NBA PM: Nets Become a Legit Contender
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Nets Become a Legitimate Contender
It wasn’t long ago that the Nets were one of the worst teams in the NBA. They were basically the laughing stock of the league and opposing teams loved seeing the Nets on their schedule. The team went 12-70 in the 2009-10 season, 24-58 in the 2010-11 season and 22-44 in the 2011-12 season. Many of the key contributors on those Nets teams are no longer in the NBA, including Terrence Williams, Yi Jianlian, Trenton Hassell, Josh Boone, Jarvis Hayes, Keyon Dooling, Rafer Alston, Sean Williams, Sasha Vujacic and Quinton Ross among others.
Now, just two years removed from being an Eastern Conference bottom feeder, the Nets have completely transformed their organization. Everything is different, from top to bottom. Out with the old – New Jersey, a red, white and blue color scheme, Bruce Ratner and depleted rosters – and in with the new – Brooklyn, a black and white color scheme, Mikhail Prokhorov and a star-studded lineup.
“Looking back to when I was drafted by New Jersey, there were so many unknowns and those first few seasons were crazy,” Brook Lopez said. “To go from that point to where we are now, it’s just exciting.”
Nets general manager Billy King deserves a lot of credit for the overhaul, as does Prokhorov for funding the extreme makeover. The Nets are no longer lottery fodder in New Jersey. Instead, the team has returned to relevance and become a legitimate contender in Brooklyn.
The first step was acquiring a star player. King wanted to add a marquee player without having to part ways with Lopez, who had a lot of potential and had played well during the team’s down years. When Carmelo Anthony didn’t show much interest in playing for the Nets, King immediately turned his attention to Deron Williams. He took a risk that would ultimately pay off, trading Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round draft picks and cash considerations to the Utah Jazz for Williams despite the fact that he didn’t receive a long-term commitment from the All-Star point guard. Many executives around the league were stunned by the trade because they didn’t even realize that Williams was available. The move would pay off for Brooklyn, as the Nets would later ink Williams to a long-term deal.
The next move step was building around Williams. When Dwight Howard opted into the final year of his contract with the Orlando Magic – a decision that infuriated Williams and many others around the organization – the Nets moved on to pursue Joe Johnson. King got on the phone with his former college teammate Danny Ferry and worked out a deal, sending the expiring contracts of Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, Anthony Morrow and Jordan Williams along with DeShawn Stevenson (via sign-and-trade) and a future first-round pick to the Atlanta Hawks in exchange for the All-Star shooting guard. While Johnson’s lucrative contract scared off many teams, money wasn’t a concern thanks to Prokhorov’s deep pockets.
The final pieces were put in place this summer. After losing in the first round of the playoffs to the Chicago Bulls last season, a series in which the Nets seemed to lack heart and toughness, King realized that he had to obtain some veterans with championship experience. Who better than Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce? When the Boston Celtics began shopping their stars over the offseason, King was incredibly persistent. Without Garnett and Pierce, he had a good team that would make the playoffs. With Garnett and Pierce, he had a great team that would make a deep run in the playoffs and possibly hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy. When he felt he was close to acquiring Pierce, he pushed for Garnett to also be included in the deal. Finally, after plenty of negotiating, the two teams finalized a deal on draft night. Brooklyn would send Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and first-round draft picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 to Boston in exchange for Garnett, Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White.
Rather than calling it a successful offseason, King also went out and made several excellent free agent signings. Andrei Kirilenko was added on a two-year deal worth $6.5 million. Andray Blatche was re-signed on a two-year contract worth $2.9 million, with a player option for the second year. Alan Anderson and Shaun Livingston were signed to veteran’s minimum deals to fill out the backcourt.
The final touch was hiring Jason Kidd as their new head coach. The team hadn’t been a winner since Kidd left back in 2008 and now he has returned to change the culture and usher in a new era of success. It remains to be seen how Kidd will do as a first-time head coach, but he impressed the Nets in his interview and he’ll likely command respect from his players.
