STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
The Nets and owner Mikhail Prokorov continue to prove that money is no object in their quest to compete in the short term, as they acquired veterans Kevin Garnett, Paul Piece and Jason Terry in a mid-summer trade with the Celtics. The team added depth at nearly every position, signing swingman Andrei Kirilenko and selecting Duke's Mason Plumlee with the 22nd overall pick in the draft. While Brooklyn took on considerable salary this summer (nearly $45 million over the cap), they were able to trade Gerald Wallace's atrocious contract and ink Kirilenko to a two-year deal at a vastly discounted rate ($3.1 million per season).
Given the team's high-profile additions and Big Apple spotlight, all eyes will be on the Nets and newly minted head coach Jason Kidd from the season's onset. Expectations are higher than ever, and the strong mix of veterans and elite players in their prime should yield a top-five seed in the top-heavy Eastern Conference. A second consecutive first round exit would be considered a major disappointment for a franchise that believes it is a serious title contender. Perhaps the biggest question facing Brooklyn is whether or not a team relying so heavily on a cast of veterans will be able to remain healthy for a full season. The frontcourt is already thin, and with Garnett expected to be on a minutes limit, an injury to Lopez could force Andray Blatche – who actually played very well last season – into a much more prominent role. If Brooklyn can stay healthy, however, they'll be on the short list of teams capable of ending Miami's three-year reign in the East.
PLAYING TIME DISTRIBUTION
With so many capable contributors on the roster, establishing an efficient rotation will be a major challenge for Kidd in his first season. Williams figures to average well over 30 minutes per game at the point guard spot with Shaun Livingston serving as his primary backup. Tyshawn Taylor could see some reserve minutes as well, but the second-year man still lacks experience and could again spend time in the D-League. Joe Johnson returns as the starting shooting guard and should play 30 or so minutes on a nightly basis. Jason Terry will serve as Johnson's primary backup – he could play some point guard as well – seeing 15-25 minutes per game. Paul Pierce, the projected starting small forward, could play some shooting guard against certain lineups, but he'll see most of his minutes (25-30 per game) at the small forward spot. Fellow new addition Andrei Kirilenko may push Pierce for minutes as the season wears on, with Alan Anderson vying for time as well. The frontcourt is where Brooklyn's depth will be tested, as Kevin Garnett will likely have his minutes closely monitored. In 2012-13, the 18-year-veteran averaged his fewest minutes (30) since his rookie season. That number figures to diminish, as all indications are he'll be held out of back-to-back contests. Garnett will still average around 25 minutes per game, with Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche filling in as necessary. Coming off of his first All-Star selection, Brook Lopez will start at center and likely see 30-35 minutes per game. Evans and Blatche will back him up as well, with Mason Plumlee likely seeing some garbage minutes early on.
Brook Lopez: Already entering his sixth NBA season, the 25-year-old will look to build on his best overall season as a pro. He earned his first All-Star bid and posted averages of 19.4 points, 6.9 rebounds and 2.1 blocks while shooting 52.1 percent from the field. The addition of Garnett should take some of the defensive burden away from Lopez, but he'll still be the focal point of the Nets' low-post offense. If he further develops his promising mid-range jumper, Lopez could be one of the top big men – centers or otherwise – in the league.
Andray Blatche: Despite playing less than 20 minutes per game, the 27-year-old enjoyed his finest season as a pro with Brooklyn last year, averaging 10.3 points and 5.1 rebounds on 51 percent shooting. The Nets were able to bring him back at a vastly discounted rate, as he's still owed over $15 million from the Wizards.
Mason Plumlee: The first-round pick out of Duke has the strength and athleticism to succeed in the NBA, but his lack of polish offensively will likely limit his role as a rookie. Plumlee could spend time in the D-League as he adjusts to the professional game.
Kevin Garnett: Though Garnett's numbers have been on the decline over the past few seasons, he's still a very effective big man – particularly on the defensive end. With a talented scoring cast around him, he'll almost always be the fourth or fifth option offensively for the first time in his career. Garnett's scoring numbers will likely be on the decline, but given Brook Lopez's struggles on the glass, his rebounding shouldn't take too much of a dip.
Reggie Evans: Evans is the definition of a one-trick pony in the NBA, but his willingness to accept his role as a rebounding specialist has allowed him to carve out a valuable niche in the league. He was the NBA's top per-48 minute rebounder last season (by nearly three per game) and should again play a prominent role as Kevin Garnett's primary backup.
