ProBasketballTalk 2013-14 Preview: The Brooklyn Nets

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Today kicks off ProBasketballTalk’s season previews. Over the next six weeks we will preview every team in the NBA, looking at the upcoming season. We will start in the Atlantic Division.

Last season: Brooklyn baby!! The Nets moved out of New Jersey to Brooklyn, into their sweet new crib the Barclays Center, wearing a new stylish black-and-white look. On the court they were 27 wins better than the season before — thanks to Joe Johnson and Gerald Wallace joining a mostly healthy Brook Lopez, Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace. Brooklyn had a good offense but struggled on the other ends of the court much of the year. The Nets made the playoffs as the four seed but fell in seven games to a Chicago Bulls team that had an ingrained identity and was tougher.

Signature highlight from last season: Deron Williams sets NBA record with nine first-half threes (11 for the game).

Key player changes: Mikhail Prokhorov laughs at your puny salary cap. With luxury tax provisions ratcheting up this season teams everywhere are looking to shed salary and avoid the tax — but not the Nets. They head into the season with a payroll of $102.2 million (according to Shamsports.com), which will mean about $87 million more in taxes. That’s $189 million just in player payroll.

But they added real talent — a trade with Boston brings Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets (in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, Keith Bogans, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, and three future first round draft picks). The Nets also got Andrei Kirilenko at a steal of a deal ($3.2 million next season, the tax-payers midlevel exception). All of that, especially the AK47 deal, angered a lot of people around the league who don’t like guys flaunting their strict mew new rules.

Keys to the Nets season:

1. Keep Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce healthy for the playoffs. In the playoffs last year Chicago — as banged up as the Bulls were without Derrick Rose and Luol Deng — were just tougher than the Nets. Garnett and Pierce solve that. Garnett quarterbacking the defense also should improve the Nets on that end of the court — but all of that only works if they are healthy come the playoffs. Those are not young bodies. New coach Jason Kidd should understand this, but he has to keep the minutes for those veterans under control (as Doc Rivers did in Boston) so they are their old selves come the postseason.

2. Deron Williams plays like the Utah version of himself. Last season was the best one Deron Williams has had since his trade to the Nets — he had a true shooting percentage of 57.4 (combining field goals, threes and free throws) which was his best since 2009 in Utah. He started to play like a superstar again — remember five years ago there was a “D-Will or Chris Paul “ discussion. Not anymore. The Nets offense runs through Williams, and he needs to take another step forward for the Nets to reach their goal — he has to be a superstar again. He’s got weapons around him, but how will he use them.

3. Defense. They can’t be average (last season they were 17th in the league in points allowed per possession). Garnett is supposed to help on that end of the court, but it’s going to take more than just him. Brook Lopez has treated defense as an afterthought, he can’t anymore. Kirilenko has to come off the bench and block shots. Jason Kidd has to put a system in place that focuses on that end. The Nets will score, but they need to get more regular stops.

4. Can Jason Kidd coach? Last season we had no idea what kind of team the Nets ultimately wanted to be — they slowed the game down (third slowest pace in the league) but they didn’t play good defense (which if you are going to reduce possessions you need to do). Nobody questions Kidd as a leader or Kidd as a guy with great basketball IQ, but that is different than being able to coach/teach those things. Can Kidd (with Lawrence Frank at his side) give this team an identity? Can he make good Xs and Os adjustments? Can he draw up good plays at the end of games? Can he make sure Pierce and KG get rest and hit the playoffs healthy? Can he do all that in his first year? Maybe, but it’s a tall order.

Why you should watch the Nets: Watch Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce make one more run at a ring. This is probably it — these Nets have at best a two-year window with this roster and the reality is this year is their best shot. These are two future Hall of Fame players, we should savor getting to see them make one more run at a ring. We’ll miss them when they are gone.

Prediction: 54-28, somewhere between the 3-5 seed in and they get to at least the second round of the playoffs. These Nets will be better on the court than last year’s Nets, they will likely be a top four seed in the East (they could fall to five, no lower barring injuries). The Nets see themselves as contenders but a lot of things have to go just right for them — everything mentioned in the keys has to break just their way.

