THE POINT GUARD is gone, shipped to Dallas for a younger model. The center is out too, banished to Minnesota (via Memphis) for a more athletic version. The small forward was the last to go, shuttled to Milwaukee for a couple of guys with shorter contracts. By trading Jason Kidd, Jason Collins and Richard Jefferson since last February, the Nets have officially dropped the curtain on a seven-year run highlighted by two trips to the Finals. "It's definitely a new team," says coach Lawrence Frank. "But we have to look at it as an opportunity to create something from the first brick."
The foundation rests on a new offense, a dribble-drive scheme that will maximize the playmaking abilities of point guard Devin Harris. In anticipation of a heavier workload, Harris spent the off-season honing his three-point shot (he shot 33.5% from long range last season) and packing 10 pounds of muscle onto his lower body. "This new system is perfect for me," says Harris, 25, who averaged 15.4 points and 6.5 assists in 25 games after being acquired from the Mavericks for Kidd.
And just who will be catching Harris's kickouts? "Spots three through 15 are wide open," says Frank. The one certainty besides Harris is shooting guard Vince Carter—at least for now. League sources believe New Jersey will try to deal the eight-time All-Star before the February trade deadline to free up cap room.
In the meantime, many new Nets will get the chance to prove they're scoring threats. "We can't focus on one guy like Vince and [make him] do everything," says Frank. "It's about everyone doing their part and doing it together."
A rival scout on the NETS: With his legs going, Vince Carter will post up more and try to use his size. If you give him a good screen, he can still turn the corner, but there are nights when he settles for the jump shot way too much.... Devin Harris isn't great at executing and making decisions in the half-court; he's much better pushing the ball up the floor. And he's a terrific defender—as quick as you can get with decent size for the position.... I'm not sold on Yi Jianlian. He has a nice stroke, but when the game gets physical, he shies away from contact and becomes a jump shooter. If they're hoping to build a Chinese fan base, they need to consider two possibilities: The fans are going to be disappointed when Yi doesn't play, and he's going to get exposed when he does.... There shouldn't be any expectations here—they're not done clearing the roster—so Lawrence Frank should be safe. Frank can wear on people, but as far as being organized and prepared and a teacher, he's pretty darn good.
Among rookie 7-footers with at least 500 field goal attempts, only Tom Boerwinkle of the '68--69 Bulls (38.3%) and Tom Burleson of the '74--75 Sonics (41.7%) shot worse than Yi Jianlian's 42.1% last season.
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE with 2007--08 statistics
BROOK LOPEZ (R)
KEY BENCH PLAYERS: F-C Sean Williams, F Eduardo Nàjera*, C Josh Boone, G Chris Douglas-Roberts (R)
(R) Rookie (college stats)
Record: 34--48 (10th in East)
Points scored: 95.8 (25th in NBA)
Points allowed: 100.9 (17th)
Coach: Lawrence Frank (sixth season with Nets)
JESSE D. GARRABRANT/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
REBUILDING BLOCK The new attack plays to the strengths of Harris, who is one of only two sure starters on the team.
NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES
RAY AMATI/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES