The Brooklyn Nets will enter the 2014-15 NBA season with the league’s highest payroll for the second consecutive year. With quite a few significant personnel losses, the NBA’s most recently relocated franchise hopes to build upon the success that they have had in their first two seasons in Brooklyn.
Basketball Insiders takes a look at the 2014-15 Brooklyn Nets.
Five Guys Think
Despite having spent obscene and unprecedented amounts of money over the course of the last couple of years to field as competitive a team as possible, the Brooklyn Nets have continually fallen short of expectations. This year, with Brook Lopez finally healthy, the Nets have to capitalize not only on what could be Kevin Garnett’s last year in the league, but also on what might be one of only a few peak years remaining for both Deron Williams and Joe Johnson. In other words, the time is now for this terribly expensive roster to earn its collective paycheck, and luckily for them, they look like they could have the best team in the Atlantic Division this season.
1st Place – Atlantic Division
– Joel Brigham
The Nets will likely be a very different team in 2014-15. Jason Kidd is out and Lionel Hollins is in. Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston, Andray Blatche and Marcus Thornton among others are out and Jarrett Jack, Jorge Gutierrez, Cory Jefferson and Markel Brown among others are in. Kevin Garnett’s future remains up in the air, although it sounds like the organization expects him back. Getting Brook Lopez back from injury will also significantly change this Nets squad, as he was lost for the season early last year. I’m curious to see what Brooklyn can do and I like Hollins as a coach so it’s good to see him back in the league, but I’m not confident that the Nets are legitimate contenders. That is very bad for a team that mortgaged their future to win now.
3rd Place – Atlantic Division
– Alex Kennedy
Brooklyn entered last season confidently talking about their title aspirations, but the team was humbled early and struggled out of the gate under first year head coach Jason Kidd. While the team did rebound and make the second round of the playoffs, it’s safe to say the season was by and large a huge disappointment. Kidd is now residing in Milwaukee and Lionel Hollins gets a shot at the helm. The expectations are much lower in Brooklyn these days but there is plenty of talent remaining on the roster. The Nets will need a bounce back year from fading guard Deron Williams and center Brook Lopez must stay healthy. The Nets are no longer fringe title contenders but could still make some noise in the Eastern Conference.
2nd Place – Atlantic Division
– Lang Greene
There are still some very serious identity issues as it relates to the Nets. The team will now employ Lionel Hollins—its fourth head coach in less than two calendar years. The departures of both Jason Kidd and Paul Pierce should fill Nets fans with an almost unimaginable pain, as Kidd was a franchise mainstay and prospective savior and Pierce was the major piece hauled in as a result of sacrificing too many draft picks to count. As of now, there are some questions as to whether or not Kevin Garnett will return for what would be his 20th season, but the early indications are that he will. All of that aside, the Nets have added Jarrett Jack and have finally managed to secure the services or Bojan Bogdanovich. With the return of Brook Lopez, if he and Deron Williams can stay healthy, the Nets should have every opportunity to challenge the Toronto Raptors for the division title. Those are big “ifs,” however, and at this point, the safest bet, unfortunately, seems to be that attrition will take its toll and the Nets will end up the third-best team in the Atlantic.
3rd place – Atlantic Division
– Moke Hamilton
The Brooklyn Nets hiring Lionel Hollins was one of my favorite moves of the offseason, and one that I think should pay off immediately for them in a big way, especially if Kevin Garnett returns for his 20th season and plays alongside a healthy Brook Lopez for most of the season. His system and approach fit this group perfectly; hopefully ownership and management keep their distance and let him coach, that’s the only way I could see this partnership not working out. Even without Garnett, this is a team that has the pieces to make some noise in a top-heavy Eastern Conference. They were able to advance to the second round of the playoffs last year, but will miss Paul Pierce and everything that he brought to the table as they attempt to match that accomplishment. I’d be willing to bet on them, if their star players, Deron Williams and the aforementioned Lopez, didn’t have such a bad injury history.
2nd Place – Atlantic Division
– Yannis Koutroupis
Top Of The List
Top Offensive Player: Joe Johnson gets the nod over Brook Lopez, though reasonable minds may offer a different opinion. Last season, when the Nets were way below .500 and struggling to find something, and after Brook Lopez had been declared done for the season, it was Johnson who emerged as the key figure that helped the Nets turn their entire season around. At 6-foot-8 and weighting in at 240 pounds, Johnson is a shooting guard in a small forward’s body and quietly remains one of the more underrated and efficient perimeter post players in the entire league. Although his scoring dipped from 16.3 points per game in 2012-13 to 15.8 points per game last season, Johnson made a higher percentage of the shots that he did take and managed to connect on over 40 percent of his three-point shots for the first time since 2005—back when he was a member of the Phoenix Suns. His playmaking ability has long been underrated, and all around, we consider him to be the most dynamic offensive force in Brooklyn, with Lopez a close second.
