NBA Season Preview: Brooklyn Nets

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Last Season: I want you to imagine the most you’ve ever vomited. Like, literally, the greatest single bout of nauseated vomiting you’ve ever gone through. I want you to think about what you ate, what it smelled like, that cold, hard porcelain  or unfeeling trash can that embraced you after the day-old shellfish or that bottle of Bullit whiskey you thought would be awesome to drink in bulk.

That, plus some turnovers, was the Nets last year.

Brook Lopez was hurt. Gerald Wallace was getting adjusted. The organization was clearing the decks for this summer, and Deron Williams, honestly, it seemed like, was not fully invested in throwing himself into the vomit-water over and over again. They weren’t the worst team in the league. But there were games they could have made a good effort for that title. They were not good, at the basketball, as the kids say.

Key Departures: Johan Petro.

Just kidding! Gerald Green also took off. The Nets didn’t really lose anyone in free agency of note, because it was hard to note anyone beneath all the vomit.

However, the trade for Joe Johnson did send Anthony Morrow and DeShawn Stevenson out.

Key Additions: Mikhail Prokhorov kind of made it rain. Barclays finished construction and the sky over Brooklyn opened up and started to rain down cash for sub-All-Stars.

They re-signed Deron Williams, after it was expected there would be a tense decision over Dallas vs. Brooklyn, instead, Mark Cuban didn’t even attend the Mavs’ meeting with Williams, and Williams re-upped for the max. How did Brooklyn sway the All-Star point guard to buy into their team after all the vomit?

They traded for what many consider to be the worst contract in the NBA. The Nets pulled off a stunner trade, as Danny Ferry kick-started a rebuilding process in Atlanta. Sending out a package of delete-able contracts for Johnson netted them a second All-Star to pair with Williams, showed their commitment, and drastically improved their team, regardless of what the salary hawks might say.

From there… more money! Gerald Wallace was re-signed at either a drastic overpay or a semi-bargain depending on which side of the fence you’re on, at four-years, $40 million. They brought back Kris Humphries on a pretty massive deal considering what he brings to the table. They upgraded their bench considerably, adding Reggie Evans to club people, C.J. Watson for back-up point guard, brought over Mirza Teletovic, and added bargain veterans in Andray Blatch and Josh Childress.

Oh, and they gave Brook Lopez a huge four-year deal. They needed a quality starting center and were capped out, so they had to put the money in on Lopez. It’s a big investment in Lopez considering his issues and injury, but if you look at his production before his health problems, very much worth it.

Three Keys to the Nets’ Season:

1. Avery Johnson gets the defense to work: Avery Johnson’s track record with the Nets has been very poor, but so has the talent. He’s got the talent, now he’s got to make it work. Brook Lopez is an offensive-focused center, and can have issues defensively. He’s also got the injury history, but the foot condition is not supposed to  be a recurring problem and the other issue was mono, so you can’t really think he’s going to have problems. That said, he’s not a rim protector. Kris Humphries brings a lot of effort and can defend in space, but he’s also not a dominant defensive presence.

Johnson has to figure out how to put all the pieces together for a team that has no real time together, and has to do it immediately. He’s going to need a lot from Gerald Wallace, almost asking Wallace to do what Andre Iguodala did for the Sixers the last few years. It’s building a strong defense in a defensive-centric conference from non-defensive-focused players who haven’t spent any time together. But if he can make it work, the Nets have the offensive firepower to shoot their way to a high seed in the East.

2. Joe Johnson must learn to live without the ball: For years, Johnson has operated in an ISO-heavy offense in Atlanta where he was allowed to go one-on-one (or one-on-three) at any moment. Now he has to work off-ball because Deron Williams will be the maestro most of the time. He needs to set good screens for the wing pick-and-pop and take advantage of the defense not being prepared for his cuts and catch-and-shoot opportunities. This isn’t to say that Johnson won’t isolate, he will, and Johnson will provide him with those opportunities. But the Nets will be at their best when they employ the tactics that have made the other “super teams” effective, by using their talent to create constant dilemmas for the defense on who to guard, and then creating open looks for star players. Johnson could have the best season of his career if he adjusts to that.

