THE HOOPS OF FLATBUSH: Some three years ago during the NBA draft lottery show, Mikhail Prokhorov kiddingly suggested he'd have to kill the reporter if he revealed to her his five year plan for winning a championship.
No One Was Harmed In The Writing Of This Post.
Three Years Down - Year Four of a five year mission to boldly go where the owner said they'd go, begins this Wednesday night in Cleveland.
It is becoming evidently clear what the five year plan was all along. Most paramount of all Prokhorov's requirements, one needed to operate with a huge pair of basketballs - as in nothing ventured, nothing gained. Being calculatingly crazy is another way to go. Additionally included within the latest standard operating procedure, pissing off people outside the organization, albeit tactfully, seems also to be encouraged. The owner exercises this policy when referencing his local competitor. But until Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett arrived, Nets players usually refrained from such liberties.
The owner also seems particularly enamored with his general manager's whirlwind off-seasons. He's thrown money at Billy King's inspirations like a drunken sailor on shore leave........
The final 2013-2014 roster cuts are now in, and Jason Plumlee, the #22 overall pick of the Draft made the final fifteen. Good for him. Earlier in the month, GM Billy King speculated rookie Mason Plumlee could conceivably start the season in the D-League. Plumlee then went about playing well enough to change some minds.
Coming from Coach K's program in Duke, I'm confident he will prove fundamentally sound in the NBA. But at first glance, I admit, I didn't think he had any size to give. He comes in at 6'11" and 235 lbs. Comparatively, Andray Blatche is 6'11" and 260 lbs., while KG is also 6'11" and weighs 250 lbs. While I'm at it, all three are behind Brook Lopez who comes in at 7'0" and 275 pounds. But there are good reasons why Plumlee made the team. Most recently, he got in a nice block on a Gerald Wallace attempt against the Celts and two more blocks versus Miami. He also pulled down ten rebounds in twenty-three minutes against the Heat. Plumlee will be the lone rookie on this heavily veteran laden team and will have good teachers around him.
Guard Tyshawn Taylor, the popular Mirza Teletovic and forward Tomike Shengelia return as one year players. The next least experienced player on this squad is a misnomer who has a passport stamped with international jerseys. Guard/forward Alan Anderson has four years of NBA service. Anderson's last two seasons were spent with Toronto. During the four seasons prior to that, he played in Italy, Russia-Croatia, Israel, Spain and the D-League. He played for Charlotte his first two NBA seasons. He is fresh off a team leading 17-point performance in the Nets final pre-season game against the Heat. At twenty-eight years old, Shaun Livingston has also made his way around the league. Since entering the league at age nineteen, the Brooklyn Nets will be the guard's ninth club in ten years.
The Hoops of Flatbush main bench components rival those of any in the league. They will feature Jason Terry this season, who underwent off-season knee surgery, to go along with returning Reggie Evans, Andray Blatche and yet another key acquisition, Andrei Kirilenko. Brooklyn stands to benefit handsomely from this cast of reliable vets, who potentially will provide Jason Kidd a large measure of floor sustainability. The age of several key players on this team should dictate that minutes get spread around generously. There should be enough wear and tear to go around for everyone to enjoy.
The shackles of isolation basketball might be off Deron Williams, but I'm interested to see who exactly he, and Coach Kidd plan on running with. There is no doubt as to who the preeminent five players on this team are, but in order to run the floor (more), Coach will need to select a creative mix. Of course age is an issue. It's a long season.
Job Two would be for Deron Williams to weave together last year's Nets and last year's Celtics, into this year's Brooklyn team. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have already brought several needed characteristics to the Nets. However, one thing remains the same. This is still Deron Williams' team. He finally participated in his first pre-season game against Miami, albeit the last game on the schedule before the season tips-off. In ten minutes played, he was 4/5 from the field, and 3/4 from beyond the three for eleven points. He added two assists, but most importantly, looked smooth on his feet. His troublesome ankle did not appear to hinder him.
In the Nets final tune-up, Paul Pierce, who turned thirty-six earlier this month, dropped 16-points in twenty minutes, pulled down six defensive rebounds (seven overall), and led Brooklyn in getting to the line. Since age thirty-two, Pierce has consistently averaged 18-points over the last four seasons. There is every reason to expect another. He averaged thirty-three minutes last season, and for the most part, should not average nearly that many here.
The same goes for Kevin Garnett. He averaged twenty-nine minutes last season, but should only see a few minutes shaved off his time. Twenty to twenty-five minutes a night can serve the power forward well over the course of the season, whether he likes it or not. I wouldn't listen to the noise regarding playing back to back games. You want combative players who are protective of their time. You just do not want an insubordinate player, and that's not KG. The man is here to serve and protect. He is the gate keeper. No one punches in and out of the Nets locker room without having put in hard work. The Nets needed a mood manager and an attitude adjuster on the floor. Garnett is just the guy to do it. Leadership doesn't come across well with some, and with others it doesn't resonate at all. Kevin Garnett will not have that problem. Everyone knows he is fiercely loyal and all-in. Attitude will not be a problem on his watch. I expect a marked difference this season over last year's admittedly bland product. On the floor, KG is still good for twelve to fifteen points a night, and eight boards, but any knowledge that rubs off on players like Brook Lopez and Mason Plumlee may prove invaluable.
