New Jersey pieces together roster following veteran departures
POSTED: Sep 28, 2015 6:58 PM ET
Brooklyn Nets guard Jarrett Jack takes over the point guard position, replacing long time starter Deron Williams.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Like 25 other teams, the Brooklyn Nets held Media Day on Monday. And taking turns at the podium were a coach with a 56-win season under his belt, two guys who have been All-Stars within the last three years, and a versatile, two-way player who gave the team a lift after arriving at the trade deadline last season.
Yet it's hard to find anyone outside of the Nets' practice gym who thinks the Nets will finish any better than 11th or 12th in the Eastern Conference this season. The numbers don't like Brooklyn's prospects either. The Nets were much worse, statistically, than their 38-44 record last season. And they were even worse -- with the point differential of a 23-win team -- when Deron Williams, now in Dallas, wasn't on the floor.
And really, beyond Johnson, Lopez and Young, there's nothing but questions in the old gym in the industrial park that the team will be abandoning later this season. The Nets paid a hefty price -- salary, luxury tax and draft picks -- for Williams, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. And now that they're all gone, with a goal of getting under the tax line, GM Billy King had nothing to spend on their replacements.
"We knew all along when we traded for Joe, traded for Paul and KG, that there was probably a 2-3 year window," King said last week. "And that window closed.
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"But this was going to be coming up — whether we kept that group together at this point — this following season was going to be the direction of the change. And without having draft picks, we had to start a little sooner in acquiring some younger talent and to maybe replenish some of those down the road."
In trying to piece together a roster around what's left of his core, King had to go shopping in the bargain bin. And now the Nets are counting on guys like Andrea Bargnani, Shane Larkin and Thomas Robinson to contribute off the bench.
When Bargnani hasn't been hurt, he's been downright awful the last three seasons. Larkin and Robinson, meanwhile, are former first round picks who didn't get their rookie-contract options picked up last summer. For all three, this is either a fresh start or a last stop.
Of course, the Nets' questions begin with Jarrett Jack, the new starting point guard who had, by a wide margin, the worst plus-minus among players on playoff teams last season. As disappointing as Williams was, the Brooklyn offense fell off dramatically when he wasn't running it. And if the Nets are going to get the most out of Johnson, Lopez and Young this year, they need Jack to cut down on turnovers and pull-up jumpers, and play more like a real point guard.
Jack did note that, along with 3-point shooting and defense, turnovers are something he needs to fix. His 1.95 assist/turnover ratio ranked 53rd among 63 point guards who logged at least 1,000 minutes last season.
"Usually it's contagious," he said. "So if I take care of the ball, in turn the team usually does that."
But neither Hollins nor Jack would go as far as to say that the point guard needed to be a completely different player in his new role. And he can certainly help make up for Williams' absence by being the locker room leader that Williams wasn't.
"I'm just going to be myself," Jack said. "I don't know how to be a clone of another player, personality or game-wise. I don't mean to speak in the third person, but being Jarrett Jack has worked pretty good for me."
"I know he can do a lot of things," Hollins said. "It's just a matter of setting a priority. And if he's a starter, obviously his priorities have to be to the team."
If the Nets can play more like a team on both ends of the floor, they can make the most of what they have. But at this point, what they have is more questions than answers.
"I still have expectations," Hollins said, "of wanting to do as well as we can do."
That's all you can ask.
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