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. 

NBA in London: Wizards vs Knicks in January

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LONDON (AP) — The NBA will return to London next year with a regular-season game between the Washington Wizards and the New York Knicks.

Tickets for the Jan. 17 game at the O2 Arena will go on sale in the fall.

It will be the NBA’s ninth regular-season game in London, all sellouts. The Knicks have played there twice, facing the Detroit Pistons in 2013 and the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015. This will be the first game in London for the Wizards.

International players on the rosters include Wizards center Marcin Gortat of Poland, Knicks forward Kristaps Porzingis of Latvia and Knicks point guard Frank Ntilikina, who was born in Belgium to Rwandan parents and grew up in France.

The game will be shown by the NBA’s broadcast partners across Europe, the Middle East and Africa and on NBA League Pass International.

 

Adam Silver of some fans’ distaste for Warriors: “I get it” but adds team drafted well

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As the Warriors were sweeping past the Cleveland Cavaliers in the finals, the lack of competitiveness of that series became a talking point. LeBron James, for all his greatness (especially before punching that whiteboard, which was asking for it) could not get this team a win. Superteams like the Warriors are not good for the NBA, the league needs more competitiveness, the argument goes.

Adam Silver feels your pain.

To a degree. He said he gets concerns, but added that the NBA has always been a league of dynasties, and that while Kevin Durant was a free agent the Warriors drafted Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. Silver was on ESPN radio’s Golic and Wingo show Wednesday and said this:

“I get it in terms of Kevin Durant going [to the Warriors in 2016]. It was a bit of an aberration in our system; we had a spike in our cap, it enabled them to have additional cap room. The Warriors will tell you they would have figured out a way to get it done anyway,” he said….

“I’ve said repeatedly, let’s also celebrate excellence. Ownership, the job Bob Myers has done as a GM, Steve Kerr, of course, one of the great coaches in our league. Steph Curry, drafted; Klay Thompson, drafted; Draymond Green drafted 35th by Golden State Warriors,” Silver said.

Silver said the NBA doesn’t “want to go about breaking up teams just to break them up, just to force some sort of parity that is kind of unnatural,” but he said the league and its players can talk about changes to the player-movement system.

First, player movement is good for the league — why do you think the NBA offseason is so compelling? Shorter contracts, players willing to shift teams, it is why the NBA wins the offseason every year. Fans love it. Why would the league even consider cutting that off? Even small market owners are not that short-sighted.

In the interview, Silver then went on to mention a hard salary cap, something he brought up a few times speaking with the media at the NBA Finals. Silver works at the pleasure of the NBA owners, which suggests there is at least a faction of them that wants to go aggressively at a hard cap in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. It would never get approved by the players (and the owners know that), but Silver and some owners enjoy rattling sabers.

It also would not bring parity to the NBA. It’s not the nature of the sport. If you draft/sign LeBron you are going to win more games than you lose because he is the best basketball player in the world and he gets to touch the ball 100 times a game and influence the outcome. The same is basically true of Kevin Durant and James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo and the games’ other handful of truly elite players. It’s as if the Nationals got to pitch Max Scherzer every night — they’d win a lot more games.

And stars have always paired up to win — Bill Russell and Cousy, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (and James Worthy), Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen, Shaq and Kobe. The NBA has always been about dynasties.

Behind Durant and the hard cap talk seems to be the real issue — owners and some fans don’t like players exercising power about where they play and who they play with. Owners who draft a player want to control his rights as long as they can, but players are not just the pawns of guys in suits in front offices anymore. They are working to control their own destiny. If Kawhi Leonard is not happy in San Antonio, he will force his way out to a place he wants to be — and take less money to do it. That is a change from the past. LeBron formed a super team in Miami (and could again this summer). Durant decided to join an organic one in Golden State. Chris Paul forced his way to play with Harden in Houston.

That dynamic is not going to change, either.

