Published December 22, 2011
| Sports Network
With Brooklyn and perhaps Dwight Howard beckoning the Nets will spend one last season in North Jersey in the hopes of convincing star point guard Deron Williams that this is the franchise he should commit too.
The Nets have always played second-fiddle in the New York market to the Knicks and that will likely never change but high-profile owner, Mikhail Prokhorov, has made more than a few splashes since taking over the franchise and the Nets are surprisingly one of the teams that Howard has his eye on.
The rebuilding franchise jumped from an NBA-worst 12 wins back in 2009-10 to 24 under new coach Avery Johnson last season and although the team is probably still looking up at Boston, New York and Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division, the Nets expect to make another significant leap now that Williams, who was acquired from Utah at the trade deadline last year, will be available from the start of the campaign.
That said, there still isn't a ton of talent around D-Will, one of the best two or three point guards in the game. Brook Lopez is a solid more than serviceable center at least offensively, Kim Kardashian's soon to be ex, Kris Humphries, is a rebounding machine and Anthony Morrow call fill it up at least occasionally but the cupboard is virtually bare from there.
The bottom line is this team needs a significant talent upgrade to make sure Williams makes the trip to the BK with it. In fact, it's possible nothing short of acquiring Howard could guarantee that scenario.
2010-11 Results: 24-58, fourth in Atlantic. Missed playoffs.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
PG- Deron Williams SG- Anthony Morrow SF- Damion James PF- Kris Humphries C- Brook Lopez
FRONTCOURT: Lopez is more than solid on the offensive end but his softness on the boards and at the defensive side are tough to overcome, especially when you don't have an intimidating power forward next door. The 7-foot Stanford product averaged a team-high 20.4 ppg and mustered 1.46 bpg but could only pull down 6.0 rpg, a terrible figure considering how many minutes he plays.
Humphries is a rebounding machine and makes up for Lopez's shortcoming but his reality show follies surely don't go over well with anyone and that's likely why a guy who averaged a double-double of 10.0 ppg and 10.4 rpg only got a one-year deal.
"Kris had a breakout season last year, and established himself as one of the premier rebounders in the league," Bets GM Billy King said after re-signing the Minnesota native. "We look forward to his continued progress and his addition will certainly add stability to our frontcourt rotation."
Damion James was a late first round pick in 2010 out of Texas and got a quick look last year, averaging 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in 25 games (9 starts). He will be given every opportunity to earn the small forward spot this season and the 6-foot-7 New Mexico native brings a nice combination of size and athleticism to the position and could develop into a somewhat competent scorer down the line.
BACKCOURT: Williams is a true superstar, right there with Derrick Rose and Chris Paul as the best point guards in the game. The Illinois product gave the Nets a little taste of what they can expect of him when he averaged 15 points and 12.8 assists in 12 starts with New Jersey. Williams is incredibly strong, knows where his teammates are at all times and can knock down the jumper when you need it. He also runs the break like few others and can handle all but the best of opposing point guards at the defensive end.
Morrow is a streaky scorer and when the jumper is falling he may light you up for 30. When he fails to pack the J, however, he may as well be invisible. Morrow has a sweet stoke as evidenced by is 89.7 free throw percentage and his 42.3 mark from long range but the fact that he made his NBA bones in Golden State tells you all you need to know about his defensive prowess.
BENCH: Johnson's bench looks painfully thin with the exception of solid two- way guard Jordan Farmar. Farmar is probably a better all-around player than Morrow but his ability to swing back and fourth between both backcourt positions as well as his defensive mindset make him a better fit off the bench.
Shawne and Shelden Williams are both nice athletes that have never been able to translate that into becoming consistent NBA contributors. Rookie Jordan Williams makes sure New Jersey leads the league in guys named Williams and has some skill but must work his way into shape.
French journeyman Johan Petro is the backup big on the roaster and offers a wide body for 10 to 15 minutes a night.
COACHING: Johnson certainly has a winning pedigree but he still has a long way to go with the Nets. Known as a motivator more than an X's and O's guy, Johnson is highly respected and his 15 years of playing experience carries a lot of water with the players.
OUTLOOK: Barring the acquisition of Howard the Nets are still far from any playoff runs but Williams' ability to command the floor makes them dangerous on a night to night basis. That said, the Nets will need a serious talent infusion before becoming relevant again.
"The main thing is, you don't want to have any unreasonable expectations," Johnson said. "I'm very optimistic. My career has been about overachieving, proving critics wrong."