Hip-Hop Icon, Business Mogul, and Brooklyn-Native- Jay-Z is the perfect marketing force for hyping, promoting and branding his new-look Nets franchise for their 2012-2013 debut after moving from Newark, NJ to the Barclays Center in the Brooklyn Borough of New York City. (Photo via realestate_bug on Instagram)
By Ryan Hebert
Brooklyn Nets Snapshot
2011-12 record: 22-44
2012-13 Projected Record: 51-31
Predicted Finish: 4th (Eastern Conference), 2nd (Atlantic Division)
“Hello Brooklyn!” That’s been the viral catch-phrase in its signature Black and White font that NBA Journalists, Bloggers and fans have been hearing and seeing everywhere this Summer, thanks to the brand-centric stylings of the one-and-only Jay-Z. After all, it was Jigga-man who once bragged of his famed business-savvy and his ability to, “Turn an eighth to an ounce, into a whole Ki to the R.O.C,” in the Kanye West-produced track “The Bounce” (The R.O.C being his lucrative record label, Roc-A-Fella Records). That Jay-Z track may not have been specifically talking about helping to develop the low-post skills of Kris Humphries into a Kevin Garnett or Kareem Olajuwon, as he’s admittedly not a miracle-worker or even involved in or around the court. However, that song “The Bounce”, from the Blueprint II, has lyrical content that is highly pertinent to his role with the Brooklyn Nets. As a Rapper, Record Executive/ President of Def Jam Records, owner of his own label Roc-Nation and clothing chain- Roca-Wear; Sean Carter has repeatedly shown his King Midas-like ability to take almost any of his business ventures and help to transform them seamlessly into Gold. As a minority owner of the New Jersey Nets, Jay-Z wanted to be a part of changing the historically-mediocre franchise and its ridiculed culture by relocating the team to his home Borough of Brooklyn, (Jay-Z himself is from Bed Stuy, but that section is within Brooklyn and that’s good enough). With Russian-Billionaire Oil baron, and one-time aspiring President, Mikhail Prokhorov as the primary owner at the helm of Jay-Z’s ownership group, the Nets franchise finally had both the excessive funding to acquire prime Brooklyn Real Estate, as well as the vision of masterful marketers to re-brand and inject youthful exuberance into the Nets in such a way that they could gain more fans in a famously competitive Basketball City.
More importantly, the move and change of culture has now established Brooklyn as a prime Free Agent destination, even though the team has yet to play a game in the BK. We’ve already seen Dwight Howard, the NBA’s premier Center, take a team and city hostage with a seemigly desperate intent of making his way to the Brooklyn Nets. Although his demands ultimately landed him with the Los Angeles Lakers, partially because of boneheaded moves of the part of Dwight’s camp, one couldn’t help but realize that Brooklyn has already arrived as an NBA destination. It’s a Borough in the heart of America’s City; there are great sponsorship opportunities locally and nationally, and the team’s enigmatic owner, Prokhy, is more than happy to hemorrhage money on a whim to make his roster better and competitive.
