The salary figures notwithstanding, the Brooklyn Nets will not enter 2014-15 with the same expectations as the previous season.
Few players shied away from those lofty predictions a year ago, but a new cast of characters has tempered the enthusiasm somewhat. Despite losing several key contributors, the Nets could be sneaky good.
There are the favorites like Cleveland, Chicago, and even Washington. If any expert has the Nets finishing in the playoffs, it is in the final few spots. Maybe that’s for the best.
“It’s good. I think that’s good,” Deron Williams of the expectations. “We’re flying under the radar. We’ve got a lot of work to do. When you get between the lines, anything can happen. So it’s our job to get better, gel as a team over training camp an the first month and be ready to go in November.”
The Nets maintain far more talent than many realize. After years of dealing with troublesome ankles, Williams finally underwent surgery — on both ankles, no less — to correct the problem. The team also expects center Brook Lopez to return healthy after undergoing yet another foot procedure last season.
They lost Paul Pierce, Shaun Livingston, Marcus Thornton, and Andray Blatche, but the Nets retain Joe Johnson. Their lone All-Star, Johnson averaged 15.8 ppg but upped the ante in the postseason with 21.2 ppg. His numbers aside, the Nets rode Johnson like a Triple Crown thoroughbred in the playoffs. He answered the challenge.
Most surprisingly, Brooklyn lost prodigal son Jason Kidd to the Milwaukee Bucks. The team’s off-court upheaval has clouded the perception of the on-court talent.
“We’ve got to step up, myself included, especially leadership-wise,” Williams said. “I think having myself healthy and having Brook healthy, that makes up for a lot. I think that’s what people don’t really understand.”
For arguably the first time, Williams will enter a Nets training camp completely healthy. That changes the “landscape” just as much as adding Lopez. The emergence of Mason Plumlee and the addition of Bojan Bogdanovic can only help.
“Health is the No. 1 issue for this team going in with Brook, KG and Deron,” Hollins said. “If they are healthy and we can create continuity and a foundation of a group playing together, then I think things will fall into place.”
Like last year, health will ultimately dictate the Nets’ success. But with only a few clear Eastern Conference standouts, the Nets can certainly vault into the upper half of that playoff picture.