The Brooklyn Nets management has done everything it has needed to do this offseason to transform the franchise into a solid playoff team which can advance as far as the Eastern Conference Finals next season. Now, it will be up to head coach Avery Johnson to get them there. Coach Avery has been given all the pieces and talent he needs, and now he has to get the Nets to gel together well and play as a team.
In the offseason, majority owner Mikhail Prokhorov did his job by spending money and trusting his advisors and his general manager. Minority owner Jay-Z did his job by making the Nets a “cool” franchise which sold loads of gear and merchandise after the release of the new logo. He also built up the hype for the Nets next season. General manager Billy King did his job by re-signing key pieces like Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Gerald Wallace, and Kris Humphries, and he also added Joe Johnson, Mirza Teletovic, Reggie Evans, and others. The roster is assembled and the new arena is in place. All there is left to do is win some basketball games, and that is Avery Johnson’s job.
Towards the end of last season, I wrote an article (which you can read here) questioning whether Avery Johnson deserved to continue being coach of the Nets when they move to Brooklyn. Their record the last two seasons under Avery has not been good at all, but you can blame that on injuries and other things. If Coach Avery does not succeed this season, he will likely be fired, even though he seems to have good relationships with all of his players.
So what does Avery need to do to succeed this season? The main thing that the Nets need to work on right now will be defense. On offense, they should have one of the most explosive teams in the NBA, with cutters and slashers (Gerald Wallace, Marshon Brooks), inside scorers (Brook Lopez), and excellent perimeter players (Deron Williams, Mirza Teletovic, Joe Johnson).
But on defense, they may struggle. Their best defensive player is Gerald Wallace, who can guard just about any position. But other than Crash, the Nets don’t have any proven defenders. Deron Williams and Joe Johnson are probably above average on defense, but they are still more offensive players. Kris Humphries will fill the stat sheet with blocks, but he does not intimidate anybody or force bad shots. Brook Lopez theoretically should be a good defender at 7’1, but he has looked soft on defense for most of his career.
It will be up to Avery Johnson to turn around the culture of weak defense that may be on the Nets. During his playing career, Avery was an excellent defender despite being undersized and he needs to teach his players to make smart plays on defense and always hustle.
Another issue that may come up for the Nets is ball distribution on offense. Luckily, they have a point guard like Deron Williams who spreads the ball around a lot, but it still may become an issue unless it is handled from the very beginning. When Joe Johnson was in Atlanta, he was “the man” and got the ball whenever he liked. That will not be the case this season with more players needing touches on the Nets. When Brook Lopez was healthy, he was the main offensive weapon for the New Jersey Nets, and he will not get as many touches this year either. Last season, Marshon Brooks was the best scorer at times, and he will not even be a starter this season. And Mirza Teletovic has always been the best player on his European team, even leading the whole Euroleague in scoring last season. All of these players are going to need to make adjustments to their games to help the team flow well on offense next season.
The inaugural season of the Brooklyn Nets will also be Avery Johnson’s last chance to at least make the playoffs with the franchise. In my opinion, he should be fired if the Nets do not achieve that goal. The regular season is less than 2 1/2 months away and opening night should be fun.