The first true free agent move made by the newly-branded Brooklyn Nets was to re-sign their All-Star point guard, Deron Williams, to a handsome contract of 98-million dollars over five-seasons. This is, however, a good price and contract length for a player that many writers and players alike consider the best All-Around PG in the NBA. Brooklyn found itself in a battle for Williams’ services at the beginning of Free Agency with the previous season’s champ, the Dallas Mavericks, who also have an eccentric Billionaire owner in Mark Cuban, for whom money is also of no consequence when it comes to investing in his favorite Hoops squad. When push came to shove, the crazier billionaire, who was willing to invest in one of the league’s most absurd contracts, had won over the affection and ultimately the allegiance of D-Will in Brooklyn. Williams wanted an established All-Star guard with remaining prime-years to team up with in his back court, so Billy King boldly went out and acquired Atlanta’s Joe Johnson. Considered to be one of the four or five best shooting guards in the NBA, Johnson was technically a great player acquisition for Billy King to make. However, whenever someone mentions Joe Johnson, they cannot do so without mentioning the albatross contract of 120-million dollars over five years that Atlanta inked Johnson to in 2010, mostly inked by ATL brass out of fear for losing their franchise guy to New York. That contract was and still is so absurd that it has actually caused Joe Johnson’s play on the court to become underrated, as it is the 24.5 million per year he is being paid to play, not the 20 ppg and generally excellent defense, that comes to mind when you mention Iso-Joe. Whether or not that is fair or not is irrelevant; Joe Johnson is known as a pretty good to excellent guard who makes way too much money. But fear not, Joe Johnson- In Prokhorov’s NBA, Trades make you! Finally, the NBA found an owner with a pocketbook and corresponding psyche to whom that albatross of a contract, signed under the previous CBA, represented nothing more than mere pocket change and a way to keep Deron Williams in a Nets Jersey, although the color scheme of that jersey and his homecourt will be drastically different, both for the better in his case.
And so it was that Billy King, an embattled NBA GM, proved that no contract, regardless of its exorbitant figures or length, is actually immoveable in Prokhorov’s NBA! When considering that the luxury tax penalization is nothing but a joke monetarily to Mikhail, a Billionaire MANY times over, the move is actually a pretty great one for the Nets on the Basketball court. It’s hard for a poor-to-middle class blogger to do, but let’s remove ourselves from this analysis finanacially- things will make more sense from the Nets’ perspective. It can be argued that Deron and Johnson, with second year scoring-specialist Marshon Brooks, (who King somehow managed to luckily retain in the Iso-Joe deal with Atlanta), and newly-signed backup point guard CJ Watson, represent the best Back Court in the NBA, although both the Lakers and Celtics players and fans challenge that sentiment with their own newly-constructed rosters.
Let’s first start with Deron Williams. The past two-and-a-half years have been a little bit of a drop off, in terms of winning, statistics, and attitude. It’s tough to evaluate Deron’s persona, as he’s quite stoic and private, much like rival Atlantic Division floor-general, Rajon Rondo. The Deron Williams trade to the Nets promptly followed Jerry Sloan’s abrupt retirement, which many credited to a poor relationship with Deron, who often disregarded Sloan’s play-calls and tutelage. The trade to New Jersey was a bit shocking on both parts, as he was Utah’s best player by far, and the Nets had just struck out on a Carmelo Anthony blockbuster deal- with ‘Melo making way to his desired destination in Manhattan as a New York Knick. And so it was, Deron Williams was traded alongside injured Big Man, Mehmet Okur, for the Nets’ stud Rookie Derrick Favors, point guard Devin Harris, picks, and some fillers, many of whom I’m not even sure are still in the NBA. Thus, D-Will found himself on a gutted Nets team, with Kris (Kardashian) Humphries, Anthony Morrow (an exceptional shooter, but not much of a creator), Jordan Farmar, the illustrious Johan Petro, and Brook Lopez, who has been both his best teammate and perpetually injured since Williams’ arrival in Newark. These were some bad, bad teams that D-Will found himself on, though he did compete to his best ability. At times, he looked disinterested, and often downright pissed, which was chronicled in this ESPN blog : D-Will: My body language needs to change – New Jersey Nets Blog … Probably isn’t the greatest form of leadership to look disinterested, but in fairness to D-Will, his teammates were garbage last year, and that’s being kind to those players. It generally isn’t conduct befitting the “Best Point Guard” in the league, a claim to which winning players CP3, Rondo, Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook could all lay claim, and for many their choice of “The Best PG” is an NBA Rorschach Test. During his time split between the Meadowlands and Newark, Williams’ stats did drop off a little but, oddly enough, his assists per game stayed on par with the rest of his career, albeit with more turnovers, which is impressive when looking at that roster that more closely resembled a morgue or YMCA D-team than the energetic Nets roster once led by Drazen Petrovic, Kenny Anderson and Derrick Coleman for that killer playoff run. There is some evidence, statistically to say that D-Will was competing, but the record at least proved that one of the league’s best Point Guards couldn’t carry a crummy team in the way that Chris Paul did at times in New Orleans, though CP3′s mediocre teammates weren’t quite as shitty as, say, Travis Outlaw, who may have quietly stolen 25-30 million from the previous Nets regime.
