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After a long, tortuous summer filled with sunny days and absolutely no NBA news of any importance, the 2013-14 season is set to kick off. This means the leaves will change, the cheeks will redden, and 400-some NBA players will ready those aching knees to play for the right to work all the way to June.
The minds at Ball Don’t Lie – Kelly Dwyer, Dan Devine, and Eric Freeman – have your teams covered. All 30 of ‘em, as we countdown to tipoff.
Kelly Dwyer’s Palatable Exercise
You move a team to New York, and immediately you become strange. Apparently it’s NBA law. Actually, by the looks of recent Jets, Giants, Mets and Yankee seasons, this appears to be par for the sporting course.
The Brooklyn Nets slogged through a strange, up and down 2012-13 campaign that saw the franchise go through two different head coaches before losing to a Chicago Bulls team led by a 5-9 backup that was almost immediately let go in the offseason, all while chasing down the starting point guard of their intercity rival New York Knicks. Chasing him down in an attempt to hire him to coach the team rather than play for the team, mind you. Despite never having coached a game before as either a head man or assistant. Even though he’ll start the season under NBA suspension.
Luckily, in the middle of all that was the agreed-upon trade that would eventually send Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry Brooklyn’s way. In dealing for those former champions, accountability should finally find a home in Brooklyn, good news for a fan base that watched last year as its home team lost in a Game 7 to a Chicago Bulls squad that had no business even being in a Game 7, much less winning one.
Because owner Mikhail Prokhorov’s many business pursuits have paid off so well for him, the boss of this whole operation hasn’t blinked in the slightest at procuring a playing and coaching payroll that will flirt with the $200 million mark once luxury tax penalties are settled. In Kidd, the Nets owner is hoping to find a modern spark of a coach that can alternately relate to and admonish his well-heeled players in ways that former coaches Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo could not. And in Garnett and Pierce, the owner is hoping to find a stern, no-bollocks voice that will keep both the fellow stars and role playing helpers in check when things go pear-shaped.
Or, he just went after the biggest names he could find. With Prokhorov (and, by extension, general manager Billy King), you never know.
Whatever the impetus, this is a much improved team. Even if Garnett only tops out at around 30 minutes per game, his defensive presence will be a huge boon to the Nets if his most recent career arc is anything to rely on. On top of that, opposing teams will actually have to guard both Garnett and Pierce at their respective forward spots, something you couldn’t say about Reggie Evans (retained at Garnett’s behest) and Gerald Wallace (dealt to Boston) last season.
Though lead guard Deron Williams is being held out for most of the preseason with an ankle sprain, he proved late last season that when healthy he should be considered one of the top point guards in the game. His issue is acting as the lead dog, and not just the lead guard, and it truly falls on him that he wasn’t able to lead his Nets to a Game 7 win at home over a Chicago Bulls team playing without two starters (three, if you count Derrick Rose’s absence) while relying on the diminutive Nate Robinson and injured Joakim Noah to drag things out.
Garnett is the new lead dog, here. KG doesn’t pat butts, he slaps heads, and his presence alone could be enough to keep Brooklyn focused when things have the potential to go awry. That’s the hope, anyway.
The worry, as it has been in Boston since Garnett first pulled up lame back in February of 2009, is if this Nets team has the wheels to make it through the 82-game slog of a regular season, and the two months’ worth of winning that it takes to pull in a championship. Other mitigating factors abound – Brook Lopez’s rebounding issues could hurt if Garnett roams defensively, Joe Johnson turned in his least effective season in years last season despite a clutch touch late in games, and Pierce will need plenty of time to adjust as he begins to play with Joe. Because while Pierce excelled while working alongside the similarly high-usage talents of Ray Allen, that sharpshooter was an entirely different player than Johnson, whose style somewhat apes that of Pierce’s.
Then there’s the idea of Jason Kidd, rookie head coach. Yes, lead assistant Lawrence Frank is capable, but Kidd not only has Xs and Os to concern himself with, but an impressive batch of depth (with Andray Blatche in shape and somewhat in gear, Evans still around, Shawn Livingston ready to back Williams up, and Andrei Kirilenko looking to contribute) to work in. These things tend to cause as many headaches as they do happy faces.
Oh, and by the way – the Nets’ window is RIGHT NOW.
It’s a fascinating collection. Yes, the team will improve defensively in 2013-14, and it does have enough to knock off the Miami Heat. The getting there, though, that’s what intrigues. For once, with a Nets team, it’s going to be fun and interesting to watch. I guess there are some intangibles money can buy.
Projected record: 53-29
Tune In, Turn Up with Dan Devine
While only a handful of NBA teams each season harbor serious hope of hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy come late June, all 30 come equipped with at least one reason to keep your television set locked on their games. Dan Devine shares his suggested reasons for the season ahead.
Tune into the Nets for … TV’s most interesting post-“Breaking Bad” serial chemistry experiment.
To some extent, you’d be forgiven if you just wanted to get your 2K on and sim the Nets’ season, penciling them in for, say, 51 or 52 wins and a top-four seed. It’d be fun to dispense with the pleasantries and dig into the postseason, where we’ll be able to see whether Mikhail Prokhorov and Billy King’s collection of dear and decorated veterans actually does match up better with the conference’s elite than last year’s model, which by season’s end wound up resembling a shiny and stylish sports car with nothing under the hood ... or, at least, not as much as a Bulls team working with a second-hand engine and running on fumes.
