Last year, the expectations were pretty high but the Nets ultimately fell short of them. The expectations are lower this time around, but they still have a pretty decent shot of making the playoffs for the third consecutive season. As it stands now, they're the only viable contender in the Atlantic Division to the Toronto Raptors. The Celtics and Sixers are in deep rebuilding programs and the Knicks probably won't be any good this year. Even if the Nets don't win the Division, they should be competing for a playoff spot throughout the season. With Paul George out of the way (although he seems to think he can make it back for the playoffs) for the time being, the Nets will be battling for position with teams like Indiana, Miami, and Charlotte. Anything less than a playoff appearance will be seen as a disappointment.
Bold Prediction: The Brooklyn Nets earn a top-four seed. As mentioned in our Nets Media Day post, the team is feeling less pressure relative to last season’s expectations and big trade splashes. They seem a lot looser, but more focused on trying to figure out how all the pieces will fit in Hollins’ approach, which has been flexible in regards to what type of offensive system will be played, but never the type of effort that should be given. There’s a solid core of players and a mix of youth and experience. There are enough stars and role players that the Nets will perform past general expectations and get home court advantage in the postseason, as well as take a series or two.
2013-14 IN REVIEW
2nd in Atlantic Division - 5th in Eastern Conference
Lost to MIA (4-1) in the Eastern Conference Semifinals
Coming into last season, the thought in Brooklyn was that if healthy, the Nets had a serious chance to make a deep run in the Eastern Conference playoffs and perhaps even give Miami a run for their money after back-to-back Eastern Conference titles.
Lots of changes were made in the 2013 offseason, as Russian billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov was ready to help the organization take the next step and compete in the postseason. In a move with the hopes of changing the team's style of play with a bright basketball mind, the Nets decided to bring back old friend Jason Kidd... this time as a coach. Just a few months after Kidd's illustrious 19-year future Hall of Fame playing career came to a close, he immediately accepted new challenges and surprisingly jumped right into a head coaching gig.
Kidd would have a lot to learn as a first-year head coach looking to compete in the playoffs right away, but he certainly had a heck of a roster to work with on paper. In addition to the trio of All-Star caliber players Brooklyn already had in Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, the Nets were extremely active with hopes to bolster their roster for a chance to win right away.
As we all know too well here in Celtic land, the Nets went on to swing for a fences on a deal that pried Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett away from Boston (tear), along with Jason Terry and D.J. White, which cost them Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans, Kris Joseph and their draft picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018. Boston even has the option to swap first round picks with Brooklyn in 2017. That was one heck of a price to pay in terms of assets given up, especially when you consider Brooklyn's eye-popping payroll number that reminds New Yorkers of the Isiah Thomas era with the Knicks.
However, they brought in two certified champions that made it, ma, and they wanted to get back on top of the world just like their new teammates.
Despite the video game-level talent on the roster, the Nets got off to a rough start to open up the season. Throughout the first two months of the season, Brooklyn struggled mightily and won just 10 of their first 31 games. The team's defense was severely lacking, their overall energy level was suspect at best and they had a lot of new faces that needed to get acclimated to their new surroundings.
Another big factor that certainly didn't help Brooklyn was the health status of 2013 All-Star Brook Lopez, who was only able to suit up for 17 games last season due to a broken foot he originally suffered in November. He attempted to play through the pain for a couple of weeks, but in December he was diagnosed with a fractured fifth metatarsal of the same foot he fractured in 2011.
To make things worse, for whatever reason, Deron Williams was no longer the same All-Star ballplayer that we were used to watching. In fact, he had the least productive season of his career since his rookie year in 2005-06 and was simply not the same animal from a standpoint of aggressiveness. Williams battled some ankle issues, but finished the season scoring just 14.3 points and dishing 6.1 assists per game. That kind of drop-off is not something you expect from a 29-year-old that had recently signed a max contract.
Kevin Garnett was nowhere near the level he performed at as a Celtic, even the later stages of his Celtic tenure, and his minutes would be managed more than ever. The 37-year-old KG played just 20 minutes per game in 2013-14, where he put up just 6.5 points and 6.5 rebounds per game shooting just 44% from the field. His fire is still burning and he'll certainly never hurt a team, but as a long-time fan of The Big Ticket, that was difficult to watch. Not only was he in the wrong jersey, he wasn't physically capable of producing at a high level anymore.
Paul Pierce wasn't quite the same, either, but he still put together a consistently productive season despite the significant drop off in his usage. After taking over 14 shots per game in his last two years in Boston, he took under 10 shots per game for the first time in his career last season. However, he was slightly more efficient than he was in the final stages of his Celtic career and still managed to contribute 13.5 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.4 assists in just 28 minutes per game, which was the lowest of his career.
It just wasn't right watching Pierce in a black and white uniform, but at 36 years old, The Truth still has something left in the tank.
With Brooklyn already struggling to win games, many believed that the season-ending Lopez injury would make a turnaround even more difficult for the Nets, but it surprisingly went down the opposite of what most expected. The loss of Lopez forced coach Kidd to go with a smaller lineup, which went as far as placing Paul Pierce at power forward through consistent stretches. As talented as Lopez is, his injury altered Brooklyn's style of play to the point where it likely saved their season.
With small ball intact and an increased sense of urgency, the Nets turned the chapter and played a completely revamped brand of basketball once we hit the New Year. From January 1 to the final regular season contest on April 16, Brooklyn surged back into the mix in the Eastern Conference by finishing the season 34-17. Thanks to the run that helped them rebound from a horrific start, the Nets finished the season above .500 at 44-38 and even earned the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Joe Johnson was outstanding, proving that he still had it and was even named to his 7th Eastern Conference All-Star team behind a team-leading 15.8 points per game and a vintage array of miraculous clutch performances. Iso Joe put the team on his back when his number was called upon, and he played even better as the season progressed.
