As the Nets try to balance filling out their roster with planning for a future that could include Dwight Howard, one thing seems certain: this is a lot better team than the organization started out with last season. Billy King is still trying to sign Andrei Kirilenko and Kris Humphries to reasonable and likely one-year deals, but so far, so good, despite big disappointments.
As Avery Johnson says, "it's a process."
The big difference is that the Nets have one of the NBA's top ten players in Deron Williams and by all accounts, he's happy to be here. Brook Lopez didn't spend this summer in bed recovering from mononucleosis, as he did last year and will benefit from playing with at least one Williams.
Last year, the team had one of the NBA's top three-point shooting wingmen to spread the floor in Anthony Morrow. This year, he's back and he's joined by another of the league's best deep shooters, Shawne Williams. Add Kirilenko and the Nets have a third legitimate deep shooter.
With Kirilenko, you would have the Russian version of the Swiss Army Knife, the last NBA player to have an extremely rare "5 x 5" game: at least five points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks (he's done it three times). Add Humphries and you again have one of the top rebounders in the East and a guy who at this point last year was projected as the team's fourth power forward behind Troy Murphy, Derrick Favors and Joe Smith. In case you've forgotten, Smith actually began the season as the Nets starter at PF.
Versatility, in fact, has become the Nets buzz word, with the team pushing the notion that many of the roster pieces can be switched around the board.
There's no albatross contract like there was last year with Travis Outlaw, no injured big contract player like Troy Murphy. The bench is a bit deeper and no team has as many of its players in mid-season shape. D-Will, Jordan Farmar and Sundiata Gaines have played 47 games already. Add Kirilenko and you add 20 more, and before he went down for a bit, it's arguable that the two best players in Europe this season were him and Deron Williams. While the Nets had a rookie with great potential last season in Favors, this year's rookie is more of a finished product. In fact, if there is an X-factor on the Nets this season, it's MarShon Brooks, who the coaches, we are told, love.
"We feel our roster today is still better than what we started with last year, it’s not a championship roster yet but we’ve made strides," Johnson continued. "Our priorities are to continue to improve. Everybody would like to make the playoffs. I don’t want to get used to having that meeting with players the day after the regular season and everybody cleaning out their lockers. I like to be game-planning for a playoff opponent."