With the Brooklyn Nets primed to open training camp at Duke University, Nets fans and management alike can start to anticipate the season opener.
On Oct. 30, the Nets' quest to go from worst to first begins in Cleveland. To displace LeBron James, they'll need to start where it all began for the league's MVP. But all eyes center on the Barclays Center just two nights later when the Nets host the Miami Heat.
And when closely examining the Nets roster, the Nets should not push the reigning champion Heat for the 2014 NBA title.
From one to 15, the Nets boast as much talent and depth as any team. Let's examine what could happen this year:
Where will the Nets finish in the Eastern Conference?
Forget about Derrick Rose and the Chicago Bulls, comfortably place the Nets in second place come playoff time. They boast more overall talent than Miami, but the Heat has arguably the greatest player of all time. He still gets the nod.
1. Miami Heat
2. Brooklyn Nets
3. Chicago Bulls
4. Indiana Pacers
5. New York Knicks
6. Atlanta Hawks
7. Detroit Pistons
8. Cleveland Cavaliers
The Heat has the best player, the Nets have the deepest roster, and the Bulls have the best coach.
The player with the most pressure?
Easily Deron Williams. Mikhail Prokhorov has gone out of his way to put an all-world supporting cast around the franchise point guard. It's put up or shut-up time.
The player everyone forgets?
Yes, the Nets acquired Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics for a bag of basketballs, but many forget Joe Johnson still holds the starting shooting guard position. While Johnson's odometer certainly reads higher than his birth certificate, at 32-years old, Johnson is not some fossil. He can still play and did his best work last season in the clutch.
That fact is not lost on new head coach Jason Kidd.
“If you’re into stats, you look at Joe Johnson as the clear-cut guy taking the last-second shot,” Kidd said. “He was 9-for-10 (last season) with 24 seconds or less remaining. So that would be your guy who is the closer.”
Coach of the year, anyone?
The most important person on the Brooklyn bench (in a suit)?
Jason Kidd's placard reads head coach, but he is a novice at best. Lawrence Frank will play the most critical role on the bench and in the huddle. Whether it's x's and o's or simply calming the inexperienced Kidd, Frank looms large on the Nets bench. Kidd wanted him as head coach during his playing career, and he pushed for him as lead assistant. Frank has the tools to be a head coach in this league, but he needs an owner to not entrust him with dreck. Upon leaving the Pistons, management went out and signed Josh Smith, Brandon Jennings, and Chauncey Billups. Gee, thanks.
The most important person on the Brooklyn bench (in a uniform)?
Andrei Kirilenko. He tormented the Nets as a player from New Jersey to Brooklyn, and his length and defensive prowess will find him on the floor in many close situations. Don't act surprised when he covers the other team's best player a la LeBron James, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony. Consider him Knicks kryptonite. The most underrated aspect of his game comes in the assist department. He can pass extremely well for a non-guard. Kidd will love him and so will Nets fans.
How does it all fall apart?
Expect Garnett and Pierce to play limited minutes and deal with minor nicks during the 2013-14 campaign. But if Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, or Brook Lopez suffers an injury of any significance, the ship could go downhill in a hurry. The prognostications assume health, because it is impossible to predict an injury. That said, Williams has battled injuries from the day he stepped onto the tarmac in Newark while Lopez underwent his third foot operation this past offseason. Even Johnson battled plantar fasciitis during the Nets underwhelming playoff exit to the Bulls. Injuries are a realistic threat. Hopefully for Brooklyn, Tim Walsh is in rare form this year.
Can the Nets win a championship?
In a word, yes. Top to bottom, no roster is better. This isn't NBA 2K14, though. Only one basketball exists and there are a number of egos crammed into 15 wooden stalls in the Nets locker room. If Deron Williams can lead this team the way a point guard should, the Nets will face the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals. Oh, and they need to stay healthy.