The Nets are entering the most important season in franchise history, with Media Day starting things off Monday morning in Brooklyn. They are now on the radar of every team in the NBA and have the star power to possibly compete for an NBA championship. The NetsDaily writers took a hit at some of the most prominent that will be answered this season.
1. Who or what is the x-factor of this team?
Net Income: Andray Blatche. Blatche is one of the most underrated players on any team. He is 27 years old and has incredible skills. He finished 14th in PER last season and was the second player in NBA history to average 10 and 5 in less than 20 minutes per game ... and played in all 82 games, the only Net who did. Can he maintain that level in a frontcourt that includes Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirlenko? He seems serious about his job and has proven his loyalty.
Tom Lorenzo: Deron Williams is the x-factor. For all the talk of the Nets getting a makeover this summer with KeVin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko, coupled with the dissection of Joe Johnson's game and Brook Lopez's continued progression, this team still belongs to Williams. He is the most important player on the Nets and he needs to not get off to a start similar to his 2012-13 campaign and needs to show us that "second-half 2013" D-Will is truly who he is, as a player, in order to solidify this team's place in the discussion of NBA Title contenders.
Reed Wallach: The X-factor of this team is Andray Blatche. Blatche excelled in his reduced role in Brooklyn last season, becoming the second player in NBA history to average 10 points and 5 rebounds in less than 20 minutes. However, this season Blatche is due for an increase in workload. He is backing up an aging Kevin Garnett who will not play in both games of back-to-backs this season, per head coach Jason Kidd. The Nets play in 20 sets of back-to-backs which means Blatche is starting at least 20 games. The former Wizard needs to continue to create for himself on offense with the unique skill for his size and make sure the team doesn't miss KG too much on the defensive end.
Romy Nehme: Having been a Celtics fan for the past 20 years, and finally rewarded for my masochistic loyalty in the last 6 (before this off-season's misery reboot), I've come to develop unconscious tics. These tics, I've rationalized, are an understandable reaction to the perhaps overblown perceived risk of injury to KG. KG is no bubble boy, and he bounced back after his lingering 08-09 injury with the elasticity of a fresh gum rubbery slingshot, but he doesn't like to hit the deck and sometimes gets up gingerly -- which only reinforces the above cringe tendencies.
Call me squeamish, but the Nets, despite their all-star starting lineup and brag-worthy depth, inherited the Celtics two HOFs and their thick medical dossier chock-full of cautionary prescriptions. Depth is a weighted measure and those two still bear a healthy portion of the burden when it comes to validating the legitimacy of the Nets' contention status.
RN: If Chris Paul can be known as the best PG in the league despite never getting his team past the second round, then maybe Deron Williams' so-called legacy isn't as reliant on playoff success as it is on cranking back the clock to 2010 and reclaiming the mantle of top flight PG. After Deron's rousing "rising from moribundity" performance last season, that's looking as likely as a Spike Lee sideline meltdown once the newly christened crosstown rivals square off.
P.S. Never underestimate the halo effect of Hearts of Champions on hungry, playoff success-starved stars.
3. With the Nets down by 2 points and 45 seconds left on the clock: what lineup do you put out there?
NI: Deron Williams, Jason Terry, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. All great shooters, all with big game experience. Note that Terry and Pierce are the No. 3 and 4 three point shooters of all time.
TL: This is a tough question because I think matchups come into play, but I would have to say Williams, Johnson, Pierce are the three I definitely want out there. From there I think you're looking at having Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko shuffled in. If I had to pick, I think putting Garnett (for his defense and intensity) and Kirilenko (also, for his defense and his athletic ability) as my two bigs makes sense. Not that this team can't close out with Lopez, but the defensive disruption that Garnett and Kirilenko add in the passing lanes is appealing, and with AK-47 if there's a chase-down, open-court moment, you need someone who can get back on defense. It's tough, really, but I think Lopez might be in the odd man out in most instances.
4. No team is perfect; where can the Nets stand to improve?
NI: Back-up point guard may be the weak link. Shaun Livingston is a better distributor than C.J. Watson, but he hasn't hit a three point shot in the last three seasons. Tyshawn Taylor has potential, but doesn't work well in a structured system. Don't be surprised to see Jason Terry playing some back-up point.
TL: Athleticism is where they need to improve. I'm not putting the "old" label on this team, but there are few guys on this team who excel in the open court. And if you're going to ask Williams to get out and run, who's going to be running alongside him? Not Johnson or Pierce or Garnett or Lopes, right? Sure, those guys "can" run, but they aren't best served in playing a quick north-south style of basketball. Beyond Kirilenko, Shaun Livingston, Tyshawn Taylor and Mason Plumlee, they're not much of an "athletic" team.
RN: Let's face it. The Nets in their current incarnation, however intimidating, would lose out in just about every NBA Draft combine drill. Luckily that's not what we're here to settle. But I can't help but wish they had a more dynamic two! That said, Joe "heavy eyelids" Johnson is no slouch and Alan Anderson has a bit of Jarrett Jack's big lights, fearless DNA in him. I'm hoping that baking pace into the team's regimen early and methodically in training camp will help mitigate the Nets' y-axis anemia. Plus, JKidd has a nice little case study handy that debunks the myth that averagely athletic teams can't win championships.
5. Does this team have a realistic shot at winning the championship THIS season?
NI: Of course, it does. The roster has everything a team needs to win: Talent, experience, leadership and very underrated flexibility. Jason Kidd has already passed, with flying colors, the first test of a coach: gaining the respect of his players. I have little doubt he will pass other tests. There are going to be chemistry issues and while the Heat took 20 games to gel in 2010, the Celtics started out 20-2 in 2007. We shall see.
TL: Yes, absolutely. Health is going to be key, but in terms of make-up, I think they are right there as a title contender. And when all is said and done, anything short of a push for the NBA Championship is going to be a disappointment.
RW: Yes. Pundits are quick to say for the same reasons: "They're too old," "There's no chemistry," "Jason Kidd has never coached before," but this team is loaded. They have five former All Stars in the starting lineup and another one coming off the bench. To add to that, they have a starting quality center and a guard that played a key role in the Mavericks pursuit of a championship. That rotation alone is good enough to compete with the Heat and there are more quality players from there. Sure, chemistry is an issue, but that can be said for any team that had a large overhaul in the offseason. The Heat had a Big 3 and made it to the championship; sure, they had the best player since Michael Jordan on the roster, but the Nets truly do have a Big 5 and I think that depth and balance will push them to the cusp of a championship.
RN: If the 2006 Heat can win a championship, anyone can. The wise KG once proclaimed that "anything is posssibbbllllleeeee" and if not this season, when? What Prokhorov did this off-season essentially equates to him gliding into David Stern's ivory tower office, flaunting all his riches with a toothy grin and going John Goodman on the coffee table with the CBA binder resting atop it.
For more of the same, watch Media Day live on brooklynnets.com, starting at 11 a.m.