Team Name: Brooklyn Nets
Last year's record: 38-44
Key Losses: Deron Williams, Mason Plumlee, Alan Anderson, Mirza Teletovic, Earl Clark, Cory Jefferson
Key Additions: Quincy Miller, Andrea Bargnani, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough, Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, Thomas Robinson, Willie Reed, Ryan Boatright, Dahntay Jones
What significant moves were made during the off-season?
The Nets had themselves a very busy summer. Following their first round exit against the Atlanta Hawks, the Nets got to work in rebuilding the team. They had a successful night at the NBA Draft, selecting Chris McCullogh with the 29th pick (the one swapped with Atlanta) and acquiring Rondae Hollis-Jefferson from Portland in exchange for Mason Plumlee.
The team also got busy in free agency. They were able to keep their frontcourt intact, resigning Thaddeus Young for four years and Brook Lopez for three. After that, they took a flier on former number one pick Andrea Bargnani. He's had a disappointing career with the Raptors and Knicks, and is hoping to turn things around in Brooklyn. They continued to shore up the bench by picking up Shane Larkin, Thomas Robinson, and Wayne Ellington. They also picked up a 2015 D-League All Star in Willie Reed. Donald Sloan who filled in admirably last season for George Hill in Indiana has made the team.
The team did lose some key contributors. Alan Anderson left to join the Wizards and Mirza Teletovic went West to play for the Suns. But the biggest move of their summer was the release of Deron Williams. Williams' tenure in New Jersey/Brooklyn was disappointing considering all of the expectations and his previous play with Utah. When news broke that he a) wanted a buyout and b) almost got into a fight with Lionel Hollins, it was time to quickly got rid of him. Williams' run with the Nets was disappointing and worse. He's looking to regain his standing with his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
What are the team's strengths?
Thaddeus Young was one of the best pickups from last season. He came over from Minnesota in exchange for Kevin Garnett and was an immediate upgrade. He averaged around 14 points and six rebounds in 29 minutes a game. Young is the best power forward the Nets have had since Kenyon Martin left in 2004 and having him on the team for a full season will strengthen what appears to be an intriguing front court. He can stretch the floor a bit, hitting a team high 38 percent after being traded. He can provide good defense against opposing power forwards. He can even play some small forward, but that's something Lionel Hollins ought to avoid if he can.
The head coaching position has been chaotic for the Nets over the past five years, and having Hollins on board for a second year should do wonders for the club. The Nets underwent a lot of changes and having Hollins will help keep things steady. Brooklyn played at one of the slowest paces in the league last season, and all signs point to them speeding things up a bit. The new additions should help with that. It also helps that everyone wants to be here, which is something that apparently wasn't the case with previous members of the team.
Bojan Bogdanovic, now in his sophomore season, will be someone to keep a close eye on. He had a nice rookie season as he averaged nine points on 45 percent shooting (35.5 percent from three point range) and was named to the All Rookie Second team. He earned a reputation overseas for having the ability to take over games and we saw flashes of that last season in the NBA, particularly in the final game when he scored 28 to make the playoffs. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, he'll be counted on to provide floor spacing and timely scoring. He hurt his ankle and suffered a concussion over the summer, but he's all good now.
What are the team's weaknesses?
Even though he wasn't the player the Nets expected when they brought him over in 2011, Deron Williams was still the best point guard on the Nets roster. With his departure, Jarrett Jack will take his place in the starting lineup. Jack had his difficulties in finding good looks for his teammates and had the worst plus/minus of the regular rotation players ... in the NBA! Jack will have to change his game and generate better looks for his teammates. Vying for backup (or starter if Jack doesn't work out) minutes are Shane Larkin and Donald Sloan. Larkin has only been in the league three years, but this is his third team. Sloan scored 29 and 31 points within a two-week period last season. His assist to turnover ratio is the best of the three. Don't dismiss Sergey Karasev here. Karasev dislocated his kneecap and tore his MCL in March. Replacing Williams will be difficult, and if this trio can play well, they can help Brooklyn survive the early part of the schedule.
Even with the roster getting a bit younger, there are still a lot of questions surrounding it. Andrea Bargnani has had a disappointing career after being taken first overall in 2006 and hasn't had a fully healthy season in four years. He also missed all six preseason games. The expectations surrounding him are low, and if he can play at a league average level coming off of the bench, he'll surprise fans and watchers of the team.
For Reed, this will be his first real opportunity to play consistent minutes in the league. Now, he is out for another five to seven weeks.
Joe Johnson took a step back last season. His scoring average were down and he had his worst season from three point range since his injury plagued (right elbow and thumb) 2010-2011 campaign. He'll pass the 40,000 career regular season minutes mark during the year and you have to start wondering if all of the minutes are starting to take their toll on him. Other than LeBron James, Johnson has played the most minutes of any NBA player, regular season and playoffs, in the past dozen years. The Nets hope that isn't the case because they need him to be a reliable second scoring option for them. If he isn't able to rebound from a poor 2014-2015 season, their chances of making the playoffs will take a big hit. Johnson does seem to be reinvigorated and part of that has to do with the departure of D-Will, who multiple sources say he did not like ... at all.
What are the goals for this team?
The Nets are looking to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season. If you go around the blogosphere, most people have the Nets missing the postseason while being bad enough to get the Celtics a high pick in the 2016 Draft. The bottom of the Eastern Conference still isn't great, but the Nets probably aren't good enough to sneak into the playoffs this time.
He's only 27 years old, but Brook Lopez has been through a lot in his seven year career. He's played under seven different head coaches, been through one of the worst seasons in league history, a Game Seven loss at home, almost being traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder for Reggie Jackson, and some troublesome injuries to his right foot. The Nets have set high goals since moving to Brooklyn in 2012, and for the most part have failed to reach them.
Through it all, he's managed to be one of the better big men in the league. He's averaged 17 points and seven rebounds on 51 percent shooting from the field through his run with the Nets. He's a great scorer in the low post, has a nice set jumper and is a very capable pick-and-roll partner. Lopez has received lots of criticism over his rebounding totals over the years, and there's something to it. Lopez's rebounding rates have never been near the top of the league and he's never averaged double digit rebounds a night in his career. But in last year's playoff run, playing next to Young, he upped his rebounds and rebound rates, with four 30-and-10 games in two weeks.
He does a great job of snatching rebounds in traffic. Four of his seven rebounds were of the contested variety, good for seventeenth highest in the league. He also does a good job of protecting the rim, so having Lopez close to the basket will pay major dividends for Brooklyn.
As our own Anthony Puccio wrote when he reviewed Lopez's season:
He's one of the few that actually lived up to his contract. He gives it all that he's got on a nightly basis and you can truly tell he wants to be a Brooklyn Net. Through good and bad - a lot of bad - Brook has stayed loyal and fought through devastating injuries. He's been benched and criticized despite being one of the few efficient players. But all in all, it's made him a better player and a joy to watch develop these past seven seasons.
Now that Williams is gone, Lopez is the face of the franchise. He's clearly their best player and the person they will need to play like an All Star if they want to get into the postseason. With concerns about the effectiveness of big men in today's NBA, having a player like Lopez is a luxury for Brooklyn. He'll need to give them at least 70 games of 20+ points a night along with some improved rebounding and passing if they want to have a successful season. Brook has tons of talent, and the Nets are going to need it to shine very brightly if they want to avoid a disaster this season.