NBA Preview: Clearly, Nets on move

Bringing back top players biggest reason for hope as franchise relocates to Brooklyn.

If you’re the Brooklyn Nets, it could be worse. A lot worse.

No, you didn’t land Dwight Howard -- and Howard made it pretty clear he wanted to play for your team. That could’ve been a real downer.

But rather than sit around and sulk, the Nets did the next best thing: They moved from New Jersey to Brooklyn.

OK, that’s a joke.

What really mattered was how the Nets approached the offseason, landing Howard be darned. Instead of trading all their best players to Orlando (although the Nets sure tried), they shipped a few they didn’t really want to Atlanta. The prize? All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson.

Johnson won’t swat shots or control the paint, but he will open things up on the perimeter for Brook Lopez, not a half-bad center himself.

Lopez was among those re-signed. So was Kris Humphries. So was Gerald Wallace. And, oh yeah, so was that Deron Williams guy. That gives the Nets a happy and healthy (so far) starting lineup that should be able to compete with anyone in the East.

Sounds like the same thing we’d be saying had they traded for Howard. Only they didn’t.

Last season: 22-48, did not make playoffs.

Coach: Avery Johnson (seventh year, 240-172).

Top returnees: PG Deron Williams, SF Gerald Wallace, C Brook Lopez.

Key additions: SG Joe Johnnson, C/PF Andray Blatche, PF Reggie Evans, PG C.J. Watson, F Mirza Teletovic.

X-Factor: Blatche. This guy is pretty much the wild-card everywhere he goes, no? Well, yes. The book on Blatche, signed off amnesty waivers from Washington, is he’s supremely gifted but a whole lot of trouble. He says he’s changed. If so, he’ll provide the Nets an additional low-post threat and scoring option off the bench. If not, he can practically wreck the house all by himself. Just ask the Wizards.

Strengths: Williams looked more like a neurotic mess than an All-Star point guard last season, and you can’t blame him. He continuously had to answer the question of whether he should set up the offense or score himself. Now, he and Johnson can feed off each other, and on opponents, with their dual driving, dishing and deadeye shooting. Meanwhile, Wallace is an underrated do-it-all type, a hustle player with basketball skills. And let’s not forget Lopez. He’s fundamentally sound, athletic and 7-foot tall. All that could make him the best big man in the East.

Weaknesses: Aside from Wallace, the Nets aren’t exactly the defensive-minded types. Instead, their team-wide philosophy often seems like, “I promise not to guard you if you don't guard me.” That could change with the fiery Johnson still on the sidelines, as well as the realization that if they guard people well enough, great things could result. Still, it’ll be a new concept and one that takes some time to master. As good as the Nets are, they can’t plan to win games just by outscoring people. Not big ones, anyway.

Outlook: Some might say that bringing back key players from a 22-win team is a bad idea. But in the Nets’ case, it’s the best thing that could’ve happened. Between injuries and contract uncertainty, Williams and the gang seemed somewhat miserable last year, and it showed on the floor. Now, the Nets can focus on basketball and utilizing all the confidence and clarity obtained over the summer. If they play team basketball in the truest sense, and there’s no reason to think they can’t, this should be a quick rise from the ashes.

Prediction: 51-31.

2012-13 schedule: Link

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