Injuries, confidence, or a lack there of and unhappiness beneath the surface. That’s the story of the 2013-2014 Brooklyn Nets.
The season is behind us (congratulations to the San Antonio Spurs), and free-agency is in full-swing, I can fully reflect on the season that was for the Nets. And it would be silly to start anywhere other than the coaching situation (that pesky unhappiness I mentioned earlier).
Jason Kidd was the face of the then New Jersey Nets until he forced his way out via a trade, or as I call it, “Migraine Gate.” And now, he’s heading up the Milwaukee Bucks, and Lionel Hollins has been tasked with calling the shots from the Brooklyn bench. Kidd wanted more power, but couldn’t find it here, so he headed West to work with the young Bucks. It’s not surprising that Kidd is out, but that doesn’t mean it stings anyless. But time to look to the future, and I never understood how Hollins was let go in Memphis after taking the Grizzlies to the Western Conference Finals in 2012-13. Sure, the ownership wanted to move towards analytics, and that wasn’t Hollins style, but man, he did a great job with t hat roster. I had the pleasure of working with Hollins for 8 months at Sirius XM NBA Radio this past season, and every-time I listened to him, I gained more and more respect. He pulls no punches, even as we all knew he still had interest in coaching again. He was not afraid to speak the truth, and as he mentioned in his introductory press conference, his work with us at Sirius XM, and NBA TV helped him stay up on the league during his year off. Hollins puts a big emphasis toughness and defense, something Brooklyn got slightly better at last the season went on, but need more of.
Point Guards: Deron Williams had surgery on both ankles just days after the Nets were eliminated in five games by the Miami Heat in the second round of the playoffs. So he should be good to go for the start of the season, if he is still a member of the Nets that is. Reports have said both sides aren’t happy, but it remains to be seen if anything comes of those reports. Williams has three years left on his max contract, and has yet to play up to the big numbers. No more Shaun Livingston, who got paid by the Golden State Warriors after resurrecting his career this past season. Jarrett Jack was brought in to help replace Livingston, and the Nets still have Jorge Gutierrez and Marquis Teague as third point-guard options. Jack was a target before this season, but he ended up on the Cavaliers, and was a disappointment. But his veteran savvy with a change of scenery could get him back on track, and he can play along side Williams as Livingston did this season.
Guards: Joe Johnson was far-and-away the MVP of this team. Clutch, healthy and consistent. He’s not the same guy he was in Atlanta, but with what he did this season, we need to stop complaining about his contract. First of all, you have to remember that Brooklyn did not give him the big money deal, it was the Hawks. Sure they took it on, but has he done anything in his two years in black-and-white to embarrass the team or not deserve to be here? And what about the bench guys. Alan Anderson had stretches of brilliance followed by stretches of ineffectiveness and being out of the rotation altogether. But he showed enough to earn a new two-year, $3 million dollar deal to stay put. Marcus Thornton was one of the bigger trade deadline gets, adding a spark off the bench for Brooklyn, but that’s over now, as he was apart of the Jack trade with Cleveland.
Forwards – Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were brought over to help get the Nets to the promise land. Brooklyn mortgaged their future in the deal with the Celtics that brought the future Hall-of-Famers and Jason Terry over. Their presence helped the Nets get one round of the playoffs closer to the goal, but not all the way. And it truly was a one year experiment on the Pierce side, with the veteran signing a two-year deal with the Washington Wizards. With Pierce out, look for Anderson to get more time at the 3. Garnett meanwhile, has opted to return without his guy (he has $12 million reasons to), but you can’t expect much more than what he gave Brooklyn a year ago. Mirza Teletovic rebounded from a rough rookie season to be a huge contributor off the bench, with stretches where he looked like he couldn’t miss from behind-the-arc. But most impressive was Teletovic’s improvement on defense and his ability to attack the rim. He even did good things attacking the glass. And you can’t forget the do everything talent that is Andrei Kirilenko. He missed a lot of time with injury, but when on the court, he did all the little things on both ends to help the Nets win. He wasn’t a scorer for Brooklyn, but he sure was a nice shot of energy.
