Oct 22, 2010

2010-11 New Jersey Nets Preview

 This is an NBA Preview I wrote for my fill time employer SportsNetwork.com... As many of you know I have recently accepted a full time writing and editorial position and will be covering the league on a full time basis this season.

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(Sports Network) - To say that the 2009-10 season was a disappointment for the New Jersey Nets would be an understatement.
It was known that the Nets were looking to rebuild in 2009 but not many on the team, nor in the organization, expected that rebuilding would come with the worst record in the NBA (12-70). The Nets spent most of the season trying to avoid history and finally achieved it on March, 29th as they beat the San Antonio Spurs for their 10th win of the season, avoiding the 1972-73 Sixers (9-73) for the moniker of worst season ever.

Despite a season of lost opportunities the Nets had many things to look forward to coming into this past offseason.
"If things go as planned we hope to bring a championship team in a minimum of one year and a maximum of five years," stated new majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov in his opening press conference.

Those words from the new owner started the beginning of what would be one of the biggest summers in the team's 34-year NBA history, or so they thought.

The long changeover to the Russian billionaire Prokhorov from former owner Bruce Ratner was finally approved by the NBA league office. The team left its longtime home of the IZOD center for its new temporary facility at the Newark, New Jersey Prudential Center, until the new Barclays Arena is erected in Brooklyn, and the team was looking for the stars to align with the NBA Draft Lottery in the much anticipated "Summer of LeBron" free agency extravaganza.

"I'm pretty sure I can convince the very best-of-the-best that the Nets is the place they want to be," reiterated Prokhorov when he discussed the free agent summer with the media.

Despite Prokhorov's plans for a summer to remember, many of his and minority team owner Jay-Z's, plans for the revival of the Nets fell way below expectations.

Coming into the draft lottery the Nets had the highest probability of receiving the first overall selection (.250), where they were almost guaranteed to take Kentucky guard John Wall. As they lottery balls were pulled the Nets fell into one of the least favorable position they could achieve ending the draft lottery with the third overall selection, behind the Washington Wizards and Philadelphia 76ers.

Despite their disappointment in the draft lottery the Nets were hoping to retool when it came to the big name free agents. The ownership group even went as far as to have a 225 foot mural of Prokhorov and Jay-Z erected across the street from Madison Square Garden, in an attempt to show their commitment to fielding a major market team.

The courting of LeBron James came and went and as the major free agents signed throughout the league the Nets settled for a platoon of role players and mid- level talent, a far cry from their expectations of a legitimate franchise.

On top of the moves the team made was not on the court but in the front office and on the sidelines as they singed former Mavericks player and coach Avery Johnson as the franchises 20th manager and hired former Sixers executive Billy King as the team's new general manager, after former president Rod Thorn stepped down in late June.

"The future of the team is bright and I am excited to be a part of that future." stated Johnson. "We want to play tough, hard-nosed defense and we are going to move the ball on offense. It's all going to begin with training camp where we will start building a foundation for the future."

With a new batch of talent, some with substantial playoff experience, the Nets are looking to make the steps forward into improving their franchise that they hoped would have begun last season.

2009-10 Results:12-70, fifth in Atlantic. Missed playoffs.

ADDITIONS: G Jordan Farmar, F/G Anthony Morrow, F Travis Outlaw, C Johan Petro, F/G Quinton Ross, F Derrick Favors, F Damion James, G Ben Uzoh, C Brian Zoubek, F Troy Murphy, F Stephen Graham, F/C Joe Smith

LOST: C Tony Battie, G Keyon Dooling, F/G Chris Douglas-Roberts, F/C Yi Jianlian. G Courtney Lee.

PG- Devin Harris SG- Anthony Morrow SF- Travis Outlaw PF- Troy Murphy / Derrick Favors C- Brook Lopez

KEY RESERVES: G Jordan Farmar, G/F Terrence Williams, F/G Quinton Ross, F Derrick Favors, C Johan Petro

FRONTCOURT: Brook Lopez has become one of the best young talents when it comes to NBA centers. His 18.8 points a game and close to nine rebounds a night were team highs, and with the new talent the Nets will surround him with, Lopez can expect those numbers to increase.

The Nets were given a gift with the trade for PF Troy Murphy in the offseason, not only does the 6-foot-11 Murphy bring a double-double average to the Nets roster (14.6 points, 10.2 reb) but the Morristown, New Jersey native is excited to become a piece of the Nets rebuilding process.

"It's really a dream come true for me," stated Murphy. "It's the team that I followed growing up. I never thought this was possible."

On top of the duo of Lopez and Murphy in the low post the Nets will also have the luxury of bringing rookie Derrick Favors into the fold at their own pace. The former Georgia Tech standout averaged over 12 points and eight rebounds a game in his only season in college and is projected as raw talent that could develop into one of the 2010 drafts best players.

"Coach [Avery] Johnson told me they'd give me time to develop. I don't know what my minutes will be, I just want to work hard in practice and prove to the coaches they can put their trust in me," stated Favors after his first team workout.

