bench could make a big difference. New Jersey may not have the big man every team desires -- Krstic and Jason Collins are not among the most opposing frontcourts in the league -- but it does have the big-name talent to challenge in its own conference.

Detroit's weaker without Ben Wallace, who's left to Chicago. Even with Wallace, the Pistons disintegrated in the conference finals last season. Miami is a year older, a difference that matters for almost everyone but Dwyane Wade. On the other hand, teams craving experience like Cleveland or Chicago are also a year older. The Nets will have about as good a shot as anyone to make the conference finals, and an improvement on last year is something their fans should expect.