Center: Brook Lopez missed basically the entire season after his 4th foot surgery in three-years. Rumors he could be apart of a deal to get Cleveland’s number 9 pick. But I think that would be a mistake. We saw that he can come back and put up a healthy season (see 2012-2013, an All-Star season for the 7-footer where he carried the team until Williams got healthy). You’re not drafting a guy who can get you easy buckets down low, and still stretch the court with an 18-foot “jump shot,” like Brook at that spot. The guy is 26-years-old, and yes you have to be concerned a la Yao Ming. But who says this last surgery won’t be his final one. He can still have a 10-plus year stellar career. He blocks, he scores 20+, can shoot free-throws and play defense. Sure he needs to rebound more, but a part of that goes back to his ability to step out and shoot. And can I put this out there, I am so tired of the nonsense that this team was better without him. It’s not like Brooklyn got hot the game after Lopez went down. It took a while for the small ball to work. And if you look at some of their worst losses, including in the playoffs, you cannot tell me that Lopez down low bodying up smaller defenders to get easy buckets wouldn’t have prolonged their season, or at least given them better seeding/and a better shot. The rookie season of one Mason Plumlee is a positive of Lopez being out. He’s much more athletic than Lopez, in his quicker and runs the floor like a smaller guy. I’m interested to see him and Lopez on the floor together. Both can protect the rim and play inside. Lopez spreads the floor unlike most centers, while Plumlee was one of the few offensive options down low this season. Plumlee’s rebounding ability will take some pressure off Lopez. Add to this Andray Blatche, who I think took a step back from his first season in black-and-white, could be gone (has met with the Raptors). It remains to be seen if he will be back, but I think the three of them, along with Garnett) make for a very solid rotation of big men.
Considering they entered the deep NBA Draft with no picks, to come out with 3 players for very little is impressive.
- Markel Brown (combo G out of Oklahoma State): The guy the Nets are most excited about. They had him at 22 on their draft board (Plumlee went 22 a year ago). Some draft experts call the 6’3″ guard a “Russell Westbrook” type. Let’s settle own with comparisons like this for a guy who went 44th. Brown averaged 17 points and 5 rebounds during his senior season at OK State while shooting 47 percent from the field and 38 from 3. According to ESPN.com’s NBA Insider Chad Ford, Brown’s positives include elite athleticism, he’s an explosive leaper with along wingspan and he is a solid rebounder for his size. You can see where the Westbrook comparisons come from. His negatives, according to Ford, include being undersized and a streaky shooter. So he’ll fit right in on the Nets.
- Xavier Thames (PG out of San Deigo State): Taken with the 59th pick, Thames was voted the Mountain West Player of the Year and turned up on some All-America teams after leading the Aztecs in several stats. His team made it to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament. NBA.com has some of his strengths as the ability to be a stat-sheet stuffer, is a great defender, takes care of the ball and is also a good 3-point and free-throw shooter. Things against him, he’s more of a tweener and he needs to get stronger.
- Cory Jefferson (PF out of Baylor): As I mentioned earlier, this team needs another big, and he could be a wildcard for this team. Jefferson was a second-team All-Big pick, shots a high percentage and was a rim protector on a Sweet 16 squad. Strengths include a 7-foot wingspan, explosiveness, competitive, good in transition and in half-court and as has a face-up game. Going against Jefferson is an offensive game that “needs more polish” (according to NBA.com) and he needs to bulk up a bit.
So they all came late, but again, adding three guys from a draft they didn’t think they’d crack is great. All three of these guys competed in summer league.
We’re still a long way from knowing what this team will look like come Opening night, but with the teams around them in the Eastern Conference getting better, bleak times could be ahead. Here’s to hoping Lopez puts the foot issues behind him, and Williams puts any past unhappiness and injury behind him as well.