NBA Season Preview: New Jersey Nets

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Last season: 24-58, a better-than-last-year mark that reminds us all just how terrible bad teams can be.

Head Coach: Avery Johnson, who still has a lot to prove. We know he can yell at teams filled with veterans until they win 60+ games, but how effectively can he groom young talent? How does his system operate with an elite point guard at the helm? Can he really push Brook Lopez to new heights, or is his abrasive style more taxing than it is helpful? Every month of Avery only leaves me with more questions, and hopefully this season we’ll finally get a few answers.

Key Departures: Kris Humphries?, Travis Outlaw, Brandan Wright

Key Additions: Shawne Williams, Marshon Brooks, Shelden Williams

Best case scenario: You know the drill: the Nets somehow pull off the trade of the century, and pair Deron Williams with the second best player in the NBA. Dwight Howard coming to the Nets would change everything for New Jersey/Brooklyn/the known universe, and would without a doubt represent this team’s best possible outcome.

For that to happen: New Jersey would probably need to stockpile more trade assets. A package that would gift Brook Lopez, oodles of draft picks, and financial relief to the Magic reportedly wasn’t enough to even keep Orlando at the table, meaning that the Nets will have to find some creative ways to improve their offer. Is there another third team out there — aside from the Blazers, who attempted to facilitate the Nets’ initial trade configuration —  who could make the offers for Dwight more interesting?

More likely, the Sixers will: Cling desperately to Deron, make every run possible at Dwight, and then still have to wait out Howard’s free agent decision next summer like everyone else. The Nets should have a pretty mediocre season in the meantime, as even a year’s worth of Deron Williams can’t make up for the dearth of capable wing players on the roster. The Nets may not be done dealing in free agency, but if their most current roster is the one they go into the season with, Stephen Graham masquerading as a big-minute wing player is going to get very old very fast.

Prediction: 31-35, which is just good enough to miss the playoffs and secure a mid first-round pick that will inevitably be included in any proposed trades for Howard. Congrats, Nets fans: Williams’ first full season in New Jersey will be completely obscured by the shadow of Dwight Howard’s trade demands, and the season itself — which will feature a scantily upgraded roster in the name of financial flexibility — will again be forgettable. But hey, the team’s better than last year, right?

Watch Lonzo Ball’s 29 point, 11 rebound, 9 assist game Friday night

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This was more of what fans expected from Lonzo Ball.

After a rough first game against the Clippers — with Patrick Beverley in his face all night — Ball found plenty of room to operate against the soft defense of the Phoenix Suns. With room to operate Ball had 29 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists — just one assist short of a triple-double. He helped the Lakers pull away to a lead in the third then hold on for a 132-130 win over the Suns.

Ball wasn’t terribly efficient, 12-of-27 shooting, but he was 4-of-9 from three, he played with great pace, he was decisive, and was finding guys with his passes. It was a step forward, even if it was against a sad defense (Eric Bledsoe can be a good defender, but he has seemed disinterested in recent years).

Ball and the Lakers are going to be up and down this season, the goal is for there to be more ups near the end of the season.

LeBron James rejects Giannis Antetokounmpo at the rim

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Through the first couple games of the season, Giannis Antetokounmpo has put up impressive numbers — he dropped 34 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists on the Cavaliers Friday night.

But the Cavaliers still have LeBron James.

He had 24 points and 8 assists, leading Cleveland to the win.

LeBron also reminded the Greek Freak just how good a rim protector he is. Few people can slow Antetokounmpo on the drive, but LeBron is one of them.

Is it too early to root for a Cavs vs. Bucks playoff series?

Hawks’ DeAndre’ Bembry out with fractured wrist

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In their season opener Wednesday, Atlanta second-year man DeAndre’ Bembry came off the bench and played 17:45, scored six points and was +13 on the night. It was a good start to his career.

But now he is going to miss some time with a fractured wrist.

Bembry underwent an MRI, which revealed a fracture in his right wrist, the Hawks announced Friday. He will return to Atlanta with the team (the Hawks lost to the Hornets Friday night) and will meet with team doctors at the Emory Orthopaedics & Spine Center on Monday. His status will be updated after that.

“We just may play some other guys more, we may use some of the young guys,” Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer told the AP before Friday night’s game. “We’ll just figure it out tonight and as we move forward. I don’t think there’s anything guaranteed for anybody, it’s unfortunate for DeAndre’ and for us.”

 

Danny Ainge says Celtics will apply for Disabled Player Exception

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It’s not likely Gordon Hayward returns this season. His agent said as much, although a return in March is not out of the question. (It’s better PR wise for the Celtics to say he is out for the season, then if he returns early great, it’s better than setting a deadline he doesn’t meet.)

With that, the Celtics are going to apply for the Disabled Player Exception, which could help them land a replacement player, Danny Ainge told Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe.

President of basketball operations Danny Ainge told the Globe on Friday the club is applying for the Disabled Player Exception, which would provide the Celtics $8.4 million to pursue a player to fill Hayward’s roster spot.

“We’re in the process of doing that,’’ Ainge said. “We have a while to do that. There’s no urgency, but we will apply for that.”

There are limits to what that money can get the Celtics. The money is the same as the mid-level exception, the Celtics can go over the cap to use it, and the player can be obtained via free agency or trade. However, the player must be in the last year of his contract.

It gives the Celtics options. It also does not mean Hayward cannot return, it only means NBA-approved doctors determined he is not likely to return before a mid-June deadline.