8 Bold Predictions for the Brooklyn Nets in Their Inaugural NBA Season
Hello, Brooklyn! How you doin'? Where you goin'? Can the Nets come too?
To be sure, the Nets don't really have to ask anymore now that they'll be moving into the shiny new Barclays Center in the hipster capital of New York.
Nor will they need to recite lyrics from hip-hop mogul and minority team owner Jay-Z's extensive catalogue to draw attention. The eyes of the basketball world will be watching as the Nets make their triumphant return to the Empire State on November 1 for their first regular season game as New York residents since 1977.
That was also the Nets' inaugural season in the NBA, immediately following the merger with the ABA, and, coincidentally (or not), marked the beginning of the franchise's long-standing futility. The Nets sold Julius Erving (a.k.a. Doctor J) to the Philadelphia 76ers just prior to the 1976-77 campaign as a means of covering the cost of entering The Association and have hardly been heard from since.
Until this year, anyway. The Nets' arrival in Brooklyn brings with it a revamped roster and new hope for success, perhaps even more so than the halcyon days of the Jason Kidd era.
The comparison isn't exactly fair just yet considering how long that regime had to stack its resume. For now, these eight predictions for the new-look Nets should suffice.
Brooklyn Will Be Home to the NBA's Best Backcourt
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It's strange to think that the Nets would have the best of anything in the NBA, but with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson in town, they can lay claim to the league's top backcourt.
Williams has been an All-Star in each of his last three seasons and is easily one of the five most gifted point guards on the planet. He averaged 20.8 points, 3.3 rebounds and 8.7 assists in what might be considered a "down" year in 2011-12, while sleepwalking his way through an abysmal season in New Jersey.
The Nets' return to relevance should spark a renaissance in D-Will's game, on par with the three consecutive double-double seasons he enjoyed with the Utah Jazz between 2007 and 2010.
Johnson certainly deserves a shoutout in that regard. Brooklyn pried him from the Atlanta Hawks for a heap of spare parts in a last-ditch effort to convince Williams to stay. Luckily for GM Billy King, the situation panned out in his favor.
Though Johnson's age (31) and massive contract don't portend a particularly bright future, he should be a credit to the organization in the immediate term. Say what you will about "Iso Joe" pounding the air out of the ball and jacking up shots when he was in the ATL, but his efficiency numbers figure to improve alongside an elite floor general with whom he can run the pick-and-roll.
And in King's defense, it's tough to turn down the opportunity to acquire a player who's arguably the third-best at his position, especially considering that the trade not only saved the Nets from certain mediocrity, but also set them up for success with a stellar combination of guards.
Kris Humphries Will Be a Double-Double Machine...Again
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OK, so maybe it's not exactly "bold" to predict that a guy will average a double-double if he's done it in each of his last two seasons.
Still, Kris Humphries doesn't get his due for what he's managed to accomplish on the court with the Nets, probably because of his rather regrettable exploits off of it. He's averaged 11.7 points and 10.7 rebounds while converting 50.2 percent of his shots from the field and providing the Nets with a physical presence up front since he first arrived in the Garden State in 2010.
For his efforts, the Nets rewarded him with a two-year, $24 million deal this summer, albeit after trying desperately to dangle him as the trade bait nobody wanted in the failed Dwight Howard deal.
Humphries should be well worth the expense in Brooklyn, though. His productivity on the boards projects as a perfect fit in the Nets frontcourt next to Brook Lopez, who's proven to be a sub-par rebounder at the pro level.
As such, there'll be no shortage of loose caroms for Kris to scoop up, with which he can pad his surprising stats and support Brooklyn's winning efforts.
Brook Lopez Will Miss at Least 10 Games
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Speaking of Brook Lopez, he's due for a solid season after missing all but five games in 2011-12. He's a fine offensive player who, at 24, still has plenty of room and time for growth, particularly when it comes to defending and rebounding.
That being said, it's tough to imagine him surviving the rigors of an NBA schedule without encountering another injury of some sort, especially considering the nature of the ones that kept him out of action last season. Foot problems are the bane of any big man's existence, as Yao Ming, Bill Walton and Shaquille O'Neal can certainly confirm.
And Lopez has endured two of them—a break in the fifth metatarsal in his right foot in December and another break in a bone closer to his ankle in April—in the last nine months. Whether the second injury was related to the first remains unconfirmed, though it's entirely possible given the way that foot ailments tend to affect seven-footers who play basketball for a living.
Hopefully, for Lopez's sake, he'll manage to stay healthy, just as he did through his first three seasons and blossom into an All-Star as a result.
But realistically, Brooklyn should expect at least a bump or two along the way in the form of 10-15 games missed.
Gerald Wallace Will Continue to Decline
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Not to get Nets fans too depressed, but there's cause for concern with Gerald Wallace as well.
Not necessarily regarding injuries, though he's yet to play a full slate through 11 years in the NBA.
