NBA Season Preview: The New Jersey Nets

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new_jersey_nets_devin_harris_brook_lopez.jpgToday we continue PBT’s run through every team in the NBA, looking at the
changes for the upcoming year. Every weekday from now through the start
of the season a new team will be the focus. We started with the Knicks
yesterday, and will spend this week in the Atlantic Division.

Last season: A nightmare. The worst record in basketball (and nearly the worst in basketball history), and the second-worst mark in efficiency differential last season. The Nets may not have been quite as bad as their record, but then again, their record was pretty atrocious.

Head Coach: Avery Johnson, in his first head coaching gig since being dismissed from the Mavericks in 2008. Avery won’t be able to maintain that .735 winning percentage from his three seasons and change in Dallas, but he’s an effective coach with a lot to work with.

Key Departures: Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Keyon Dooling, Jarvis Hayes (‘key’ might be a stretch), Josh Boone (same), Bobby Simmons’ massive contract, hopes and dreams for a marquee free agent.

Key Additions: Troy Murphy, Derrick Favors, Jordan Farmar, Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow, Damion James, implementation of Plan B, or possibly Plan C.

Best case scenario: Substantial improvement that puts New Jersey just outside the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Nets still have a ways to go before they’re ready to really compete for a playoff spot, but they could definitely take a big leap forward this season.

For that to happen: Avery Johnson will need to change the culture of the team immediately. It’s a delicate thing, but the fresh start offered by a new season should do wonders for a squad looking to get as far away from last year as possible.

The new pieces will have to be integrated seamlessly if the Nets are going to meet their most optimistic projections, and most of them will need to perform at or above their expected levels of production. Devin Harris needs to play like Devin Harris. Brook Lopez needs to stay afloat. Avery Johnson needs to figure out how to best utilize Terrence Williams, without neglecting the talents of Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, and Damion James. Derrick Favors will need to step in and contribute immediately as a back-up for both bigs.

Most importantly, the Nets will need to improve their defense by leaps and bounds. Well, now that you mentioned it, their offense, too. The personnel changes will help a lot, but finding a cohesive fit for all of a team’s pieces is an under-appreciated part of the team-building process, and one that Avery Johnson will experience for the first time. Avery’s never had to work from the ground up. He stepped into a situation in Dallas where the the table had already had been set for him. All Avery had to do was grab a healthy serving of Dirk Nowitzki, dab a little butter on top, and go to work.

The Nets lack that singular star, which means Avery will either have to groom or luck into one. Maybe Lopez or Harris will evolve into the player the Nets need them to be, but from September, I don’t think either one is quite there.

More likely the Nets will: Otherwise, you’re looking at a team
that will surely improve, but not enough for an obligatory mention on
the late-season “playoff bubble.” The Nets have too much left to prove
to think otherwise. Jersey made talent upgrades throughout their
roster, and had a hell of an off-season, even if they did miss out on LeBron James and company. They’ll be better. Much better,
if things go according to plan, but progress is a process, unless
you’re the Miami Heat.

The Nets were a horrible rebounding team last season, so they added Troy Murphy (who is
completely underrated on the glass) and Derrick Favors. Their shooting was
atrocious (New Jersey was 30th in effective field goal percentage in ’09-’10),
so they added Anthony Morrow, one of the top three-point shooters in
the league, Travis Outlaw, who’s made a living off of his mid-range
game and shot creation, and Jordan Farmar, a nice back-up point guard
option with a shot of his own. Not enough? How about Murphy’s range and
Damion James’ scoring, to boot? How about another year of experience
and development from a young core?

How about Terrence Williams playing every game with the potential to absolutely explode?

Watching the Nets last season was sometimes akin to having teeth pulled by a rhinoceros, but this year should be far more pleasant. The rhino may even use anesthesia. Losing seasons aren’t easy for any fan base to swallow, but after a 12-win year, things are looking way, way up for New Jersey. Avery just needs to see what he has and how to use it, and his players need to see what they can offer and what to do with it. There may not be top-tier star power here, but this is a team that could be quite good in just a few years’ time.

