Blazersedge contributor Chris Lucia will be writing team-by-team previews over the next month as we count down to the start of the 2013-14 season. We begin in the Atlantic Division.
Previously: New York Knicks
2012-2013 record: 49-33, No. 2 in Atlantic Division, No. 4 in Eastern Conference
So, you like star power? How about 35 combined All-Star appearances in your starting lineup? That's exactly what the Brooklyn Nets now boast after trading for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry last summer. The projected starting lineup for the Nets is loaded: guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, forwards Pierce and Garnett and center Brook Lopez.
The Nets' bench is also stacked. Terry, Andrei Kirilenko and Shaun Livingston have been added to a reserve unit that already included Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche. The third shooting guard in the rotation, Alan Anderson, averaged 23 minutes a game last season for the Raptors and poured in almost 11 points per game.
Needless to say, the Nets' cupboard is definitely full, thanks to owner Mikhail Prokhorov's willingness to finance a roster that will cost a projected $189 million after taxes. The Nets are spending to win now, and the window for them to raise a championship banner in the Barclays Center with this group is fairly narrow, and could close as soon as next season. In short, Prokhorov expects his team to get deep in the playoffs and immediately compete for a ring.
Looking at team stats from last year would probably prove inconclusive at best, as massive roster turnover occurred and first-year head coach Jason Kidd was brought on board to replace Avery Johnson, fired 28 games into last season. Kidd, 40, retired from playing only a few months ago and is now tasked with managing some serious egos while finding enough shots to go around on the offensive side of the ball. Will his relative youth allow him to connect with his players better, or will his coaching inexperience become glaring as he struggles to maintain the respect of his team? It's hard to say, but either way Kidd has his work cut out for him.
Last year, starting point guard Williams took over 14 shots a game to score 18.9 points per contest, while averaging 7.7 assists, his lowest output since his rookie season in Utah. Johnson took almost 15 shots a game last season, as did Pierce and Lopez, all hovering at just under 20 points per game. Add Garnett's dozen shot attempts, and you have to ask yourself where Kidd expects to come up with enough touches to go around. That's not even mentioning the bench scorers.
Williams will likely be asked to take on more of a distributing role this year, which isn't out of his repertoire; he averaged double-digit assists for five straight seasons from 2007 to 2011. If Pierce and Johnson can consistently hit jump shots - something both players have done their entire careers - Williams may see a career year passing the ball, as Lopez is one of the most effective centers in the league on offense. If Garnett can pick up whatever scraps are left and shoot about 50 percent from the field as he's done most of his career, Williams should be near the top of the league in assists.
This is all contingent, however, on each of these guys buying into a team concept and sacrificing for the greater good of the team. Fortunately for Kidd, he has plenty of talent on his bench to keep his core players fresh throughout the regular season if the team remains relatively healthy. Williams should be in the prime of his career at 29, and a 25-year-old Lopez can also handle a heavy workload. Johnson, Pierce and Garnett, though, should all see a dip in minutes per game as Terry, Kirilenko and Evans should allow them to rest as necessary. The depth of the Nets will likely prevent meaningful in-game experience for rookie center Mason Plumlee and the rest of the bench. There's just that much talent in the first ten rotational players on this team.
Aside from injuries, which can strike any team regardless of age or depth, the offensive play of the Nets might only be limited by their ability to build solid chemistry and follow Kidd's game plan accordingly.
Defense, on the other hand, might be a more pressing issue.
Lopez has never been known for his defensive prowess or his ability to rebound. In fact, he only average 6.9 rebounds a game last year. Garnett, Evans and Blatche will have to make up for Lopez' rebounding deficiencies. Team defense should be stressed, and Garnett's intensity will be a necessary spark plug night in and night out as the Nets coaching staff will be counting on his defensive effort to be infectious. Lopez did manage to block over two shots a game last season, and he'll need to maintain those numbers. Kirilenko, one of the more versatile defenders in the league over his 11-year career, will have to step up immediately and adapt to his new role off the bench.
If everyone plays to his ability and understands his role, there is no reason why this team should not be able to play at least passable defense. If not, well, they still have a chance to win on any given night considering the potential potency of their offense alone.
While the Nets look to be one of the league's top teams on paper, their success ultimately boils down to their ability to develop cohesiveness and work together as a team, spreading out touches and working together on the defensive end of the ball and on the boards. Sure, that seems like common sense that applies to most teams, but Brooklyn has an embarrassment of riches and potentially more firepower than any other team in the league, with an owner willing to spend whatever it takes to achieve playoff success and ultimately an NBA championship. If the Nets manage to gel early on, look for them to compete with the Knicks for the Atlantic Division crown and likely a slot in the top-half of the Eastern Conference playoff seeding.
If the $102 million team under-performs and the Nets don't live up to Prokhorov's lofty expectations, things could get ugly and Kidd - along with his bevvy of talented veterans - will face intense scrutiny from fans, ownership and media alike. For better or worse, though, this Brooklyn team will undoubtedly be one of the most interesting teams to watch as the season unfolds.