Favors may have the opportunity to gain NBA experience earlier then expected as it was announced that Murphy would be indefinitely sidelined with a lower back strain and inflammation, and could possibly keep him out of the teams opening night matchup against the Detroit Pistons on Oct. 27th. Once the announcement on Murphy's back was made the team quickly started Favors in their preseason games as the team's top power forward.

Time will tell if Favors can hold onto the starting spot but if he can adapt to the pro game quickly the Nets can use the power forward competition as a focal point towards their rebuilding effort.

With their biggest free agent singing of the summer the Nets made a move for small forward Travis Outlaw and agreed to a five-year, $35 million dollar deal with the seven-year pro.

"He is a young, athletic player who will fit in very well with the style of play that Avery [Johnson] has installed." Thorn said before leaving the organization.

Before coming to the Nets, Outlaw spent the first six years of his career with the Portland Trail Blazers and had his best years as a pro from 2006-2008, when he averaged 12.7 points a game and consistently shot over .450 from the field.

Outlaw went to the LA Clippers midway through the 2009-10 season in a deal that sent veteran Marcus Camby to the Blazers. In his 23 games as a member of the Clippers he averaged a consistent 9.9 points and 3.5 rebounds in just over 21 minutes a game.

BACKCOURT: Devin Harris was one of the team's best weapons on offense last season. For a team that only averaged 92 points a game the fact that Harris could consistently average close to 17 a game is a huge factor, especially considering he sprained both ankles and strained his groin limiting him to only 64 games last year.

If Harris can stay healthy, he hasn't played in 70 plus games since 2007, the Nets offense will get a definite boost. He has great ability with the ball and his quickness will help spread the court for other players. He still has much to improve on the defensive end but with a new coach like Johnson, a 15-year point guard in the NBA, we can expect that Harris will improve his defensive game.

Last season there was much anticipation for Courtney Lee to fill the shoes left behind by Vince Carter. Now that Lee was sent to the Houston Rockets, in the deal that brought Murphy to Jersey, the reigns of the starting shooting guard position have been given to former Warrior Anthony Morrow.

Morrow was acquired midway through the summer in a sign and trade deal with Golden State. The young four-year guard averaged 13 points a game last season but only started 37 games as he became the primary backup for budding superstar Stephen Curry.

BENCH: The Nets have completely retooled their bench adding a host of new players, four of which have playoff experience. The most intriguing signee is guard Jordan Farmar. Farmar, who shared the backup point guard position with the two-time defending champion LA Lakers with Shannon Brown, has the most pedigree and postseason experience of the new crop of players.

"A new start for me and my career, it is a new challenge for me to play for an organization that is rebuilding," said Farmar. "Avery Johnson has won before and he's going try to get us back to his winning ways -- it's a very exciting situation."

Second-year man swingman Terrence Williams showed his abilities in his nine starts last season and his 8.4 points a game should improve with his minutes.

The Nets also acquired seven year veteran guard Quinton Ross from the Washington Wizards in a trade for underachieving power forward Yi Jianlian. Ross spent the first four years of his career with the LA Clippers where he averaged five points a game as a primary reserve and mid-game substitution. The move was made pre-free agency as the Nets were drastically attempting to shed salary cap room in their run at James. The move was also fueled by the fact that with the drafting of Favors the need for a mid-level power forward like Yi was unnecessary.

Acquiring a quality backup for Lopez was also a need the Nets put as a top priority in the offseason as they singed five-year center Johan Petro to a three-year $10 million deal. The 24-year-old Frenchman spent last season with Denver Nuggets averaging 3.4 points and 3.6 rebounds a game, including 11 starts. The size and scope of Petro's contract seems steep for the Nets to spend on a player that only averages 3.4 points a game but with the lack of free agent centers, and the fact that when he did see playing time in Denver and contributed on a consistent basis sold the club.

COACHING: After the Nets dispatched Laurence Frank, when he lead the team to an 0-16 mark to begin last season, the team spent the rest of the year with interim coach Kiki Vandeweghe. Vandeweghe came down from the team's front office and did he best to hold the team together until the end of the season but it was public knowledge that Vandeweghe has no interest in coaching the Nets long term.

With the new hire of Johnson the Nets are looking to take their team into a new direction, and with Johnson's pedigree, they hope to be a wining one. Johnson is one of the most highly respected names in the NBA and beyond his 15 years of playing experience he will become increasingly influential to a team that needs help of the defensive end.

STEVE SCHWARZ'S FANTASY FOCUS: Despite the league's worst record, the Nets had two solid fantasy contributors in 2009 - Lopez (ADP 15) and Harris (ADP 62). If Harris can return to his previous form (21.3 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 6.9 apg, 1.7 spg in 2008) he would be a steal in the fifth round. They added Murphy in the off- season and he's a consistent double-double guy...at least until rookie PF Favors is ready to perform at the next level.

OUTLOOK: The Nets are far from their lofty expectations of a playoff run in 2010 but with a new crop of young talent and a new head coach a drastic step forward is a definite possibility. Prokhorov's quotes of bringing a championship to the Nets as a one year plan may seem absurd, but crazier things have happened.

By Bradley Chandler, Contributing NBA Editor

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