What are the expectations for the Brooklyn Nets in 2013-14 now that they are stocked with career studs Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce and role stud Jason Terry on the bench and have sent a gaggle of average players packing?
The expectations are plenty.
What we will wind up seeing is probably what many suspect—a mixture of fulfillment, milestones reached and some disappointment.
Brooklyn will achieve more this season. This is a team of seasoned, strong-headed veterans who will not wilt under demanding pressure.
The Nets can only fall victim to injury or a superior opponent. They will not beat themselves.
A breach in psychological fortitude will not be deciding their fate. Not with these guys and not with Jason Kidd manning the clipboard.
Brooklyn will cover new expectations and miss a few along the way to an overall improved season over last year.
Now, about those expectations.
Minimum 50 wins
The Brooklyn Nets practically won 50 games last season: 49-33. So, this one’s a cinch.
No doubt Brooklyn surpasses 50 wins and knocks on the door of 55.
It’s not just that the Nets roster is better (and deeper) than last year’s, but even last year’s team had its way with much of the NBA—and (a healthier) Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and solid benchers Andray Blatche and Reggie Evans are all back.
Brooklyn rarely lost to a bad team. Only six of their 33 losses were to under .500 teams—only four to non-playoff teams.
This was all without KG and The Truth.
You have to believe the Nets kept pace (at least) with the other Eastern Conference teams this offseason.
They have a good shot at eclipsing the best record (52-30) in their history.
Anything short of 50 wins will be an utter disappointment.
Best team in New York
The intensity of this new, hot rivalry just about assures neither team will take much advantage of the head-to-head.
Figure another 2-2 tie in the season series again.
Which team will be better - the New York Knicks or Brooklyn Nets? Retweet for Knicks or favorite for Nets. This should be interesting.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) August 14, 2013
So, what will crown the kings of New York in 2013-14? It will have to come down to overall record.
This is a coin flip right now though, since the New York Knicks did whomp Garnett and Pierce’s Boston Celtics last year 7-3, including the postseason. It’s fair to give New York a slight edge.
The Knicks finished with 54 wins, and their roster, too, is improved over 2012-13.
It’s going to be a race to 55 wins. Anything over is going to win the battle of the New York teams.
One catch: the playoffs.
Regardless of who wins the regular season, if these two meet in the postseason, that winner gets the keys to the city until they are dethroned.
Do the masses expect the Nets to have more regular season wins? Do we envision a Nets-Knicks playoff round with Brooklyn coming out on top?
All possible, but expected? This can go either way.
Given how good the Knicks are expected to be, if the Nets fall short, surely it will be perceived as a hard-fought failure and not falling victim to expectations.
Win the Atlantic Division
If the Brooklyn Nets do post a better record than the New York Knicks, then they will definitely win the Atlantic.
The Boston Celtics are rebuilding—and Rajon Rondo, according to the Boston Globe’s Baxter Holmes, isn’t “anywhere close to being ready.”
The Toronto Raptors, even with Rudy Gay from the start, aren’t expected to improve much over their 34-win season. Bleacher Report’s Alex Kay has them at 37 wins with a 40 percent chance of making the playoffs. ESPN even worse, at 33 and in 10th place.
They both predict only 20 wins for the woeful Philadelphia 76ers, who, according to Agrrey Sam at CSN Chicago, “[have] to be evaluated as the most underwhelming [group of personnel] the NBA has to offer upon entering the 2013-14 campaign.”
It’s a two-horse race between the Knicks and Nets, and either pony can take it. It might even be a photo-finish.
Fall victim to expectations here? Not going to happen.
Capture the No. 2 seed
Winning the Atlantic guarantees a top-four seeding.
To capture the No. 2 seed, the Nets have to finish with the second-best record in the Eastern Conference. That’s another rung up the ladder of expectation.
The Knicks, Chicago Bulls, Indiana Pacers and the Nets (a slipping Miami Heat, too?) will all be vying for the No. 2 seed. There’s a fall off in Eastern Conference quality after these five teams.
Alex Kay’s NBA record predictions (mentioned above) have Brooklyn taking the No. 2 seed, far behind Miami, but a squeak ahead of Chicago and New York.
The odds at vegasinsider.com have Chicago favored for the second slot, and Brooklyn and Indiana tied in third.
With the parity at the top, it would be difficult to flay the Nets if they wind up anywhere in the No. 3 to No. 5 seed range and were left with the playoffs to make due.
Finishing fifth won’t so much be seen as a complete failure on the season due to the heavy competition, but it will set up a problematic first round—and for sure the Nets are expected to get into the semifinals this time around.
Eastern Conference Finals
It’s the postseason where Brooklyn will truly meet its expectations head on.
Given the predictions and odds above, let’s assume the Nets nab a No. 4 seed or better.
If they get the No. 4 seed, they will be facing the Knicks, Pacers or Bulls in Round 1. Not the best situation, but the Nets will make a series of any of these matchups. It'll be hard to lay playoff blame after losing any of these series in six or seven games, which they most likely will go to.
Any better than the No. 4, and Brooklyn meets one of several lower-tier teams from the Atlanta Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks to the Cleveland Cavaliers and Detroit Pistons. Lose that round and the Nets have fallen victim to expectations.
As for making the Eastern Conference Finals, it’s the same goal as everyone in the East except for the Heat. Miami’s minimum goal is once again the NBA Finals.
For Brooklyn, reasonable expectations call for two postseason rounds. The Nets will almost certainly meet up with one of the other top four teams in the East in Round 2.
Again, they will make a series of any of these, even as Indiana did with Miami, but they can’t be expected to get by them.
They can do it, but you can’t expect any of those teams (again, other than Miami) to waltz into the Eastern Conference Finals.
This is all bonus territory now. The Brooklyn Nets, even with a star-studded starting five in Williams, Johnson, Lopez, Garnett and Pierce, are not the favorites in the East.
No one will be falling on their swords if Brooklyn fails to make the NBA Finals. In any case, Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov won’t be firing or uprooting the roster past Round 2.
As for the whole ball of wax—an NBA title? It’s nearly impossible and would be a borderline miracle.
When you picture a team hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy this June, do you see the Nets?
It's not that this Brooklyn squad isn't flush with talent from coach to bench, but they can’t handle the West.
Remember those 33 losses from last season? Brooklyn was 13-17 against the West. They lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves and were swept by six of the West’s playoff teams: the Golden State Warriors, Houston Rockets, Los Angeles Lakers, Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis Grizzlies and San Antonio Spurs.
The Celtics were poor against the Western Conference, as well: 14-16, swept by the Grizzlies and Spurs and splitting with the other six playoff teams.
This Nets-Celtics hybrid should do better than last season, but beating the West is a whole other story.
Then again, if they got past the Heat...
In the end
This will be a bittersweet season for the Brooklyn Nets. They will not win the title. There are too many other teams, better teams, in the way. If it were just one team, maybe, but the talent in the NBA is so diffused today, scattered among 8-10 teams, and the obstacles are many.
It's a bit like golf. You can be just four strokes off the pace at the beginning of the final day—within reach of the leader—but there may be 8-10 closer golfers in your way.
Brooklyn needs to focus on the East. It would be wrong to say that the Nets fall victim to expectations if they lose to the Heat in Round 2 or in the Eastern Conference Finals. Who is expected to beat Miami? Any victory there would be considered an upset.
A Round 1 loss or limp Round 2 loss to an equivalent-or-less opponent, though, would be failure.