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.

Jimmy Butler: “So much more fun to play with these guys”

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Jimmy Butler is in Philadelphia now, but he is not done throwing shade at his former teammates in Minnesota.

Butler had 28 points on 12-of-15 shooting, including the game-clinching layup, as the 76ers beat the Jazz 113-107 Friday night. After the game, he got the walk-off interview with Serena Winters and took a dig at his former Minnesota teammates.

“It’s so fun to win. So much more fun to play with these guys… Everybody wants to win, and when somebody messes up, you talk to them and they do their job.”

Part of Butler’s issues with Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins was he felt they didn’t want to win badly enough, that they didn’t measure up to his level of passion. Butler is still in the honeymoon phase with Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons and the Sixers, but so far he likes the intensity so far and is happy to make a note of the difference.

By the way, they’re happy in Minnesota without him — the Timberwolves are 3-0 since the trade, Karl-Anthony Towns is back to playing like his All-NBA self, and he says the communication is better now and guys are taking responsibility.

 

Pelicans Elfrid Payton returns, starts, injured again

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) —The New Orleans Pelicans say point guard Elfrid Payton has a fractured finger on his left hand.

Payton injured his finger in the first quarter of his first game back on Friday night after he’d missed New Orleans’ nine previous games with a right ankle sprain.

Soon after, Payton was ruled out for the remainder of the game against the New York Knicks.

Acquired as a free agent this past offseason, Payton has played in six games for New Orleans. He entered Friday night’s games with averages 11.6 points and 6.4 assists through his first five games, but did not have a point or assist in eight minutes against New York before his latest injury.

 

Kyrie Irving scores 43, Celtics beat Raptors 123-116 in OT

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BOSTON (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 11 straight Boston points down the stretch and scored 17 in all in the last 8:06 of the fourth quarter.

Then in overtime, he really turned it on.

The Celtics guard made or assisted on every basket in the extra period, finishing with 11 assists and a season-high 43 points on Friday night to lead Boston to a 123-116 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

“Man, he made some shots tonight where you’re just like, `Wow,”‘ forward Gordon Hayward said. “You catch yourself being a fan. When he gets into that mode, the whole arena knew where we were going, and so did the Raptors. They just couldn’t stop him.”

It was the first time Irving has scored at least 40 points with 10 or more assists in a game. He was the first player do it in the NBA this year, and the first Celtics player since Antoine Walker in 2001.

“Kyrie did a great job in the fourth quarter knocking down shots,” said Kawhi Leonard, who scored 31 points and had a season-high 15 rebounds for Toronto. “We fought hard tonight, they played a better game and we’ve just got to keep playing better.”

Jayson Tatum had 21 points and seven rebounds for the Celtics, who evened the season series at one game apiece against the only team to finish above them in the Eastern Conference last season. The home team has won nine straight matchups.

Serge Ibaka scored 21 and Pascal Siakam had 16 points and nine rebounds for the Raptors, who have lost three straight since opening the season with 12 victories in their first 13 games. Toronto never led in overtime.

“It was just a veteran game out there, just great competition for a Friday night in the NBA,” Irving said. “You’ve got to appreciate that, two great teams going at it. And I’m pretty sure we’ll see them down the road.”

 

Jimmy Butler, Joel Embiid lead Sixers past Jazz 113-107

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jimmy Butler had the sellout crowd chanting his name and singing his favorite theme song.

Butler scored 28 points in his home debut, Joel Embiid had 23 and the Philadelphia 76ers beat the Utah Jazz 113-107 on Friday night.

Butler, the four-time All-Star acquired Monday from Minnesota in a five-player trade, got a loud ovation during introductions and quickly made an impression as the Sixers built a 16-point lead in the first quarter.

Fans serenaded him throughout the game and he got to hear the team’s “1-2-3 Sixers” theme song after the win.

“I already knew this crowd would be excited,” Butler said. “Now that I have them on my side it’s better for me. Y’all, we, have some great fans. Y’all have the catchiest song. I used to sing it in my head when I came in here.”

The Jazz rallied after a rough first quarter and the teams went back-and-forth in the fourth quarter. Jae Crowder‘s put-back after Ricky Rubio‘s stole the ball and missed a lay-up gave Utah a 107-105 lead with 1:37 left. JJ Redick tied it on a pair of free throws. Ben Simmons‘ driving lay-up gave the 76ers a 109-107 lead.

Butler then hit a jumper to extend the lead and drew an offensive foul, sending the crowd into a frenzy as Hall of Famer Allen Iverson jumped up to celebrate from his courtside seat.

“The atmosphere was amazing,” Embiid said.

The 76ers are 29-1 in last 30 regular-season home games.

Redick had 16 points and Simmons had 10 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Embiid scored 12 of his points in the fourth quarter after he played less than a minute in the third because he had four fouls.

Donovan Mitchell led the Jazz with 31 points.

“We competed but we have to be smarter,” Jazz coach Quin Snyder said. “We had some mistakes where we have to think more. They add up against a team like this.”

After the Jazz made the first basket, Butler scored on a reverse layup to begin a 12-0 run. He also nailed a 3-pointer during that stretch as Philadelphia dominated early.

But Utah closed to 54-52 at halftime following Derrick Favors‘ alley-oop dunk.

Redick and Mike Muscala hit consecutive 3s early in the third quarter. However, the Jazz came back and went up 81-80 on Mitchell’s jumper late in the quarter.

“Up until the end, we made a few mistakes, but we played passionate,” Mitchell said. “Honestly, they’re a great team, but we had the game in the bag except for a few mistakes. I think the game just got away.”