3. Brook Lopez has got to do his thing: Lopez was among the players on the annual “(X Player) got how much money?!” list, but the truth is that he’s a top offensive center in this league (when healthy). He has terrific range, footwork, touch, court awareness and finishing ability (when healthy). Lopez has true size at the position, and if defenses are sagging off of him to guard the Nets’ perimeter weapons with help defense, Lopez is absolutely going to feast (if he’s healthy). You seeing a pattern, yet?

He’s going to get a ton of opportunities, and he’ll be the third best offensive weapon on the team. But more importantly, the Nets desperately need him to improve his rebounding. There are a lot of reasons listed why Lopez’ rebounding fell off the map. The mono and injuries are a good one. But his issues with Avery Johnson should also be noted. He’s got to show a re-commitment to the glass because the Nets are going to need it, even with Humphries on the floor. Lopez has to become an all-around center this year and there is absolutely zero time for him to develop into it any more.

What one thing should scare Nets fans? That these players are not considered elite outside of Williams, and yet the Nets spent a fortune on them. Johnson is a perennial All-Star, but he’s not considered in the top three of shooting guards, when shooting guards is the weakest position in the league at the moment. Lopez comes with a host of concerns. Humphries brings production and effort but has always thrived on losing teams, which can be a worrisome sign. (But would you rather he have struggled on a poor team?).  And Wallace is a one-time All-Star who is dependent on his athleticism and is starting to creep up the age ladder at 30. This is not a superstar team on the level of Boston, Miami, L.A., but they’re paying Brewster’s millions towards the club not just this year but for the next four years, really. If the combination of players isn’t right, it could be a disaster they can’t pull out of, and could make for an ugly situation.

Alternative option: If the past two years of Deron Williams’ play has not been an aberration but a legitimate slide in effectiveness.

How it likely works out: Just fine. Look, Deron Williams, when initiated, is one of the top five point guards in the league and on any given night can look like a top-two point guard (at least). He’s a great defender, a good team leader, a versatile offensive player, and an all-around stud. Joe Johnson is, in all honesty, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, something he almost never gets credit for. And while the dribble-dribble pull-up jumper act gets old, he can still have nights where he takes over. This is the most talent he’s played with since Phoenix (and those Hawks teams were no joke), and he’s got a real opportunity to take his name to the national stage, finally. Wallace is an all-around monster in terms of what he does end to end and Lopez is a fantastic weapon (when healthy). They still have MarShon Brooks they added versatile forwards, and Avery Johnson did coach a Finals team.

They have all the talent in the world. And talent matters in this league. The odds of this being an unmitigated disaster are minuscule. The worst case scenario for them is that they end up on the bottom of the Knicks-Nets-Sixers lump, or that someone gets injured and the thing falls apart. But there’s just too much talent to believe that will happen. This is a team with loads of talent and players that do understand how to play in a team concept, no real divas on this squad. It’s going to be a good team, a very good team, maybe even a borderline-great team.

It’s just not a title contender, and that’s OK.

Prediction: 47-35. That’s right, I’m copping out and putting them with the same record we slapped on New York and the Sixers. The margin of error here is honestly three wins, as any of those three teams could hit 50 win and any of them could wind up just two games over .500. We have to see how it works out. It wouldn’t shock me to see the Nets run up a huge regular season record, though, and land in the top three in the East should the Central division struggle. But coming in just a hair over .500 isn’t out of the question, just because it’s a lot of new faces trying to get on the same page without elite talent outside of Williams. So we land at 47 wins, and for a franchise as bad as the Nets have been (see: vomit) over the past few years, that’s a great start to a new era in Brooklyn.

2018 NBA draft pronunciation guide

AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis
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You’ve watched hours of Luka Doncic YouTube videos. You keep reading. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is climbing draft boards. You’re convinced Zhaire Smith is a sleeper.

And you want to tell everyone about it.

One problem: You’re not quite sure how to say any of these 2018 NBA prospects’ names.