Andrei Kirilenko: Just when it appeared Kirilenko was headed back to Minnesota, Mikhail Prokorov was able to snatch his fellow countryman away from the Wolves (albeit under controversial circumstances). The versatile forward should see plenty of minutes at both the small forward and power forward spots and could even push Pierce for his starting position as the season progresses.
Paul Pierce: For the first time in over a decade, Pierce won't be the face of the Celtics franchise. He'll join a veteran roster that's deep at nearly every position and won't be relied upon as the primary scoring option for the first time in his career. Playing alongside a similar player in Joe Johnson could limit his effectiveness, but the overall weapons around him should help compensate for his diminishing athleticism. His overall numbers will likely be on the decline, but with Williams handling playmaking, duties Pierce will be able to pick his spots for more efficient scoring.
Tornike Shengelia: Shengelia rarely saw the floor last season but was very impressive in 10 D-League appearances, averaging 24.3 points and 8.2 rebounds on 53 percent shooting. Given Brooklyn's added depth at forward, however, 2013-14 will likely be another grooming year for the Belgium native.
Mirza Teletovic: As a 28-year-old rookie last season, Teletovic appeared in just 53 contests. He's a versatile small forward/stretch four with a confident shooting stroke but is yet to show he's anything more than a three-point specialist. He'll compete with Shengelia and Alan Anderson for playing time off the bench.
Alan Anderson: The journeyman signed a two-year deal with Brooklyn in the offseason and will bring another versatile presence to the rotation. He demonstrated last season with Toronto that he's capable of scoring in bunches despite inconsistent minutes. As will be the case with much of Brooklyn's bench, Anderson may again have difficulty carving out a consistent role given the bounty of wing players on the roster.
Joe Johnson: The six-time All-Star is clearly past the prime of his career, and his numbers have declined accordingly over the past few years. Last season, despite averaging nearly 37 minutes per game, he averaged his fewest points (16.3), rebounds (3.0) and assists (3.5) since 2002-03. Certainly, injuries and playing alongside other talented scorers contributed to the dip, but with added firepower this season, Johnson isn't likely to make much of a statistical resurgence. However, the additions of Pierce and Terry should prevent Johnson from having to play 35-plus minutes on a nightly basis, which could go a long way in avoiding the foot problems that plagued him last season.
Shaun Livingston: Yet another veteran acquisition, Livingston will suit up for his eighth NBA team and sixth in the last five seasons. After being released in December by the Wizards last season, he was picked up by the Cavaliers and finished the year averaging 7.2 points on 51 percent shooting. Still just 28, he'll be a more-than-capable third point guard for the Nets, who could use his 6-7 frame to create some intriguing mismatches.
Tyshawn Taylor: The former Kansas star struggled with efficiency in limited minutes as a rookie, and the chances he becomes a rotational player – barring an injury – are quite slim at this point.
Jason Terry: Terry's one-year cameo with the Celtics did not go as planned, as he averaged just 10.1 points in 27 minutes per game – both the lowest since his rookie season – en route to a first round playoff exit. The 36-year-old is nearing the end of his productive career, and with his minutes expected to decline, his streak of 13 consecutive double-digit scoring average seasons could come to an end.
Deron Williams: Williams received his fair share of criticism after getting off to an extremely slow start last season. He averaged just 15.7 points on 39 percent shooting in the month of December, and his struggles continued up to the All-Star break. Recurring ankle injuries were the primary culprit, as Williams stated he was unable to even dunk a basketball for most of the year. After receiving treatment during the break, however, he returned to the D-Will of old, posting averages of 21.9 points and 7.7 assists in March and 24.6 points and 8.4 assists (on 52 percent shooting) in April. If he can stay healthy in 2013-14, Williams could easily climb his way back into the “best point guard in the league” discussion. His supporting cast is stronger than ever, and the hiring of Kidd could go a long way in alleviating the coach-player hostility Williams has become known for.
Andrei Kirilenko: More so than any player on the roster, Kirilenko's versatility will allow him to fit in with multiple lineups and rotations. Should Garnett or Pierce go down at any point, he'll be the primary replacement and will likely start some games while Garnett rests. If he can provide for Brooklyn what he did for Minnesota last season – efficient scoring (51 percent FG), solid defense and rebounding – the Nets will have found an ideal piece to serve as insurance, of sorts, behind their aging front line.
Paul Pierce: The soon-to-be-36-year-old somewhat quietly had a very solid 2012-13 season in which he averaged 18.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game. However, in his first season outside of Boston he will be asked to defer to Williams, Lopez and even Johnson, at times. No longer the focal point of the offense, is this the year Pierce's age finally catches up to him in the box score?