From Avery Johnson's opening statement at Brooklyn Nets' Media Day, it was clear a new era of Nets history had begun. The team debuted their practice court at Barclays Center, featuring a dark hardwood that matched the new arena's elegant ambiance, before a crowded roomful of media gave the Nets their chance to make the case for this season being a successful one.
"We want to be a team this year that puts on its hard hat," Johnson said. "Even though we look good on paper, we want to be a team that takes on the personality of Brooklyn, which is a hard-working community. I've always believed in teams that had that type of personality, that don't complain or make excuses, but just play hard on both sides of the floor. I've got some veteran guys on the roster that we think are going to help reinforce that message."
Aware of the offensive firepower over which he now presides, Johnson expects his team to take a "major step" defensively and rank among the league's top 10. He is confident in the individual defensive abilities of his players, and will work hard to ensure that they absorb system principles and cover each other smoothly when help is needed.
The chemistry needed to accomplish that has already begun being formed. With only four returning players, Johnson leaned on Deron Williams to take the lead on organizing informal workouts, and the response proved impressive: between 12-15 guys trekked to the PNY Center daily for the three weeks preceding camp. But the obvious question is how long it will take for the group to jell, and even Williams couldn't supply a firm answer.
"8.2 days," the point guard joked. "No, I don't know. We'll have to see. It's one of those things -- you never know how fast a team is going to come together, how things can come together. But I think our veteran leadership is going to help. We've got guys who are proven at this level. Last year, Coach was still teaching in May and April; this year, we won't have that."
One player set to make a notable adjustment is shooting guard Joe Johnson, who spent seven seasons as the lead option in Atlanta. Traded to the Nets shortly after the free agency period opened, Johnson hasn't played alongside a point guard of Williams' caliber since leaving Steve Nash and Phoenix in 2005.
Johnson's scoring ability takes pressure off Williams, who is more comfortable distributing than focusing on his point total. And Johnson's shooting ability should help center Brook Lopez down low -- rather than force shots into tough defense, Lopez can confidently dish out when doubled.
"I don't think I'll see double and triple teams," Johnson said. "I'll get a chance to really play off Deron and Brook a lot, maybe more catch-and-shoot, not a lot of 1-on-1 creating, trying to break down the defense. My role will change, but I think it will be a great change."
The remaining starters, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries, are eager to do the dirty work. Humphries said he no longer cares about stats, and just wants to win; Wallace, that the team's collective hunger is what will allow them to be special as a group.
And while Humphries pointed out that only he and Lopez had played on the team more than two seasons, it's likely that reaching Media Day in Brooklyn meant more to Lopez than any person in the organization. Drafted by the Nets in 2008, he is the team's longest-tenured player, and signed on this summer for the next four seasons.
"I love being a Net," Lopez said. "I was drafted a Net -- it's the only thing I've known. I've enjoyed my time here, and I've wanted to play in Brooklyn. I kept hearing about it, so I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of. I did everything in my power to make sure that happened. I was confident things would work out in the best way possible for me, and they did."