NETS Express Optimism At Season's End
April 14th, 2011
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.—For the Nets, the 2010-11 season ended in a locally untelevised loss – No. 58 – to a Bulls team that led the NBA with 62 victories. But the day after finishing the scheduled slate, all anyone could see was optimism. From the coach to returning players and even ones with expiring contracts, each expressed faith Wednesday in the progress made during a transitional year, along with the potential for growth toward the ultimate goal of building a perennial championship contender.
“If you’re really going to win games you got to know how to adapt and adapt under pressure,” said coach Avery Johnson. “We didn’t do that very well this year. We intend on doing that better next year. But I still feel that our future’s bright. We have some really nice pieces here. We got to continue to improve this roster. (General Manager) Billy (King) is going to do a terrific job in that area. But I’m just as excited about being the coach here as I was during our June press conference last year when I took the job.”
Johnson stayed positive throughout the season, despite managing a roster that featured only four returning faces from the previous year and dealt with rampant, distracting rumors of a trade for All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who ended up with the New York Knicks. After missing out on Anthony, the Nets ended up “settling” for All-Star point guard Deron Williams, considered one of the league’s top three players at his position.
Though Williams suited up in only 12 games for the Nets, due to a wrist injury that eventually required surgery, his acquisition proved transformative. Even hurt, Williams averaged 15.0 points, 4.6 rebounds and 12.8 assists for the Nets, impressively impacting the flow of the team’s offense and sparking big men
With Williams able to opt out of his contract following the 2011-12 season, the team has begun selling the point guard on ownership’s vision of developing the NBA’s first truly global franchise, one capable of winning a championship within Mikhail Prokhorov’s stated goal of five years. Williams’ image has been plastered on billboards throughout Brooklyn, where the team will begin play at the under-construction Barclays Center in 2012, and a monstrous, 60-by-80-foot one in New York’s Times Square.
“I like this organization a lot,” Williams said. “I like the direction they’re going. They made me and my family feel real comfortable since I’ve gotten here. I like Coach Johnson – the way he coaches and the way he carries himself. I definitely can see myself staying here.”
Winning matters most to Williams, and the player most capable of helping him do so as a Net is third-year center Lopez, who played in 82 games for a third straight season, this time averaging 20.4 points and 6.0 rebounds while shooting .492. That Lopez averaged more than 20 points before turning 23 years old (his birthday was April 1) puts him in rare company: according to the Web site Basketball Reference, he became just the sixth center to do so in NBA history, joining
Lopez finished the season on a tear that began with Williams’ acquisition; in the first 12 games after the trade, Lopez scored more than 20 points 11 times, leading the team in scoring each time he topped the 20-point plateau. Emerging as an at-times dominant post player, Lopez’s offense improved noticeably during the second half, and building upon the confidence gained will prove crucial to his potential ascension to Eastern Conference All-Star.
“No question, I had a slow start,” Lopez admitted. “That, coupled with all the new teammates and learning the new system, maybe that had some sort of effect on (my game). I’m not really one to make excuses, so I’ll go with what went right in the second half, as opposed to what didn’t, and that definitely was positioning. The ball was moving very well; we were at our best when guys were sharing. I didn’t need to score as much, and when I did, they were gift-wrapped layups, since the defense had to play everyone honest.”
The addition of shooters like Anthony Morrow and Jordan Farmar (in free agency) and Sasha Vujacic (via trade), helped ease the defensive pressure on Lopez, a luxury he hadn’t benefited from in previous seasons. While Morrow and Farmar will return, Vujacic is an unrestricted free agent, though his preference is to stay.
Up front, Lopez was complemented by power forward Humphries, whom Johnson has repeatedly touted as an exemplification of everything the franchise “program” is all about. Resigning the unrestricted free agent, who unexpectedly became the fifth Net to average a double-double (10.0 PPG, 10.4 RPG), is a “high priority” for the team, said Johnson – they want a return on their investment in his improvement.
Though Humphries is aware his potential asking price might conflict with the team’s desire to maintain flexibility moving forward, he said he plans to remain with the organization if at all possible, thanking the coaching staff for teaching him and providing an opportunity on which to capitalize.
“We want to – hopefully next year – be a playoff team and really build toward the goal of playing at a really high level when we get to Brooklyn and have it all come together with the atmosphere and the arena and all that,” Humphries said. “That’s the way I envision it. And I think everyone else does too.”
NOTES Both Jordan Farmar and Deron Williams interrupted Kris Humphries' mini-press conference to half-jokingly ask how much it would take for the team to re-sign him. Farmar, who had developed a strong on-court rapport with Humphries, joked that he'd be getting a 1-percent kickback on whatever Humphries made in free agency.