First it was the 2008 Celtics. Then it was the "Big Three" in Miami. Can the Nets become the latest NBA franchise to buy a title?
After a whirlwind offseason that saw the Brooklyn Nets acquire Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry in a trade with the Boston Celtics, in addition to signing free agent Andrei Kirilenko (arguably the most important pickup), the Nets have catapulted from a playoff team to legitimate title contender. Of course, there are a lot of variables—and that LeBron guy—to overcome in a full NBA season, but it certainly looks like it will be an exciting year No. 2 at the Barclays Center. Here's a quick look at the key points to the Brooklyn Nets' 2013/14 season.
Reasons for optimism: Quite simply, the Nets added Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko, Alan Anderson, Shaun Livingston, and Mason Plumlee to an already playoff-caliber team. The fact they did so in an offseason they entered without any financial flexibility is nothing short of a coup. Of course, having an owner who is willing to spend Russian Plutocrat Cash ($102M in player salary this season, the most in the NBA) doesn't hurt, but you have to give Billy King credit. Not only did he score the biggest summer haul in the league, he only had to give up a bunch of expiring contracts and what will likely amount to non-lottery draft picks. Perhaps most importantly, the team now has an identity. Sure, it was purchased (this is Brooklyn—just think of it as a big splurge at Urban Outfitters) but you can expect the Nets to be on the national radar all season long, accomplishing at least one of owner Mikhail Prokhorov's goals by being more relevant than the New York Knicks.
Reasons to be nervous: Is this team too old? Can they gel fast enough to compete with the league's elite? Is Jason Kidd too raw as a coach? Will they be able to shoulder the load of expectations? No one would blame you for a healthy sense of skepticism. There are a lot of questions this team will face throughout the season, and it won't take long to get a few answers, as they open at home against the defending champion Miami Heat. Age will be a factor, but with their depth, it shouldn't be too big of an issue, especially considering their biggest acquisitions (Garnett, Pierce) are flanked by all-star caliber replacements in Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson, meaning there shouldn't be too big a drop-off in play when the greybeards are on the bench.
More disconcerting than the Nets' age is the lack of depth at the point. After losing MarShon Brooks in the trade to Boston and C.J. Watson to free agency, we can expect to see Deron Williams shoulder a disproportionate amount of minutes. Both Jason Terry and newly acquired Shaun Livingston are capable of running the point, but both are better suited at shooting guard (incidentally, Livingston is better at the point despite being five inches taller than Terry). Then again, they do have one other experienced point guard on the team…
Can this Kidd coach?: No one changed the "age" conversation more than Jason Kidd this offseason. Too old in last year's playoffs, he played too many minutes throughout the season for his body to sustain and it eventually caught up with him. A few months later everyone's asking if he's too young for his new job. The official line is that Kidd's a leader who knew how to get the most of out of his teammates as a player, which should translate to a good coach (especially for his golf buddy Deron Williams). But lost in all of the speculation is the caliber of his support staff, not to mention the experience of the team on the floor. The addition of Lawrence Frank as Kidd's top assistant cannot be stressed enough, and could be the most important move the team made to secure it's chances of making a serious title run. Not only does Frank have head coaching experience, he spent two years as an assistant to Doc Rivers in Boston, and is familiar with the new additions. It's safe to say Billy King wouldn't risk his reputation—and most championship caliber team—with a rookie head coach if he didn't have the luxury of a well-rounded supporting staff. Yet another area where Brooklyn's bench should outshine most other squads.
Too big to fail?: With the NBA going small—even going so far as to take the position of center out of the All-Star game—the Nets have gone big. As in, huge. Easily the biggest team in the league, even their point guards are considered big by NBA standards. So will bucking the trend pay off? Or will faster teams like Chicago and the Heat run circles around this aging crop of giants? While their perimeter defense will likely struggle at times, chances are the Nets will win on the boards every night. Garnett immediately shores up a weak interior defense, and rebounding was already a strength with Lopez, Reggie Evans and Andray Blatch, so adding the length of Kirilenko and KG means the rim runneth over. Is it too early to start calling Lopez and Garnett the Twin Towers? [Ed: Yes.]
Mean Streak: Probably the biggest asset the Nets acquired this summer is toughness. Coach Kidd has referred to last year's Brooklyn squad as "too vanilla." That designation was never more evident than during the opening round playoff series against a depleted Chicago Bulls team that won with sheer conviction over the more talented Nets. Adding one of the league's "meanest" and "dirtiest" players should also help shed the label. Sure, we all know about Garnett's breakfast cereal preference and overall gnarly attitude, but with prickliness comes locker room pride. When LeBron James called the former Celtics "hypocrites" for "leaving" Boston after criticizing Ray Allen last season, Garnett responded with a stern "focus on your own team." Last year's Nets would've let a comment like that slide. Not anymore. And of course, we have that delightful KG vs. Carmelo Anthony matchup to look forward to four times this year. [Ed: The Honey Nut Cheerios Bowl?]
Team MVP: With all of the additions, including hiring a head coach who is one of your close friends, the MVP this season has to be Deron Williams. Or to put it another way, it better be Williams. If he fails to reclaim his All-Star mantle this year, it might spell doom for the overall fabric of a team that's been tailor made for him. Based on his second half stats last year (post-recovery), we can expect big things. After the All-Star break Williams averaged over six more points per game, and more than 7% better shooting percentage than the first half of the season. Combine that with the slew of new assets and it could be a huge season for the veteran point guard.
Prediction: Making the playoffs a second year in a row is almost a certainty. Last year's starting squad is still intact, so a safe prediction is that they will finish with at least 49 wins and a fourth seed in the Eastern Conference Playoffs. A bold prediction is a 60-win season, beating the Knicks in their first playoff matchup since the Nets moved to Brooklyn and facing the Heat in the Conference Finals. Regardless of expectations, this team was built for a championship season this year, and they will get their chance come playoff time.
Or, about 10 wins better than the Knicks.