Oh, how times have changed.
In 2013-14, the Nets put forth the most expensive roster in NBA history. It may go down as one of the most disappointing.
Brooklyn rebounded from a dreadful start and managed to finish sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 44-38 record last year. After barely getting past the Toronto Raptors, the Nets got emphatically bounced by James’ Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs.
Brooklyn has had a bizarre offseason to say the least. With a new coach, a few big losses and some interesting additions to the roster in place, the Nets are a much different team than they were heading into last season.
Will the new-look Nets finish better, worse or the same as last year?
New coach and roster
Jason Kidd weaseled his way out of Brooklyn after a demand for more power in the franchise was shot down, as reported by Tim Bontemps of the New York Post. Kidd will command the sidelines of the Milwaukee Bucks in 2014-15.
Brooklyn managed to get a second-round pick in return for Kidd’s departure. Even better, the team wasted no time in bringing in veteran coach Lionel Hollins.
Brooklyn’s core is still on the older side, and Hollins, with seven years of service and three playoff runs under his belt, will presumably provide a stronger voice than Kidd could with no prior coaching experience.
Most importantly, Hollins will be in command of a healthy one-two punch with D-Will and Brook Lopez.
Deron is healthy, Brook is healthy and they are both able to work out.
So conditioning is something they both will be able to work on as they move forward, and when you are in shape you can go out, and try things, and do things because naturally if you are successful, your confidence rises. That's the only way I look at it and that's my approach.
Mason Plumlee will also play a key role in Brooklyn after a breakout rookie campaign. As told to Boone, Hollins is very high on the 24-year-old big man, who was vying for a spot on Team USA at the time of the comments:
It’s a great opportunity. I was in Vegas with Mason. I was going to the practices. I talked to Coach K and Jerry Colangelo. Everybody is high on him. He’s a young player that has a big future in him. We’re expecting big things from him and so this experience of playing with some of the best players in the league and in this setting, and have the opportunity to be in a formal environment in the summer.
Joe Johnson, the Nets’ top scorer, remains intact as the foundation of the team's offensive attack. Add Iso Joe to a healthy duo of Williams and Lopez, and Hollins will have a lot to work with this season.
Competition in the division, conference
Even though Toronto made a completely mind-boggling move in drafting Bruno Caboclo 20th overall, DeMar DeRozan, Terrence Ross, Jonas Valanciunas and Lowry will be enough to make the Raptors the favorites in the Atlantic.
General manager Masai Ujiri made up for that ridiculous draft pick by trading John Salmons to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for an electrifying guard in Lou Williams and a high-upside center in Lucas Nogueira, who spent last season in Spain.
Forget about the Philadelphia 76ers; 10 years and a million draft picks from now, watch out. But the Sixers will be a walking embarrassment yet again this season.
That leaves the task of upending Toronto to Brooklyn and the New York Knicks. The Nets and Knicks do boast more big-name players, but the Raptors are younger, more athletic and just flat-out better.
While the wise bet would be on the Raptors to win the division, that doesn’t mean that the Nets have no chance to make the postseason.
John Wall and Bradley Beal’s Washington Wizards will be in the mix. Don’t sleep on Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh’s Miami Heat, either. And the Charlotte Hornets? The horrendous days of the Bobcats are over, my friends.
As a Nets fan, you’re probably going down the line of Eastern Conference teams and getting nervous. As well you should be.
If Williams’ game returns to the level it was at in his Utah Jazz days, the Nets could get a decent seed and even take the division. But don’t count on that.
Brooklyn’s best chance to make some noise in the postseason would be to slip into the seventh or eighth seed and hope for a David-versus-Goliath series victory.
Maybe an injury, trade or some other roster change will occur and shake up the East.
But as of right now, Brooklyn is looking up at a tough climb. A doable climb, yes, but an an arduous one for sure.
Looking ahead to the finish line
Brooklyn began last season with an abysmal 10-21 stretch and still managed to finish 44-38. With less offseason hype and a veteran, hard-nosed coach, the Nets would figure to get off to a stronger start in 2014-15.
While there are some serious contenders—the Cavs, Bulls, Wizards, Raptors—there are still a lot of bottom feeders in the East to beat up on. The Bucks, Sixers, Orlando Magic and even the Indiana Pacers will serve as punching bags.
The Nets can hold their own among the elite in the regular season. Just ask the 2013-14 Heat, a team that fell to Brooklyn in all four of their contests. Winning a series is where the problem will present itself.
Don’t fall asleep on the Nets this year. While winning the division is daunting task, this is still a team with a strong core and a proven head coach.
Last season was a tale of two halves for Brooklyn—the team was terrible at first and then awesome after New Year’s.
There will be more consistency this season, but the end result will probably wind up looking very similar to what it was a year ago.
Division: 2nd place
Conference: 7th place