Not only am I selling the Brooklyn Nets as a championship contender, I eye them as perhaps ranking among the most disappointing teams next year.
The buzz surrounding Deron Williams' signing did much to drown out the uncomfortable fact that it was a re-signing. Williams has played 67 games for the Nets, and the results have not been especially inspiring.
Brooklyn (or, when discussing the past, New Jersey) went 22-44 in last year's abbreviated season as Williams submitted one of the lesser performances of his sterling career. The star point guard shot only .407 from the field and claimed his worst assist rate since his rookie season. I would be remiss not to show you his best effort, though.
Though Williams was less efficient as a scorer (excluding the above 57-point explosion), he was not to blame for New Jersey's overall ineptitude. Even if he'd been producing points at Utah levels, Williams would have to prop up the second-worst NBA defense.
This is, in short, why I doubt Brooklyn as a contender next season: It has an awful defense, and there isn't enough reason to believe it's better this time around.
Joe Johnson is a credible defensive player, but such credibility is no match for a middle manned by Brook Lopez and company. Without shot-blocking and size up front, Brooklyn faces an uphill battle to lock down opponents.
Gerald Wallace was supposed to aid this flailing defense, but he found himself sucked into New Jersey's vortex of bad rotations last season. Currently, the best defensive Net might be Kris Humphries, just by virtue of his ability to rebound and not make terrible mistakes.
Brooklyn is looking for its offense to carry it, and a backcourt of Johnson and Williams should be fun to watch. While both players are quality, I am not sold on how they should perform when combined. Johnson is an isolation operator, and Williams is a pick-and-roll savant.
The latter style tends to benefit big men, and the former would freeze out the entire team. The Nets will find some way to run the offense with both, but there are diminishing returns to combining two high-usage guards.
It's also possible that "Iso-Joe" will be better with a lighter load, or at least this team will be ground to less of a half-court halt by Johnson's ball-stopping approach. To be fair, the "Iso-Joe" style has its moments.
Is there at least reason for optimism in Brooklyn? Of course, so long as expectations are tempered.
Williams and Johnson make this franchise relevant for a few years, and Lopez could become a regular All-Star down the road. MarShon Brooks is a talented young off-guard, and Mirza Teletovic is an intriguing European prospect.
The Nets should be better, just don't expect title contention. That possibility evaporated when the Dwight Howard trade fell through.