By John Schuhmann, NBA.com
Posted Oct 15 2010 1:18PM
Mikhail Prokhorov is the new owner with the grand plan to take New York from the Knicks. Rod Thorn was the team president through the first two weeks of free agency and Billy King took over as general manager when Thorn stepped down in mid-July.
But make no mistake about it. The New Jersey Nets are Avery Johnson's team.
When the top free agents on the market chose to sign elsewhere, it was the Nets' new head coach who took control of the decision-making and went after the players on the next tier that he wanted. And when the Nets zeroed in on their targets, Johnson was the one who picked up the phone.
"We talked multiple times, he and I," Jordan Farmar said. "I didn't talk to Rod Thorn. I didn't talk to anybody else. I just talked to Avery. He was what put it over the top for me to come here."
After four seasons as reserve with the Lakers, Farmar was looking for a bigger role. But he accepted another back-up job, while going from the best team in the league to the worst, because he wanted to play for Johnson.
"He was the ultimate reason I ended coming," Farmar said. "Him having had experience in the league at this position, helping Devin [Harris] get to the point where he is in his career where he's an All-Star caliber player, his success team-wise in Dallas."
Johnson won 74 percent of his games with the Mavs and, entering this season, he's the coach with the best winning percentage in NBA history. But he won't be holding that mark come April unless he helps the Nets win four times as many games as they did last season.
That's not happening, but after going 12-70, the Nets have nowhere to go but up. Though they missed out on those top free agents, they did upgrade the roster, especially in key areas like shooting and rebounding. The upgrades on the perimeter should help make both Harris and Brook Lopez more effective in the paint, and the Nets' offense will run through Lopez more than it has in the past.
"He's a terrific post up player," Johnson said. "We want to make sure we utilize his skills."
Only 22 years old, Lopez is already one of the best centers in the league. And as his game improves, so will New Jersey. But as it is with any team, the Nets will make even greater strides if they play hard, play together and play defense. And that's how Johnson can make a real impact. More than anything, this team needs to be coached.
Leading a much younger and much more inexperienced group than he had in Dallas is a new challenge for Johnson, but he's embracing it. He's still a demanding coach, but not as loud.
"I don't scream nearly as much during practices or games as I did in my first stint," he said. "There are times when I get riled up, but not consistently."
The change is due in part to some self evaluation that Johnson did in his two years away from coaching, but it also has to do with the personnel he has in New Jersey. With five or six players in his rotation under the age of 25, Johnson knows that he can't stress about execution as much as he does about energy and effort.
"We could draw a play up coming out of a timeout and maybe we'll have three players get it incorrect," he said. "That's something that we're working through. With a veteran team, you don't have as many malfunctions."
But though he admits there will be plenty of growing pains along the way, Johnson enjoys his new role, because he's got a group of guys that answered his call.
"I really love our guys," he said after a week of training camp. "They want to learn. This has been a great teaching environment, and I'm just really excited about that. People talk about motivation that wears out pretty quickly, but I'm really enjoying the teaching part of this team, and they're embracing it."
Second year guard Terrence Williams praises Johnson every chance he gets, noting "how much he cares about us off the court." For the four returning players on the roster, including Williams, Johnson's leadership is a stark contrast from what they had on the bench for most of last season.
But it will take a lot more than affection for the Nets to ascend the standings. This team was terrible on both ends of the floor last season, ranking 30th offensively and 25th on defense.
Once again, the Nets will be short on talent most nights when they take the floor. But Johnson's plan is to never let his team get outworked. This is his team, and that is his mission.
1. ERASING MEMORY OF LAST SEASON
After a disaster of a season, the Nets must change the culture in their locker room. A new coach, new players and a new arena will help.
2. DEFENSE, DEFENSE, DEFENSE
The Nets don't have the offensive talent to simply outscore their opponents. But they can get wins by playing strong team defense.
3. A HEALTHY DEVIN HARRIS
If the point guard can stay on the floor, he can get to the basket and get to the line like he did two seasons ago.
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LAST YEAR: 12-70, 5th in Atlantic
FINISH: Missed playoffs
2009-10 TEAM LEADERS
|Complete 2009-10 Stats|
DEVIN HARRIS, GUARD
16.9 PPG | 3.2 RPG | 6.6 APG
Better shooting should help Harris get to the basket and to the line, but he will also need to improve dramatically on the defensive end.
ANTHONY MORROW, GUARD
13.0 PPG | 3.8 RPG | 1.5 APG
The league's best 3-point shooter over the last two seasons will spread the floor for Harris and Lopez, but his defense will be an issue.
TRAVIS OUTLAW, FORWARD
9.1 PPG | 3.6 RPG | 1.0 APG
The Nets probably overpaid for the forward who played just 34 games last season, but they need his scoring.
TROY MURPHY, FORWARD
14.6 PPG | 10.2 RPG | 2.1 APG
Murphy will likely miss the start of the season with a back injury. He's the active leader in games played without a playoff appearance.
BROOK LOPEZ, CENTER
18.8 PPG | 8.6 RPG | 2.3 APG
In Lopez, the Nets have what few teams do: a true low-post center that you can run your offense through.
|Jordan Farmar||6-2||180||G||Farmar brings shooting and big-game experience to a team that needs both.|
|Derrick Favors||6-10||246||F||The No. 3 pick has a ton of potential, but will take time to develop.|
|Terrence Williams||6-6||220||G||Explosive playmaker who will handle the ball more than Farmar.|
ADDED: Derrick Favors, Damion James, Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar, Sean May, Quinton Ross, Anthony Morrow, Troy Murphy
LOST: Tony Battie, Chris Douglas-Roberts, Yi Jianlian, Courtney Lee, Keyon Dooling
BROOK LOPEZ, CENTER
Can Lopez be the anchor of a playoff team? He doesn't need to prove it this year, but he does need to take a step forward on both ends of the floor. Offensively, he has to be more consistent in punishing opponents for single coverage and passing effectively out of double-teams. And defensively, he has to keep people out of the lane.
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