Championship dreams and challenging the Miami Heat were all the rage for the Brooklyn Nets last year after acquiring Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in a blockbuster deal that cost three first-round picks.
A year later, talk of rings has tempered. Now the Nets are looking for cohesion and stability even as they still have the league’s highest payroll and the same core in Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez.
They also have a raging Kevin Garnett. Garnett had his worst statistical season when he was limited with his minutes by Jason Kidd and in his 19th season missed nearly 30 games due to injuries and rest.
“I have a little bit of an edge to me this year,” Garnett told reporters at practice on Monday. “I’ll say that. I didn’t like how I ended last year, or how I even started last year.”
Garnett and the Nets voiced support for Kidd during the regular season but now will be working under Lionel Hollins. Hollins was a contender for the job before the splashy hire last year and following Kidd’s attempt at a power play he becomes the franchise’s fourth coach since moving to Brooklyn two years ago.
Garnett is a secondary player at this point and that’s fine if Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are healthy and effective. Until proven otherwise, the health of Williams and Lopez will be the biggest factor determining how many wins the Nets get.
The Nets won 44 games last year with Williams averaging his fewest points since his rookie season and Lopez not playing after Dec. 20 due to a broken foot that required a fourth foot surgery. They won 49 the year before with Williams, Lopez, and Johnson as the core.
Williams in theory is in the prime of his career at 30 but ankle injuries have dropped him from the conversation about top-10 point guards. When Williams is hurt, his confidence sags but now his continued grasp of the motion offense will dictate things.
If Williams can put together a complete All-Star type season from start to finish and not just the final two months like two years ago then the Nets might be better than the seventh or eighth seed. That’s among the many variables facing a team that has been predicted to win anywhere between 36 and 45 games in an improved Eastern Conference.
Another is defense, especially since barring any major injuries to Lopez, the Nets will be going big again. They were terrible the first two months of the season but once they went small the defense improved with the active hands theory of getting steals in the passing lanes paying off significantly.
Hollins is highly-regarded from his years with the Memphis Grizzlies, who were among the best defensive teams in his tenure.
He will also try to continue instilling toughness into the Nets on a consistent basis. It was an open secret that it did not exist when the Nets lost Game Seven at home to the Chicago Bulls. It was painfully evident in the first two months of last season with several blowout losses and collapses in third quarter.
Hollins is not shy about expressing his opinion compared with the bland Kidd, whose catchphrases were “It’s a process, again and protect home.” And make no mistake about it, Hollins will not hold back when he sees things he dislikes.
The Nets have a wide range of ways they can finish. They have players such as Mirza Teletovic and Mason Plumlee who shined at various moments last season. They also have players such as Jarrett Jack and Bojan Bogdanovic with things to prove.
How it all comes together will make the Nets interesting even if the constant talk of championship rings has been downsized.
“You can’t get into the naysayers or the people who are supposed to be professionals or professional analysts, people who have never touched a basketball, you know, it is what it is, man,” Garnett said.
And for the Nets it’s basketball without the spotlight of last year’s gaudy expectations.