Season Complete, NETS' Attention Turns to Brooklyn
April 27, 2012
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J.— Friday, the NETS wrapped up their season at the PNY Center, with Avery Johnson, Deron Williams, Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Brook Lopez reviewing the season and looking toward the future.
After completing their 35th and final season in New Jersey, the Nets returned to the PNY Center on Friday to clean out their lockers and conduct exit interviews. The mood proved light, with Coach Avery Johnson and four players feeling quippy and optimistic on the future, buoyed by the team's upcoming move to Brooklyn.
Point guard Deron Williams has said he's going to enact the opt-out clause in his contract and test free agency, and Johnson quickly addressed the "800-pound gorilla in the room":
"I'm not trying to be funny, but hopefully the gorilla has lost weight," Johnson said with a laugh. "Hopefully, it’s not 800 pounds anymore. Hopefully, he’s down to 200 pounds. But it’s something that we’ve had to talk about and I think everybody has been consistent. Nobody’s statements have been convoluted. We want to win a championship and we want him to lead us to a championship.
"He’s been through a lot since he’s been here, starting with just being surprised that he was even traded to New Jersey. But he’s been settling in pretty nicely. We feel we have strong relationships with him across the board and hopefully that will mean something when it’s time to sign on the dotted line."
Williams joked that his favorite part of finally reaching free agency would be no longer having to field questions about it. He explained that big markets and small markets don't matter to him – the decision will ultimately be about winning, maybe not in Year One or Year Two, with a team that he believes is headed in the right direction.
Remaining with the Nets and joining the team in Brooklyn appeals to Williams, who toured the Barclays Center construction site in Prospect Heights on Tuesday, gaining a sense of the Nets' future home, one he feels will be an exciting arena and a great place to play. He also reiterated his confidence in the organization, citing frequent conversations with General Manager Billy King and owner Mikhail Prokhorov's willingness to spend and back up a stated commitment to winning.
"It would be great to be a part of that first game (at the Barclays Center), that first team there, kind of start our own legacy in Brooklyn," Williams said. "So that’s definitely enticing. That’s definitely something I think about on a regular basis."
As one who admittedly doesn't like uncertainty, Williams expects to make a quick decision on free agency, stating his goal was to have the process wrapped up before the Olympics, not wanting to compete without having signed a contract. Training begins for the Men's National Team in Las Vegas on July 6, during the league's moratorium period (July 1-11).
Teammate Gerald Wallace, who wields a player option for the upcoming season, also expects to decide quickly. The veteran forward said he doesn't want to play on a one-year deal, seeking instead a four- or five-year contract that offers stability and place to call home.
Wallace joked that he's only been to New York City – let alone Brooklyn – twice, on doctor's appointments, but would like to stay with the Nets, who have "great pieces" and that he feels good about the potential of the team if players are healthy. He has gotten some sense of the impending move, and understands what it could entail.
"I was a part of Charlotte when (the expansion Bobcats) first got started," Wallace said. "Just the buzz and the atmosphere from the community around that was amazing, Brooklyn has never had a team. I can just imagine how excited and all of the buzz that's going to be around that situation."
One player who hopes to be there to find out is fourth-year center Brook Lopez, who suffered through an injury-plagued season, breaking his right foot during the team's final preseason game and making only five regular-season appearances before a season-ending ankle injury to the same foot. As Lopez entered the media room for his interview, the 7-footer joked that he was wearing his practice jersey for the first time on the last day of the season.
Sense of humor clearly intact, Lopez discussed his season of long layoffs (read everything except the sports section, then close the paper) and the next steps in his rehab, which include a test on May 16 that could lead to him resuming full basketball activity. Entering restricted free agency, the 24-year-old expressed a strong desire to remain with the only team he's played for since leaving Stanford as a sophomore.
"This is really the place I want to be," Lopez said. "I was drafted here. I love being a Net. It's the only thing I know. I like everyone in the organization. I have good friends here. I've enjoyed my time in this area, and would have no objections at all to continuing to be here."
Forward Kris Humphries has had a similarly positive experience since being acquired 2 ½ seasons ago, developing into a nightly double-double threat who's represented the team at community events throughout New Jersey and Brooklyn.
After another season of development, notable for his focus despite very public offseason relationship drama, Humphries has likely earned a long-term commitment from his next employer. And after working on behalf of the Brooklyn transition, he's hoping to be a part of the product there.
"I've been to Brooklyn a lot," Humphries said. "We did a ton of stuff in the community there, and our community involvement staff and the PR team, everyone did a great job, getting us familiar with Brooklyn, helping connect us in the community, so I think we'll be able to hit the ground running, if I'm here, and for the guys who are here next year."