Prediction: 34 wins. I know Mikhail Prokhorov had plans to contend almost immediately, but now his patience will be put to the test. Winning 34 games would represent something impressive for the Nets, but sometimes that’s just not enough.

Call it a rebuilding year if you’d like, but New Jersey has pieces in place. They just need to ferment awhile. 

Report: 76ers didn’t offer Jimmy Butler five-year max contract once free agency opened

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The 76ers offered Jimmy Butler a five-year max contract, according to Tom Haberstroh of NBC Sports. However, Adrian Wojnarowski reported Philadelphia wasn’t offering Butler a five- or even four-year max deal.

What explains the discrepancy?

Maybe timing.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

But on June 30, there was no five-year maximum offer for Butler, multiple sources say.

That doesn’t explicitly say the 76ers offered Butler a five-year max earlier, but it intentionally leaves the possibility wide open. After all, when Philadelphia traded for Butler in the final year of his contract, everyone knew he expected a max contract. He said so himself. After early tension, the 76ers still expressed desire to re-sign Butler. As free agency neared, they kept sending those signals.

What changed?

Maybe Philadelphia had second thoughts about paying Butler so much. There are reasonable concerns. But it’d be odd if the 76ers went so far down the road toward re-signing Butler only to reverse course at the last moment because of internal evaluations. That assessment could have been made earlier.

Al Horford unexpectedly became available, and Philadelphia used Butler’s vacated cap space to sign him. With Butler and the capped-out Heat wanting him in Miami, the 76ers also leveraged another good playerJosh Richardson – in a sign-and-trade. Perhaps, once realizing it was an option, Philadelphia just preferred Horford and Richardson to Butler (and retaining J.J. Redick‘s Bird Rights). That’d be simple enough.

Whatever happened, I bet it’s the crux of the secret story Butler recently alluded to.

Nets to wear ‘Bed-Stuy’ jerseys (video)

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Nets forward Kevin Durant said, “The cool thing now is not the Knicks.”

Brooklyn is cool.

So, the Nets are getting more overt about connecting to the image of their borough. After wearing Notorious B.I.G.-inspired uniforms with Coogi-sweater-style trim, Brooklyn is slapping “Bed-Stuy” – the neighborhood brought to mass popularity by Biggie, Jay-Z and others – onto its jerseys.
Nets:

I can’t decide whether these jerseys are actually cool or trying too hard to be cool.

Also, the Nets apparently aren’t daunted by a Coogi lawsuit.

First non-white player in modern professional basketball, Wat Misaka dies at 95

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SALT LAKE CITY — Wataru “Wat” Misaka, the first non-white player to play in the league that was the predecessor to the NBA, has died. He was 95.

Misaka played three games for the New York Knicks during the 1947-48 season in the Basketball Association of America. He was the league’s first player of of Japanese descent.

A 2008 documentary called “Transcending: The Wat Misaka Story” told the story of what Misaka went through as a trailblazing athlete.

Misaka attended a 2013 Utah Jazz game to watch Jeremy Lin play.

The University of Utah athletic department said in a news release Thursday that Misaka died Wednesday in Salt Lake City. He grew up in Ogden, Utah.

Mikasa was the point guard on the Utah team that won the NCAA Tournament in 1944 and the NIT in 1947.

Reggie Miller reports Zion Williamson to return in mid-December

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If you missed this because Reggie Miller’s color commentary makes you reach for the mute button, nobody would blame you. It’s something we all feel the need to do.

However, doing it Thursday night during the Pelicans’ win over the Suns would have caused you to miss Miller doing some actual reporting on the return of Zion Williamson, saying sources tell him the rookie is on track to return in “mid-December.”

If your first reaction is “I trust Reggie Miller’s reporting as much as the Weekly World News” you would generally be correct.

But in this case we may want to listen. First, Miller does talk to GMs, coaches, and front office types. Second, what he says fits the already established timeline for Williamson’s return from knee surgery, which was “around or before Christmas.” This is not breaking news so much as a confirmation of what we already know.

Williamson certainly makes the Pelicans more dynamic, more athletic, plus much more entertaining and watchable. The sooner we get him back on the court, the better for all of us.