New owner Mikhail Prokhorov promised fans a playoff berth in the 2010-11 season.
Aside from scoring points, rebounding is arguably the most important aspect of basketball. The teams that win, in general, are those that can consistently and effectively crash the boards.
The New Jersey Nets' 2010-11 season will be defined by their ability to rebound from an almost historically bad campaign, when they finished with a record of 12-70.
New Jersey underwent some pretty drastic changes this offseason. They have a new owner, a new general manager and a new coach. The team will also be playing in a new arena, the Prudential Center, before they move to Brooklyn in two years.
Mikhail Prokhorov, the man now paying the bills, promised fans a playoff berth this season and a championship within the next five. Prokhorov let go of Kiki Vandeweghe as head coach and hired Avery Johnson. After a disagreement with incumbent general manager Rod Thorn, Thorn left the team and Prokhorov hired Billy King.
While King is by name the general manager, Johnson will be the man who decides on personnel.
In his stint as head coach of the Dallas Mavericks, Johnson was very successful, reaching 150 wins faster than any coach in NBA history. In his first full season in Dallas, he took the team to the Finals, eventually losing to the Miami Heat.
Johnson also has a 67-win season under his belt, although his teams became more known for their perceived lack of mental and physical toughness come playoff time, as they lost in the first round two years in a row, including once as the West's top seed, before Johnson was fired.
Whether this was a reflection of the head coach or more a lack of leadership on the court from the players is debatable. Many would lean towards the latter based on how the Mavs have fared since Johnson was canned.
The Little General, as Johnson was known in his playing days, gave a preseason speech to the New Orleans Saints before their championship run a year ago, and Nets fans can only hope that he can instill that sort of passion and intensity in his new team.
New Jersey was one of many teams who spent the past few seasons gutting their team in order to clear cap space for this summer's free agent bonanza. Once LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh were done spinning all our wheels, however, they realized they were left with a ton of money to spend, but no one to spend it on.
The Nets made a push for, and were reportedly on the verge of, a deal for Carmelo Anthony. The deal fell apart though, and it is questionable how serious Denver really was about trading their franchise player.
The team will still have loads to spend next summer as well and, while there won't be as many big name players available this time around, there will be a number of good pieces, Anthony being one of them.
As for the summer of 2010, New Jersey's moves consisted of a promising first round draft pick to go along with some trades and signings.
Despite their abysmal record, the team landed the third overall draft pick, missing out on John Wall and Evan Turner. They settled on Derrick Favors, a power forward out of Georgia Tech, who, while considered raw and possibly an underachiever, has tremendous potential. He seems to be a player who could either have a very short career, or who could make several All-Star games.
In an attempt to allow Favors to develop before throwing him into the fire, New Jersey took part in a four-team trade that landed them Troy Murphy.
Murphy is a solid rebounder, averaging 10 a game last year and 8.6 for his career. The Nets were one of the worst rebounding teams in 2009 and are hoping that Murphy can help them improve in this area.
New Jersey traded up in the draft to get its hands on forward Damion Jones out of Texas. Jones, who is listed at 6'7", averaged 18 points and 10.3 rebounds a game in his senior year while shooting 50.1 percent from the field and 38.3 on threes.
One of the Nets' main problems last year, besides having a bad team, was their inability to knock down open jumpers. New Jersey would consistently find itself in games, only to go on prolonged scoring droughts that would land them in holes too big to climb out of.
They would often go anywhere from seven minutes to an entire quarter looking like a team that had no business being in the NBA. Even when they would properly run their offense and get a man open, they could not hit their shots.
While Jones could help them in this department, their sign-and-trade with Golden State for Anthony Morrow was their biggest attempt to solve that problem.
Morrow is the definition of a pure shooter. In two seasons in the league, he has shot 46 percent from behind the arc while sporting a 47.2 field goal percentage. He's not a guy who has shown the ability to get to the rim or create offense for other players, but if the team can find ways to get him open, he should prevent the stretches of missed shots that plagued the team last season.
The team also signed Travis Outlaw, who has shown some promise in his career, but lost most of last season to injury. They will hope that his ability to create shots will result in a more potent offensive attack.
The remainder of the team's moves consisted of signing guys for depth and dumping some more salary.
They signed Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Joe Smith and Stephen Graham, bought out Keyon Dooling, traded away Yi Jianlian for Quinton Ross and traded away Chris Douglas-Roberts in exchange for a second round draft pick in 2012.
Farmar is easily the most recognizable name among these players and should be a solid back up behind Devin Harris. At the least, he knows what it takes to win a championship having been to the Finals three times with the Lakers and the team will hope that Kobe Bryant's work ethic rubbed off on him and will, in turn, rub off on the Nets' players.
Petro, Smith, Graham and Ross were brought in to be no more than bench players. Douglas-Roberts was dealt so the team would have more money to spend on the free agents they did sign (personally, I was a fan of CD-R and would have liked to see him get more of a shot with the team. There's probably a reason I write about basketball and others get paid to make these moves, though).
As for who will see the most minutes, the starting lineup appears to look like this:
Many thought Terrence Williams would get the starting nod at the two, but in an exhibition game played against Maccabi Haifa of Israel, Morrow was the starter. It seems Johnson would rather use Williams off the bench because of his ability to play multiple positions.
Regardless, Williams should see major minutes. After starting the season in the dog house after some ill-advised tweets, he came on very strong in the last month and a half of the season, averaging 14.2 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game.
Ex-coach Lawrence Frank stated that Williams' best position may be point guard due to his ability to create offense. It would be a mistake by Johnson and the Nets not to have Williams on the floor as much as possible, even if he is coming off the bench. It might not take long for him to play himself into a starting role.
Morrow, Outlaw and Murphy were touched upon earlier, leaving us with Harris and Lopez.
Harris is a great talent, but has had trouble staying healthy. He can penetrate as well as anyone and in the 2008-09 season averaged 21.3 points a game. His production dropped last year, but that could be more an indication as to how bad the team was than of his ability.
He has great chemistry with Lopez, who has been the beneficiary of Harris' voyages into the paint when defenders close down on him. Look for several alley-oops from Harris to Lopez every game.
Harris and Johnson had some disagreements during their time together in Dallas, but Harris lobbied for Johnson to get the gig, indicating some maturity on his part. Perhaps he has realized the benefits of a defensive-minded coach who drives his players hard.
Lopez is probably the most valuable player on the team. He improved greatly last season, upping his points, rebounds and assists. His field goal percentage decreased, but that can be attributed to increased minutes and more shots taken and should improve this year. He also shoots free throws very well for a big man at 81 percent in his two year career.
He appears to be a player who will be a perennial All-Star and New Jersey's success will largely hinge on how he plays. Many believe a 20-10 season is in the works for him. He needs to improve his defense, but is a hard worker who undoubtedly attempted to address his shortcomings this summer.
So are we to believe Prokhorov when he says this team will reach the playoffs?
If they do it will likely be as the eight-seed, but for a young team the value is not necessarily in going deep into the postseason, but in making it and getting the experience, even if it is just one series.
The team could finish with anywhere from 20 wins to a .500 record. More than that would be extremely surprising.
My prediction: The team will be improved from last year (how could they be any worse?), but will fall short of the playoffs. They are in full rebuilding mode and could auction off more pieces come the trade deadline in exchange for draft picks or cap space. The East is also stronger than it has been in recent years.
Of course, if they find a way to get Anthony before it's too late, throw that out the window and put them in the bracket.