[Before the 21012-13 NBA season began, before Sactown Royalty became overrun with covering negotiations, I previewed all 30 NBA teams and how I thought their season would go. But as much fun as it is to preview a season, it's also fun to look back and see what actually happened. And since Kings fans were pretty distracted by off-court events, these will also serve as a reintroduction to what we missed while we watched committee meetings.]
The Nets arrive in Brooklyn with incredible buzz, and it seems inconceivable that they will miss the playoffs, especially in the East. But the Nets may not live up to the hype. Even though several Nets players, including Deron, have acknowledged that the team was checked out in the second half of last season, this team was still awful last year. A healthy Lopez should help. A full season of Wallace will help. Joe Johnson will absolutely help. But now the Nets need to deliver. They've created the buzz, built a respectable and exciting roster, and delivered on every promise they made. Now they need to deliver on the court and redefine what it means to be watching Nets Basketball.
The Brooklyn Nets delivered on their preseason promise. We expected them to make the playoffs, but we didn’t exactly expect them to be title contenders. But that isn’t to say there weren’t some disappointments along the way. Gerald Wallace struggled mightily to find his role in the offense, and went through a prolonged period where he admitted he’d entirely lost confidence in his shot. As Wallace’s age is taking its toll on his athleticism, Wallace’s shot becomes more critical than ever. Kris Humphries was also a disappointment. I scoffed when the Nets gave Humphries a 2-year contract worth $12 million per year, but even I didn’t expect Humphries to be as underwhelming as he was. Humphries eventually saw himself become an afterthought on the bench. It’s truly a terrible signing, salvaged only by the fact that Billy King contained himself to a two year contract. The Nets will hope to find a team looking for a large expiring contract sometime next season.
The disappointment of Humphries was offset by two other very smart moves the Nets made. Reggie Evans, for all his faults, proved to be a better option in the starting line-up on a far smaller contract. Still, even at his best, Evans is a very limited player and isn’t a long-term solution for the franchise. The Nets also turned some heads this past offseason when they signed the oft-maligned Andray Blatche. Blatche was always a very talented player, but had become a punchline with the Washington Wizards. For the Nets, though, the gamble paid off. Blatche played very well in spurts, and it will be interesting to see what kind of contract he’s earned himself as he enters free agency. It seems like the Nets would like to bring him back if the price is right, but they’ve limited their flexibility entering the offseason.
Deron Williams chose to stay, but then failed to look like the franchise star he was supposed to be for much of the season. Whether it was an issue of conditioning, injury, or some combination of the two, Deron did not look like the guy we all expected him to be. Late in the season he finally turned it on and had a brilliant spell for the final month or two. If he can play like that consistently, the Nets will be regular staples in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
But perhaps the biggest key to this season’s success was Brook Lopez. Lopez battled injuries most of last season, and spent his time watching the Nets do everything they could to acquire Dwight Howard. When the Nets came down to the wire and risked losing Lopez outright, they bit the bullet, gave up on Dwight, and gave Lopez a monstrous contract that was heavily scrutinized. Lopez showed up as though nothing had happened and had a great season, re-establishing his reputation as one of the best offensive big men in the game. Perhaps more importantly, Lopez stepped up on the defensive side of the ball. While he may never be an elite defender, Lopez showed that he could at least be an average defender as opposed to the defensive sieve he was when he entered the league. In the coming seasons, Lopez could establish himself as the most critical player to Brooklyn’s success. Given what happened last season in his absence, some would say he’s already proven to be the critical piece.
Now that the Nets have delivered on their promise of immediate improvement and an immediate playoff berth, the Nets will now face an uphill battle towards trying to become legitimate contenders. In the playoffs the Nets were dispatched by a severely depleted Bulls team that simply outplayed and out-hustled the Nets. Brooklyn’s players looked lethargic and ready for the season to end. It was a disgrace. The contracts of Deron, Lopez, Joe Johnson, Wallace and Humphries will presumably prevent the team from making any major moves this offseason to improve the team. They’ll have a new coach next season, but you have to wonder just how much farther a new coach can take this roster. The Nets delivered on their first promise, now they have to figure out how to live with the consequences.