Are the Brooklyn Nets contenders now? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

78 Comments

Thanks to a blockbuster trade with Boston, next season the Brooklyn Nets will start Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez. They will bring Jason Terry off the bench. They will start five former All-Stars and bring a former Sixth Man of the Year off the bench.

So can we say now the Brooklyn Nets are NBA title contenders?

Well… let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Remember how a year ago we all looked at the Los Angeles Lakers on paper — Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Steve Nash — and penciled them into the NBA Finals? I’m not saying the Nets are going to self-destruct in dramatic fashion like L.A., I’m saying don’t assume everything will go smoothly.

Brooklyn should be a better team, a more dangerous playoff team, but a lot of things have to go right for them to knock Miami off it’s three-time defending Eastern Conference champions perch. Their margin for error is small.

What are the Nets’ issues?

• Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce are getting older. And it shows. Don’t confuse 2013-14 Kevin Garnett with 2008 Kevin Garnett. Last season at age 36 Garnett appeared in 68 games and saw dips in efficiency, shooting percentage, and a little on the defensive end. That trend continued in the playoffs. Make no mistake, KG is still good and an upgrade at the four for Brooklyn, but he is 37 now and we can expect his game to erode further. Look at it this way — Garnett looked to wear down trying to stop Tyson Chander in the playoffs. Can he reverse that now as he is one year older?

Similar questions can be asked of Paul Pierce as he is now 36 — he averaged 18.6 points a game last year but his shooting percentage the last two seasons (43.6 percent last year) tailed off from the Boston title years. Again, he is still good and an upgrade, but he will regress some next season. And how will his legs be after an 82-game schedule?

• Can Deron Williams be the Utah Deron Williams again? His last two seasons in Brooklyn D-Will has been good, but he hasn’t been playing at the level we saw him at in Utah. He is still the best player on this team and the guy with the ball in his hands most of the time, he has to be elite. He has to be the guy we compared to Chris Paul, not the guy of the last few years.

• Do they have enough depth for the regular season? Brooklyn has an impressive starting five, but things drop off after that. Jason Terry is a former Sixth Man of the Year but he was unimpressive in Boston and will be age 36 next season. Reggie Evans stays but he will play a limited role on a good team. MarShon Brooks is now gone and part of that deal with Boston. (he wasn’t at first) so he is out. Andray Blatch is a free agent and the buzz around the league is he could bolt. Coach Jason Kidd has to keep the minutes for KG and Pierce and Terry in check this season and still get wins.

• Jason Kidd has to be the coach they think he can be. Kidd’s basketball IQ isn’t in question, but knowing what to do on the court and being able to transfer that knowledge to young players without his gifts is another. First year coaches in this situation can have a rough learning curve (Mark Jackson wasn’t an instant success in Golden State) and the window in Brooklyn with this roster is small. (The Nets did just hire Lawrence Frank to be Kidd’s lead assistant, which should help.)

Make no mistake, I still like this trade for the Nets. For one, they got rid of the horrible Gerald Wallace contract and unloaded Kris Humphries in the process. They had a terrible set of contracts on this team and they got out from under a lot of them and will have more flexibility after this season when Pierce’s deal expires (and Garnett likely retires next summer or in two summers).

Plus Brooklyn did get better on the court. The Nets can now be in the conversation with the Indiana Pacers (who get Danny Granger back) and the Chicago Bulls (who get Derrick Rose back) as to who has a shot to beat the Miami Heat.

But for Brooklyn to reach that NBA Finals goal a whole bunch of things need to go just right. And I am not sold at all that is how the season will unfold.

Watch Orlando’s Terrence Ross drain halfcourt buzzer beater just before half

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Back on their home court, the Orlando Magic are hanging right with the Toronto Raptors in Game 3 of the 1-1 series.

This helped.

It looked like the Magic would go into halftime down by at least six, and then Terrence Ross did this.

Ross’ name came up a lot just before the trade deadline when other teams thought the Magic would decide to tank and move on from their players who could bring back assets to help the rebuild. The Magic were 10 games below .500 and four games out of the eight seed. Orlando decided instead to push for the postseason, and they made their first playoffs since the Dwight Howard era, climbing all the way to the seven seed. That would not have happened without Ross.

