The lockout isn’t over yet, free agents haven’t been signed and teams haven’t begun working out. However, I’m still fairly confident I can make the statement “the 2011-12 New Jersey Nets will not win the NBA Championship” and most people would agree.
Sure, they might sign a couple of players in free agency, enabling them to become more competitive in a top-heavy Eastern Conference, but they aren’t real competitors for a title.
Regardless of who they bring in once—if?—the lockout ends and free agency begins, the foundation of the Nets will be Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.
As the horrible contracts given to players like Dan Gadzuric, Travis Outlaw, and Sasha Vujacic begin to expire, the Nets will be able to use that extra money to surround their cornerstones with quality NBA talent.
The future (read: 2012-13 season and beyond) is bright for the Nets. The move to Brooklyn should make them an attractive destination for elite free agents, and their likely poor record in 2011-12 should provide them with a high draft pick.
However, everything begins with Williams and Lopez learning how to play together. Look for head coach Avery Johnson to design plays that put Lopez and Williams on the same side of the floor on as many possessions as possible.
Pick and rolls will be common, and it will become imperative that Lopez works on his 15- to 18-foot jump shot to ensure the open looks he’ll be receiving don’t go wasted.
Similarly, Williams will need to be willing to take the ball to the basket more consistently. If Lopez is knocking down those 15- to 18-foot jump shots, the second defender is likely to begin favoring Lopez and that will allow a lane for Williams to get the basket.
The John Stockton and Karl Malone Utah Jazz teams have provided the blue print for how a dynamic big man and elite passer can play together. Each player has the ability to bring out the best in the other.
Stockton was so effective because Malone was so efficient at scoring, and Malone was so efficient at scoring because Stockton was so effective at giving him the ball in places where it was easier for him to score.
Williams and Lopez will need to develop the same kind of relationship if they hope to put the Nets in a position to be real contenders in 2012-13.