These are D-Will’s stats pre-trade, the year of the trade for both Utah and New Jersey, and his final season in New Jersey, prior to signing his five year 98-mill deal. Last year, he had his lowest PER in three years, assisted on more of his teams buckets %-wise, yet posted a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio on 8.2 APG, which isn’t elite. Williams hit 4o% from the field, he scored 21 ppg, but those 8 assists w/2 TO per game stills leaves you scratching your head from earlier, as he’s regarded as an elite passer and has been such for years , but he was being pressured often by teams like Boston, Philly and Miami, and it’s hard to evade such pressure when you’re playing next to Jordan Farmar. Not a great stat, but one that is certainly understandable given the circumstances. He also rebounded poorly for his stature and personal standards, which isn’t generally a point guard duty for players not named Westbrook and Rondo, but he could have contributed more in that category to start breaks with Brook Lopez hurt as much as he was. Williams, numbers wise, was up and down, with no real conclusive trend that went beyond his team being bad enough to earn the 6th pick in the draft, (traded for Crash Wallace), which was impressive in that they didnt go into Bobcats-Mode without Brook Lopez, the teams’ second best scorer and big man, (although a HORRIBLE rebounding big man).
The only thing I could conclusively draw is that he shot the long ball more than in previous years which he converted efficiently, passed the ball a bit less prolifically with a high turnover count, and frequently looked overplayed, tired and generally miserable in Jersey and ready to either move on to Brooklyn or to a new team altogether. This upcoming season will tell us a lot about D-Will and his stature among the elite PG’s, and his ability to be the best player on a Quasi-Contender; the Nets may not be in the Heat and Celtics upper-echelon of Eastern Conference teams, mostly due to their lack of elite defensive and rebounding big men, which we will get to soon enough.
Joe Johnson is a bit of an interesting player to analyze, because of his reputation for excessive Isolation-ball in tight playoff games, as was evidenced in the first round game six against the Celtics and eventual series-loss, but also because he has many tantalizing skills that get overlooked because of his quiet persona and the contract situation that was previously discussed. There is much reason to believe that Joe can thrive in an excellent offensive system run by Deron Williams and CJ Watson in spot-duty. Johnson is an excellent catch and shoot player, who according to basketballreference.com hit 38% of catch-and-shoot 3-pt FG’s last season, and he wasn’t playing on a team known for elite ball movement. With Williams on the court, there’s reason to believe that Johnson can play much more like he did with the Phoenix Suns, thriving in a bit of a two man game with D-Will, as both are excellent shooters and Joe himself is a fantastic ballhandling 2-guard.
I believe that if Avery Johnson can talk Joe into isolating less, posting more with the intent of also passing, and moving well without the ball, he can have one of his better seasons, especially if he properly uses strong screens from Humphries and Crash Wallace. I expect Johnson to score between 19-23 ppg, but at a much more efficient clip, as the floor spacing will be cleaner than it was in ATL, and receiving passes from Williams after playing w/ Jeff Teague and Josh Smith will feel heavenly. Also, if Johnson can replace his iso-possessions with pick and roll forced-switch post-ups on smaller defenders receiving duck-in feeds in the middle of the lane, perhaps Johnson can also find himself on the FT-line more, a place where he has been terrific in terms of consistency throughout his quietly great career. I expect that Johnson will be reinvigorated by having Williams as a partner in the Back Court, and Williams will feel the same. One particular wrinkle to watch for will be Williams and Johnson alternating as the primary ball-handlers, with the other guard moving off of pin-downs for mid-range to three-point field goals. The game in late February in which Williams scored 50+ points, he was playing entirely off of the ball, because none of his teammates could really shoot from outside as efficiently (Morrow was injured), but Marshon Brooks was very capable as an effective passer with the vision to hit Williams off of curls, pindowns and flare screens. Look for the duo of Johnson and Williams to alternate in doing what Williams and Brooks did, and perhaps even with both as off-the-ball shooters in a small ball lineup w/ Marshon or Watson running the PG position. Both Joe and Deron are lethal shooters with great fundamentals without the ball in their hands, (this 2-guard type movement is a rare and elite quality that may be unique to Williams among the elite PG’s, although Rondo and Westbrook are great cutters/pests, which isn’t quite the same. This may be the quality that seperates Williams from the other 4-5 great PG’s). Avery Johnson should have fun drawing up plays withing the game and adding wrinkles consistently based on the interchangeable partners. As an opponent, picking your poison between Williams and Johnson isn’t a prospect that leaves you feeling comfortable defensively.