Now they are making the most of their opportunity.

Joel Embiid listed as doubtful for 76ers’ Game 4 vs Nets Saturday

Getty Images
1 Comment

NEW YORK (AP) — The Philadelphia 76ers are listing Joel Embiid as doubtful for Game 4 of their first-round series against the Brooklyn Nets.

Embiid has been bothered by a sore left knee, but was able to play in the first two games of the series. He warmed up before Game 3 on Thursday night before it was decided that he couldn’t play.

Embiid worked out Friday at the 76ers’ practice in New York but coach Brett Brown said he didn’t know and didn’t have a gut feeling about whether his All-Star center would be able to go Saturday afternoon.

The 76ers rolled to a 131-115 victory without Embiid and lead the series 2-1. Greg Monroe started at center and had nine points and 13 rebounds, although is role was limited as the game wore on.

Lakers GM Rob Pelinka reportedly meets with Tyronn Lue as coaching search continues

Getty Images
1 Comment

Rob Pelinka seems to have all the front office power in Los Angeles — whether that is wise is another conversation entirely — and he is continuing full speed ahead with the search for the next Lakers’ coach.

Pelinka reportedly has already been in Philadelphia and met with Sixers assistant Monty Williams, who is still busy coaching a playoff team. Miami assistant coach Juwan Howard also reportedly in the mix and is supposed to meet with Pelinka next week.

Friday came the report Pelinka was about to meet with former Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue, via Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN. This has been expected.

Lue and Williams are considered the frontrunners, and both have a relationship with LeBron James that would net a thumbs up from the Lakers’ star. Lue coached LeBron to a championship in Cleveland, and while a lot of casual fans like to rip his coaching by the end of his time with the Cavaliers he was running some pretty creative stuff and getting players into good matchups and positions.

Williams is a former Pelicans’ head coach who also has a strong relationship with Anthony Davis (not that the hiring of a coach would have any impact on where Davis is traded, however, if he leaves where he is traded as a free agent in 2020 the coach could be a factor). Williams has spent time in the Spurs front office and on the coaching bench for the Sixers and Thunder. Williams’ strength is the perception he is not LeBron’s guy, unlike Lue.

Wojnarowski also said that Lue is pushing back on the idea he is LeBron’s coach, saying he would be coaching the Lakers not just one player. In Cleveland, Lue had the trust of LeBron and that allowed the coach to challenge his star at points.

Minnesota to meet with Chauncey Billups, Trajan Langdon for lead front office job

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Minnesota may have settled on its coach for next season — Ryan Saunders seems to have a lock on the position — and are now working backward to hire his boss, the new president of basketball operations.

That could be former Pistons legend and current ESPN analyst Chauncey Billups, or Nets assistant GM Trajan Langdon, both of whom have interviews coming up with Minnesota’s leadership, according to reports.

Billups has the most recognizable name of the group and a high basketball IQ, but he also has zero front office experience. While Billups has shown interest in other GM/basketball ops jobs before, there are some around the league questioning if Minnesota owner Glen Taylor is going to pay what it would take to get Billups out of ESPN. That said, there will at least be a conversation.

Minnesota also has met with Clippers GM Michael Winger, Rockets’ No. 2 Gersson Rosas, and Nuggets assistant GM Calvin Booth. This is a strong lineup of people from the “guys who have paid their dues and deserve a shot” file.”

Whoever takes over the job will fill the shoes of Tom Thibodeau, who was let go mid-season and who hamstrung the roster with his win-now decisions. In the positives column, Minnesota has All-NBA level player in Karl-Anthony Towns at the heart of the roster. After KAT there is work to do. Andrew Wiggins will make $27.5 million next season and has four more seasons after that at max money (right now that contract is as close to untradable as any in the NBA). Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million, and Jeff Teague opted into his $19 million. Lowering the cost of this roster while turning the Timberwolves back into a playoff team will require a lot of creativity.