I wonder how Nets fans (and Knicks fans) feel about Cheerios now? I digress.
Is Dwight Howard the former "top" center in basketball? Despite what transpired against the Chicago Bulls in the playoffs last year, and if Brook Lopez continues along his steady rate of improvement, then, yes. Both image wise and on the court, Dwight Howard has an uphill battle, and will get a fresh start in Houston. Brook is only beginning to understand what his big body should be doing, lest we forget last year was his first time back on the floor after missing practically a whole season to foot surgery. But he still became the league's top scoring center. Lopez averaged 8.2 rebounds per 36-minutes, and 6.9 rebounds otherwise. That's off slightly from his 8.3 overall average from his first two seasons in the league. On this team, that's fine. The Nets have no shortage of players who can crash the boards.
That leaves Joe Johnson for discussion. He's a good guy - hard guy to knock. He played hurt last season, and still averaged 16.3 points per game, admirable, although it was his lowest output since the 2003-2004 season. We've seen him come up huge, with big shots in big moments, but we also watched him ring true the rumors that followed him, and spoke of his sudden disappearances.
These are the fifteen players charged with winning Mr. Prokhorov a championship within the next two years, if indeed the owner is to keep his stated declaration of winning a title within five years of taking over. After two initial years of stripping down, rebuilding, and moving, last year was the first credible Nets regular season effort towards that end. Billy King then shipped out Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and a bag of bagels to Boston in return for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry. Collectively, Billy King's reloading effort has made Mikhail Prokhorov's luxury tax bill skyrocket. Billy King in turn put the onus on the players to win this year.
That's a bold man. That's two bold men.
Jason Kidd last played for the Nets during the 2007-2008 season. While in the midst of purchasing the Nets and having his plans of relocating them to Brooklyn falling apart like wet toilet paper, Bruce Ratner admitted years later in hindsight he committed a huge mistake by not resigning Kenyon Martin back in 2004. At the time, Mikhail Prokhorov was not yet in the picture, while ground-breaking of Barclays Center was still an uncertainty, if not years away. The Nets signed Vince Carter to fill the void left behind by Martin. But by the 2008-2009 season, VINCEanity also ended, as the Nets stumbled to a 34-48 record under coach Lawrence Frank. Brook Lopez was a rookie.
In 2009-2010 Lawrence Frank's team went 0-16, causing his dismissal. The Nets hit rock bottom with a 12-70 record, as Rod Thorn set out to rebuild the Nets again. He hired Avery Johnson as their next head coach, which I thought was a very good move. But in June of 2010, former President of Basketball Operations, Rod Thorn, in my opinion, inexplicably resigned from the club. I say he was made to feel unwelcome by the new incoming owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, for Thorn quickly reappeared in Philadelphia with the 76ers. Enter Billy King who was ironically shown the door by Philadelphia.
In Avery Johnson's first season, the Nets doubled their victories to twenty-four. In Avery's second season, the dismantling continued, as the team slipped to a 22-44 record, but not before engaging in a contentious battle against the Knicks for the services of Carmelo Anthony. Mikhail Prokhorov himself took to the press and declared the Nets were pulling out of the bidding. Then under the cover of night, GM Billy King traded for Utah Jazz point guard Deron Williams. Many argued at the time, trading for a point guard was the better deal. Billy King sent a large package of players and draft picks to Utah, with no guarantees Deron Williams, a soon to be free agent, would extend with the Nets.
King's gamble eventually paid off, literally, as Deron Williams finally opted to stay and signed a long term deal with the Nets. Committed, he then led the charge into Brooklyn. The club achieved a 49-33 record in their inaugural season, an achievement in itself, and participated in the post-season only to get dumped by the Bulls. The season came at a price however. Avery Johnson was fired just before 2012 ended, and P.J. Carlesimo, who led them the rest of the way, was likewise not retained.
This past off-season, Billy King went off the reservation. He hired Jason Kidd to coach his now twice revamped Nets, and brought back Lawrence Frank to help him. Bold indeed, if not bodacious of Billy King.
The GM inherited Brook Lopez. Otherwise, he's shake and baked for the three seasons, and has now cooked up a starting five which includes Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. Gerald Wallace came in, and was then parlayed into Pierce and Garnett. That's five players, backed-up by a deep bench, that can potentially give the Atlantic Division a collective headache, both physically and on the scoreboard.
In just under a year's time, Avery Johnson's finger prints have been effectively removed from this team, while Rod Thorn's efforts have likewise been purged. Only two players remain from the 2011-2012 New Jersey Nets. And before that, only Brook Lopez was there to see the death of the old empire, and survive the great purge in order to witness Billy King strike back.
Bold moves initiated by the general manager were ultimately approved by an equally audacious owner, who, a few months ago was "advised" by the commissioner to stop taking cheap shots at James Dolan.
Let the games of Brooklyn's second NBA season begin.