BUILD ON BROOK
After five years of off-loading draft picks for veterans and burning through hundreds of millions of owner Mikhail Prokhorov's cash in free agency, the Nets are taking a more conventional, conservative approach. That means no more off-season spending sprees; Brooklyn's most notable addition over the summer was 7-foot Andrea Bargnani, who signed a two-year minimum deal. And that means no more Deron Williams; the All-Star point guard's rocky 4½ seasons with the Nets ended when they bought out the last two years of his contract. It also means it's time to build from within. And the way for coach Lionel Hollins to do that is to build around center Brook Lopez.
Lopez, 27, averaged a team-high 17.2 points in 2014--15 and, more important, had no recurrence of the foot injuries that sidelined him for most of two of the previous three seasons. Down the stretch Brooklyn went 13--6 to claim a playoff spot, with Lopez scoring 21.8 points per game and putting up seven double doubles. Hollins must continue to run the offense through Lopez, which means spacing the floor to give him room to operate. In addition to picking up a shooter in Bargnani, the Nets re-signed end-to-end power forward Thaddeus Young and flipped backup center Mason Plumlee to Portland for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the freakishly athletic 6'7" rookie from Arizona.
Brooklyn is also breaking in a new starting backcourt: Jarrett Jack replaces Williams, and Bojan Bogdanovic is now the full-time shooting guard. Having a reliable scorer will be critical to easing their transitions. When healthy, Lopez is as reliable as they come.
A rival scout sizes up Brooklyn
Of all the teams in the NBA, they have the longest road ahead of them. They're trying to change things, but they're basically plugging in average players. When you don't have assets and you don't have draft picks, what can you get? ... Joe Johnson has no value. Deron Williams had no value. Kevin Garnett, no value. Getting rid of Williams, who was kind of a disruptive factor, should help. But then if you look at their point guards, to me they're all backups.... When Johnson's got the ball, there's no movement. He'll catch it on the wing, they'll clear out, and he'll just back guys down into an isolation turnaround. That's the only way he's ever played. I don't think they can improve by him playing like that.... Early in the year Lionel Hollins tried to put Brook Lopez on the post, throw it in and score inside. It just wasn't working. Once they moved to him facing the basket, working the elbow, [running] pick-and-pops they were a lot more effective. Lopez is as good a face-up shooter at his size as anybody—really deadly from 18 feet. They'll run a lot of stuff with him or Andrea Bargnani in the pick-and-pop.... They were lucky to get Thaddeus Young halfway through the season last year. That put them over the top and into the playoffs. Young doesn't need to go through a play to score. He's good at catching off the elbow and creating for himself. With Lopez out there, Young has the ability to get to the rim.... Hollins is one of the better coaches in the league. He makes players accountable, but I think he turned the corner with them last year when he backed off a little bit. He was a little too controlling, running plays every time.
COACH LIONEL HOLLINS
(2nd season with Nets)
2014--15 RECORD 38--44
(3rd in Atlantic)
PG JARRETT JACK
12.0 PPG; 4.7 APG; 43.9 FG%; 26.7 3FG%
SG BOJAN BOGDANOVIC
9.0 PPG; 2.7 RPG; 45.3 FG%; 35.5 3FG%
SF JOE JOHNSON
14.4 PPG; 4.8 RPG; 43.5 FG%; 35.9 3FG%
PF THADDEUS YOUNG
14.1 PPG; 5.4 RPG; 1.6 SPG%; 46.6 FG%
C BROOK LOPEZ
17.2 PPG; 7.4 RPG; 1.8 BPG; 51.3 FG%
PF ANDREA BARGNANI*
14.8 PPG; 4.4 RPG; 45.4 FG%; 36.6 3FG%
SG WAYNE ELLINGTON*
10.0 ppg; 3.2 RPG; 41.2 FG%; 37.0 3FG%
SF RONDAE HOLLIS-JEFFERSON (R)
11.2 PPG; 6.8 RPG; 1.2 SPG; 50.2 FG%
*NEW ACQUISITION (R) ROOKIE, COLLEGE STATS
NBA teams that paid luxury taxes last year, led by the Nets, who forked over nearly $20 million. Joe Johnson has the most expensive deal: He earned $23.2 million.
DAVID LIAM KYLE/NBAE/GETTY IMAGES