In a semi-controversial trade, the Nets sent a No.1 protected Lottery pick to Portland for Wallace, otherwise known as Crash, due to his reckless brand of hustling and rebounding that is keyed by his high-motor and ridiculous vertical-leaping ability, even as he’s aged into his late-20′s. The Lottery pick became the sixth pick, which Portland used to select their new starting point guard, Damian Lillard, a great prospect out of Oakland and Weber State. Wallace was re-signed as an FA for four years and 40 million, which was the standard amount for players like Kirilenko, Jeff Green and Nic Batum, so it ended up making sense for the Nets and their comically wealthy Russian playboy. Wallace stands to be a good oversized Small Forward, who will be used to lock down defensively, or try honorably, on divisional stars such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul Pierce (to a lesser extent) and even some Power Forwards- notably Josh Smith, Chris Bosh and other stretch/shooting PF’s.
Crash is exceedingly strong and intense, and pursues the loose ball and offensive rebounds with similarly great instincts and energy. He stands to be one of three good defenders on the team, with Joe and Reggie Evans, so if the Nets have any chance of being decent defensively, it will be on Wallace to set the tone by playing as hard as he can, (which is his norm), and being vocal on switches and pick and rolls. I believe that, outside of Reggie Evans who hustles and boards with tenacity (and flops with even more vigor!), it will be hard for Wallace’s defensive chops to make his team an elite defensive squad. Brook and Hump are like the Bizarro forms of Mahorm and Rodman, so it’s up to Gerald to at least play physical 1-on-1 man-defense against the league’s best scorers, which he will do and fare pretty well at doing. Offensively, Williams will find Wallace for dunks in transition. Wallace can conncect from outside when he’s playing well, and will focus on setting hard screens and crashing the glass as a weak side rebounder on either Lopez post-ups or from the corner three position when D-Will and Joe play the 2-man game. Wallace is freakish in his ability to get to rebounds from where he is spacing the floor, so it will fit in nicely with the two star players. Wallace is also a great catcher and finisher of ally-oops, so it is safe to assume D-Will will involve him in some 1-3 pick and roll action where Joe is set in the corner as the 3-pt kick option, which was covered earlier. Wallace is a nice 4th, sometimes 3rd, offensive option, and his contributions as a serious worker will be finally seen on national TV after grinding on obscure lottery teams for the majority of his career, so I will be happy to watch him bust his ass in signature “Crash Wallace” fashion. He was depended on too heavily in Charlotte, and I’m glad that such a hard worker will get some attention nationally and finally got his pay day. The only concern with crash is injury and concussions- he’s had several bad ones, so it may serve him well to tone his activity down one or two notches perhaps as he ages. As an impartial follower, I will be glad to see Gerald on TV doing his thing. He’s earned his moment in the sun on a good team.