Rather, Wallace's game has been on the decline for some time and doesn't appear likely to turn around any time soon, if ever. His numbers have dipped across the board from year to year since the 2009-10 season, when he averaged a double-double and made an appearance in the All-Star Game with the Charlotte Bobcats.
Wallace's drop-off is hardly a shock when considering the circumstances. He's long been known for his energy and hustle—hence the nickname "Crash"—and has predicated his game on his elite physical gifts, namely his length, speed and athleticism.
But while Wallace's arms haven't shrunk, his ability to leap and run have already begun to wane and only figure to do so even further now that he's into his 30s.
That being said, it's not as though the Nets should simply throw Wallace onto the scrapheap now that he's over the proverbial hill. His ability to attack the boards, defend on the perimeter and contribute in the scoring column will come in handy in Brooklyn, where the Nets will need all the help they can get next to Brook Lopez, especially if he ends up in street clothes for any stretch of time.
The Nets Will Be the Best Team in New York
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Doom and gloom aside, Brooklyn, not Manhattan, will be able to boast the best NBA team in New York in 2012-13.
Contrary to Shaquille O'Neal's not-so-popular belief, the Nets have the better prospects of the two teams for the upcoming season, though the gap isn't exactly unbridgeable.
Not including the Brooklyn Bridge, of course.
In all honesty, the Knicks probably have the deeper, more talented roster between the Big Apple's pro teams, at least on paper. The Knicks employ three All-Star-caliber players—Carmelo Anthony, Amar'e Stoudemire and Tyson Chandler—atop a group that will go about 10-deep in quality players once Iman Shumpert returns from a knee injury.
The Nets, on the other hand, would be lucky to go eight or nine players deep on a good day.
Where Brooklyn's advantage lies is in the way its requisite parts fit together. Its starters all appear to complement one another, with Williams and Johnson partnering in the pick-and-roll, Brook Lopez scoring in the middle and Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace doing the dirty work on the boards and on the defensive end.
As for their bench, CJ Watson, MarShon Brooks and rookie import Mirza Teletovic all figure to fire away from the perimeter while Reggie Evans does the dirty work down low.
The Knicks, meanwhile, still have to find a way to fit Carmelo's square-peg-of-a-game into the round hole of a successful team concept. That hasn't worked all that well so far, especially with Chandler and Stoudemire occupying similar spaces on the floor and doesn't figure to change unless Mike Woodson (or Hakeem Olajuwon) is able to work a miracle or two.
Brooklyn Will Snag Home-Court Advantage in the Eastern Conference Playoffs
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The Eastern Conference is as deep as it's been in years (if not decades), though that shouldn't preclude the Nets from securing a spot among the top-four and the home-court advantage in the first round of the playoffs that comes with it.
The defending-champion Miami Heat and the reloaded Boston Celtics have already been penciled in for the top two seeds, barring a catastrophic turn of fortune for either team (or both). That likely leaves the Nets and the largely-stagnant Indiana Pacers to duke it out for the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds, with the Knicks and the Andrew Bynum-led Philadelphia 76ers giving chase and the Chicago Bulls potentially joining the fray once Derrick Rose returns.
Brooklyn has the talent on hand to be the best of the East's second tier, behind Miami and Boston, and what better way to christen the Barclays Center than with a pair of home games to tip off the 2013 playoffs?
The Nets Will Challenge the Franchise Mark for Wins in an NBA Season
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To get into the third or fourth spot, the Nets will have to sniff 50 wins during the regular season, at the very least.
Which, in turn, will put the franchise's single-season NBA wins mark in jeopardy. The Nets won 52 games back in 2001-02, when Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin lifted the team to its first appearance in the NBA Finals and a subsequent sweep at the hands of the Shaq and Kobe-led Los Angeles Lakers.
Technically, the Nets franchise record for regular-season wins is 58, which was set in 1974-75. But that was before the NBA-ABA merger, back when Dr. J was busy flying through the air and bringing two league titles in three years to New York.
That win total may be within reach if fortune favors Brooklyn rather inordinately this season, but is probably too much to ask given the overall improvement of the Eastern Conference, including the Atlantic Division's sudden turn from one of the NBA's most moribund divisions into one of its most competitive.
A 52-win campaign, though, isn't all that far-fetched, especially if the roster comes together as expected.
The Nets Will Win a Playoff Series for the First Time in Six Years
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With a 50-plus-win season and home-court advantage in the opening round of the postseason, the Nets and their fans will be expected at least one playoff series victory.
As well they should. The Nets haven't won a playoff series of any kind since 2007, when they ousted Chris Bosh's Toronto Raptors in six games before succumbing to LeBron James' Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Ending that drought will be anything but easy. The Sixers and the Bulls would both make for formidable first-round foes, as might the new-look Atlanta Hawks.
But if the basketball gods truly have a sense of humor, they'll find a way to pair the Nets with the Knicks come playoff time.
Which may or may not set off a wave of mass hysteria in the Big Apple, particularly if/when the Nets come out on top.