Season preview: New Jersey Nets
The Nets welcome a bunch of new faces in what amounts to a transition season
New Jersey is lacking in established scorers beyond guard Vince Carter
Coach Lawrence Frank will have to try to develop several young players at once
SI.com will analyze each of the NBA's 30 teams as regular-season tip-off approaches. For a complete list of team-by-team breakdowns, click here. The information in the "Go figure" category below is provided by Roland Beech of 82games.com.
Nets at a glance
Last season: 34-48
Notable additions: Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons (trade with Bucks), Brook Lopez (R), Keyon Dooling (trade with Magic), Eduardo Najera (FA), Jarvis Hayes (FA), Chris Douglas-Roberts (R), Ryan Anderson (R)
Notable losses: Richard Jefferson (trade with Bucks), Nenad Krstic (signed with Russia's Triumph Moscow), Marcus Williams (trade with Warriors), Bostjan Nachbar (signed with Russia's Dynamo Moscow), DeSagana Diop (signed with Mavericks)
Coach: Lawrence Frank (191-177 in 4½ seasons with Nets)
Reasons for hope
1. Harris settling in as point guard. While Vince Carter is the Nets' selling point, this is Devin Harris' team. The 25-year-old was the big payoff for dealing Jason Kidd to the Mavericks at the trade deadline last season. Harris will need to shoulder a good chunk of the scoring responsibilities considering Carter is the only other player on the roster to average more than 9 points a game last season. In his first full campaign in New Jersey, the five-year veteran, who has improved his scoring and assists every season, likely will demonstrate why the Mavs would be a lot closer to the title they covet had they simply held on to him instead of trading for the aging Kidd.
2. They turned the page at the right time. Give president Rod Thorn and general manager Kiki Vandeweghe credit for beginning the transition from the Kidd era at the right time. After Kidd was shipped out, the Nets could have retained Richard Jefferson and tried to convince themselves and their fans that they weren't that far away in the Eastern Conference. But it was better to part with Jefferson, obtain the salary-cap savings when Simmons' contract expires in 2010 and take a shot that Yi develops into an impact player. And even if Nets part owner Jay-Z can't persuade his friend LeBron James to sign with the franchise in two years, New Jersey at least has started the process of clearing enough salary and roster space to allow a new core to be built.
3. The promise of upside. If the concept that a player has stores of untapped potential is enough to rationalize entire drafts, it ought to be good enough to sell a team to its fans. Yi may not have impressed the Bucks enough to keep him less than a year after making him the sixth pick in the draft, but he also demonstrated the ability to average 12.1 points (on 50.3 percent shooting) and 6.6 rebounds in 16 games last December. Lopez may not have played a minute in the NBA, but he's already impressed Nets coaches with his desire to be a defensive presence, in addition to having a versatile offensive game. And fellow rookie Douglas-Roberts may be little more than a scorer, but he could be the type of slashing offensive weapon to anchor the Nets' bench for years. Sure, all three could go bust, but without the potential of a deep playoff run to peddle, hope for the future isn't a bad calling card.
Reasons for worry
1. Vince Carter has little to play for. Carter is a star who has proved best suited as a supporting talent rather than a team leader. But now Carter enters his 11th season as the titular leader of a team more interested in developing its young roster than it is in contending for a conference championship. That's not a role any veteran relishes, and one Carter punted on once before in Toronto, where his string of lingering aches and pains, coupled with uninspired on-court play, prompted the Raptors to deal him to the Nets for little in return. Thorn is too savvy an executive to sell off Carter (three years, $48.3 million left on his contract) for pennies on the dollar, but he's also smart enough to know that Carter's days in New Jersey should be numbered.
2. Risky plan. The not-so-hidden subtext to the Nets' recent moves -- the trades of Kidd and Jefferson, the acquisition of Simmons, the stockpiling of draft picks -- is an expected push to lure LeBron in 2010. A key element to the effort is the Nets' supposed impending move to Brooklyn, where owner Bruce Ratner has been planning to build a new arena in the borough that LeBron playfully referred to as his favorite in New York. Originally set to open in 2006, the proposed arena has hit a number of legal snags, largely from community residents fighting the project. Now with the economy in a downward spiral, the financing for the $950 million initiative is in jeopardy. That could leave LeBron potentially playing in the swamps of New Jersey, which, as Kidd will attest, is a far cry from the headlines of New York City. We'd assume the front office hasn't placed all his eggs in the LeBron basket, because if the arena falls through, the Nets will need a Plan B.
3. Where's the offense? If Carter thought defenses swarmed him last season, he'd best wear body armor this year. Behind Carter, the second-leading returning scorer on the roster is Harris, who averaged a modest career high of 14.4 points last season. The bench is even more barren, as it will ostensibly be led by Hayes, whose career scoring average is 8.3 points. In other words, the Nets won't win many scoring duels. When every hoop becomes a struggle, the defense will surely feel squeezed to make stop after stop. No team can play an 82-game schedule with that sort of intensity. And when that defense falters and the losses start to pile up, larger, long-term goals such as player development become difficult to keep in mind.
Keep an eye on ...
Sean Williams. If defense ends up as the Nets' calling card, then the second-year forward could be the anchor man. As a rookie, Williams blocked almost four shots and grabbed 12 rebounds per 48 minutes. Williams' playing time declined as his first season progressed (he averaged 21 minutes a game before the All-Star break and only 11 afterward), but after impressing the Nets with his work ethic this summer, he's in line to play a bigger role in 2008-09.
In 39 games with Dallas last season, Harris attempted 48 percent of his field goals from inside (six feet or closer). In 25 games with New Jersey, that number declined to 34 percent. Harris shot 48.3 percent from the field for the Mavs and 43.8 percent for the Nets.
With several young players to develop and a lack of proven scorers, this is going to be a long season in New Jersey, physically and mentally. But the Nets are hoping that a step back this season will pay dividends down the road.
Sports Illustrated's NBA preview issue will be on newsstands Wednesday, Oct. 22.