Top Defensive Player: What Joe Johnson is on the offensive end for the Nets, Andrei Kirilenko is on the defense end. Kirilenko has the ability to guard no less than three players on the floor, but at this point, we are still inclined to tap Kevin Garnett as the top defender on the team. Although he is a few steps slower than he was back when he helped lead the Boston Celtics to the NBA Championship back in 2008, Garnett is still a brilliant on-ball defender with impeccable timing. Even more so, Garnett is the quarterback on the defensive end for the Nets and can be easily helped barking instructions to his teammates, whether he is on the floor or on the bench. Without Garnett, the Nets are a different team, but especially on the defensive end of the floor.
Top Playmaker: Although his production has waned since becoming a member of the Nets back in 2011, when he is fully healthy, Deron Williams is clearly the top playmaker on the roster. At times, the Nets have opted to force-feed Brook Lopez in the low-post, something thwarting Williams’ ability to run the floor and make plays for his teammates in open space. In his first 12 games as a member of the Nets, Williams averaged 12.8 assists per game. Since then, attrition and roster turnover has seen his proficiency in that area wane. Newcomer Jarrett Jack is a capable distributor, but is not the caliber of playmaker Williams is when he is at full strength.
Top Clutch Player: Without question, anyone who has paid even close attention to the NBA over the past few years will agree that Joe Johnson is not only the most clutch player on the Nets, but arguably the most clutch player in the entire league. Kevin Garnett called Johnson “Joe Jesus” en route to Johnson’s amazing 7-for-7 stretch of hitting shots in the final 10 seconds of regulation or overtime when his team is tied or behind by three points or less (ESPNNewYork.com). Johnson has come up with huge plays during key playoff moments, as well. The argument can be made that he is the the premier clutch player in the league, so it stands to reason that he is on his own team.
Top Unheralded Player: Mirza Teletovic remains a largely overlooked player in the NBA, and if there is one silver lining to the departure of Andray Blatche, it is that Teletovic will get increased minutes and opportunity to show what he can contribute in the NBA. At the very least, he is an effective floor-spacer at either forward position. At most, he can be a dynamic offensive weapon that can carry a team in spurts. If coach Lionel Hollins can bring out the most of Teletovic on a consistent basis on the defensive end, he can add a unique dimension to the Nets that could make a bigger difference than many imagined.
Top New Addition: The Nets have effectively traded both Marcus Thornton and Shaun Livingston for Jarrett Jack. Jack has different gifts that either of those two, but with Alan Anderson filling in at the shooting guard spot, the Nets may not feel the impact of Livingston’s defense—at least on the perimeter—as much. Jack, on the other hand, give the team another bonafide floor general who can run an offense in the event that Deron Williams misses any time. Bojan Bogdanovic is considered by many to have the ability to be an impact player in the NBA, but until we see it on the court, we will give Jack the benefit of the doubt.
– Moke Hamilton
Who We Like
1. Lionel Hollins: After firing Avery Johnson in December 2012, Hollins will become the fourth head coach to man the sidelines for the Nets in less than two years. The team has seen quite a bit of roster turnover during that period, and the search for an identity is ongoing. If there is one thing that Hollins knows, however, it is who he is. As an NBA player, Hollins was a two-time member of the NBA All-NBA Defensive team and coached the Memphis Grizzlies to the best years in franchise history. He did it by studying his players and developing a system that effectively utilized their collective strengths. That is exactly what he has vowed to do in Brooklyn and based on his impressive track record, it is exactly what he will probably do. Overall, Hollins seems to be a knowledgeable head coach who has the personality to excel in New York.
2. Brook Lopez: Over the course of his six-year career, Brook Lopez has shown impressive growth and reasonable upside. While there may be some concerns over his slow-footedness and how it meshes with Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, Lopez, when healthy, is one of the most efficient and hard-working centers in the entire league. Defensively, while he is not the quickest or most athletic, he is a game-changer who can protect the rim and will cause defenders to at least think for an extra second before attacking. There is a lot to like, though concerns over whether he can contribute for a full 82-game season persist.
3. Joe Johnson: Though not the same player he was with the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson’s game has slowed down enough to where he seems to see the floor and his teammates better than before. Still a scorer at heart, he has learned to pick and choose his spots more effectively and has become a more efficient scorer. Without Paul Pierce, Johnson may come under a bit more pressure to produce for the Nets on the offensive end, but with Jarrett Jack flanking him, Johnson should be able to focus on scoring and continue to be the most consistent Net of them all.
4. Mason Plumlee: Plumlee was one of the players who helped the Nets turn their season around last year and his on-the-fly learning and development into an everyday NBA contributor has been noticed by even casual NBA onlookers. With a gold medal in tow from the FIBA World Cup this past summer, Plumlee will enter the season a bit wiser and with a first-hand look of what it takes to be successful at the professional level. That will pay dividends for the Nets.
