The good news about the New Jersey Nets' 2009/10 season is that they didn't set a record for futility. For about five months, it looked like they would challenge the 1972/73 Philadelphia 76ers for the worst record of all time. The Nets set a NBA record by losing their first 18 games, and their record was 7-63 on March 22. A relatively promising 5-7 finish provided a little optimism, and they entered the summer with some young pieces, a high draft pick (potentially number one), a well-known new coach in Avery Johnson and enough cap space to make a run at the big free agents.
But the bad luck continued in the offseason. The Wizards and 76ers leapfrogged them in the John Wall sweepstakes, and all the big free agents of any kind chose to sign elsewhere. Instead of making big moves, the Nets drafted Derrick Favors with the third overall pick and chose to use their cap space to bring in younger, lesser-known players like Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow and Jordan Farmar. They also made a trade for Indiana's Troy Murphy.
On paper, that isn't a great haul. But, to be fair, the Nets did upgrade a problem position they've dealt with for years: power forward. As SB Nation's Nets blog Nets Daily notes:
Since Kenyon Martin was traded in 2004, the Nets biggest weakness has been at the power forward spot. They finally addressed this glaring hole by drafting a potential stud in Derrick Favors with the third overall pick, but by also acquiring the sweet shooting lefty, Troy Murphy. Murphy will allow Favors to come along a little more slowly instead of being thrust into the starting lineup from the get-go. Acquiring Murphy did come at a price, though, as young guard Courtney Lee was shipped out in the four-team deal. It hurts to lose a young player with potential, but the emergence of Terrence Williams made him expendable.
On paper, the Murphy-Favors combination is certainly interesting. Murphy is an underrated performer that is both a great rebounder and an elite three-point shooter, which is extremely rare, and Favors has tremendous upside. But I do worry about whether Favors can properly develop with Murphy sitting in front of him. For Nets fans, the hope is that Murphy ends up being both a solid performer and a mentor to Favors. That may happen, but not all veterans end up being those kinds of players.
Nets Are Scorching agrees that the two interior positions (center, with Brook Lopez around, and power forward) are strengths. The wing positions, however, are another story.
All the wings on the Nets' roster have the potential to be very good this year, but they also have the potential to be very average. Travis Outlaw is going to be a full-time starter for the first time in his career. Is he going to be able to handle it? Anthony Morrow has always been known as a shooter, but hasn't been able to do much else in his first couple seasons. Can he add a dribble-drive or some defensive ability to his game? Terrence Williams was fantastic during the later portion of the season. Can he be consistant and become a better defender? Damion James is a physical player who used to the play the 4 and should be playing the 3 for the Nets. He is a very strong defender and can hit a shot. Can he improve his ball handling skills? A lot of questions for this group.
But the most important player on the Nets is probably point guard Devin Harris. Two years ago, Harris was an all-star, dazzling so thoroughly that the Mavericks were getting heavily criticized for giving him up to get Jason Kidd. Last season, however, was a nightmare for Harris. Without Vince Carter to help him in the backcourt, Harris never was able to score effectively, and his shortcomings setting others up were magnified.
Will Devin Harris become an All-Star player again?
If he can stay healthy, I believe Harris has a good chance. The former All-Star can score, particularly from attacking the basket, and can dish. This season he'll have a much better group of players around him with shooters that will draw the defense out and open the box for Harris, plus more athletic players that should be able to finish on the break, which Harris would lead when on the floor. Johnson will also demand Devin to play D once again, so expect him to be a factor on the defensive end of the court, which will make Harris a better all-around player.
In the end, the key for the Nets will be to rebuild a winning culture, even if they are not in playoff contention. The bloggers, however, are pretty optimistic about the teams' prospects this season.
- Nets Daily: 32-50
- Nets Are Scorching: No prediction
- Fanway: 38-44 (wow)