Brooklyn drew the young and scrappy Toronto Raptors in the first round, where they would fight their Atlantic Division rival through a tough seven-game series that came down to the final possession. Joe Johnson was terrific all series long, scoring 21.9 points per game on 52% shooting. Brooklyn came together to earn two road victories in the series, but also dropped Game 4 at the Barclays Center and had to play Game 7 back in Toronto.
Thanks to a series-saving block from The Truth in the waning moments of Game 7, the Nets were able to take care of business and squeak by with a 104-103 victor. The Nets would advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2007, and they got the matchup they wanted as the two-time defending champion Miami Heat were waiting for them in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Needless to say, LeBron James wasn't about to let Miami get upset in the second round. King James destroyed Brooklyn's defense, averaging 30 points per game for the series, highlighted by a 49-point outburst in Game 4. The Nets would be no match for the dominant Eastern Conference rulers, as Miami won by double-digits three times and quickly closed the series out 4-1.
The 2013-14 season didn't quite go as the Nets had hoped, but their mid-season turnaround in the midst of adversity was more than respectable.
SUMMER OF 2014
Key Additions - Lionel Hollins, Jarrett Jack, Bojan Bogdanovic
Key Losses - Paul Pierce, Andray Blatche, Shaun Livingston, Marcus Thornton, Jason Kidd
Absolutely out of nowhere, Jason Kidd forced his way out of Brooklyn for a more lucritive head coaching opportunity in Milwaukee after just one year into his head coaching career. Kidd attempted a power play and lost the battle, as Brooklyn refused to restructure his contract and subsequently let him move on to Milwaukee in return for a pair of future second round draft picks.
Nobody saw that coming, but the Nets were able to replace Kidd with a proven head coach in Lionel Hollins. Throughout the four years he spent as the full-time head coach of the Memphis Grizzlies, Hollins went 183-129 and helped the Grizzlies earn their first playoff series victory in franchise history in 2010. In his final season, Memphis won 56 regular season games and made a sensational run to the Western Conference Finals in an underdog role, but disputes over his contract ultimately lead to his departure in the following offseason.
Hollins was partially responsible, along with bruisers Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol, for building a tough-minded, gritty culture in his successful tenure in Memphis. Let's hope he can do the same for Brooklyn.
However, as far as the roster is concerned, Brooklyn lost a plethora of key role players from last season. Free agent Paul Pierce moved on to Washington, productive big Andray Blatche signed a contract to play a season in China and Shaun Livingston was able to land a $16 million deal in Golden State.
You'll also notice Marcus Thornton's name missing, as Brooklyn took part in the three-team deal with Cleveland and our beloved Celtics, where Thornton ended up in Boston while the Nets took on combo guard Jarrett Jack and sharpshooting prospect Sergey Karasev.
Jack is coming off somewhat of a down year in Cleveland, following a magnificent 2012-13 campaign in Golden State. Jack shot a career low 41% from the field last season, putting up 9.5 points and 4.1 assists per game as the Cavaliers sixth man and sporadic starter. In his defense, he didn't necessarily fit well in a backcourt with Kyrie Irving and Dion Waiters. While Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are equally offensive minded with a need for the ball in their hands, they also provide additional spacing and the Nets were in desperate need of another ball handler, especially after losing Livingston this summer.
At age 30, you've got to believe Jarrett Jack has better basketball left in him that what he showed in Cleveland. Now that he is a situation with a group of veterans and realistic postseason expectations, look for the 10th-year veteran to put together a productive season with his new team.
PROJECTED DEPTH CHART
C - Brook Lopez / Mason Plumlee
PF - Kevin Garnett / Mirza Teletovic / Cory Jefferson
SF - Andrei Kirilenko / Alan Anderson
SG - Joe Johnson / Bojan Bogdanovic / Sergey Karasev / Markel Brown
PG - Deron Williams / Jarrett Jack / / Jorge Gutierrez
X-FACTOR - Sense of Urgency
Even new head coach Lionel Hollins said this in an interview on NBA TV last week - when you watched the Nets last season, you didn't get the sense that the entire team was fully engaged. They had a ton of talent, albeit some aging talent, but they didn't play as hard as they could have, even through some of that second half stretch where they were finally winning games.
If the 2014-15 Nets want to have a better and more complete year than what transpired last season, they need to take the floor with a renewed sense of urgency and aim to outwork their opponents on a consistent basis, especially when you consider how many key role players they lost this summer.
Let's hope coach Hollins can bring some of that gritty Memphis flavor to Brooklyn, and let's hope they can get off to a better start than last year.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2014-15
Best case scenario, if Deron Williams resurrects his fire and Brook Lopez puts together a healthy season, the Nets will have a chance to get back up into the top half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture. However, this team is dealing with their fourth head coach in three years, with a depleted supporting cast and let's face it, guys like KG and Joe Johnson aren't getting any younger.
With that said, they have as much or more firepower than anyone in the east outside of a small handful of clubs, and a battle-tested head coach that knows what it takes to build a positive culture. Realistically, I think you can expect the Nets to fall somewhere in the 5-8 range in the Eastern Conference, but even in a weak conference, making the playoffs won't come easy if they can't stay healthy all season.
2nd - Atlantic Division
8th - Eastern Conference
Keep your eyes peeled for the Los Angeles Clippers preview, coming later today.