Following the acquisition of Deron Williams at the end of the 2010-11 season, expectations for the Nets increased heading into 2011-12. Things did not go as planned however.
The team's pursuit of Dwight Howard failed and to compound things, starting centre Brook Lopez went down with an ankle injury in the season's fifth game.
Williams also struggled, unable to shoulder the load of carrying a team with a limited amount of talent. The result was a last place finish in the Atlantic and a fifth straight year of missing the playoffs.
Backcourt – While the Nets were not able to land their primary offseason target, Dwight Howard, they were able to acquire a proven scorer that gives them one of the top backcourts in the NBA. Joe Johnson comes with a hefty price tag, but that is of little concern to billionaire owner Mikael Prokhorov, who ended up spending over $330 million on player contracts by the time the summer was over. The addition of Johnson will open up the floor for Williams and create more room for the point guard to operate after he struggled last season being the focus of an offence with few other options.
Man in the Middle
The Nets need a healthy Brook Lopez if they hope to challenge best teams in the East.
New Home - The move into the Nets new $1 billion home in Brooklyn will be welcomed by everyone in the franchise who suffered through five years of losing seasons playing in front of half empty arenas on a nightly basis in New Jersey. The excitement generated from the move, and the sold-out crowds at the Barclays Center that come with it, should energize the team and provide a home-court advantage Brooklyn rarely enjoyed in their previous home.
Chemistry - Among the starters, only Williams and Kris Humphries played more than 16 games with each other last season, as Gerald Wallace was a late season addition and Lopez missed all but five games with an injury. The bench also underwent serious change, as the only holdover to see serious minutes will be Marshon Brooks. In a competitive Eastern Conference, the Nets will need all their new parts to get acclimated fairly quickly in order to keep pace.
Frontcourt Depth - While Brooklyn's talent and depth at the guard and small forward positions is among the best in the league, their frontcourt is relatively thin and full of question marks. Lopez is a solid contributor offensively, but has had trouble staying healthy the last two years.
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Williams and a healthy Lopez give the Nets a shot at the playoffs.
Deron Williams is the rare point with 20-10 potential at 10th overall.
Kris Humphries is a solid rebounder, but is limited offensively and struggles defensively against bigger, athletic players. Newcomer Andray Blatche has shown he can put up numbers, but his questionable work ethic and attitude drove him out of Washington. Veteran free agent Reggie Evans will provide rebounding, but more than that, the Nets will need him to set a defensive tone that hopefully the other big men will follow.
X Factor: Brook Lopez
A healthy and productive Lopez will go a long way to determining how much success the Nets will have this season. If he is unable to stay on the court, the team will have a gaping hole in the middle that will be next to impossible to fill. The 7-footer averaged over 20 points per game in his last full season, so if he is able to come close to that form, plus show an improvement in his rebounding and defensive game, Brooklyn will be a tough out in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
What To Expect
At the very least, the Nets should challenge for a playoff spot thus season. But if Avery Johnson finds a way to get his new additions on the same page and convince his stars to buy into a more defence-first approach, Brooklyn has the talent to challenge the top teams in the conference.
Tim Chisholm's Offseason Grade
Few teams in the NBA improved year-over-year like the Nets did this offseason.
However, the Nets also capped themselves into oblivion to do it.
Yes, retaining Deron Williams was a MAJOR coup, but in trading for Joe Johnson and re-signing Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez the club has made up their minds about who they are going to war with today AND tomorrow.
They are definitely a better team and a virtual lock to leap into the postseason, but proving that they are more than just a second-round ouster waiting to happen is up to them.