ESPN is not exactly bullish on Brooklyn’s chances of competing this season. The World Wide Leader’s annual preseason Forecast predicts a 30-52 record for next year’s Nets, an eight-win drop that ranks the Nets 12th in the Eastern Conference. Sports Illustrated got a nearly identical result not long ago with a crude statistical measure.
First and foremost: among the three Eastern teams behind the Nets are the New York Knicks, who ESPN predicts will finish 25-57, an eight-game improvement over last year. So look who runs New York! That’s what determines championships, right?
A pessimistic view sees this as a realistic record. The Nets have lost showrunner Deron Williams, along with rotation pieces Mason Plumlee, Alan Anderson, and Mirza Teletovic (though Teletovic missed most of the season). Jarrett Jack, who will replace Williams in the starting lineup, posted one of the league’s worst on-off court figures last season, struggling to incorporate teammates and shooting poorly outside of the mid-range area. Joe Johnson is a year older, and Brooklyn’s offseason acquisitions were largely journeymen looking to find an NBA home.
The optimist might point to potential. Jack will not have the free rein to do whatever he wants without earning Lionel Hollins’s wrath; after one particularly well-rounded playoff game from Jack last season, Hollins deadpanned, “he made plays. Usually he just shoots the ball.” Now with Williams gone, Jack has added responsibilities on his shoulders beyond looking for his own shot, which could lead to a more balanced offense.
The Nets welcome back a Brook Lopez-Thaddeus Young core that led the Nets to a 13-6 record over the final 19 games of the regular season, albeit against some weaker competition. If any one or two of Brooklyn’s many low-risk signings pays off, that could add a few extra wins as well. There’s a chance they could surprise.
But the short-term view doesn’t look good. The Nets are in an in-between stage, with one eye on competing (evidenced by signing Lopez & Young to lavish long-term deals) and the other on destroying (evidenced by the last two years of veteran-shedding and youthful orientation). Playing the middle means ending up somewhere in the middle — and if it ends poorly, the Nets could give up a high lottery pick to the Boston Celtics.