EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Billy King isn't ready to make any bold predications about the New Jersey Nets this season.
The Nets new general manager says he wants to watch the team practice under new coach Avery Johnson before venturing a guess on the 2010-11 season.
King knows one thing though. The team that posted the worst record in the NBA last season (12-70) is going to be better than a year ago with the continued development of Devin Harris, Brook Lopez and Terrence Williams, the addition of rookie Derrick Favors, the free agent signings of Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw and Anthony Morrow and the trade that brought Troy Murphy back to his home state.
"We have competition at almost every position," King said Tuesday at the team's annual breakfast with beat writers. "When you get that, you get guys fighting for minutes. A lot of guys think it's their chance to start. If a guy knows somebody behind him pushing him then they're not going to take a day off of practice because if they do that guy may pass him up and the minutes are gone."
The Nets had very little competition after trading away their star players and it showed on the court. New Jersey opened with a league-record 18 straight losses, fired coach Lawrence Frank and then spent the rest of the season keeping everyone wondering whether they would break the league record for fewest wins (nine) in a season set by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1972-73.
A relaxed King spent the nearly three-hour breakfast discussing politics — he thought of running for the U.S. Senate about six or seven years ago — baseball, football and his days at Duke. He also showed he was still a New Jersey novice. He was almost clueless about the Garden State Parkway and Taylor Ham, a state food staple.
However, he knows the Nets and he believes a key this season will be if Harris plays at the point like he did two seasons ago, when he was chosen an All-Star.
Working with Johnson should help and having a better cast around him also should improve his game.
King says Harris has bounced back before.
"If a guy hasn't done it, then you're hoping he can get to that point," said King, who took over for Rod Thorn, who resigned and then took a similar job with the 76ers. "It goes back to muscle memory. Avery knows how to push the buttons; he's coached him. That's why I'm confident he can do it, because Avery knows what he can do."
King said Harris needs to get back to being a scoring point guard instead of being a setup guy.
On other issues, King said Lopez has just about recovered from an offseason bout with mononucleosis.
Favors, the Georgia Tech power forward who was the third pick overall in the draft, has made significant progress since the summer league.
"He's hitting the jump shot, dunking on people, finishing," King said. "I think the summer and all the work is starting to pay off and starting to click with him. I think the fact that you're bringing in Troy made him realize there's another guy. Competition makes guys focus more."
King said having Murphy and the recently signed Joe Smith around to mentor him will help.
Thorn hired Johnson before leaving, so King did not have a say in the new coach.
However, Johnson reminds King a little of Larry Brown.
"I thought if you looked at the coaches out there, he was the best fit for where they were at the time," King said. " If you take a chance on an assistant who hasn't been there yet, with a young team that has to develop, will the young guys be able to listen to them? I think Avery brings that leadership."
The Nets report to training camp next week.