5. Mikhail Prokhorov: The willingness to write checks is something we have to respect about any owner in the NBA. For that reason, Prokhorov deserves our affection, but if you have never stood near the Russian billionaire, you have been robbed of an opportunity to experience a man with unlimited swag and an insatiable desire to win and win big. To this point, he has certainly been an owner worthy of respect. Even if his Nets have not come close to winning a championship, they have made impressive progress since he took over.
– Moke Hamilton
Even with the losses of Shaun Livingston, Paul Pierce and Andray Blatche, the Nets are still a fairly deep team. Talent has never been an issue with this group, it has been more about attrition and the finding of an identity. With Lionel Hollins, the Nets will collectively hope to mimic the success that Hollins found with the Memphis Grizzlies, where he led the team to a combined record of 183-129 in his four full seasons at the head coach. With Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Jarrett Jack and an impressive group of youngsters that includes Mason Plumlee, the Nets have enough to contend out East, it’s just a matter of how Hollins meshes it all together.
– Moke Hamilton
Age and attrition. While they may be talented, they certainly are aging. Deron Williams will join Kevin Garnett (38 years old), Joe Johnson (33 years old), Andrei Kirilenko (33 years old) and Jarrett Jack (30 years old) in the 30-and-older club. Brook Lopez, while just 25 years old, doesn’t exactly have a record of exemplary health. While there is more upside on this roster with Mason Plumlee, Mirza Teletovic, Marquis Teague and Bojan Bogdanovic, the Nets will be counting on an aging core of veterans to get them past younger, more spry teams in the Eastern Conference such as the Charlotte Hornets, Washington Wizards and, obviously, the Cleveland Cavaliers.
– Moke Hamilton
The Salary Cap
The Nets have become a perennial taxpayer, leading the league in payroll. The franchise is locked in to about $93 million in salary with 13 guaranteed players, which would lead to an approximate tax bill of $33.2 million. That’s actually a drop after last year’s $102.8 million payroll and $90.6 million tax hit. Brooklyn used their primary spending tool, the $3.3 million Taxpayer Mid-Level Exception on rookie Bojan Bogdanovic. Other than acquiring players through trade, the Nets have just minimum contracts to offer. The team also has trade exceptions on their books, but at under $800k each – they likely go unused.
– Eric Pincus
The Nets were one of the highest profile squads in the league last year, but seem to have completely fallen off the radar this year due to the departures of Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston, and Jason Kidd. Nevertheless, there are some reasons to believe this team could be better than last year. Recall that in 2012-13, Brooklyn won 49 games with Brook Lopez and Deron Williams healthy–if they can get back to their form from that year the Nets could easily surprise for a team that many are picking to miss the playoffs. Andrei Kirilenko is another player who had essentially a lost year, and with the Nets’ hole at the 4 he could finally get a chance for significant minutes at what is really his natural position.
While age and injuries make a bounce-back season for the Nets less likely, it is at least possible given the talent on hand.
See some of the reasons for optimism above. Mason Plumlee continues to improve off a summer with USA Basketball, and he, Lopez, and Garnett provide a very solid big man rotation. Coach Lionel Hollins, potentially but not certainly an upgrade on Jason Kidd, uses the versatile frontcourt with those players, Kirilenko, and Mirza Teletovic to gain matchup advantages on a nightly basis. Joe Johnson continues to defy the aging process and plays like he did in the 2014 playoffs, while young wings Bojan Bogdanovic and Sergey Karasev contribute in backup roles.
Williams continues to struggle and confirms that he is basically done as a high-level player. Lopez suffers a third foot injury that also puts his career in question. Without those two, the Nets lack scoring and crater into the bottom quarter of the league. While the defense holds up under Hollins, they simply cannot put the ball in the basket without any stars, as Johnson really only qualifies against certain matchups when he has the size advantage. It is ironic indeed that a team that has paid so much luxury tax over the years could very well end up in a position without any true stars at all.
– Nate Duncan
The Burning Question
Are the Nets a legitimate contender in the Eastern Conference?
It is difficult imagining the Nets improving over last year’s 44-38 record without Paul Pierce, but it is not out of the question. If things break right for the Nets—if Brook Lopez and Deron Williams can both stay healthy and if Bojan Bogdanovic and Mirza Teletovic are difference makers—then contention is possible. Of all divisions in the NBA, the Atlantic is most difficult to predict. If the Nets were able to win the division and draw either the Charlotte Hornets or Washington Wizards in the first round, they would certainly have a chance to win. In fact, with the Cleveland Cavaliers’ size issues and Chicago Bulls’ consistent injury issues, we would be foolish to discount the Nets completely. Yes, there are a lot of variables, but as Kevin Garnett once said… Anything is possible.
– Moke Hamilton
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