Mo Bamba really doesn’t want to go to Memphis

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It’s the time of year when agents try to influence what team drafts their client. Ultimately, the teams have the power here — if they want a player they can draft him and hold onto his rights until he agrees to play for them. (The only way out is for a player to sit out every level of basketball for a season, domestic and overseas, then re-enter the draft with a diminished status.)

That doesn’t stop agents from trying. The withhold medical information. They refuse to let their player workout for the team. Or, they just tell the team their player doesn’t want to be there. A number of players have done that with Sacramento.

Mohamed Bamba is doing that with Memphis. That’s according to ESPN’s Jonathan Givony on Memphis radio.

With a “let’s make the playoffs next season/keep the status quo” mentality in Memphis, Bamba is not really a fit anyway. Bamba may have the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft, but he also has farther to go to reach that ceiling than almost anyone in this draft. He has the potential to be a defensive force, but he has to get his legs and core much stronger. He is incredibly raw on offense. Looking at a guy who was at times casual in his play in college, will he put in the work to get there?

Who would make more sense for the Grizzlies at No. 4? Jaren Jackson Jr. for one, but…

Memphis also may be more likely to trade their pick than anyone in the top five. Considering their options, the Grizzlies may see that as the best option, if they get a decent offer.

Report: Charlotte trading Dwight Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov

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When Mitch Kupchak was hired as the new general manager in Charlotte, the big question was could he convince Michael Jordan it was time to rebuild the Hornets. The Kemba Walker/Dwight Howard team won 36 games last season, and even though there seemed to be potential on the roster the team had made the playoffs just twice in the past five seasons (and been bounced in the first round both times).

It appears the answer is yes.

The first step, move Dwight Howard and his $23.8 million salary for next season, which is happening with a trade to Brooklyn, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Charlotte Hornets have agreed to send Dwight Howard to the Brooklyn Nets for center Timofey Mozgov, two future second-round picks and cash, league sources told ESPN…

The Hornets will receive the Nets’ second-round pick (No. 45) in Thursday’s NBA draft and a 2021 second-round pick, league sources said.

Mozgov has two years and $32.7 million left on his contract. Charlotte general manager Mitch Kupchak signed Mozgov to the four-year, $64 million deal with the Los Angeles Lakers two years ago.

Technically this trade can’t be completed until July 6, when the NBA’s signing moratorium ends at the start of free agency. The Hornets will pick for the Nets on Thursday night in the second round then complete the trade on July 6.

The Hornets were a team pushing the luxury tax (yes, seriously) and this move saves money in the short term and gets them away from that tax line.

Look for the Hornets to consider trading Kemba Walker too, either around the draft or before the trade deadline next year. Or at least they should, he can walk as a free agent in 2019 and that would leave them stuck. There were rumors the other players in the Charlotte locker room were not Howard fans, this could have been a move to appease the veterans. That still does not make this team better.

The Nets will save nearly $17 million in salary for the 2019-20 season and they can open up two max contract slots. Not that they are going to land Kyrie Irving or Kawhi Leonard or the other elite free agents of that summer, but Brooklyn will have the leverage to go after the right players (think restricted free agents they can poach) who will fit with their future.

Also, they get a big man in Howard who was solid last season for the Hornets while nobody was looking — he averaged 16.6 points, 12.5 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game. Coach Steve Clifford put Howard back in his comfort zones, didn’t ask him to do too much, and with that Howard played well, he had a PER of 20.5.

Howard’s going to love hamming it up in Brooklyn off the court.

On the court, the Nets have who they believe to be the center of their future in Jarrett Allen, who came on through his rookie season as he got more and more run. Howard and Allen will split time at the five, but will Howard handle coming off the bench?. If the Nets can get a healthy Jeremy Lin, growth from Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a little more (or anything, really) out of Allen Crabbe, some throwback games from DeMarre Carrol, and the Nets could be an entertaining team to watch next season.