Wednesday, July 4, 2012

What's Next For Brooklyn?

     During the 2010-2011 season, Nets general manager Billy King worked countless hours in trying to lure forward Carmelo Anthony to his team through a trade with the Denver Nuggets. The Nets had plenty of assets that Denver liked, but Anthony's desired destination was Madison Square Garden with the New York Knicks. After losing out on Carmelo Anthony, the Nets swung a blindsided blockbuster deal by trading former All Star point guard Devin Harris, young forward Derrick Favors, and draft picks to the Utah Jazz for superstar point guard Deron Williams. Since then, Billy King and heavy-spending owner Mikhail Prokhorov have tried to do whatever they could to satisfy Williams. During the past 1.5 seasons, the Nets had struggled mightily with injuries. They did not reach the playoffs with Williams, and many thought they had almost no shot to retain their coveted guard. Most analysts believed that without obtaining Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard, the Nets would be hanging in the balance, with a high chance of themselves getting left in the dust. However, with the allure of a new city, new look, new arena, and new teammates, King, Prokhorov, and head coach Avery Johnson were able to convince Deron Williams to stay with the newly named Brooklyn Nets.

     Besides retaining Williams, King and the Nets have made plenty of other moves this summer. They've agreed to acquire All Star shooting guard Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks for five expiring contracts and a first round pick protected by the Houston Rockets. Some people believe it was a bad move because of his highly expensive contract, and that it also disallows the Nets from having the financial flexibility to sign Dwight Howard in free agency next summer. However, I don't think it was as horrid a move as some people suggest. Johnson is a consistent scorer who can get 20 points on almost any given night. He has long range, and can create his own shot whenever he has the ball in his hands. He's also a solid facilitator and decent defender. His size allows for him to post up on smaller guards and also to guard small forwards, in case the Nets wanted to play a small rotation. Johnson is the scorer the Nets needed, and brings instant offense to the table. The Nets also retained small forward Gerald Wallace in free agency. In a heavily scrutinized move at last season's trade deadline, King traded a lottery pick that was top-3 protected, Mehmet Okur, and Shawne Williams to Portland for Wallace. King backed up his trade, somewhat, when he reached a verbal commitment with Wallace for a four year, $40 million contract. After those two big moves, the Nets had verbally agreed to a contract with Bosnian forward Mirza Teletovic for the full mid-level exception over three years. He is a stretch four standing at 6'9", but he weighs a nice 250 pounds for a guy his size. His defensive game is not the best, but he is a highly touted offensive player. He can shoot from any spot on the floor and also post up. He's also an efficient rebounder, and reminds me a bit of Indiana Pacers forward Danny Granger. The Nets were also in dire need of toughness in the post, so in a sign-and-trade scenario, the Nets dealt a protected future second round pick to the Los Angeles Clippers for reserve big man Reggie Evans, who agreed to a three year, $5 million contract. These moves cannot be made official until July 11, but if they all are made official, the Nets look like a lock for the playoffs next year barring any significant injuries.

Williams (left) and Johnson (right) would form one of the best back court duos
in the NBA if successfully paired together in Brooklyn.

     Now that the Nets have Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace presumably locked up for at least the next four seasons, who will the Nets go after in free agency during the rest of the summer? Their first priority is to re-sign Brook Lopez. Although re-signing him would likely put the Nets over the luxury tax, Prokhorov and King know they need their center for the future. Lopez is one of the better offensive centers in the game, and might not garner a lot of attention or money in free agency due to his horrific ankle injuries last season that subdued him to playing in only five out of 66 games. The Nets would possibly be getting a bargain if they retained Lopez with a deal in which he earned $10 million annually. Retaining Lopez is a key so they have a post presence but he would also be a part of any trade that granted Dwight Howard his request to play in Brooklyn. Their second priority is to lock up Gerald Green. The electric small forward can sell tickets because of his amazing dunking abilities alone. Green was a very pleasant surprise for the Nets last year and is willing to take a pay cut to rejoin the roster, so I hope King retains him. He was a big part of the rotation and can score effectively off the bench, something the Nets will need.

Is it possible that Ilyasova winds up with the
Nets next season? Some analysts say yes.
     Their third priority is to get depth in the paint. I don't believe Teletovic will be ready to start out of the gate, and Evans serves best as a back up to Lopez. With that said, the Nets will need a starting power forward. There's rumors that they are still going hard after Milwaukee Bucks power forward Ersan Ilyasova, who is an unrestricted free agent. Ilyasova has consistently grown throughout his years in the NBA and is a proven starter in the league. He can shoot the ball well and rebound extraordinarily. Adding him to the Nets' current roster makes them contenders for the NBA Finals in just their inaugural season in Brooklyn. By using the mini mid-level exception, the Nets might be able to land a big man like San Antonio's Boris Diaw. Though many people argue against Diaw's play, he performed better with the Spurs during their run to the Western Conference Finals and was an integral part of their rotation. He seems to thrive with great point guards, so because the Nets have Deron Williams locked up for the future, I would at least give Diaw a look if I was King. Other cheap big man options in free agency include Sacramento's Donte Greene, Minnesota's Anthony Randolph and Anthony Tolliver, Boston's Ryan Hollins, Charlotte's D.J. White and Dallas center Ian Mahinmi. The Nets' last priority is to bring in some young rookie talents. The Summer League is not a bad option to find cheaper, younger players to sure up a bench. There are plenty of undrafted rookies looking to make a roster spot, and I think the Nets should explore the possibility of signing two players on their summer team, Wichita State center Garrett Stutz and Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs, as well as maybe several others. There are numerous other undrafted rookies who I believe they should consider scouting too, including New Mexico's Drew Gordon, Seton Hall's Herb Pope, Georgetown's Henry Sims, and Iona's Scott Machado.

     The Brooklyn Nets have made some bold moves this summer, but there is still work that is yet to be done. Now with Deron Williams committing long-term, each domino will start to trickle down in effect. After a five year hiatus, the Nets are looking to return to the playoffs this upcoming season, and hopefully back to the NBA Finals, a place the franchise hasn't ventured to since the era of the Jason Kidd-Kenyon Martin-Richard Jefferson triumvirate. There is a lot of buzz surrounding the franchise right now, and I believe the opening game in Brooklyn will be something special and also a hint of things to come in the future. Stay tuned, the free agent frenzy has only just begun.

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