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NBA AM: Turning Things Around In Brooklyn

Brooklyn has turned things around by placing former All-Stars Brook Lopez and Deron Williams in reserve roles.

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Brooklyn’s Resurgence

Last season, after factoring in luxury tax penalties, the Brooklyn Nets’ payroll was over $170 million.  That unit entered the campaign with title aspirations. This season’s unit started the campaign with much lower expectations, but still boast a $90 million payroll before the luxury tax.

Brooklyn (15-16) currently sits seventh in the Eastern Conference and while this may not earn much respect, those following the team closely know that the Nets are finally beginning to find a rhythm.

The Nets have won five of their last six games, which includes a victory over the red hot Chicago Bulls. The Nets’ current run has been primarily driven by head coach Lionel Hollins’ risky starting lineup change – sending former All-Stars Brook Lopez and Deron Williams to the pine in exchange for Jarrett Jack and Mason Plumlee.

Making the move so gutsy is the fact Lopez and Williams, both thought to be franchise cornerstones in Brooklyn, account for almost $36 million of the team’s payroll this season. Lopez holds a player option worth $16.7 million for next season, while Williams is owed $43 million over the next two years.

Hollins continues to publicly maintain the moves shouldn’t be considered a demotion for Lopez and Williams.

“It’s not a demotion. It really isn’t,” Hollins said according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPN. “They’re still part of the team. Neither one of them got cut. They both go to the game every day and get paid every two weeks — and they get paid handsomely.

“I just think it’s basketball and today’s society gets into, ‘Well, he’s a max player so he’s supposed to get all the minutes and get all the shots. Nobody else can shoot the ball. He shouldn’t even play defense. He shouldn’t even do anything but what he’s good at.’ I think basketball has always been a five-man group balanced, playing together, everybody contributing on offense.

“That’s why I’ve been trying to harp on more, it’s about the team, it’s about the Brooklyn Nets, because people keep bringing up Brook and keep bringing up Deron. I love both of those guys and they’ve done well and I expect them to continue to do well and help us win. Roles are fluid anyway, even during the course of games. Joe [Johnson] is shooting a lot in the first half, Brook is shooting a lot in the second half. It’s just the way the game is.”

Williams, for his part, also seems to be taking the role adjustment in stride.

“I’ve never really been a guy that has an ego as far as I’m better than the team,” Williams said. “Whatever [Lionel] wants me to do, I’m a team player, so I’m going to do it. Do I want to play more? Yeah, of course. I’m a competitor. But coming off the bench, starting, it don’t matter.”

The current roster arrangement may be working on the court as of late, but the Nets haven’t received their return on investment since trading Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, a 2011 first-round pick (Enes Kanter selected) and a 2013 first-round pick (Gorgui Deng selected) for Williams back in 2011.

Nevertheless, Brooklyn is enjoying a solid bounce back with their next five coming against Orlando, Miami, Dallas, Boston and Philadelphia. The Nets should be considered favorites in four out of five of those contests.

Rajon Rondo set to return to Boston on Friday

It has been less than a month since the Boston Celtics traded four-time All-Star guard Rajon Rondo to the Dallas Mavericks in exchange for Brandan Wright, Jae Crowder, Jameer Nelson, a 2015 first-round draft pick and a 2016 second-round pick. The veteran guard will make his return to Boston tonight, his first time playing there as a professional not donning a Celtics uniform.

Veteran Celtics forward Brandon Bass has witnessed the return of other departed Boston sports heroes, such as Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, and expects it to be an emotional night.

“It was tough for me to watch the videos, man,” Bass said according to Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald. “Especially when Paul came back. I just felt like Paul had been here his whole life, and it was very emotional for him. KG as well. I don’t know, man, Rondo may be able to handle it well.

“It’s going to be tough to see him on the other side, but I’m still going to try to butt his head, though. I’ve talked to him, wished him well and told him how much I enjoyed playing with him. He felt the same way, but man, I didn’t want to keep talking about it.

“Let it go, man. I didn’t really get emotional, but I thought about it as I kept talking to him and I was like, damn, man. I kept it short and sweet.”

The trajectory of the two teams are completely opposite at the moment. Boston appears to be lottery bound as they continue their rebuilding effort, while Dallas has entered into the title chase discussion.

Rondo is averaging 13.2 points, 7.8 assists and 5.3 rebounds in six games with the Mavericks. Dallas will enter Friday’s contest on a three-game winning streak.

Lang Greene is a senior NBA writer for Basketball Insiders and has covered the NBA for the last 10 seasons

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