Brook Lopez, in an extremely odd negotiation that was based on Dwight Howard Sign & Trade possibilities, walked away a very rich man with a 60 million dollar contract, which also doubled as the most fiscally successful comic-con San Diego weekend of all-time, which couldn’t have merely been a coincidence. Brook is a nice kid, great character guy, and big-time nerd, so he automatically is a Blog-favorite, but he was ridiculed to an extent for receiving such a large contract as a poor rebounder. He had a broken foot last year that lingered for the majority of the year, but when healthy, Brook is among the best scoring Centers in the NBA. His issues are rebounding, (piss poor, both fundamentally and statistically) and defense, (he can’t rotate, hedge on Pick and Rolls, and has limited mobility). The Eastern Conference is chock-full of elite Defensive Big Men: KG, Tyson Chandler, LBJ, Chris Bosh, Marcus Camby, Anderson Varaejao, Josh Smith and others. This is a list that Brook Lopez will never grace. His only option is to provide scoring, which is tough to do when you look at that previous list. The Nets defense will have to rely on the old-Suns strategy of just turning games into shootouts, which will be hard in a conference where just about every contender is also a defensive-juggernaut. With that said, Brook’s health and scoring will add a great dimension to the Nets offense, which stands to be extremely potent.
The bench mob of Watson, Brooks, Mirotic and Reggie Evans should be a much more capable unit than any bench that the Nets have had since the Jason Kidd-era, so it isn’t crazy to think that, if matched up against the Knicks in the first round, the Nets could advance to the second round and cause some noise, primarily on the back of their tremendous back court and prospectively free-flowing offense, aided by super-sub Marshon Brooks, who will have a nice impact with his complicated back-to-basket game as a savvy two-guard. Watson spent a majority of last season, and first round playoff series, starting in place of Derrick Rose, and it’s safe to assume he will provide good floor spacing and heady/stable play when Williams needs rest. Evans will flop, rebound, foul, flop and piss off opponents, which is a great quality to boast in a conference featuring loose cannons Garnett, Rondo, David West, and Mario Chalmers (the king of getting yelled at and receiving quick technicals for the defending Champs). I admittedly know very little about Mirotic, who is said to be an excellent Euro-league scorer, so I will reserve the right to judge his game until it is shown to translate in the NBA game, which often isn’t the case early on for many great Euro-scorers who do not adapt successfully to either the physicality, the rules changes or even picking up the language. If Mirotic does pan out, though, it could elevate Brooklyn from being just a 4-seed to being a serious threat to Indy’s 3-seed
What stands to be the most fascinating story-line in the NBA , other than OKC-LAL and Boston-Miami rivalries, is most definitely the Brooklyn-Manhattan Borough Feud. I want to see how the New York Knicks-Brooklyn Nets rivalry tanspires early on in it’s burgeoning years, as many NYC contrarians and pissed/despaired Knicks fans have already jumped aboard Jay-Z’s illustrious “Brand-Wagon”. There are also many grumpy Knicks fans, still reeling from the FA loss of Lin, the injury to Shump and signing of Raymond Felton, who may go so far as to commit illicit acts of violence on innocent individuals wearing Brooklyn’s Black and White Jerseys or hats in the wrong neighborhood after a Knicks loss. What will be the ratio of opposing to home fans at each game? Will they meet in the first round for what would be a brilliantly high-scoring subway series? I hope so, because that series would be a scenario where defense is nothing beyond a 7-letter word that Tyson Chandler and Ronnie Brewer miss dearly and the one word that found its place outside the realm of Brook Lopez’ excellent Stanford education. And really, who wouldn’t want to see D-Will/Joe Johnson engage in a a shootout with Carmelo, JR Smith and the shell of Amar’e Stoudemire? That would be excellent, and I hope it happens.
I don’t believe Brooklyn to be a title contender quite yet, they’re on their way, but they’ve changed their perception- which is half of the battle, and when you have a back court that is of the caliber of Williams-Johnson, you give yourself a chance to compete and make noise in the playoffs, and all bets are off in a shootout, especially in a conference that lacks high-scoring juggernauts. I look forward to saying hello to Brooklyn on NBA League Pass frequently this winter. You got me, Jay-Z. Damn you and your superior marketing.