The talent-hungry Nets made waves this off-season—first by mortgaging three future picks to acquire Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Celtics on draft night, then by persuading Andrei Kirilenko (who had just opted out of a Timberwolves deal for $10 million this season) to sign for the taxpayer mid-level exception ($3.2 million). There's much left to be determined in the way that first-time head coach Jason Kidd manages this team's rotation and approach, but Brooklyn has become a plausible contender.
In fact, if Kidd and his staff can properly leverage the Nets' versatility, their offense will be impossible to lock down. Among the starters are five players capable of creating their own shots, four above-average passers for their respective positions, five perimeter shooters and five post-up threats. Deron Williams might be the point guard, but Brooklyn's offensive sets could be orchestrated by any number of veterans.
Off the bench there's also Kirilenko—a first-rate cutter and skilled passer. Brooklyn's offense was ultimately solvable last season because of its reliance on Williams and Brook Lopez. Now both will be supported by teammates with fewer limitations. Gone are the problems that came with giving Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans major minutes; the Nets are multifaceted enough to attack from all angles and experienced enough to strike an optimal offensive balance.
COACH JASON KIDD (1ST SEASON WITH NETS)
2012--13 RECORD 49--33 (2ND IN ATLANTIC)
WHAT'S NEW Kidd's debut is made easier with two Boston icons and Andrei Kirilenko, signed for a song ($3.2 million).
PROJECTED LINEUP (2012--13 STATS)
PG DERON WILLIAMS
18.9 PPG; 7.7 APG; 44.0 FG%; 37.8 3FG%
SG JOE JOHNSON
16.3 PPG; 3.5 APG; 42.3 FG%; 37.5 3FG%
SF PAUL PIERCE
18.6 PPG; 6.3 RPG; 43.6 FG%; 38.0 3FG%
PF KEVIN GARNETT
14.8 PPG; 7.8 RPG; 0.9 BPG; 49.6 FG%
C BROOK LOPEZ
19.4 PPG; 6.9 RPG; 2.1 BPG; 52.1 FG%
SF ANDREI KIRILENKO
12.4 PPG; 5.7 RPG; 50.7 FG%; 29.23FG%
PERCENTAGE OF defensive rebounds Reggie Evans grabbed when he was on the floor last year, the best single-season mark in NBA history. Evans also led the league in offensive percentage (15.5).
A RIVAL SCOUT SIZES UP THE NETS
They're not too old to win a championship: I've got that much faith in Kevin Garnett. Because of him, there will be a different mind-set, a peer pressure to step up or shut up, whether Garnett is playing that night or not. And they have the talent to step up.... Deron Williams is the key. He's going to have to make the biggest change in his attitude and his game in order to pull everybody together. Last season he got a little fat, and he became more of a half-court player instead of pushing it up and attacking.... Recently Joe Johnson has been putting the ball on the floor a little too much when he would be better off with catch-and-shoot. He gets into this dribble, dribble, spin, dribble, dribble—forced shot. But his shooting is still terrific.... It's going to make a huge difference for Paul Pierce to have a legitimate center in Brook Lopez and have Kevin playing at the four more often. Pierce can still score. He can post up. As far as a midrange game, he is near the top of the league. He's not explosive, but with his body positioning he's sure of where he can get to on the floor and get his shot off.... Think about their size. They can bring in Andrei Kirilenko and go 6'9", 6'11", 7-foot across the front line with Garnett and Lopez, and then have Paul or Joe at the two—they're huge. But I don't think they're necessarily going to be slow, especially if Deron is in shape.... Jason Kidd being a rookie coach isn't going to matter. With [assistant] Lawrence Frank beside him, everything will be taken care of.
SIMON BRUTY/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (KIRILENKO)
ERICK W. RASCO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (WILLIAMS)