Devin Harris says it's his top priority: returning to that ballhawk Rod Thorn so loved when he traded Jason Kidd for him 20 months ago. Thorn loved Courtney Lee for the same reason. Will he bring it as well? Then there's the bigs: Brook Lopez promises he will emulate his brother, Robin, more and Yi Jianlian included defense in his description of "everything" when asked what he needed to improve.
Yi has plenty of reasons to push the envelope this year. He has the embarrassment of last season--and China's disappointing loss in the FIBA Asia Games this summer--fresh in his memory. He worked extraordinarily hard over the summer in Las Vegas and Los Angeles, becoming the "Muscle Devil" in the process. And if he does even well, he's likely to be at least a serious contender and quite possibly a starter in the All-Star Game. He's the only Chinese player in the NBA and those votes have to go somewhere.
3. The 3?
Chris Douglas-Roberts is the starting small forward, but two others, Terrence Williams and Jarvis Hayes, might think they have a right to play big minutes there as well. TWill came on strong in the last preseason game, playing at point guard, but no thinks he's going to unseat Harris...right? So finding him a place at the point forward might be tempting. Hayes played well last year off the bench and he might have hoped for that starting job this year. CDR, however, IS the starter and he has shown in the preseason why a lot of GM's could be embarrassed by their decision not to take him in the 2008 draft.
4. Who's hurting...physically?
You can look at it from two aspects: Harris is likely to miss 15 games or so, based on past history. So, expectations are low he can meet his goal of 82 games. Or you can note the number of Nets' starting centers who put together two straight 82-game seasons is zero. So, don't figure on Lopez becoming the first. So we're not optimitic. And of course, freak injuries are freak injuries, so think there'll be a few.
5. Who's hurting...mentally?
Rafer Alston has played 376 games in the past five years, starting 373 of them. He says he's fine with playing behind Harris and sharing backup duties with Keyon Dooling when he returns. Is he really? What about Tony Battie, Josh Boone, Sean Williams, Trenton Hassell as well as the aforementioned Hayes and Dooling? Keeping them satisifed is not going to be easy. Harris will have a challenging job as captain. Did we mention that Thorn, Kiki Vandeweghe and Lawrence Frank are all in the last year of their contract and the Nets will soon have a new owner?
6. Rising expectations for a rising star?
Terrence Williams has no sense of entitlement. His Twitter pages, blog and interviews are filled with mostly low key and highly appreciative comments about the chance he's been afforded, playing in the NBA. His fans, and they are growing in number, are not so low key. They would like him to succceed yesterday and see him as a very special player. He's got his head on straight, no doubt, but pressure could mount.
7. Lee - "System Guy" or "Star"?
How much of Lee's success in Orlando was due to his being in the right place at the right time, in both the larger and smaller senses. He was the fourth option offensively on the Magic. What's his ceiling offensively? He's deceptively athletic, has a great stroke and a scorer's mentality left over from high school and college, but can be
8. Distractions much?
Sometime before Game 32, the Nets will know whether they will be moving into the richest arena in the history of the world, their every movement guided by the richest owner in the history of professional sports, or, or, or, who knows? Is this the last season at the Meadowlands and if so, will moving vans be driving a short distance or a very, very long distance? We may all become experts in bond rating minutia, Russian finance, who has money in Kansas City, Seattle and Newark, eminent domain law, everything but basketball.
9. Will anyone show up?
No matter what happens, Bruce Ratner et al have pushed the franchise into a state of disarray. Fans are disenfranchised...pun intended. The Nets are moving somewhere, to Newark, to Brooklyn, to God Knows Where, in the near future. No amount of ticket promotion, discounts, half-time shows, etc., is going to change that. Moreover, the product, while exciting and enthralling--whatever, is not likely to be very good, which leads us to...
10. Okay, how many wins?
Bottom line, we really don't know. No one does. Best scenario with everything working, including various joints and muscles, 41 wins and a .500 record is the ceiling. The floor? You don't want to go there: it's dark and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Everything isn't going to go right and not everything will go bad. So let's be reasonably optimistic, and hope for the best: 32-50.