With all the braggadocio in the Brooklyn Nets organization, a fan would have no idea the team has not qualified for the playoffs in five seasons.
Owner Mikhail Prokhorov boldly announced that the Nets would "[win a] championship in one year minimum, and maximum in five years," following a historically horrific 12-70 season and proclaimed that "we're going to turn Knicks fans into Nets fans."
This is a long way from being the bullied little brother of the New York Knicks born on the wrong side of the Hudson.
Now the team calls Brooklyn—and the magnificent Barclay's Center—its home.
And for the first time since the Jason Kidd era, Nets fans are excited about the upcoming season.
For good reason, too: the Brooklyn Nets will win the Atlantic Division this season.
Williams remains arguably the best point guard in the league. He possesses the unique ability to get to the basket at will with adept speed and unbelievable ball-handling. His vision is exceptional. He's averaged at least 8.7 assists each year since his rookie season.
Williams has the rare ability to make his teammates better.
Do not underrate his scoring ability, either. He averaged 21 ppg last season and has a strong jump shot.
Also, overlook the league leading 4.0 turnovers/game and his career-low 41 percent field goal percentage he turned in last season. He was on a team with a dearth of talent and expected to succeed. He forced shots and tried to create passes out of thin air.
Johnson stretches the floor with his 6'7" frame and ability to hit the open jump shot, shooting 39 percent from three last season. Also, he handles the ball well—he played a lot of point guard in Atlanta—and is able to create his own shot.
He is a better off-ball guard and with Williams' passes, expect him to take a lot of open jump shots.
Both players are not All-NBA defenders by any means, but are above average and have very quick hands to disrupt passing lanes.
If healthy, the Nets have one of the more talented frontcourts in the league.
Before missing 61 games last season, 7-foot center Brook Lopez was extremely durable, not missing a single game in three seasons. Many league officials tabbed him as a future All-Star for years to come.
He has an array of back-to-the-basket moves and has a very strong mid-range game. In 2010-2011, he averaged over 20 ppg and, at the age of 24, still has a lot of room to grow.
He will benefit immensely from the presence of Deron Williams, who will feed him a lot of easy buckets. They could develop into one of the top point guard-center tandems in the NBA and becomes lethal in the pick-and-roll game.
He's often admonished for his rebounding (or lack thereof). Lopez averaged just 5.9 rebounds in 2010-2011, but he bulked up significantly while injured. In his first two seasons, rebounds were not a problem, averaging over eight per game.
Regardless, Kris Humphries has come to fruition as a bona fide starter in the NBA. Often maligned for his short-lived love life with Kim Kardashian, he averaged a double-double in back-to-back seasons.
He will help Lopez in the rebounding department and infuse energy and passion into the team. Humphries remains the ultimate hustle player, always providing 100 percent effort. He also dominates on the offensive glass, finishing sixth in the league.
Neither are great defenders, but they will be serviceable under Avery Johnson's system, which produced very good defensive teams with the Mavericks. Also, Lopez is a decent shot blocker, averaging 1.5 blocks in all three seasons.
Gerald Wallace, the bruising hybrid forward is a former NBA First Team All-Defense selection. He will provide toughness and grit to the finesse frontcourt.
Wallace will provide a good impact in transition and will add about 15 ppg.
The biggest improvement on the Nets' roster is their depth.
Last season, the second unit consisted of the likes of Sundiata Gaines, Johan Petro, Damion James and Anthony Morrow.
This season, guard MarShon Brooks is the sixth man. This kid just knows how to score. He is incredibly athletic and slashes to the hoop with ease.
As a rookie, he set the bar high as a playmaker, averaging 12.6 ppg. He should elevate his game immensely with a full year of experience and a complete training camp.
He's even told Slam Magazine that he wants to be the sixth man of the year. "I'm not going to sell myself short," he said. He will provide a necessary spark and play about 25 minutes a game.
C.J. Watson is the backup to Deron Williams, and remains a premier second string point guard in the NBA. Last season, he thrived behind—and often, alongside—Derrick Rose, averaging 9.7 ppg and 4.1 apg. He will do much of the same for the Nets.
The Nets also added one of Europe's top players, Mirza Teletovic. The 6'9" forward had several offers from NBA teams but believed that Brooklyn was the best fit. He is a knock-down shooter from behind the arc and can make a difference on the boards. He will receive many open looks because of Williams' great vision.
Although he has a limited offensive arsenal, he remains a force on the boards. He also provides an added element of toughness, tenacity and hustle. He is definitely one of the players no one in the league wants to mess with.
He is the perfect role player for a team starting two finesse big men.
And don't forget about the rookie Tyshawn Taylor, the veteran Jerry Stackhouse and the once highly-touted Donte Greene.
No it doesn't appear likely that the Nets will win a championship within Mikhail Prokhorov's five-year window, but everyone must acknowledge his confidence and willingness to put his credibility on the line.
In just over two years, the Russian billionaire proved he is one of the top owners in the league. His desire to win is second to none.
This offseason he displayed just that.