On paper this is a potential contender, but I’m not convinced they can meld all of this together perfectly in one year. I think this becomes the most expensive second round playoff team in NBA history.

Three Things to Know: Joel Embiid is having fun again, which was bad news for Boston

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Joel Embiid is having fun again, which was bad news for Boston. This is how special a player Joel Embiid is: After dropping 22 and 10 on Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets on Tuesday night in a Sixers win, Shaq and Charles Barkley (on TNT’s Inside the NBA) ripped Embiid for not being dominant enough.

This is how special a player Joel Embiid was Thursday night: Boston’s Enes Kanter had probably his best game as a Celtics’ big man, and he couldn’t even slow Embiid, who had 38 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists. Embiid was the best player on the floor and was having fun in a 115-109 Philadelphia win on the road.

Shaq and Barkley are right to a degree, and Embiid even admitted as much after the game — he can be more dominant than he has shown this season. “Maybe. I do think they are right. I do need to be more aggressive. Look to impose myself. Look to dominate,” Embiid said, via Noah Levine at NBC Sports Philadelphia. “I think the whole season I haven’t done that and you can see the ways it’s affecting my efficiency and my stats. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominate. I get what they are saying. I think they are right and I gotta make a change.”

Of course, Shaq won his rings when he didn’t have to be that dominant every night because he had someone else who could step up and take over (Kobe, Dwyane Wade). Nobody is sure who that would be on the Sixers. Tobias Harris stepped up with 23 points in this game, but Ben Simmons just has not been the guy the Sixers need. He finished the night with 7 points on 2-of-6 shooting. Josh Richardson seems to have more pick-and-roll chemistry with Embiid than Simmons. Still, Simmons makes a few plays every game that shows what he can be.

Philly also won this game because their defense was impressive in the second half. Their length bothered Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, who shot a combined 8-of-27.

When the Sixers defend like they did in the second half, and when Embiid is dominant like he was, Philadelphia looks like the second-best team in the East and a threat to Milwaukee. We just haven’t seen it consistently this season.

Boston has now lost back-to-back games to good East teams — Indiana and Philadelphia — and while it’s just December and far too early to panic, it also shows why Boston may want to be active around the trade deadline if they can find a good deal (but stop with the Kevin Love talk, that’s not happening).

2) Former NBA Commissioner David Stern suffers brain hemorrhage, has to undergo emergency surgery. David Stern collapsed at a Manhattan restaurant on Thursday and was raced to a hospital where he underwent emergency surgery for a brain hemorrhage. That means bleeding in or around the brain, and that is as bad and life-threatening as it sounds.

The NBA released this statement.

“NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage earlier today for which he underwent emergency surgery.  Our thoughts and prayers are with David and his family.”

The reaction around the NBA was immediate.

Stern, 77, took over as NBA commissioner back when Finals games were shown on tape delay after midnight on major networks. Stern came along at the right time — first the Magic/Bird era and rivalry, then Michael Jordan — but he understood what an opportunity this was for the league and changed how it marketed itself, it became a league of stars. That remains to this day. He grew the NBA into one of the most dominant sports leagues on the planet.

Our thoughts are with him and his family.

3) Luka Doncic muy impresionante in Mexico City. There were “M-V-P! M-V-P!” chants in the Arena Ciudad de Mexico Thursday night — Mexico City loves Luka Doncic.

Doesn’t everyone right now?

Doncic did everything right Thursday, from addressing the crowd pregame in fluent Spanish (he played for Real Madrid in Spain before coming to the NBA) to dropping a 41-point triple-double on the Pistons to get the Mavericks another win, 122-111. Doncic finished the night with 41 points, 12 rebounds, and 11 assists.

Seth Curry added 30 as the Pistons found out just how good that Dallas offense is. Kristaps Porzingis scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half and got Andre Drummond’s attention.

Dallas is 17-7 on the season and looks like a team that could have home court for the first round of the playoffs.