But the NBA season is less a quarter-mile drag race than a cross-country long haul, and watching it – among the ranks of the committed die-hards, anyway – is much more about the journey than the destination. The Nets’ journey should be fascinating.
Some observers have spoken of the post-mega-trade-and-bargain Nets as this season’s version of last year’s Los Angeles Lakers, an on-paper powerhouse bursting with All-Star talent and all but assured of steamrolling to the finals … if not for pesky little things like age, health and coaching. While I’d note that few are picking the Nets to make the sort of breezy waltz to a title that many expected of the Lakers – if anything, it’s seemed much more popular to contend that the Nets are paying $186 million this year for another No. 4 or 5 seed – it’s possible that the same sorts of issues could jump up and bite them. Their three prize offseason acquisitions all fall well on the wrong side of 30. Their top two minutes-loggers last season each struggled with foot and ankle injuries, with one already cropping back up this preseason. And their new head coach has, as you might have heard, never coached before.
You can see the cause for comparison, even if the personalities at play don’t seem likely to get anywhere near as volatile as last season’s seemingly ceaseless locker-room battle in L.A. That said, though, the more interesting elements of the Nets’ journey figure to take place on the court.
Yes, Kevin Garnett is still a monstrous defensive game-changer, even at age 37, and sure, Jason Kidd and assistant Lawrence Frank aim to revamp the way the Nets play defense -- especially on pick-and-rolls, where they were one of the league’s worst teams on plays finished by roll men diving to the rim, according to Synergy Sports Technology’s game-charting data. But can the coaching staff drill the system shift deep enough into the rest of their charges’ heads to avoid the sort of catastrophic fall-off the Celtics saw when Garnett sat last season? (Being able to bring Kirilenko off the bench could help there … provided he can stay on the court after missing at least 15 games in each of his last four NBA season.)
In his first season of not being the primary facilitator and scoring option in quite a while, Joe Johnson often seemed like a shell of his former self. How much of that was due to his fight with plantar fasciitis and how much of it was the result of the differentiation in his role? More than that: How will adding a similarly styled ball-dominating wing in Paul Pierce impact the change?
Finding the right division of playmaking labor in the Johnson-Pierce pairing. Finding the right rhythm on both ends in the Garnett-Brook Lopez frontcourt duo. Optimizing the revamped bench unit, which looks heavily dependent on a career-year repeat from Andray Blatche and a major-league bounce-back from Jason Terry. Juggling the old guys’ minutes enough to keep everybody fresh for the games that matter most. Getting $99 million man Deron Williams to keep everybody fed while mirroring his post-All-Star run and staying far away from his pre-All-Star form. And, perhaps most important of all, taking all these seemingly complimentary and overlapping talents and hitting on the right combinations of them to make Brooklyn’s on-court output more than just the sum of its name-brand parts.
These are all problems – many teams would argue high-end first-world problems, to be fair, but problems nonetheless – that will need to be solved. For all the apparent answers Brooklyn’s found since going out in Round 1 this past spring, there are still plenty of questions on the roster and an awful lot of disparate elements at play. Seeing whether those elements combine or combust on any given night ought to be much more fun than just deciding to sim the rest of the season.
Honorable mentions: The prospect of continued Blatche-Reggie Evans pregame subterfuge, seeing whether Williams’ three-push-ups-for-every-made-3-pointer routine continues, and the chance to see longtime favorite Shaun Livingston return to the playoffs for the first time in eight years.
Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion
NBA analysis typically thrives on certainty, a sense that a trained expert sees the truth and points fans towards the key issues and most likely outcomes. Yet, as any seasoned observer of the league knows, events often unfold in unforeseen ways, with players performing against predictions or outside of the realm of presumed possibility altogether. In fact, it may sometimes make sense to dispense with the pretense of predictive genius and instead point towards those issues that as yet provide no simple answer. In Eric Freeman’s Land of Confusion, we investigate one player per team whose future remains vague.
The Brooklyn Nets’ roster is, if nothing else, full of very famous basketball players. Within that high-profile group, though, it’s clear which player serves as the franchise’s ostensible primary star. Deron Williams was Mikhail Prokhorov’s first major acquisition as owner, once was discussed as arguably the best point guard in the NBA, and still has the greatest potential of any of the Nets’ big-name talents. If the Nets are to follow through on their hopes of a championship, then Williams will have to play at the level of a superstar.
Unfortunately, he hasn’t necessarily done so for much of the past few seasons. In part, that’s due to injuries and substandard supporting cast. However, Williams also just hasn’t been especially great when’s needed to be — in last spring’s severely disappointing first-round defeat to the shorthanded Chicago Bulls, Williams struggled to take over games when the Nets were in desperate need of transcendence. Accurately or not, that performance produced speculation that his best days are behind him, or at least justified the sense that he’s no longer on the same level as Chris Paul and Derrick Rose in the league’s point guard hierarchy. With so many big-name players now on the roster, it would seem as if Williams has run out of excuses.
Of course, it’s always within the realm of possibility that Brooklyn’s several aging stars will miss time with injury or see their talent diminish. But it’s worth wondering at what point this transitional period in Williams’ career becomes his new standard. At some point, a guiding light has to shine the way for all.
Read all of Ball Don't Lie's 2013-14 NBA Season Previews:
Atlanta Hawks • Boston Celtics • Brooklyn Nets • Charlotte Bobcats • Chicago Bulls • Cleveland Cavaliers • Detroit Pistons • Indiana Pacers • Miami Heat • Milwaukee Bucks • New York Knicks • Orlando Magic • Philadelphia 76ers • Toronto Raptors