After being asked about the reported $12 million in luxury tax he will cough up, he stated, "I am only interested in what will bring us a championship team. That is the sole criterion."
Simultaneously, his inner-city rival—Knicks owner James Dolan or "the little man," as Prokhorov calls him—once again proved his ineptitude by allowing his most valuable asset in Jeremy Lin walk for free.
Players want to play for an owner with Prokhorov's competitive spirit and drive to win.
Be sure to watch out for the Nets at the trade deadline. The team is always lurking around the biggest names and would love to make a splash.
Unlike his competition, if the team has any glaring weakness, Prokhorov will make sure they are addressed.
The Atlantic Division progressed dramatically in the offseason. With the emergence of the Nets, an improved 76ers team, the timeless Celtics and the New York Carmelo's, the division could realistically send four teams to the playoffs.
Yet, the Nets will beat them all for the wildly contested division crown. Here is a breakdown of why the Nets will conquer its tough competition.
The winners of the past five division titles, the Celtics are mere shadows of their former NBA championship team. Because of their experience, they are always dangerous in the postseason. But for them, the regular season is merely a warmup to stay healthy and get the necessary reps in.
The Nets are much deeper—and younger—than the Celtics.
Yes, Rajon Rondo has a strong claim as the top point guard in the the league, but he needs to make his jump shot consistently—like in the postseason—to top Deron Williams, Chris Paul and Derrick Rose.
Rounding out the starting lineup are strong defenders Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass, but neither stretch the floor offensively.
Jason Terry and Courtney Lee are both nice additions off the bench, but the Celtics lack serviceable big men in the second unit. They will have to rely on rookies Fab Melo and Jared Sullinger for quality minutes.
I expect Brooklyn's strong bench, especially MarShon Brooks and Mirza Teletovic, to perform well against the light second unit.
Pierce and Garnett will need to experience a renaissance of their prime years for this team to win the division for a sixth straight season.
New York Knicks
The East River Rivalry has come to fruition as well as hoped. The public, aggressive, savvy, comedic Prokhorov has morphed into the anti-Dolan.
On the court, the Knicks revolve around the play of Carmelo Anthony. Yes, he is one of the most talented players in the league, but he has yet to prove he can lead a team to a title.
Also, the duo of Carmelo and Amare Stoudemire has failed miserably. They simply do not co-exist well together. Neither give much effort on the defensive end, either.
NBA Defensive Player of the Year Tyson Chandler will lock down the paint, but provides little on the offensive end.
Raymond Felton played well in New York under Mike D'Antoni's system, but he will perform as an average point guard at best with Mike Woodson. Deron Williams will torch him to prove the Nets' superiority.
The signing of Ronnie Brewer was extremely underrated; he is one of the better perimeter defenders. Yet I still believe Joe Johnson will back up his words and show that he still in one of the top offensive shooting guards in the league on the big stage.
Their bench is quite deep with J.R. Smith, Steve Novak, Iman Shumpert, Jason Kidd, and Marcus Camby.
After a surprising upset over the No. 1 seed Bulls in the Eastern Conference playoffs—with some help from Derrick Rose—the 76ers dramatically improved with the acquisition of All-Star center Andrew Bynum.
Bynum—arguably the top offensive center in the league, who averaged 18.7 ppg and 11.8 rpg—adds a much-needed interior presence. Only 24 years old, he possesses all the potential in the world, yet has had attitude issues and is injury-prone
The recent news that Bynum will receive radical knee treatment in Germany does little to allay the fears of his injury-filled past.
The 76ers are packed with young talent, but it must develop quickly to give coach Doug Collins reliable second and third options.
Talented point guard Jrue Holiday took a step back last season but still has all the potential in the world. The uber-quick 22-year-old handles the ball well but need to make better decisions and up his shooting from 43 percent.
Deron Williams will bring the kid back to school.
Evan Turner and Dorell Wright are the expected wing starters. Both have plenty of room to grow and Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace will steepen the learning curve.
Spencer Hawes plays a finesse game, but is a capable scorer with solid shooting range. He should mesh with Bynum's physical, low-post prowess.
They lack depth off the bench, especially at point guard and center, relying on Royal Ivey and Kwame Brown. Really, Kwame Brown? Young guys Lavoy Allen and Arnett Moultrie could add solid minutes down low. Shoot-first guys like Jason Richardson and Nick Young will add scoring and not that much else from the wings.
Overall, the Nets have more experienced players currently in their prime and should teach the youngsters some lessons.
The Raptors are still a few years away from contending. The number four pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Jonas Valanciunas, will support leading scorer Andrea Bargnani and former lottery pick Ed Davis.
DeMar Derozan continues to develop on all facets on the game.
Former Rocket Kyle Lowry, who averaged 6. assists last season, will lead the charge as the floor general.
The addition of Landry Fields will help on the wing as a shooter and a solid defender.
But all in all, the Raptors are very outmatched by the Nets at every starting position and off the bench. The Raptors are still rebuilding and cultivating lottery-level talent for the future.