2013-14 record: 44-38
Key Additions: Jarrett Jack, Markel Brown, Sergey Karasev, Bojan Bogdanovic
Key Departures: Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston
Projected 2014-15 Lineup: PG Deron Williams SG Joe Johnson SF Andrei Kirilenko PF Mason Plumlee C Brook Lopez
Now that the villainous Heat have dismantled, it’s time for the East to find its new enemy. Allow me to present candidate number one: The Brooklyn Nets.
This Nets team is old, they’re cranky, and they’ve got more polarizing players than anyone, and that’s after losing Paul Pierce. The Knicks don’t like them because they’ve become the better team in New York. Their opponents don’t like them because they’re too flashy before games and too gritty during games. Your average NBA fan doesn’t like them because they stopped the Toronto Raptors fun run last year. Jason Kidd doesn’t like them because they wouldn’t give him control of the team. And I don’t like them because they’re going to be as inconsistent as ever.
Last year they had a stretch where they played like the best team in league, but that’s what’s going to happen when you’re a team full of former superstars. But there’s no way that you can retain that level of play on bad ankles, stiff knees, and guys who are mere ghosts of their former glory. Deron Williams is nowhere near a top tier point guard anymore, Joe Johnson is likely paid more per point than any other player in the NBA,1 and their best player is out of shape from having been in a foot boot after multiple surgeries in the past year.
Plumlee is actually one of the more promising players here, but boy did he cause an uproar when Coach K wanted him on Team USA. Go figure, Krzyzewski wanted one of his former players who has a solid game and doesn’t make many mistakes to be one of the role players on a team he was coaching. But that was taken as Plumlee being better than Cousins, which was fodder for far too many baseless arguments in either direction. Plumlee is going to have to play major minutes this year as Garnett recedes into sitting around his house scowling. Look for him to improve on his 104 defensive rating from last year, while continuing to be rather efficient on the offensive end.
Bojan Bogdanovic has a lot of potential, though I’m not sure how well he’ll fit in with Hollins’ system. His offensive numbers have fluctuated throughout his career, and I could see those numbers fall if Hollins tries too hard to implement his nose to the court mentality. Bogdanovic could be a great player for Brooklyn, but he’s going to need time. And in the meantime that means Kirilenko will likely be starting. AK-47 is another guy who was hurt almost all of last season, so even if he is healthy, he’s going to be rusty.
Garnett is going to continue to play well, but his minutes will be limited as his career comes to an end. Garnett made his NBA debut November 3, 1995. That’s less than two months after Orlando rookie Aaron Gordon was born. Last year Garnett only played 1100 minutes, and while he was relatively effective in that time, overall impact is obviously greatly diminished when you’re not on the court even half the time.
Between all the injuries, the aging players, and another new coach coming into town, this Nets team isn’t going to be nearly as good as they could be under more favorable circumstances. Still, talent goes a long way in the NBA, so they’re almost certainly a playoff team. I just don’t see it going much further than that.
X-Factor: Brook Lopez
With Lopez out last year, much more of the offensive weight fell onto Plumlee, who while solid, can’t play both ends of the floor like Lopez can. With Garnett likely on even more limited minutes, Lopez’s health is vital to this team. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that losing Lopez’s 25 points per game is a crushing blow. Still, even if he is on the court, he’s going to have to improve his play on defense to retain his status as one of the best centers in the league. He’s not as much of a stopper as many of his big men counterparts, and considering the weaknesses in this lineup on defense, Lopez is going to have to find a way to be an anchor.
Who Has The Most To Prove: Deron Williams
With one of the all-time great Nets and great point guards coming in to coach last year, I had high hopes for Deron Williams season. My hopes were not fulfilled. Things weren’t pretty last year for Williams, and that’s much of the reason why the team struggled so much at the start of the season. Not only did he have a career low in scoring for any season where he started more than 50 games (at 14.3 points per game), but his assists were also drastically lower than any season other than his rookie year. 6.1 per game for a guy who has five seasons of 10+ is not a good sign. And Williams isn’t getting any younger. With his offensive impact neutered last year and his aging legs, he’s going to have to start adjusting his game or else he’s going to have a hard time getting even a fraction of the $21 million he’ll be paid in 2015-16.
Why They’re Worth Watching:
This is very well the last chance to see a sure-fire Hall of Famer play. I doubt Garnett is going to be around for much longer beyond this season, and my money would be on retirement come June. Beyond that, it’ll be interesting to see if Williams can rebound to his previous all-star form or if Teague is going to have to carry a much bigger load than a guy of his ability should.
Best Case: They somehow stay healthy, the rest of the East is even weaker than anticipated, and they somehow sneak into the three-seed. 47 wins.
Worst Case: Lopez goes down, Garnett goes down, and Williams continues to play like a fourth tier point guard. 27 wins.
Projected Record: 43-39
I haven’t run the official numbers on this one, but he’s getting paid $23.1 million this year for christsake. ↩