Four seasons ago, they posted a 12-70 record. In 2010-11, they went 24-58 before posting a 22-44 mark in the lockout-shortened season of 2011-12. Currently, however, they are 11-6 and well on their way to clock 50-plus wins in the 2012-13 regular season, thereby making it to the playoffs for the first time in six years. Just so that you know, we’re no longer talking about the New Jersey Nets here. It’s the Brooklyn Nets that are forcing us to sit up and take notice.
And take notice we are!
It’s been a makeover of the 360-degree kind, one that is beginning to reap rich dividends for Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who he became the majority owner of the New Jersey Nets in 2009. After presiding through a horrible first year of owning the Nets, where their 12-70 record was just three losses shy of an all-time worst full regular season record (9-73), Prokhorov’s Nets participated in the high stakes courting of LeBron James in the 2010 offseason, but everyone knows how that played out. The Nets then landed All-Star point-guard Deron Williams in a trade from the Utah Jazz in February 2011, but a wrist injury to Williams, and a stress fracture to center Brook Lopez at the start of the following season, never allowed Prokhorov’s ambitions for the Nets to take shape.
While the Nets were grappling with their injury issues in the 2011-12 season, the team acquired forward Gerald Wallace from the Portland Trail Blazers at the trade deadline in 2012. It was yet another move that signaled the Nets’ desire to emerge as a legitimate contender. Then when the team traded for six-time All-Star Joe Johnson from the Atlanta Hawks, offloading a host of players, including Jordan Farmar and DeShawn Stevenson, in the 2012 offseason, there was an immediate buzz surrounding them. With a starting core of Williams, Johnson, Wallace and Lopez, the Nets suddenly emerged as a formidable unit no matter how you looked at them.
The Nets announced their desire to move out of New Jersey and relocate to Brooklyn, New York as far back as in 2005. With Prokhorov taking over as owner and providing the funding for the Nets’ new arena in Brooklyn, the Barclays Center, the New Jersey Nets rechristened themselves as the Brooklyn Nets. They played their first game of the 2012-13 regular season in their brand new arena, which was a 107-100 home victory over the Toronto Raptors.
Brooklyn then built on that first win of the season as they jumped to an 11-4 start, notching up wins against Boston (home and away), Los Angeles Clippers and their inner-city rivals, the New York Knicks, along the way. In three of those games – against the Clippers (on Nov 23), against the Knicks (on Nov 26) and against Boston on the road (on Nov 28) – the Nets impressed with their defense as they limited their opponents to below 90 points. In fact, proof of the Nets’ defensive prowess is that they rank among the top five teams in the league in points allowed to opponents.
At the heart of the Nets resurgence is Williams’ play. The point-guard is averaging 16.4 PPG and ranks among the top five assists leaders this season. Lopez, too, finally seems to be healthy a reaching his potential, a fact not lost on our Karan Madhok, who profiled Lopez’s resurgence this week. Then there is Johnson, who is averaging 15.6 PPG and together, Williams, Lopez and Johnson rank among the top 50 scorers in the league this season.
The reserves have been equally good for the Nets with veteran forward Reggie Evans matching starter Kris Humphries in the rebounding column (8.40 RPG). The other old vet on the team, Jerry Stackhouse, has been explosive off the bench, shooting above 45 percent from the field and 40 percent from behind the 3-point line. Andray Blatche, a 26-year-old forward, who was signed by the Nets in the offseason, has also impressed with his 10.6 PPG and 6.1 RPG while playing behind the starting five.
So the question is, are the Brooklyn Nets ready to contend for the title this season? The reflex answer to that question would perhaps be ‘no’ given that the Nets lost their two most recent games to the 2012 NBA finalists, the Miami Heat (Dec 1) and Oklahoma City Thunder (Dec 4). But when you take into account that Lopez, the team’s leading scorer was unavailable for both those games (sprained right foot) and Evans, the Nets’ leading rebounder, didn’t play against the Thunder (flu), the prospect of a fully fit Brooklyn Nets roster is a scary proposition. For any team.
Like I said before, it’s been a makeover of the 360-degree kind here in Brooklyn!