Former NBA Commissioner David Stern undergoes emergency surgery following brain hemorrhage

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Let’s hope this is not as serious as it sounds.

David Stern, the man at the helm of the NBA through its explosion of popularity in the 1980s and 1990s, collapsed in a New York restaurant Thursday and had to be rushed to a local hospital, where brain surgery was required.

Here is the NBA’s statement on the matter.

“NBA Commissioner Emeritus David Stern suffered a sudden brain hemorrhage earlier today for which he underwent emergency surgery.  Our thoughts and prayers are with David and his family.”

The call to NYFD came in around 2 p.m., and he was taken from a restaurant straight to the hospital, according to reports.

Stern, 77, was a strong-willed leader when the NBA needed a direction. When he took over NBA Finals games were shown on tape delay after midnight on major networks. Stern oversaw the growth in the league’s popularity through the Magic/Bird era of the 1980s and into the Michael Jordan era of the 1990s. He grew the game and the league not only within domestic borders but internationally, branding the NBA as the best basketball played on the planet.

Our thoughts are with him and his family, hoping for a speedy recovery.

Glen “Big Baby” Davis pleads no contest to assault outside L.A. nightclub

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Former NBA player Ronald Glen Davis avoided jail time after pleading no contest to a charge that he attacked a man outside a Los Angeles-area nightclub last year, prosecutors said Thursday.

Davis, 33, was accused of throwing the victim into a wall during an altercation in West Hollywood on April 8, 2018.

He entered his plea Wednesday to one felony count of battery with serious bodily injury, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office said.

As part of a plea agreement, Davis is required to complete 320 hours of community labor over the next year. If he meets that condition and breaks no other laws, the battery count will be reduced to a misdemeanor, prosecutors said.

Davis also paid $104,479 in restitution.

Known by the nickname “Big Baby,” Davis played for the Boston Celtics, the Orlando Magic and the Los Angeles Clippers. Since retiring from the NBA he played in the Big3, where his team the Power won the 2018 title.

Another report Knicks president Steve Mills is on hot seat

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We’ve discussed these reports before, and they shouldn’t be a surprise:

Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry are on the hot seat and could be removed after the season. This time the report comes from the well-connected Ian Begley of SNY.TV.

Several members of the organization said this week that they fully expect Mills will be replaced as team president at the end of the season — if not sooner — unless the club somehow turns things around…

A source said last week that Mills and Perry are under significant pressure following the firing of head coach David Fizdale. If Mills is let go the Knicks will likely turn their attention to Toronto exec Masai Ujiri. Sam Presti also has fans within the organization. If Mills was let go in season, the expectation is that Perry would take over for the remainder of the year.

On head coaching front, we can add that Jason Kidd and Mark Jackson have support within the organization.

Let’s leave the head coaching rumors alone for now, because whoever is the guy with the hammer in the front office next summer is the guy who should make that call.

Two things should concern Knicks fans here.

First, the report states Mills likely is replaced “unless the club somehow turns things around.” There is a long and storied list of horrific trades made by POBOs/GMs desperate to save their jobs. The kind of moves that ties the hands of whoever comes in next for years. If owner James Dolan is serious about bringing in someone with a track record of success — and giving them complete and total authority — then Dolan can’t let Mills start making desperation trades at the deadline to try and save his job. If interim coach Mike Miller can start winning with this roster as is, that’s different (and highly unlikely), but don’t let Mills mess up the future to marginally improve the present.

Second is this question: Will Mills be re-assigned to a new position with the Knicks — so Dolan keeps his man in the building — or is he shown the door? That will be the tell about the future of the Knicks. Phil Jackson, the executive with the most power in the past couple of decades for the Knicks, was not allowed to remove Mills (among other times he was handcuffed in making changes). Not having that power is why at least one big-name candidate told NBC Sports he stepped back during the last team president hiring process. There is zero chance Ujiri or Presti or any other candidate with options takes the job if Mills just gets shuffled around again.

It’s the Knicks and James Dolan, predict what will happen at your own risk.