Biggest Roadblocks to Brooklyn Nets Becoming Legit Title Contenders in 2013-14
On paper and as a relative long shot, the Brooklyn Nets are title contenders—surely as legit as, or more so, than Carmelo Anthony’s New York Knicks, Zach Randolph’s Memphis Grizzlies, Stephen Curry’s Golden State Warriors and the Dwight Howard-led Houston Rockets.
These teams compose the underdogs of title-contending teams in 2013-14, and already you see two of the roadblocks in the way of a Brooklyn title: The favorites, and the underdogs, too.
The Nets will win over 50 games during the regular season, break the franchise’s best record ever (52-30) and have a good shot at 55-60 wins. They’re favored by the oddsmakers to win the Atlantic Division over the Knicks.
But win the 2013-14 NBA championship? That’s a whole other story.
First, they have to get out of the Eastern Conference alive, and hopefully with some legs left.
NBA Title Favorites
Westbrook is set to miss 4-6 weeks from the outset, but we’re going to assume he’ll be back for a strong second half and postseason.
Given that the Spurs made the Finals and are relatively unchanged in terms of roster and coaching (Gregg Popovich, one of the greatest ever), they, too, remain favorites.
The Los Angeles Clippers won 56 games and rank high again with Doc Rivers taking over out West.
The Nets, even with the upgrade, are looking up at these teams in the way—but they could find themselves a member of their group somewhere along the course of the season.
NBA Title Underdogs
The Brooklyn Nets are potentially the elite of the underdogs—knocking on the favorites’ door or more—but no one can say for sure yet how this team will play together on the court.
It is impossible to put Brooklyn amongst the favorites at this time, big trade or not. It’s all conjecture.
Kevin Garnett’s and Paul Pierce’s Boston Celtics didn’t fare so well in 2012-13 (41-40), and there is no guarantee their union with Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson will put the Nets over the top.
Dwight Howard, if he works out, brings the Houston Rockets up to par here, joining the New York Knicks, Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies as the teams trying to carve out a niche amongst the truest title contenders.
How did the Nets and Celtics perform against the underdogs in 2012-13? They were a combined 5-15 (2-8 and 3-7, respectively). It’s not exact science, but useful information.
Against the NBA title favorites? They were actually better, 13-19 (6-10 and 7-9, respectively).
Either way, between favorites and underdogs, there are 10 legitimate teams with the potential to block the Nets’ path to a title.
Deron Williams has the potential to be the Brooklyn Nets’ biggest roadblock of all.
Williams is the lynch pin, the glue, of the 2013-14 season on several levels. If he fails, the Nets can’t be considered legitimate title contenders.
Point guard on the Nets is a thin position. You have Williams, then journeyman Shaun Livingston and sophomore Tyshawn Taylor, neither of whom have boasted remarkable numbers or play. Thirty-six-year-old Jason Terry can pitch in, in a pinch.
Already, Williams is hurt. According to ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo, D-Will is recovering from “a sprained right ankle and a bone bruise” and was “in a walking boot” just a few weeks ago.
Williams’ play in 2012-13 was Jekyll and Hyde-like. Before his All-Star break cortisone shots, Mr. Hyde. After, Dr. Jekyll. The Nets' record followed suit: 31-22 (.585) before, and 18-11 (.621) after.
In other words, if Williams’ ankles are frail, that pushes legitimate title contention out of reach.
Things get more complicated for Deron. He’s going to be asked by Jason Kidd to adjust his game—"Coach Kidd needs D-Will to be J-Kidd," says ESPN's Johnette Howard—back to more assists and leave some scoring to others.
This could delay the Nets achieving their full potential as Williams reaches back and tried to recreate his 10 APG Utah days.
Chemistry: New Team and New Coach
There was additional pressure in L.A.—it all had to gel and explode in one season, with Howard's free agency hanging over ownership’s head.
Paul Pierce is in the final year of his contract; Kevin Garnett has two years left. Given their age, assume the Nets get two effective seasons out of both with a Pierce re-signing.
In the second year, though, Pierce will be 37 and Garnett 39 come NBA Finals 2014-15.
This really makes it seem like it’s 2013-14 or bust. That is additional pressure on a significantly revamped roster headed by a first-year coach. Win it all in their first season together.
These Nets are not last year’s Lakers, and their players’ individual makeups give a greater chance this team will gel quicker. The starting five are more team-oriented than ego-driven.
Still, this is a team that doesn’t even know what it exactly has yet, regardless of each player’s relative humility. Yes, this new team can be good fast, but a champion that fast? Good question.
Brooklyn Nets Are Slow
Speed kills. In the Brooklyn Nets' case, it will be their opponent's speed that has the potential to bury the season. Run on the Nets and win.
Brook Lopez is a sluggish, lumbering giant. Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and most of the Nets’ bench are never mentioned in the same sentence as “fast,” unless as contrary examples.
Deron Williams is the only experienced Net who can truly charge the court. He’s been dealing with ankle problems for years, and who will catch up with him anyway?
Jason Kidd has to slow games to a grind and mold his team into half-court players or Brooklyn will not be in serious contention for a championship.
The work has already begun. According to ESPN’s Ohm Youngmisuk, “in the third day of camp, Kidd and assistant [Lawrence] Frank had the team going through half-court defensive drills. Some players looked fatigued.”
This is another adjustment (along with Williams’ push for assists at the 1) that will take some time to grab hold. That’s not to say things can’t be in place by the postseason, but creating a half-court identity is an obstacle the Nets will need to overcome in the regular season.
Now, about that fatigue.
Age and Injury
The Brooklyn Nets are old. Like the New York Knicks in 2012-13, who couldn’t get past the energetic and exuberant Indiana Pacers in Round 2, the Nets are now “the league’s oldest starting lineup,” informs Jordan Schultz of the Huffington Post.
The NBA is filled with teams built on young talent. LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard aren’t even 30 yet. The Pacers, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Clippers are all founded on young superstars.
Even the Knicks are younger, and where it counts (Anthony, J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert).
Brooklyn’s two guaranteed Hall of Famers—Pierce and Garnett—are a few years from the other side of 35. Joe Johnson is an old 32. Brook Lopez (25) is the only major player under the age of 29, unless you include Andray Blatche (27).
The Nets also have a cornucopia of nagging injuries, any one of which can wind up blowing up in their faces.
Sports Illustrated’s Rob Mahoney puts it succinctly, saying, “As devastating as a freak injury can be to a team’s prospects in a single season, it’s the chronic ailments that ruin careers and derail contenders…”
We’ve already covered Deron Williams’ ankles.
How about Brook Lopez’s foot starting up again? Mahoney continues, “…The Nets can only hope they aren’t dealing with just that in the latest complication with the right foot of center Brook Lopez.”
Lopez had his right foot (which kept him out of 2011-12) operated on for a third time after last season.
Joe Johnson also has foot issues—he was “bothered by plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the second half of the regular season and the playoffs,” per ESPN’s Mike Mazzeo.
Garnett missed 14 games in 2012-13 and has been at least 10 games short each of the past six seasons.
That’s four of five starters with injury risks, any one of which could torpedo a shot at the title.