After their summer-long media festivities, the Brooklyn Nets hosted their official media day yesterday. Amidst the pictures, videos, interviews, cheesecake, and media swarm (the Nets had their most populated media day ever, for some random reason), two themes of expectation emerged: the Nets want to be a defensive-minded team, and they think they can compete for a championship.
"We visited with the players with specific goals, and it's written out," said coach Avery Johnson. "We must make a major step defensively in the right direction. We've got to be in the top 10. That's one of the barometers defensively. We have a certain amount of points we want to give up this year, we know what we want our defensive field goal percentage to be this year. In the last two minutes of the game, I want to see a team that's physically and mentally tough." Deron Williams added, "We have to play team defense. That's going to be the key for us. ... You're only as good as the people behind you. If Brook Lopez has my back, and the next guy has his back, we're going to be a good defensive team. But when you start not trusting people, saying I'm not going to help because I don't know when I'm going to have help, you're not going to be good."
The Nets have ranked in the bottom 10 in points allowed per possession every year since 2007-08, most recently 28th out of the NBA's 30 teams. Granted, they were an absolute mess last season.
Despite the past two seasons, Johnson was known as a defensive-minded coach in Dallas, and Brook Lopez noted that training camp will likely be heavily one-sided. "Avery gave us a pretty big handbook for training camp. All of training camp is pretty much defense, defensive principles, our ideas, our beliefs. We even have dates for our four written tests on our defensive principles. So we're going to be hitting it pretty hard, we want to be a defensive-minded team."
Lopez has fielded significant criticism for his defensive and rebounding prowess (or lack thereof) in the past couple of years, but deflected those issues. "I'm just focused on being the guy in the middle that everyone can count on. If they get beat, I want to be back there. Just have to be prepared to help each other out."
He later added, "We want to be the team that Brooklyn really deserves."
That team? If you believe the rhetoric thrown around, a championship one. Both Johnsons (Joe and Avery) extolled the team's vision of winning a championship in June, though they both acknowledged the long road ahead to making that happen. "We have everything you could possibly want on a championship-caliber team," said player Johnson.
According to Stefan Bondy, even Andray Blatche got in on the championship talk. Deron Williams was a bit more reserved, but maintained that excitement: "I think guys are at the point in their career that they don't care about what their statistics are. They just want to win." Williams said. "I feel like we can be a great team, so I want to put that pressure on us to get to the playoffs, then hopefully do something in the playoffs."
The Nets believe earnestly in their championship potential. Most folks would probably agree that Miami, Los Angeles, and Oklahoma City make up the top three teams in the league, but beyond that, the claim for fourth is wide open. Almost a dozen teams could sneak into that spot, and Brooklyn's on that list. They may not have Miami's talent (though Joe Johnson would beg to differ), but weird factors have swung best-of-seven series. Just last season, the Heat were down to the Indiana Pacers and on the brink of elimination against the Boston Celtics in the playoffs last year. Without Chris Bosh, they might not have even made it to the Finals.
The Nets are selling themselves, to the NBA, to Brooklyn, to themselves. They have to. They've ridden this wave since April 30th, and they're not pulling up now. But they're also a talented enough team and competitive enough to warrant their talk, even if the talk is unwarranted. (If that makes sense.)
- Near the end of Avery Johnson's press conference, Deron Williams (in home uniform) snuck into the front row and impatiently waited to ask a question: "This is Deron Williams, from Deron Williams News. I have a question that everyone wants to know: who's the best team in New York?"
Johnson answered diplomatically, noting that it's not about who the best team in New York is, but the best team in the NBA.
- Brook Lopez's first comment upon getting to the podium: "Did you know they have Nathan's Hot Dogs here?"
- Jerry Stackhouse, who recently made claims that no center in the league could guard Andray Blatche, clarified his statement. He meant that with Blatche's perimeter skills, he'd be able to draw centers away from the paint and out of their comfort zones, further opening up the offense. Blatche is slotted in the Nets' roster as a center, not a power forward.