The New Jersey Nets just finished their worst season ever and just barely won enough games to avoid the worst record in NBA history. So, the idea of the Nets making the playoffs might seem absurd, but the reality is that last year's Nets team bears no resemblance to this year's team. So, here is why the Nets can have a great turnaround and get the 8th seed in the 2010-11 season.
10. The Nets play in the Eastern Conference
To make the playoffs in the West, a team needs to win at least 50 games. The East is a different story. A mere 41 wins made the playoffs last year and there is no reason to think otherwise this year. It would not be surprising if the 8th seed had a losing record as the East is top heavy in general.
The bar to make the playoffs in the East is low.
9. The Miami Trio Devastated Two Teams in Free Agency
Last year, the Cleveland Cavaliers had the best record in the East. When LeBron James went to the Miami Heat, he left behind a team without a leader and a lead scorer. Shaquille O'Neal left for Boston and Zydrunas Ilgauskas left for Miami. Cleveland went from a 60+ win team to a team that will be lucky to win 30 games, and might even vie for the worst in the conference.
8. The Charlotte Bobcats Gave Away Their Best Center
In the off-season, the Bobcats traded away Tyson Chandler and did not replace him. The Bobcats now have Nazr Mohammed starting at center. Nazr is a solid NBA backup who struggles when starting. What compounds their size problem is that their starting power forward is Boris Diaw. While Diaw is a good player, he lacks size and he is not very physical.
This leaves the Bobcats with only two reliable starters in Stephen Jackson and Gerald Wallace. They also lost their starting point guard, Raymond Felton, to the Knicks. Doughnut teams without great point guard play rarely make the playoffs. It is asking too much to expect the Bobcats to win more than 35 games with this roster.
So, the Nets have seen three competitors for the 8th seed drop back significantly.
7. The Nets Drafted Derrick Favors
While many Nets fans were disappointed that the Nets did not get a chance to draft John Wall, it is this writer's opinion that the Nets drafted the more important player in the long term.
Favors was considered by many to be the best player coming out of high school last, even better than Wall. The main difference between the two was that Wall went to a loaded Kentucky team while Favors went to a Georgia Tech team that had no guards capable of a quality entry pass into the post.
Favors is long and strong with excellent footwork. He needs to improve his jump shot and learn defensive positioning, but there is little doubt that he has all-star level talent. Plus, Favors is only 19. He should continue to get better for the next five years.
So, why will he help the Nets make the playoffs? He replaces Kris Humphries in the power rotation. Humphries is a hard worker, but lacks NBA skills outside of rebounding. Favors already looks to be a better rebounder and finisher.
Quality size wins games in the NBA. Favors gives the Nets quality size at the power forward position.
6. The Nets Traded for Troy Murphy
Troy Murphy is a great fit for the Nets. Murphy is a great jump shooter for a power forward with 3 point range. He is also one of the best positional rebounders in the NBA. He routinely averages over 10 rebounds per game.
Murphy, a New Jersey native, is also on the last year of his contract. He knows that he will have to play hard if he wants another big contract. So, the Nets are likely to get the best player that Murphy can be.
More importantly, Murphy does not need the ball in the low post to be effective on offense. So, he should be a good fit next to Brook Lopez. Lopez can be the focal point of the offense while Murphy makes it harder for opponents to double Lopez because Murphy can hit the three pointer.
Murphy replaces Yi Jianlian as the starting PF. Yi was probably the worst PF in the NBA. While Murphy is not an all-star, he is an above average PF. This change alone is probably worth 10 more wins alone.
With Murphy and Lopez starting and Favors off the bench, the Nets will have one of the top 4 power rotations in the East. Quality size wins games in the NBA.
5. New Ownership
The Nets have had lousy owners for decades. With the brief exception of when the Nets were partnered with the Yankees, the Nets have rarely had owners who were willing to spend money to improve. Mikhail Prokhorov is one of the richest men in the world and a former basketball player. He knows the game and wants to win.
For the first time, the Nets have an owner interested in creating a winning team first. Good ownership means a lot. One only needs to look at the Knicks to see what having a bad owner can do to a franchise.
4. Brook Lopez Is Getting Better
Unlike most teams in the NBA, the Nets have a legitimate seven foot center who plays both ends of the floor. In the East, only Dwight Howard is a given as a better player. Andrew Bogut is coming off a serious injury and Joakim Noah is limited offensively.
Lopez has a quality and improving low post game and a good jump shot. He is a solid rebounder and shot blocker. He is a complete player who should improve with better players around him.
With the improved talent around him, Lopez should see fewer double teams and his offensive efficiency should improve, leading to more wins.
3. The Nets Acquired Some Jump Shooters
The Nets were the worst shooting team in the NBA last year, which goes a long way to explaining why they won only 12 games.
However, the Nets acquired three players can knock down open shots in the off-season: Troy Murphy, Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow.
Morrow might have the purest jump shot in the entire NBA and Outlaw is a very good scorer who shot 38% from 3 point range last year and 36% for his career. Plus, Outlaw is a natural small forward, which was absent from the team last year.
When Murphy, Outlaw and Morrow are on the floor with Lopez and Harris, the Nets will have the players capable of spreading the floor for Lopez in the paint and Harris' drive and dish game.
2. Devin Harris is Healthy
Last year the Nets lost their first 18 games in large part because Devin Harris was hurt. When healthy, Harris is an all-star caliber player. The Nets did not have a backup who could replace his production Once the losing started, it became difficult to stop.
Harris is healthy now and has weapons to pass the ball to. With Lopez, the new acquisitions and an improving Terrence Williams, the Nets have legitimate NBA talent in their rotation. Harris is the key. He makes the offense work.
He is one of the quicker players in the NBA as well. As such, he is a plus on the ball defender when healthy as well. If he stays healthy, the Nets will win a lot of games.
1. The Nets Hired a Real Coach: Avery Johnson
When the Nets fired Lawrence Frank, they lost direction and became very sloppy on defense. That will not happen under Avery Johnson.
Johnson has the highest winning percentage among active coaches and has taken a team to the NBA Finals. He has a track record of getting teams to play tough defense without sacrificing offense.
He is known to be tough on his players, but he gets results. Johnson is exactly what the Nets need right now. With a lot of young talent, a strong coach who can develop them into winning players is necessary and Johnson can deliver that type of coaching.
To make the playoffs, the Nets need at least one and preferably two playoff teams to falter. With LeBron leaving Cleveland and the Bobcats losing Chandler and Felton, there should be two openings for the playoffs. So, with an improved defense due to quality coaching and a better offense due to better players, I foresee the Nets winning 42 games and getting the 8th seed in the East.