Owner Mikhail Prokhorov has the NBA’s only nine-figure team payroll, which translates to an $87 million luxury tax bill. (He can afford it. He is the NBA’s George Steinbrenner).
Nets GM Billy King also mortgaged the future by trading first-round draft picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018 with the right to swap first-round picks in 2017 as part of a trade with Boston to acquire aging stars Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry.
Despite having arguably the most talented roster, if the Nets can’t answer these five questions below, they can forget about winning a title this season. Or as they say in my borough, Brooklyn, “fuhgeddaboudit!”
Here are the five questions facing the Nets.
1. Can the starters withstand a full season and deep playoff run? Brooklyn boasts the only starting lineup with a former All-Star at every position. But the health of each player is a concern heading into the season.
Brook Lopez had surgery in the offseason for the third time in less than two years on his right foot. This is alarming for a player entering the prime years of his career, especially considering how foot injuries prematurely derailed the careers of big men Bill Walton and Yao Ming.
Deron Williams’ ankles betrayed him for the first half of last season. Williams needed three cortisone shots in both ankles and platelet-rich plasma therapy to heal from synovitis and finish the season.
Joe Johnson battled plantar fasciaitis in his left foot, a bruised quad and heel injuries last season. The injuries took a visible toll as Johnson finished with his lowest scoring average (16.3 ppg) and shooting percentage (.423) since the 2002-2003 season with Phoenix.
Paul Pierce turns 36 before the season starts. Pierce averaged a career-low 33.4 minutes last season and struggled mightily in the playoffs with a heavier workload. In six postseason games, Pierce averaged 42.5 minutes and shot a paltry .368 from the field, including .268 from downtown.
Kevin Garnett has the most mileage on his tires of any Net at 37 and entering his 19th season. Garnett ranks sixth all-time with 47,801 minutes. Coach Jason Kidd already has said it is possible Garnett won’t play in back-to-back games to keep him fresh for the playoffs.
Thanks to a deep bench, Brooklyn should be able to keep these veterans fresh and maximize their usage.
2. Will Jason Kidd be a good coach? A point guard is considered an extension of his coach on the floor. Therefore, the belief within management is that Kidd will become an excellent tactician after completing a Hall of Fame career.
Williams is expected to benefit vastly as a playmaker under Kidd’s tutelage. Kidd has gotten the most out of his superstar teammates such as Dirk Nowitzki and Carmelo Anthony. He can now mold one of the league’s most talented players at his former position, a scary thought for opposing defenses.
Williams is part of a talented roster with veteran leadership. There also are experienced assistants in place to smooth Kidd’s transition as a coach. The biggest challenge facing Kidd will come during crunch time when he must decide whether to ask assistant Lawrenck Frank to draw up a scoring play, or decide that time is better spent by him providing motivation.
If Kidd’s coaching ability parallels his playing success, the Nets will win the elusive championship he was deprived of twice as the face of the franchise in 2002 and 2003. Kidd has too many pieces in place not to be successful in his first season at the helm.
3. Will Kevin Garnett be able to change the team culture? Garnett became the de facto defensive coordinator on the court under Doc Rivers in Boston, and now will have the opportunity to anchor Brooklyn’s defense. Similar to Boston, Brooklyn lacks lockdown defenders and must rely on a system and communication to shut down opponents. Garnett’s biggest challenge is to help Lopez develop into a more aggressive rebounder.