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Four Free Agents, One Word: Opportunity

July 14, 2010

Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow, Avery Johnson, Johan Petro and Jordan Farmar

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.Four new faces found their places, bodies shoulder-to-shoulder, jerseys in hand, in front of a backdrop plastered with Nets logos. Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow looked up at the flashbulbs firing away during their first photo opportunity as members of the team.

Their coach, Avery Johnson, then made his way toward the middle, imploring them to smile because his pockets were lighter. All four players chuckled on cue, knowing that the Nets had spent to bring them in, three in outright signings (Outlaw, Petro, Farmar) and one via sign-and-trade (Morrow). Total cost? $18 million in 2010-11 salaries and one protected second-round pick.

“We went into action with Plan B,” Johnson said, acknowledging the organization’s Plan A was thwarted by the Heat. “These guys fit into our plan very nicely: all different skill sets, all different abilities. We addressed four needs. And to be able to address them within a couple of days you’ve got to give a lot of credit to our guys Rod Thorn (and) Bobby Marks. We all worked together and we’re excited about it.”

Outlaw joined first, signing with the Nets on July 8 after having split last season between the Trail Blazers and the Clippers. During his 6 ½ years in Portland, the seven-year veteran developed from high school draftee (No. 23, 2003, out of Starkville, Miss.) to sharp-shooting sixth man on a playoff team, averaging a combined 13.0 points and 4.3 rebounds while shooting .382 from three-point range and .442 overall during the 2007-08 and ’08-09 seasons.

Last year’s performance was undermined by a broken foot that sidelined Outlaw for 48 games encompassing his trade (along with Steve Blake for Marcus Camby), and the 6-foot-9 forward admitted he worried teams might hold it against him. But once the premier free-agent 3 – LeBron James – agreed to join the Heat, Outlaw’s phone began to blow up.

“Nah, I definitely didn’t get any calls until LeBron picked his spot,” Outlaw said, laughing. “But after that, I got a call from Avery, and I was excited about that because he’s a coach who’s turned a lot of players’ careers around.”

Outlaw was encouraged by Johnson’s winning attitude, and the possibility of proving he’s a capable NBA starter, ready to show off improved handles and passing. He plans to spend the rest of the summer in Starkville, joking that it forces him to stay in the gym because there aren’t many entertainment options.

Though Outlaw will add an efficient scorer to the starting lineup, even his solid shooting is outdone by that of Morrow, whom the Nets acquired from the Warriors on Tuesday. Entering his third-season, the 6-foot-5 Morrow is already the NBA’s best three-point shooter to have made 200 career triples, shooting .460 (226-491) while posting first- and fifth-place finishes on the league leaderboard for three-point percentage.

Wielding such a potent weapon will benefit a Nets offense that finished 29th (.319) in three-point percentage last season, preventing teams from doubling off Morrow to gang up on Brook Lopez or sagging to stymie penetrating by the Nets’ slashers, a group led by point guard Devin Harris. The undrafted free agent, who averaged 13.0 points and 3.8 rebounds in 29.2 minutes per game, realizes that East Coast fans might not be familiar with his game, and he’s ready to validate the Nets’ interest by rounding out his contributions.

“I don’t know if people on the East Coast really know my passion for the game,” Morrow said. “This being a basketball area, I think people will really appreciate that. I just want to come in and show I’m not just a shooter – I can score, I’m a little better defender than people think, a little better in every category than people think.”

That determination to show and prove is shared by Petro, a 7-foot, 247-pound center who has completed five NBA seasons despite just having turned 24 in January. A former first-round pick (No. 25, 2005) of the SuperSonics, Petro was traded to the Nuggets during the 2008-09 season, and holds career averages of 5.1 PPG and 4.2 RPG in 16.7 MPG.

Coming in to back up Brook Lopez, Petro – and Johnson – feel he offers a different look. An athletic shot-blocker, the team is counting on Petro to provide a fierce competitor willing to intimidate with length and hard fouls, while hoping he continues to develop offensively.

“I think Coach believes in what I can do – what I’ve never really had the chance to show,” Petro said. “He put everything in my hands. Now it’s going to be my turn to just go out there and give whatever I have.”

Point guard Jordan Farmar will be operating under a similar mindset, having left the Lakers after winning two championships for an opportunity to flourish outside of the Triangle offense. He credits Phil Jackson’s offense for turning him into more of a shooter and a “quick-burst energy guy” able to play off the ball, but he’s anticipating a return to the pick-and-roll game that he believes best suits his strengths.

The 6-foot-2, 180-pound guard wields a 42-inch vertical, but developed into a strong three-point shooter, leading the Lakers with a .376 mark last season. He also comes to the Nets with 69 games of postseason experience – displacing Devin Harris’ team-high (38) – and hopes that passing along what knowledge he can will enable the Nets’ young squad to better close out games.

To join the Nets, Farmar leaves behind a city he’s lived in since birth. He knows the East Coast will mean adjusting, but he’s excited by the team’s potential.

“I just want to be part of something special, a rebuilding process,” Farmar said. “In L.A., I came in at 19 and I was always ‘Little Jordy.’ Now I’m ‘Jordan Farmar, two-time champ’ – the person on this team with the most winning experience. It’s just a different view for me as a player and a person. It’s a chance to recreate myself and go at it again, from a different angle.”

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