There seems to be two camps of fans regarding the New Jersey Nets and their offseason. The first are those that are mired in the negativity of recent Nets seasons, particular this past 12-win 2009-10 season, and the inability to sign any big free agents, particularly LeBron James and/or Chris Bosh. What stings even more to those in this camp is that secondary stars were not even wooed enough to join the Nets and those free agents that were actually signed do not measure up to those players the Nets "should have" signed. The other camp recognizes the positive strides the Nets have made with a new owner in Mikhail Prokhorov, a new and excellent coach in Avery Johnson, and see the free agents signed - Anthony Morrow, Travis Outlaw, Jordan Farmar, and Johan Petro - as a welcome change in direction towards athleticism, improved three-point shooting, and defense. Count myself in the latter camp, but for the sake of the extreme tempering of expectation, let's say the Nets don't make the playoffs and find themselves in the NBA Draft Lottery again. Who will potentially be available and how would they fit in with the team as it's currently composed?
Since we're thinking negatively, we'll assume the Nets will finish within the top seven teams in the 2011 NBA Draft, so we'll take a look at the top seven players (regardless of position) and what they could bring to the Nets.
1) Harrison Barnes, 6'8" SG/SF, Freshman at North Carolina
Barnes is athletic, has excellent height and a long wingspan, can drive, stick the jumper, pass the ball, attack the rim with explosiveness, is under control at all times, and doesn't have many weaknesses. Obviously Barnes would fit in nicely considering his skill set and physical tools, even though he sounds like a bit more of a refined Terrence Williams and T-Will might not even start due a glut of wings on the team. However, it's hard to pass on a player that is considered to be the first overall pick by most draft experts. Surely the Nets would find Barnes some burn on the court if he's selected.
2) Perry Jones, 6'11 SF/PF, Freshman at Baylor
Like Barnes, Jones has great height and a very long wingspan, but with uncanny guard-like abilities for a big man - ball handling, shooting out to the three-point line, explosiveness and quickness. He's a very emotional type of player and would be a great player bringing some fire to the team with his passion. Unfortunately, once again, the wing position is jammed up, but since Jones has small forward abilities with power forward height, Jones can easily slip into the four spot and get some playing time there. Ideally, to me anyway, it would be a dream frontcourt (yes, based on talent and upside alone) of Jones, Derrick Favors, and Brook Lopez in the future.
3) Jan Vesely, 6'11" SF/PF, BC Partizan
The 20-year-old Vesely entered his name in the 2010 NBA Draft, but withdrew to stay overseas, but it wasn't for a lack of talent as Vesely can shoot the lights out of the ball, which his height should help in shooting over the top of defenders. He is another Perry Jones-type in that Vesely has power forward height, but wing player ability. Vesely has good quickness and athleticism and can attack the basket. In regards to his fitting on the Nets, it would be the same as Jones - getting time at the three and four positions.
4) Jared Sullinger, 6'9" PF, Freshman at Ohio State
Sullinger is a throwback power forward - big, wide, strong, and nasty. He uses his size and strength to clear space for rebounds, can throw it down hard, but also has a finesse to his game. Sullinger has very good post moves, can finish with either hand at the rim, and can hit the 12-18 footer. He's also a winner, having won Ohio's Division I high school title, as well as multiple and consecutive AAU national championships. For the Nets, though, he would basically be a duplicate of Favors.
5) Kyrie Irving, 6'2" PG, Freshman at Duke
Irving is quick, really quick. He excels on the fast break, finishing at the rim himself or setting up his teammates for an easy bucket. Irving is basically unguardable one-on-one thanks to his ability to change speed and direction. He plays very good defense and can hit the trey. If the Nets drafted Irving, he would be classified as "point guard of the future," but could make it really hard to keep him off the court even with Devin Harris and Jordan Farmar as the starter and immediate back-up. Irving should improve his game learning under Mike Krzyzewski at Duke, but also learn discipline, which would be welcomed with open arms by Avery Johnson.
6) Donatas Motiejunas, 7'0" PF/C, Benetton Treviso
Motiejunas is multi-talented and his combination of size, quickness, and explosiveness is rare for a big man. While he can dominate from the outside, Motiejunas has an inside game. He can block and alter shots and is only 19-years-old. On the Nets, it would be an effective rotation of Motiejunas, Favors, and Lopez between the power forward and center spots, but all of them have starter talent and someone is bound to have their feelings hurt. Could Motijunas switch to the three? Maybe on offense, but he would be left with his ankles sprained on defense.
7) Josh Selby, 6'1" PG, Freshman at Kansas
Selby is quick with extraordinary leaping ability and can almost score at will. He can change directions, pull up for a jumper, and attack the rim like it owes him money. Unfortunately for Selby, his height will probably limit him at the NBA level, at this point anyway. He's not a true point guard, although he can pass the ball. It's just a matter of will he? He's a very emotional player, but can have it distract his game. On the Nets, Avery Johnson might not like it too much if Selby has tunnel vision as he's prone to have. But, he's so talented that most of the negatives are pushed aside. However, it won't work with Johnson.
Other prospects include Jonas Valanciunas (6'10" PF/C; Lietuvos Rytas), Jeff Taylor (6'6" SF; Junior atVanderbilt), Mason Plumlee (6'11"; Sophomore at Duke), Kemba Walker (6'0"; Junior at Connecticut), Enes Kanter (6'9" PF; Fenerbahce Ulker), John Henson (6'10" PF; Sophomore at North Carolina), Trey Thompkins (6'9" PF; Junior at Georgia).
Considering that the Nets just drafted Derrick Favors, the choices aren't as rich for the Nets in the 2011 NBA Draft as it is very much power forward-heavy. The Nets will have to hope that wherever they select in the lottery, a talented non-four spot player is available and worthy of the pick. Yeah, sorry negative Nets fans, I think I just fed you more of "Oh, man! Can NOTHING work for us?!?!?!" However, this is a list of prospects as of now. Who knows who steps up during the year. Take heart, all Nets fans, at least we have an owner and coach that are driven solely to win - nothing negative about that!