NetsDaily is once again participating in the NBA Blog Preview series. Today is Nets preview day across the blogosphere, and below is our contribution, a collaborative effort by some of the moderators on the forum. If you missed them, check out the Celtics previews from Monday and the Knicks previews from Tuesday.
Last Year's Record: 12-70
Key Losses: Keyon Dooling, Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Rod Thorn, IZOD Center
Key Additions: Mikhail Prokhorov, Billy King, Avery Johnson, Jordan Farmar, Derrick Favors, Damion James, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy, Travis Outlaw, Prudential Center
1. What significant moves were made during the off-season?
Since Kenyon Martin was traded in 2004, the Nets biggest weakness has been at the power forward spot. They finally addressed this glaring hole by drafting a potential stud in Derrick Favors with the third overall pick, but by also acquiring the sweet shooting lefty, Troy Murphy. Murphy will allow Favors to come along a little more slowly instead of being thrust into the starting lineup from the get-go. Acquiring Murphy did come at a price, though, as young guard Courtney Lee was shipped out in the four-team deal. It hurts to lose a young player with potential, but the emergence of Terrence Williams made him expendable.
Although they struck out on the big name free agents, the Nets picked up a few serviceable pieces by signing Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow. Morrow will instantly become the Nets best shooter from downtown, while Outlaw is someone who hopefully can help carry the crunch-time scoring load. The Nets hope they got a steal with Farmar, who will back up Devin Harris and no longer be reigned in by the triangle offense.
Favors wasn't the only draft pick by the Nets, as they traded up to grab forward Damion James. James, the Big 12's all time leading rebounder, will help add depth to a roster that was devoid of talent last year. The Nets also picked up the big Frenchman, Johan Petro, to backup the interior spots.
If the eyes of some Nets fans, the best move was the subtraction of Yi Jianlian, someone who has yet to live up to his potential.
-- Kid Chocolate
2. What are the team’s biggest strengths?
Like last season, the Nets' two best players are at arguably the two most important positions. And the hope is that a more talented supporting cast will raise each of their games.
Now surrounded by solid complementary pieces, Brook Lopez could very well reach the romanticized "20-10" level. With more shooters on the roster, look for Devin Harris to also benefit. Many Nets fans are hoping that he can get back to his 2009 All-Star form.
The Nets have a very experienced coaching staff with two former head coaches as assistants who are both motivated to do well and earn their way back to another head coaching job. Both Avery Johnson and Sam Mitchell have won Coach of the Year honors. They've each had players develop under them as coaches and stud power forwards as teammates (Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett).
All of the coaches are guys that have had to work hard to get where they are. Johnson was undrafted, Mitchell was drafted in the third round, Larry Krystkowiak was drafted in the second round, and Popeye Jones was drafted late in the second round. John Loyer and Tom Barrise have worked their way up the NBA food chain after starting their careers as college assistants. This is a group of coaches who are going to make sure their players are well prepared and will get better as the season goes on.
Of course, the Nets' best asset is their new owner, billionaire basketball fanatic Mikhail Prokhorov.
-- GMJ and cpawfan
3. What are the team’s biggest weaknesses?
There is an old basketball adage that goes "defense wins championships." This team is nowhere near being a title contender, but the Nets must still improve their defense if they are to have any hopes of sniffing the playoffs.
Since he arrived, Harris has not played the All-NBA caliber defense that he was known for in Dallas. As the de-facto on-court leader of the team, Harris must show a recommitment to that side of the ball.
Williams was known for being a defensive stopper while at Louisville, but, like nearly all rookies, had trouble having the same impact in the NBA. In the interior, neither Murphy nor Lopez are especially quick, and while Lopez is a prolific shot blocker, he, like most young players, is still a work in progress with regards to defensive positioning, timing, and on-ball defense. Still, Murphy is a huge defensive upgrade from Yi.
Favors has a great chance of being a defensive game changer, but is still a rookie learning the most difficult defensive position in the game. Thankfully, the opposition will have a difficult time getting second chance points against the Nets' very good defensive rebounding front line.
Last year, before Lawrence Frank was fired, the Nets were respectable defensively, posting a middle-of-the-pack efficiency number with end of the pack talent. Johnson has a well-earned reputation of being a defensive-minded coach, so perhaps the Nets will be able to surprise their critics.
While the good news is that very few players remain from last season's 12-win roster, the bad news is, well, very few players remain from last season. In basketball, chemistry and understanding the timing of teammates is absolutely essential to team success. The lack of continuity is compounded by the youth of the team, though the knowledge and experience of veteran Joe Smith should help.
4. What are the goals for this team?
It’s been several months since we finished one of the most traumatizing seasons a basketball fan could endure. Our scars have had plenty of time to heal, and it’s time for us to prepare for a new season, one which holds plenty of promise. Maybe the Nets won’t turn into instant contenders, or even a guaranteed 8th seed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t see improvement; the Sonics/Thunder had 20 wins, then 23 wins, before a strong 50 wins last year. And it wasn’t due to a single magical offseason. Improvement in a team can take a while to show up quantitatively in the record.
And so, I’m not concerned with the record. Would it be nice to make the playoffs this year? Yes, but entering the playoffs isn’t the only way to see improvement. This year, some of our best players will be our youngest: Lopez, Williams, and hopefully newer additions can make that list, too. What I need see from them and all of the younger players is improvement. Improvement in their fundamentals, an increased understanding of the game, developing better moves, better skills, making use of their youth while it’s still there.
The season’s lost if this player development doesn’t occur; we’re a team of the future. And that means, if in the future we’ll have the talent to win, we need to prepare the mentality of winning now. We traded Lee for Murphy; the results of that trade better show up in our attitude. Veterans have to show the rookies and sophomores how to win and what it takes. The Nets can not accept being doormats. Maybe the winning doesn’t have to start this year, but the winning culture must.
5. What has to happen for the Nets to make the playoffs?
The Nets need a lot of things to go right to make the playoffs. First, Harris needs to play defense like he did in Dallas and he needs to lead a multi-threat offense. The Nets brought in several shooters this summer and Harris needs to make use of them on offense. With guys like Morrow, Outlaw and Murphy to space the court, Harris should have more room to attack the rim and to play the pick and roll with Lopez.
Next, Lopez has to take a step forward on each end of the court. He has to make opponents pay for single coverage and improve his passing out of double teams. Defensively, he has to make quicker rotations and not get frustrated at the ref's calls. In short, he has to begin dominating games for the Nets to make the playoffs.
Third, the three guys that were acquired for their outside shooting have to make shots. Outlaw will be starting at small forward and needs to be as clutch as he was in the fourth quarters for the Blazers. Morrow is on pace to be one of the best shooters in league history. As long as he doesn't fall off after leaving the Bay Area, he will force teams to defend him and open up the court for the rest of the Nets.
Murphy needs to provide more than just stats and shooting. He has to operate effectively with both Lopez and Favors. Throughout his career, Murphy has put up nice double double numbers, but they have been on teams that weren't going anywhere. The Nets need him to do a lot. On offense, he will be the player with the most experience and on defense he has to stay aggressive so that Lopez isn't picking up cheap fouls helping on blown assignments.
Williams and Favors both have to take big steps forward for the Nets to make the playoffs. Williams needs to demonstrate that his performance last spring wasn't a fluke and that he is a consistent multi-faceted threat. Favors needs to be a rookie that contributes quickly and consistently. While he won't be asked to start, as the third big man, he is going to have a large and important role this season.
Predicted record: 32-50