How long will it take for everyone to stop referring to them as the New Jersey Nets? Well, it should help that the team will have an entirely different identity, one that goes beyond its new black-and-white duds. Last year point guard Deron Williams shouldered an enormous burden; he took 17.5 shots per game, 4.2 more than his career average entering the season. This year he has help: Guard Joe Johnson, acquired from Atlanta, and center Brook Lopez, who missed all but five games last season with right-foot injuries, give the Nets an overpowering triangle, which should generate open shots.
Only six players return from last year's lame-duck team, which was just 9--24 in Jersey (as opposed to 13--20 on the road). Johnson was the off-season's marquee pickup, but the key could be 27-year-old rookie Mirza Teletovic, a 6'9" Bosnian who went undrafted in 2007 and spent the past six seasons in Spain steadily improving his game. He will provide the frontcourt depth that the Nets need to challenge the Knicks for ownership of New York City.
COACH: Avery Johnson (3rd season with Nets)
2011--12 RECORD: 22--44 (5th in Atlantic)
OFFENSE: 93.1 ppg (24th)
DEFENSE: 99.1 ppg (24th)
PICK-AND-ROLL OFFENSE: 18.4 ppg (27th)
PROJECTED STARTING FIVE
Mirza Teletovic (R)
New acquisition (R) Rookie, European stats
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE NETS
They made as many positive moves as any team in the off-season and could end up winning that division.... Deron Williams has a chance to be at the top of the league in assists per game. He is going to play a lot freer knowing that he doesn't have to score as much.... Avery Johnson is not going to be averse to isolating Joe Johnson; with the ball in his hands and a live dribble, Joe can shot-fake and go by you, shoot a floater, pull up or dribble at you for a long shot.... The one place where they don't have depth is the five, so they're going to be a small team if Brook Lopez is out. Lopez gets great position, and he has a variety of offensive moves. It's hard to guard him with one man.... Gerald Wallace is one of my favorite guys. He loves to get out and run and create and put pressure on the defense, which will be good because Deron loves to push the ball.... The biggest issue is going to be MarShon Brooks and whether he'll accept coming off the bench.... Avery is best with a veteran team, and that's what he has. But he is also very stubborn. I'd compare him with Jerry Sloan, and after a while that style didn't work out in Utah with Deron.
Lopez returns to prominence, enabling Williams to emerge as the most important player in the five boroughs.
The new stars flounder under the heavy-handed style of Avery Johnson in what should be a honeymoon year.
Average points in the paint scored last season by the Nets, the NBA's weakest inside offensive presence since the Trail Blazers (31.2) and the Pistons (32.4) in 2007--08.
ERICK W. RASCO (WILLIAMS)
NED DISHMAN/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (WALLACE)
NATHANIEL S. BUTLER/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES (JOHNSON)
MAN FROM ATLANTA Brooklyn snagged Johnson, an All-Star with the Hawks for six seasons running, without surrendering a player who averaged more than 12.0 points last season.