Thankfully, the NBA published a pronunciation guide:

Jaylen Adams: JAY-lin Adams

Deng Adel: Deng uh-DELL

Rawle Alkins: Raleigh ALL-kins

Kostas Antetokounmpo: COAST-us Ah-day-toe-KOON-boe

DeAndre Ayton: dee-AN-dray AY-tin

Marvin Bagley III: Marvin Bag-lee the third

Mohamed Bamba: Mo-HAH-med BAHM-bah

Jaylen Barford: JAY-lin BAR-ferd

Keita Bates-Diop: .KAY-tah Bates DEE-opp

Trevon Bluiett: TRAY-vahn BLEW-it

Isaac Bonga: EE-zack BON-guh

Mikal Bridges: Mick-L Bridges

Jalen Brunson: JAY-lin Brunson

Khadeen Carrington: kuh-DEEN KAIR-ing-tun

Jevon Carter: Je-VOHN Carter

Wendell Carter Jr.: Wen-DELL Carter Jr.

Bonzie Colson: BAHN-zee Cole-son

Angel Delgado: Angel del-GAH-doe

Hamidou Diallo: ha-MUH-dew dee-AH-low

Donte DiVincenzo: Donte dee-vin-CHEN-zo

Luka Doncic: LOO-kuh DON-chitch

Trevon Duval: Trey-VON du-VAL

Matt Farrell: Matt FA-rull

Wenyen Gabriel: WHEN-yin GAY-bree-ull

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: Shay GILL juss Alexander

Devonte’ Graham: De-VON-te Graham

Donte Grantham: DON-tay GRAN-thum

Isaac Haas: Isaac HAHSS

Devon Hall: DEH-vin Hall

Kevin Hervey: Kevin Her-Vee

Tryggvi Hlinason: TRIG-vee hLEE-nuh-son

DJ Hogg: DJ HOAG

Kevin Huerter: Kevin Hurter

Chandler Hutchison: Chandler HUTCH-ih-sin

Jaren Jackson Jr.: Jair-in Jackson Jr.

Alize Johnson: AL-uh-zay Johnson

Arnoldas Kulboka: are-NALL-duss COOL-buh-kuh

Rodions Kurucs: ROE-dee-ons COO-roox

Jock Landale: Jock Lan-dale

Jo Lual-Acuil Jr.: Joe LOO-ahl ah-CHU-ill Jr.

Daryl Macon: DARE-ull MAY-cun

J.P. Macura: JP Muh-CYURE-uh

Kelan Martin: KEY-lun Martin

Yante Maten: Yahn-tay May-tin

MiKyle McIntosh: muh-KY-ull MAC-in-tosh

Jordan McLaughlin: Jordan Ma-GLOFF-lin

De'Anthony Melton: dee-AN-thony Melton

Chimezie Metu: chi-MEH-zee Meh-tu

Manan Musa: JOHN-on MOO-suh

Svi Mykhailiuk: Svee muh-KAI-luke

Malik Newman: muh-LEEK NEW-min

Elie Okobo: EL-ee oh-KO-bo

Josh Okogie: Josh oh-KO-ghee

Theo Pinson: THEE-o PIN-sin

Malik Pope: muh-LEEK Pope

Dusan Ristic: Doo-sahn Wrist-itch

Desi Rodriguez: DEH-zee Rodriguez

Issuf Sanon: ee-SOOF sah-NON

Landry Shamet: Landry SHAM-it

Anfernee Simons: AN-fur-knee SIGH-muns

Zhaire Smith: zhi-AIR Smith

Omari Spellman: o-MAR-ee Spellman

Jared Terrell: Jared turr-ELL

Khyri Thomas: KY-ree Thomas

Allonzo Trier: Alonzo Tree-ER

Moritz Wagner: Mo-RITZ VOG-ner

Yuta Watanabe: YOU-tuh wah-tuh-NAH-bay

Kenrich Williams: KEN-rich Williams

Trae Young: Trey Young

What to watch for in NBA Draft? Trades, trades, trades

Associated Press
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Every year we say it — there’s a lot of buzz about trades heading into the draft. Fans want to see it — teams moving up and down, players getting shipped out or brought in to facilitate those draft day moves.

The comes draft night and… meh. There are a few deals but not like was predicted.

But this year we really mean it — this year there is an incredible amount of buzz about trades.

Starting as high as with Atlanta at No. 3 and more likely Memphis at No. 4, there are going to be picks traded (we already saw one, with the Lakers taking on the 39th pick from the Sixers for a future second rounder). There also are going to be players moved — we already saw Dwight Howard get traded to Brooklyn in what was mostly a financial deal for both sides.