Now, the Nets are almost unrecognizable from the 12-win squad of four years ago. Brooklyn has six players who have been All-Stars – Williams, Johnson, Pierce, Garnett, Lopez and Kirilenko – with a combined 36 All-Star appearances among them. This year’s second unit – Livingston, Terry, Kirilenko, Blatche and Evans – would likely beat the 2009-10 starting lineup.
“It’s exciting,” Lopez said. “It’s definitely exciting. Obviously, we still have put work in on the court, jell and really get to know each other, but it’s great to have so many good guys on and off the court. We’re all focused on the same thing and we all have the same goal. … It’s surreal. I was in the weight room a week ago and I was just looking around, seeing KG, Paul, Kirilenko, all those guys working out together and playing on the same team. It is pretty surreal.”
The team that sat at the bottom of the Eastern Conference when LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh initially teamed up on the Miami HEAT may now pose the biggest threat to the two-time defending champs. The Nets are right there with the Indiana Pacers, Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks as teams that could end Miami’s reign and represent the East in the NBA Finals. Garnett and Pierce have never feared Miami, and a seven-game series between the two teams would be fascinating. The Nets believe they have what it takes to not only get to the Finals, but win the championship.
“I think all of the ingredients are in our locker room – we have youth, we have veterans, we have size, we have experience – all of the things that a championship-caliber team needs are in our locker room,” Pierce said. “It’s just about coming together, sacrificing and doing the necessary things to make this an elite ball club.”
“We definitely got some great additions and it’s going to send us in the right direction,” Johnson said. “We would love to come in and win it all, that’s the goal. We definitely have the pieces to put us over the top. … It’s a great feeling, coming into the season knowing that you have all of the pieces to the puzzle and to win it all. If we stay healthy and everybody is on the same page, it’s possible.”
“We’re here to get another ring,” Garnett said. “That’s the only reason we came to Brooklyn.”
Rose’s High School Coach Looks Back
Our friends over at USA TODAY High School Sports are doing a great series where they take a look back at what superstar athletes were like in high school.
Each week, Jason Jordan chats with a high-profile athlete’s former coach, mentor or family member to reminisce about his or her high school playing days; everything from their greatest moment to their wackiest story. This week, he caught up with Derrick Rose’s high school coach at Simeon (Chicago), Robert Smith.
Rose was identified as a top prospect at a young age, capable of dominating all of his peers. However, one specific game sticks out in Smith’s mind and it was the moment he realized just how special Rose was.
“It was definitely the Oak Hill game that we won (78-75),” Smith said. “That, to me, was the turning point of me really understanding how good he was. He had 28 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. It’s one thing to do that against guys here in Chicago, but to go and do that against guys of that caliber was something special players do. I honestly just watched that game film and that’s why it’s so fresh in my mind. Oak Hill had seven Division I players on their team and we had four, but he was clearly the best on the floor the whole game.
“Some of the moves I watched in that Oak Hill game were the same moves he did in practice every day and they’re the same moves he’s doing in the NBA right now. I used to tell my assistants during practice, ‘Enjoy watching it right now because it’s free; you’re gonna have to pay to see this soon.’”
When asked to describe how Rose was as a high schooler, Smith raved about the point guard.
“He was just a humble, quiet kid,” Smith said. “Didn’t say a whole lot and he wasn’t the loud guy on the team. He was just a really good kid; really good student of the game.”
Smith has watched Rose’s recent preseason games and he thinks he’s faster than ever. He’s not surprised that Rose is better than ever after coming back from the torn ACL.
“I knew he would come back even better,” Smith said. “Because he took his time and he doesn’t like to disappoint people. I think that was the main reason why he didn’t come back early. He just doesn’t like to disappoint anyone. That drives him. His competitive nature would never let him not come back as good or better than he was before. When he opted to stay out I said to myself, ‘When he gets back it’s gonna be rough on some people.’”