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The pundits speak ... and are underwhelmed

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Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets - Game Four Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Is there a consensus among local and national media on what to expect from the Nets this season. Basically yes and here it is: despite the addition of Kyrie Irving ... and the possible return of Kevin Durant, not to mention improvements to the bench, pundits see the Nets as a team with a ceiling of about 45 to 47 wins and a basement of fewer wins than last season’s 42 wins.

The most controversial, at least to the Nets, is John Hollinger’s preview in The Athletic, which posits the Nets will win only 39 games, three fewer than last season. Hollinger, the former ESPN and New York Sun writer, spent eight years with the Grizzlies front office. So his preview carries a bit more heft.

Still, Kenny Atkinson, on at least two occasions, has taken note of the prediction, subtly dismissing it. Hollinger isn’t alone at the bottom either. 538.com also has them at 39 wins.

Other than Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, Hollinger writes,

The rest of this team projects as very ordinary, unless Caris LeVert blows up as a true second option...

Promise lurks elsewhere on the roster, but big picture, the Nets have several fringe starters and not much in the way of high-level talent around Irving. Jarrett Allen is coming into his own as a starting 5, but if he’s a team’s second- or third-best player, how good can it be? Meanwhile, Joe Harris (Wahoowa!) will rent the starting small forward spot from Durant this year. Again, he’s not bad, but he’s much better utilized as a knockdown shooter off the bench.

John Schuhmann doesn’t give a number of wins, but projects the Nets at No. 13 in his pre-season Power Rankings.

Thanks to another hit to the face, the Nets got just 26 minutes of a masked Kyrie Irving in the preseason. There was some vintage Irving on Friday, but the loss to the Raptors was defined by the Raptors’ 46-point second quarter, in which Brooklyn continuously failed to match up in transition. The Nets also assisted on just 16 of their 38 buckets in the loss after assisting on 76% through their first three. Taurean Prince shot a preseason-best 16-for-23 (70%) from 3-point range, but defense and rebounding could continue to be issues given the Nets’ lack of size at the forward positions (with Caris LeVert and Prince the likely starters). The Nets will begin their season with a relatively easy first six games.

Locally, Brian Lewis has the Nets at 45 wins...

Lewis asks all the right questions like will Durant play, can Kenny Atkinson move easily from development to contention and will LeVert be healthy, summarizing his feelings this way:

Obviously there’s a lot of gray area on either side of this prediction. If Durant doesn’t play a second, but LeVert also doesn’t miss half the campaign as he did a year ago, this sounds about right. Take Las Vegas’ 43.5-win projection and take the over.

Fred Kerber, back for a look at NBA Power Rankings, has Nets at No. 12 going into the season.

One opposing executive in assessing the Nets’ blockbuster offseason pointed to Kyrie Irving: “Did they get Stephon Marbury or Jason Kidd?” Fizzle or Finals? Brooklyn also got Kevin Durant, who might not play until next year but is part of the stunningly upbeat Nets vibe in New York. They have most of the core back, changing D’Angelo Russell for Irving. Rising center Jarrett Allen will split time with DeAndre Jordan. Taurean Prince brings an additional perimeter threat, joining the likes of Joe Harris. Caris LeVert is another rising star, while Spencer Dinwiddie, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs provide depth.

Kristian Winfield doesn’t project a number but believes this year is likely a “dress rehearsal” for next season, when KD will surely be back. He likes a number of smaller things about the team.

The Nets have given themselves flexibility both on and off the court. They’re a team that projects to play 10 deep, with new additions in Garrett Temple and David Nwaba seeing extended playing time off the bench. Wilson Chandler is on a 25-game suspension, but he will be back. And you can’t forget about Dzanan Musa, last year’s first-round pick poised for a breakout season now with a clearer understanding of his role.

Steve Lichtenstein of WFAN has them at 44.

Durant, unfortunately, is sidelined while rehabbing from his Achilles surgery. Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks announced that he is not expected to play at all this season. However, the additions of supporting pieces like DeAndre Jordan and Taurean Prince make this team, barring a glut of injuries, a good bet to surpass last season’s 42-40 mark.

Over at ESPN, the forecast is also 45 wins. Malika Andrews, who’ll be covering the Nets this season, thinks it will all come down to Kyrie.

The Nets’ biggest question centers around one person: Irving. How will he assimilate with the team? Will he be the wrecking-ball force that he was in Boston? Can he be more of a leader? In Boston, when challenges arose during the season, Irving tended to become sour and blame his teammates. Will things be different in Brooklyn? There are some factors that could make this season different: Two of his close personal friends, Jordan and Durant, are now his teammates. Unlike when he was traded to Boston, Irving chose to be in Brooklyn. Perhaps that could work in the Nets’ favor.

Hoopshype doesn’t give a number, but it’s projection of third in the division and fourth in the conference suggests around 44 - 35 wins. It’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that until Durant returns, Frank Urbina writes. At that point, he notes the Nets will have “legitimate championship expectations.{ He does give big kudos to Kenny Atkinson.

With Kenny Atkinson at the helm, who has proven to be one of the NBA’s better coaches over the last three seasons, they even have an elite head coach leading them.

Over at Sports Illustrated, the writers called on NBA scouts to give their assessments on the 30 teams. The take on the Nets was generally positive, again with the big question being Irving and his potential for leadership on a young team.

There is a lot of pressure on Kyrie Irving. His reputation has reached the point where we forget that he made that shot in the [2016] Finals. We only think of him as the guy that f----- up Boston. This team is very similar to the Celtics, with a lot of young guys. Do Caris Levert, Spencer Dinwiddie and Jarrett Allen take steps back? If they do, Kyrie will get blamed for it.

So who among the pundits is most optimistic? Some guy named Tom Lorenzo at SB Nation. He has them at 47 wins...

Vegas has the Nets at 44.5 games this year, again with the big question mark around whether or not Durant will play. The Nets had 42 wins last season, overachieving for sure, on the back of D’Angelo Russell - who is replaced this season by Kyrie Irving. I can see the Nets winning 47 games this year, fully expecting we’ll see Durant at some point, but also taking into account that they generally speaking have a better team this year than they did last season.

There’s a lot of individual predictions as well, mostly about LeVert making the All-Star team and Spencer Dinwiddie earning Sixth Man of the Year honors.

Last season, the pundits had a bad overall record, particularly with the Nets. No one projected the Nets with more wins than the Lakers but it happened. So we will sit and watch and enjoy.