After Billy King traded for a pair of NBA legends and owner Mikhail Prokhorov set an NBA luxury-tax record, the Nets appeared to be nothing short of a contender with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez as the cornerstones of the franchise.
But relentless health issues and an inexperienced coach have doomed Brooklyn in the first quarter of the season.
While it’s been a frustrating ride thus far, all hope is not lost for the Nets.
It’s going to take a collective effort to get back on track, but in the end, Brooklyn’s fate will lie in the hands of its biggest star.
Relief ammunition from AK47 and the Jet
AK47 signed with Brooklyn for the mini mid-level exception this summer and left $7 million on the table elsewhere. He clearly wanted to be a part of the Nets, but a bad back has kept him from pulling Brooklyn out of the mud.
Kirilenko hasn’t been the only key bench player to be sidelined with injury. Jason Terry, an overlooked part of the deal that brought Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the Nets, last checked in on November 20.
A bruised knee has kept the veteran energizer from giving Brooklyn's backcourt scoring off the bench, but Newsday's Rod Boone expects both Terry and Kirilenko to return soon. On November 29, Boone tweeted that the duo would be out "at least another week," though neither had returned as of December 11.
According to Hoops Stats, the Nets are getting 36.3 points a night from their reserve unit, and that number is sure to climb once Kirilenko and Terry rejoin the seventh-best bench in the NBA.
Iso Joe needs to earn his money
Joe Johnson has been the only starter to play every game in 2013-14, but the Nets have been reluctant to run their offense through the 12-year veteran.
Through the first quarter of the season, Johnson has put up over 15 points, three rebounds and over two assists a game. But even with a constantly changing lineup, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Brooklyn’s highest-paid player is used in isolation under 18 percent of the time that he has the ball.
'Offensively, we don't really have an identity,' Johnson said after the Nets were thumped, 113-83, by the Knicks on December 5. 'We throw it down to Brook [Lopez] pretty much when there's nothing, and we put him in a lot of tough positions, man. We just basically sit and watch, so we make his job a lot harder than what it should be, without us doing a lot of moving and cutting. We make everybody's job harder.'
Translation: give Johnson the ball and get out of his way.
He’s shooting close to 43 percent from the field this year, and will continue to play a key role in the offense until the Nets return to full health.
Brooklyn’s last hope
Lopez, Pierce, Garnett, Kirilenko, Terry and Johnson are all going to have to step up in order to keep the team afloat in 2014.
But Deron Williams is the only one who can truly salvage Brooklyn’s season.
D-Will’s left ankle has kept him on the sidelines for 11 games in 2013-14. The star guard checked in November 20 after missing two consecutive contests, but re-aggravated a previous injury to that same ankle.
Over the course of his first eight seasons in the NBA, Williams put up over 17 points and nine assists a night. This season, however, he has been able to reach double-digit scoring in just four games prior to returning to the lineup on December 10.
Williams played like a star in his first game back after missing nine straight. He tagged the Boston Celtics, a team that had pounded the New York Knicks, 114-73, two days earlier, for 25 points and seven assists in a 104-96 victory, Brooklyn's seventh of the season.
Kidd had been using Tyshawn Taylor and Shaun Livingston at the point with D-Will injured, and while those guys are serviceable, they aren’t fit to run an offense with an All-Star at every position.
Now that he's healthy, Williams is going to be handed the ball and asked to transform the Nets from the laughingstock that they’ve been into the contender that they were supposed to be.
While that’s a tall order, for sure, D-Will has more than enough talent to do it.
But if his ankle continues to keep him off the floor, or considerably diminishes his effectiveness as the season unwinds, the Nets are done.
Stats are accurate as of December 11, via Basketball-Reference.com.