Why will there be trades this year, why is it not going to bomb out like all those other years?

Two reasons.

First, this year there is less of a consensus and a wider variance in how many top picks are ranked by teams. For example, Luka Doncic is a second and pushing for the top spot on some team’s big draft boards, others have him more like seventh. Michael Porter Jr. falls anywhere from No. 2 to “with that back there is no way we take him.” Trae Young could go third (unlikely but not impossible) or 13th. I could go on with Mohamed Bomba or Aaron Holiday or others, but you get the point.

What that means is if a team really likes Bamba or Doncic and he’s still on the board at No. 4, they will be willing to give up players/future picks to get him, and Memphis will be willing to slide back. (If one team is most likely to trade their pick, it’s the Grizzlies, according to sources around the league, but they want to dump the Chandler Parsons contract in the process.) Or take the case with the Hawks at three — they are rumored to really like Young, but they could slide back four or five (or more) slots and get him, plus get another asset from a team that wants to jump up to No. 3 to draft Bamba or Doncic or Jaren Jackson or whoever.

It continues like that all the way down through the lottery and into the first round. The Cavaliers are testing the waters to see what the No. 8 pick and Kevin Love could net them (someone who would help keep LeBron James in town?). The Clippers are thought of as likely to move one of their two picks at 12 and 13. There are a lot of teams who may see the guy they wanted off the board and decide they would slide down the draft, and other teams who see the guy they like still on the board and want to move up or into the first round. That’s what the player evaluation variance means. There’s going to be a lot more pick swaps than usual.

Second — and this is going to carry over into July and free agency — there are a lot of teams where management is looking at their roster, looking at the landscape of the NBA, and thinking “we are paying too much to just be average (or wherever they are at).” Those teams are going to look to move key players. For example, Washington had the fourth highest payroll in the NBA last season, barely got into the playoffs as the eighth seed and were bounced by a Celtics team about to get a lot better. They are rumored to be looking to make dramatic moves.

Toronto is looking to shake things up. Portland is reportedly testing the trade waters for C.J. McCollum. Charlotte is doing the same with Kemba Walker, who is a free agent in a couple of years (although the Howard trade could be about keeping Walker). Miami, Washington, and a host of other teams want to shake things up. There will be unexpected moves.

And that’s not included the more obvious ones: The Spurs being forced to move Kawhi Leonard (not on draft night, however, that will drag out), the Lakers trading most of their young players to get Leonard if they can, the Cavaliers moving Kevin Love (either with the No. 8 pick on Thursday or Love separately if LeBron leaves).

Bottom line: This year we mean it — there’s going to be a lot of trades on draft night. We’re serious. More than most years, there’s a lot of buzz about trades going on around league circles.

How it shakes out is going to be fascinating.

PBT Extra: One last mock draft of NBA lottery

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DeAndre Ayton will go No. 1 to the Phoenix Suns Thursday night. Marvin Bagley III probably goes second to Sacramento (but that’s not a lock).

After that, things get wide open in the 2018 NBA Draft. Teams value different players at very different levels this year, and there are going to be a number of trades.

Which makes putting together a mock draft for this year more random than a roulette wheel. Not that it stopped me. Here is my final mock draft for the 14 lottery picks. I present it without much confidence, but I’m throwing it out there anyway.

Report: Dewayne Dedmon opts in for $7.2 million with Hawks

AP Photo/Todd Kirkland
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The Hawks’ rebuild got going with big John Collins. Though they’re reportedly eying Luka Doncic with the No. 3 pick, they could easily draft another big – Jaren Jackson Jr., Mohamed Bamba, Marvin Bagley or Wendell Carter.

And then there’s veteran center Dewayne Dedmon.

He no longer fits in Atlanta (never did, really). But he’s not bypassing a chance to earn $7.2 million.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

There just wasn’t going to be that much money for the 28-year-old Dedmon in a tight market this summer.

Dedmon is a good defender, and he developed his ball skills – as a 3-point shooter and passer – in Atlanta last season. The Hawks could look to trade him. Maybe, in a deal primarily about his expiring contract, he adds extra value to the other team due to his playing ability.

If Atlanta doesn’t move him, Dedmon will be a fine player on a likely tanking team. At least he’s not good enough to subvert the Hawks’ tank, especially with the new lottery format.