5. Metta World Peace.
Look, Metta World Peace probably shouldn’t be this high. If you’re going solely on merit, he absolutely shouldn’t be this high. He’s shot under 40% from the field in two of the last three seasons, and his defensive presence isn’t what it used to be. He won’t be a difference-maker in any arena except possibly throwing elbows and barbs.
But preseason is a time for talk and pomp and circumstance and irrelevance, and nobody does more irrelevant things than Metta World Peace. He openly admitted he had no idea who was on the Nets roster. He’s running into children on the sidelines and lying to them about his misdeeds. He wrote a children’s book AND a book on the infamous Malice at the Palace brawl. He’s doing a movie with Dustin Diamond, A.K.A. Screech in Saved By The Bell and the producer of his own porn movie. He forgot that the Raptors played in Toronto. He’s begun pretending he’s a reporter, asking teammates questions like “what’s your favorite toe”?
Sure, once the season starts and on-court production matters, Metta World Peace will quickly tumble down these ranks, as his status as a status symbol gets overshadowed by his status as a poor outside shooter. But as long as we’re doing pre-season rankings based on importance and prominence, Metta World Peace is running the game right now. -D.K.
Relevant Metta World Peace Video:
4. Billy King.
It was a rough start in 2010 as GM Billy King aimed to earn the love of Nets fans as the latest object of the Nets-Sixers Executive Exchange Program (otherwise featuring juggernauts Rod Thorn and Ed Stefanski). King was often erroneously “credited” with the nauseating signings of Jordan Farmar, Johan Petro, and Travis Outlaw that summer; in reality, those were “it’s the thought that counts” parting gifts from Thorn on his way out.
Since then, though, it’s hard to argue with anything he’s done. I’ll be the first to admit that the dismissal of Avery Johnson could have been handled better, but his body of work is pretty impressive.
He traded for Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry. He awarded the suddenly booming Brook Lopez the mini-max in a widely second-guessed decision. He re-signed Williams for the long term. He gave Andray Blatche a chance. He signed Andrei Kirilenko for pennies on the dollar. He fixed the Gerald Wallace error and got real value out of Kris Humphries’s expiring contract.
He has found a way despite being tightly handcuffed by salary-cap circumstances to improve his team, and that’s really all you can ask for out of a GM. A guy that was once a laughingstock is now one of the league’s best executives over the last two years. -D.S.
Relevant Billy King Calvin & Hobbes Comic Strip:
3. Carmelo Anthony.
Knicks fans: please don’t close this tab yet. I get that you probably see this as a slight against Anthony. Maybe you’re right. But I think it’s fair. Anthony is a confounding superstar, the NBA’s reigning scoring champion, a multitalented forward that can score at an elite level in dozens of ways all over the floor. He shows flashes of being a brilliant revolutionary small power forward, and he’s never missed the playoffs once in his career.
But, like seemingly every year, Anthony enters the year with some questions. For one, he’s eligible to become a free agent after this season, and in a candid interview, he seemed awfully intrigued about being a free agent. He later backpedaled on those comments.
Anthony thrived last season in Woodson’s tailored offense, particularly in the first three months, shooting a scorching 41.6% from three-point range. After a relatively quiet offseason for the Knicks, he remains the epicenter of their contention hopes. Much like Deron Williams, it all depends on which Carmelo Anthony you get: the small-ball revolutionary that led the Knicks to one of the league’s best starts, or the frustrating ball-dominator that took nearly 26 shots per game in the playoffs with poor results. Only time will tell. -D.K.
2. Brook Lopez.
I’m buying all the Brook Lopez stock I can right now, and his share price continues to rise. Now, he’s still a bad rebounder (a blight I was convinced was a byproduct of his debilitating stint with mono in 2010), and I’ve resigned myself to the notion he’s probably not going to improve that much in that department.
That’s a small price to pay, however, for arguably the best offensive center in basketball and someone who is trying his darndest to become a better defender despite lackluster lateral mobility. Playing alongside Kevin Garnett? That’s only going to help him. In a sea of NBA players trying to emulate one another, Lopez stands alone.
His knack for getting the ball to go in the whole somehow, some way, is essentially unrivaled by big men around the league.
He has put on another 15 pounds of muscle and is becoming a hulking presence in the paint, and I expect he will lead the Nets in scoring again this year. I won’t go so far as to say he’s going to shoot the 55 percent from the field that Grantland’s Zach Lowe predicted, but he could very well be the best player on a team filled with best-player candidates — provided, of course, that his foot ceases to be a problem.
Unfortunately, that’s not something that can just be written off. More body weight is more weight on his foot, which might not bode well.
But Batman’s got his back, even if he doesn’t always have Batman’s. -D.S.
Relevant Brook Lopez GIF:
1. Kevin Garnett.
I’d like to start off by saying this was entirely my doing. I told Danny I wanted to rank Garnett #1 and he basically threw his hands up electronically and told me I’d have to take care of it. That’s fine. I’ll take the hate. BRING IT ON. IT FEEDS ME.
There’s not many people that I would anoint the king of basketball in New York when not three months ago they were a major rival of both teams. But there’s only one Kevin Garnett.
Within ten seconds of the media walking into Nets training camp at Duke on October 1st — the team’s first official practice ever, mind you — Garnett was already barking at a teammate. “You cheat the drill, you cheat yourself!” Garnett bellowed, asserting his indomitable will as if he’d been on the team his entire career.
Those stories you hear about Kevin Garnett as a practice fiend and legendary teammate? All true. He never shuts off. He throws basketballs 50 feet into walls after he finishes drills successfully. He curses himself after bad plays and good ones. He yells over lead assistant Lawrence Frank’s instructions, not to belittle Frank, but to show his teammates what they should be doing on defense. It’s not so much that Frank “allows” it as it is that he & Garnett work in harmony to teach.
His few-and-far-between press conferences are already the stuff of legend. Every teammate asked about Garnett’s impact as a teammate talks about his on-court demeanor and off-court storytelling. He dominates every practice with his voice and IQ, keeping the team loose and focused at the same time. The way the Nets move, even in practice, has changed dramatically with his presence.
He’s already credited by teammates as a leader, an on-court role model, and a preeminent teammate. He’s got stories upon stories to tell, somehow keeping everyone loose and focused simultaneously. He is the crux at the center of the Brooklyn Nets, and the reason why they’re considered even a fringe championship contender.
Knicks fans will point to Carmelo Anthony, some Nets fans may point to Deron Williams. But the impact from those two players doesn’t stretch on and off the court the way Garnett’s does. Few in the NBA can put up points like Anthony, few possess the court vision & scoring combo of Williams, but none in the NBA can impact a franchise like Garnett. He’s embedded in Brooklyn’s genetic code now. Whatever they lacked last year in the frontcourt, and in the vocality department is no more. (And for the record, Garnett’s impact on a defense might be just as big as Anthony’s effect on an offense; the Celtics allowed 11 fewer points per 100 possessions with Garnett on the floor than off it).
He won’t put up big numbers. He won’t win any awards. He’ll probably sit fifteen to twenty games in the regular season. He may not even average ten points per game on this star-studded roster. But he’s the undisputed king of the Nets franchise right now, the loudest voice in the locker room and on the floor. He’s revered by his teammates and reviled by his opponents. The offense is in place, the coaches are star-studded, but everything the Brooklyn Nets want to do this year starts with Kevin Garnett.
Now yell at me and tell me why I’m wrong. -D.K.
Relevant Kevin Garnett video: