Kevin Garnet will be 38 in 2014, but he and Paul Pierce still have enough left to improve the already-good Brooklyn Nets
This season, it’s a new team and new coach/owner—the greatest assemblage of talent and pedigree in the franchise’s history, one that instantly changes the faces of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference races.
Is Brooklyn NBA Finals bound?
It’s obviously not a definite given the fiercest conference competition in several years, but is even thinking “title or bust” or “Finals or bust” realistic or simply passionately hopeful (and respectable) fan expectation?
What about the Atlantic and Eastern crowns? Fair and achievable targets?
Wait a second. Will this new team even work? Ask the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers what could happen.
Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Brooklyn Nets: The trade heard round the league
The 2013-14 Brooklyn Nets will not be a repeat of last season’s Los Angeles Lakers. There is a big difference: chemistry. Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Kobe Bryant were a hodgepodge of disconnected, egocentric superstar talent.
This year’s new-look Nets ported over two Hall of Fame champions, who just played together for six compatible, winning and mostly dominant seasons. They share the floor seamlessly. They share the same gritty, psychological and physical-battling mindset.
Between 2007-08 and 2010-11, Garnett and Pierce led the Boston Celtics to 66, 62, 50 and 56-win seasons and a title. That’s not that far off in the past, and there is enough left in the tanks of the 37- and 36-year-olds to at least improve the Nets over last year—a season where Brooklyn popped 49 wins as it is.
Jason Terry shores up the 2 behind Joe Johnson like MarShon Brooks never could.
And don’t forget Andrei Kirilenko—an imposing defensive addition.
Deron Williams fits right in with these guys. Was Rajon Rondo, by right an amazing point guard on his own, better because of the players around him? We might see a Rondo-effect on Williams’ game this year.
Brook Lopez is set for another uptick in his play. Will he get lost by opposing defenses fielding KG, D-Will and The Truth? Yes.
The Nets new coach, Jason Kidd, is as attuned to the modern game and player as well as any, if still lacking in the procedural aspects of and experience at the helm.
It’s going to work.
So we know the Nets won’t be bad, barring injury.
But how good will they be?
What I mean by scary good—not all-time dominance as the phrase “scary” used in sports usually means—but scary enough to put an extra fright in teams around the league. You bet.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez (and Joe Johnson and a deep bench) were already a good core
This is an easy prediction. The Nets won 49 games last year and are better now, having at least maintained pace (and arguably outpaced) with other Eastern Conference improvers.
In 2012-13, with a weaker squad and coach, Brooklyn swept the Indiana Pacers 3-0 and evened the season series with the New York Knicks 2-2. Did those two opponents improve as much as the Nets this offseason?
Though it lost 33 games, Brooklyn rarely lost to a bad team. Only six of those losses were to under -.500 teams—only four to non-playoff teams. That’s Heat-like.
Deron Williams is the key to pushing the Brooklyn Nets over the top
What about 53 wins? It’s not asking too much—just four more wins than 2012-13.
The best Nets record (NBA) of all time was 52-30, back in 2001-02. That was Jason Kidd’s first season in New Jersey. He directed the Nets straight to the NBA Finals after an abominable 26-56 record the season before.
Can he do something of the like again, this time from behind the clipboard, with a bounty of talent to work with?
For all the talk of the big trade, this expectation lies greatly on Deron Williams’ shoulders—or his ankles.
The Nets, even with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, and Brook Lopez continuing on his trajectory, will need Williams at his best to breach the mid-50 win mark. That has to be the max, though. No way the Nets are a 60-win team.
Is Williams up to the task? Yes.
Williams carried nagging and play-affecting ankle injuries through the first half of 2012-13 that explained much of his recent decline.
Since a third cortisone shot during the All-Star Break, he’s been back in form. Take a look before and after the shot:
The New York Daily News’ Stefan Bondy elaborated:
By the time he received his third round in February, Williams was hobbling around the court and undergoing his worst season as a professional. Not coincidentally, Williams’ season turned around after the All-Star break. Williams has said his latest cortisone injections were “finally in the right spot.”
Brooklyn's staking a claim for the Atlantic
So it’s the Knicks and the Nets in the two-horse race to win the division. They were close last year. As late as March 17, Brooklyn was just a game behind. That was before New York went on its 16-2 run to close out the season.
It is going to be neck and neck between these two teams again, anybody’s division, and even closer down the stretch.
The oddsmakers think Brooklyn will be better overall (10-1 vs. 22-1), so as of now, the Nets are the favorites to win the Atlantic.
Paul Pierce and J.R. Smith: This will be fun to watch
What if the Brooklyn Nets sweep the New York Knicks during the regular season or simply have a higher overall win total? Does that make them the kings of New York?
If the Nets win the Atlantic Division, does that mean they are running the city?
Despite those previous realistic expectations you just read, and even if they all come true, the New York Knicks will still run New York City. Maybe they’re just taking a break.
Even if the Nets win a title, the Knicks still own this town.
When the New Jersey Nets were on top of the world in the early to mid-2000s and the Knicks were regularly dredging the Atlantic floor, there wasn’t a peep about them “running the town,” or metropolitan area, if you will.
It will take time and at least three titles before the Nets can claim to be running the city and to catch up to the decades-long historical foundation already laid down by the Knicks.
The Nets are still interlopers or carpetbaggers around here.
On a collision course with the Miami Heat?
It will once again be the Miami Heat against the East in 2013-14. The Brooklyn Nets are one of four teams with a shot to greet the Heat in the conference finals, depending on seeding.
Winning the Atlantic or capturing the two or three-seed will make the road less bumpy for Jason Kidd and the gang, slightly.
The assumption is, the Heat will be one of the last two teams standing in the East, but you never know. They have already won two titles in a row, which has to have diminished some hunger, and three other teams—Knicks (3-1), Pacers (2-1) and Bulls (2-2)—match up as well against Miami as possible.
The Nets (and the Boston Celtics) had trouble with the Heat last year, so they want to avoid encountering Miami until the last series. Both teams matched up well against the Knicks and Pacers.
In sum: How do the Nets get to the Eastern Conference Finals? Avoid Miami and Chicago along the way. Brooklyn’s best hope is to face New York, Indiana and/or a lower seed in the first two rounds.
If the Heat are somehow bounced before the conference finals, and the Nets are lucky enough to meet, say, the Knicks, they will have a reasonable shot at the NBA Finals.
The rational ceiling for the Nets, though, with the information we have now, is the Eastern Conference Finals. Let’s see how the season shakes out a bit before going further out on a limb.
Jason Kidd will win NBA Coach of the Year
Jason Kidd knows and has played with and against everyone involved on the Brooklyn Nets and in the NBA, other than the rookies.
What coach in today’s game jumps into the head position the season after retiring—and after retiring from a Hall of Fame career as one of the best floor generals of all time?
For all Kidd’s inexperience, this has to be an edge.
Is he another Doc Rivers? Better? This is possible. Why not? They are very similar, in play, temperament and closeness to the current game and modern player.
Coach of the Year award voters have a soft spot for first-year coaches if they do better than expected. Doc Rivers (Orlando Magic, 1999-00) and Tom Thibodeau (Chicago Bulls, 2010-11) won as rookies.
Kidd and the Nets will likely do better than both of those coaches and teams the first time around.