Free Agency Has Made the NBA a 12-Month Season

By Lenn Robbins | @lennrobbins

BROOKLYN - On a recent conference call with season ticket holders, Brooklyn Nets GM Billy King was asked about the dizzying changes that have occurred in the Eastern Conference over the last six weeks, changes that dramatically changed the outlook for the 2014-15 season. King talked about Miami, Cleveland, Toronto, Chicago, Washington, Charlotte, Indiana and the Knicks. And then he touched on his team.

"For us, we just got to continue to build with our guys and I think we'll have a chance to surprise some people because I think our guys got a little bit of an edge to them,” King said. “They understand people are sort of not looking at us as one of the top teams, that we're not that good. But I think we will be good. I'm confident our guys are working hard this off-season and Lionel [Hollins] and his staff are prepared for the challenge.''

Unlike a summer ago, when the Nets stunned the NBA world by acquiring Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry from the Celtics in a blockbuster trade, King didn't deal. He likes the cards he has. He likes the nucleus of the franchise, which has been together long enough to know how to win in crunch time. The two biggest changes, and challenges, for the Nets are as follows: Who replaces Pierce? And how does the team adjust to Hollins?

Those pivotal questions will be addressed soon enough. The Nets report to training camp on September 26. They leave on October 8 for China, where they will play two preseason games against the Sacramento Kings. If it seems as if last season just ended, welcome to the new order of the NBA. Gone are the days of it being a nine-month sport. What happens on draft night in late June, and in free agency, which begins in early July, can drastically reshape the league. It certainly has this year.

Consider the Summer of 2014: LeBron James went from Miami to Cleveland. Lance Stephenson went from Indianapolis to Charlotte. Pau Gasol went from the L.A. Lakers to the Chicago Bulls. Carmelo Anthony stayed with Knicks. Kyle Lowry stayed with Toronto. For now, Kevin Love is staying put in Minnesota but there has been so much trade talk surrounding the power forward you'd think a limo was waiting outside his home.

"I think it goes back to LeBron,'' said King. "When LeBron went to Miami, I think from that point on, the off-season has created a lot of excitement with free agency, the draft. People can criticize LeBron for the decision, the TV show, but it brought a lot of excitement to the off-season. I think the NBA has done a great job of making it a 12-month, NBA cycle.''

The Nets, as King stated, intend to be in that cycle when next season's playoffs begin. King said that center Brook Lopez and point guard Deron Williams, both of whom are coming off surgery, are on track to be ready for the start of training camp.

Lopez had surgery in January to repair a broken bone in his right foot. He also had a procedure that should stabilize the foot by redistributing his body's weight load. Lopez had surgery on his left ankle to repair a torn tendon in March. Williams had surgery on both ankles. He has been plagued by ankle injuries the last two seasons. The hope is that the two surgeries will put an end to those issues.

If Lopez and Williams are healthy, the Nets have a formidable trio that includes Joe Johnson. Mason Plumlee, who played well during summer league and with USA Basketball team as it prepares for the FIBA World Championships, is poised to improve on his NBA All-Rookie status. The Nets signed swingman Bojan Bogdanovic, who should battle for some of Pierce's minutes. And second-round draft choice Markel Brown might have been the best athlete in the 2014 draft, according to ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla.

Every season brings a surprise team in the NBA. Last season it was Toronto, which won the Atlantic Division. This year? The focus will be on Cleveland, Chicago and Washington. Miami will be an intriguing story as the Heat begin life after LeBron. Indiana was dealt a crushing blow when Paul George suffered a horrific broken leg in a USA Basketball scrimmage.

As for the Nets? Well, a team with a chip on its shoulder often provides the biggest surprise.