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Brooklyn Nets Season Preview

It all begins tonight.

The Brooklyn Nets officially kick off their 2016-17 season on Wednesday night against the Boston Celtics.  It also symbolizes the dawn of a new era for this star-crossed franchise.  Much to the joy of Nets fans everywhere, Billy King is no longer with the organization.  Neither is head coach Lionel Hollins.  Team owner Mikhail Prokhorov decided to start fresh after several seasons of high payrolls and early playoff exits.  Last season’s 21-61 record was the final straw.  He brought in Sean Marks from the San Antonio Spurs to be the general manager.  Marks then hired Atlanta Hawks assistant Kenny Atkinson to be the head coach.  Both men are rookies at their respective positions and will face enormous obstacles in their attempt to bring the Nets back to NBA relevance.

After a meaningless 1-5 preseason, the games begin to count for the Nets on Wednesday night.  Let’s talk about the roster.  Only five players return from last season’s team.  Franchise center Brook Lopez is entering his ninth season with the Nets and is easily the team’s best player.  He is a talented scorer and respectable shot blocker.  How he will adjust to Atkinson’s high tempo system remains to be seen.  Some pundits believe the Nets should trade Lopez, as his value may never be higher.  I believe that they should allow Lopez some time to get acclimated to playing under Atkinson.  He struggled to find his place in the offense during the preseason, but Atkinson limited his minutes in order for him to be ready for the real thing.  If he develops strong chemistry with top offseason acquisition Jeremy Lin, the Nets may not be as bad as everyone around the NBA is making them out to be.

Also returning for the Nets are a quartet of young players; Bojan Bogdanovic, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Sean Kilpatrick.  Bogdanovic was one of the best players in the Rio Olympics this past summer and could be poised for a breakout year.  He did not have a strong preseason, so expect Bogdanovic to come off the bench to start the year and provide the Nets with instant offense when he’s on the floor.

Hollis-Jefferson is locked in as the starting small forward, and is the most promising young player the Nets have.  He missed a good portion of his rookie season due to injury, but he will bring both defensive prowess and athleticism to the lineup, two things the Nets have lacked for many years.  If he can continue to improve his jump shot, he could turn into a star player for the Nets.  He also has the fun-loving personality to be a fan favorite who can shine under the bright lights of New York sports.

McCullough and Kilpatrick are young players with untapped potential.  Expect them both to fight for minutes at the end of the Nets bench for now.  Kilpatrick was the first player signed by Marks when he took over the GM role.  He can definitely put the ball in the basket, but he needs to be more of a complete player if he wants to thrive in the league.  McCullough is a former first round pick who is still extremely raw.  He could spend some time in the D-League this season with the Long Island Nets if he isn’t getting minutes at the professional level.

Free agency wasn’t too kind to the Nets this past summer, as many top players passed up the chance to play in Brooklyn.  Kevin Durant wouldn’t even give the Nets a meeting, so that goes to show you where they currently are as an organization.  They did manage to sign Lin to a three-year contract, while subsequently filling out their roster with various short-term contracts in order to maintain salary cap flexibility.  Lin is a marquee name who found overnight success as a member of the New York Knicks back in 2012.  He was the best player on the Nets during the preseason, and he will give the Nets a chance to win as long as he stays healthy.  I think he will put up big numbers and be an All-Star this season.  That sounds like a bit of a stretch, but Lin will take full advantage of finally being a starting point guard in the NBA.  The Nets have given him the keys to the franchise, and he is popular and talented enough to make the entire NBA take notice.

The Nets also signed veterans Trevor Booker, Randy Foye, Luis Scola and Greivis Vasquez.  Booker will be the starting power forward and is the team’s best defender.  Booker, along with Hollis-Jefferson will be in charge of making sure the Nets don’t get rolled over by opposing offenses every night.  They will set the tone and help many of their teammates who struggle defensively.  Improving on defense is something the Nets must do if they want to be competitive.  Foye is a well-traveled NBA veteran who is slotted in as the starting shooting guard, but he recently suffered a mild hamstring strain in practice and will miss the season opener.  Both Scola and Vasquez will come off the bench for the Nets, backing up Booker and Lin respectively.  All four players should help Lin and Lopez shoulder the load both on and off the court.  They will also be positive role models for the young players in the locker room.

The Nets drafted two rookies, Caris LeVert in the first round and Isaiah Whitehead in the second.  Brooklyn is very high on LeVert, who was drafted with the pick sent over from the Indiana Pacers in the trade that sent Thaddeus Young out of town.  LeVert is still recovering from foot surgery and will be eased back into the lineup.  It is not yet clear when he will make his NBA debut.  The Brooklyn-born Whitehead struggled mightily against quicker point guards this preseason and was pushed for a roster spot by undrafted rookie Yogi Ferrell, but the Nets gave him guaranteed money for a reason.  Atkinson has a knack for player development, so expect Whitehead to play his fair share of minutes this season behind Lin and Vasquez.  He will also become the first Brooklyn native to wear a Nets uniform since they moved to the borough back in 2012.

Rounding out the roster are three young players who were given up on by their former teams.  Center Justin Hamilton was deemed a “sleeper” signing by ESPN.  He will back up Lopez, and can stretch the floor with his 3-point shooting.  He had a solid preseason for the Nets and could be a nice surprise for the Nets.  Forward Anthony Bennett was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2013 draft, and is currently regarded as one of the biggest draft busts in NBA history.  Given the Nets’ rebuilding situation, Bennett could potentially thrive in Brooklyn and quiet his many critics.  He is finally in shape and showed flashes during the preseason.  The Nets worked him out last spring and decided to invest in him.  The talent is there, but can he put it all together?

Guard Joe Harris was a 2014 second round draft pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers.  He managed to earn some minutes on a contending team during his rookie year, but fell out of favor after breaking his foot.  He was traded to the Orlando Magic, who released him a week later.  He has looked like one of the best players on the team so far, impressing teammates and coaches by shooting the ball with confidence.  He will be one of the first guards to play off the bench this season.  All three players are in a perfect situation and have a chance to make a name for themselves in Brooklyn.

So, how many games will the Nets win this season?  Their lack of talent is glaring, so most experts, coaches, players and fans are expecting them to be the worst team in the NBA.  Las Vegas is predicting them to win roughly 20 games, but I think their athleticism, grit and effort will take them over that amount.  The locker room is full of high character guys and hungry young players looking to prove themselves.  Plus, the Celtics have the right to swap first round picks with the Nets in the 2017 draft, thanks to the famous 2013 trade that has haunted the organization for years.  The more games the Nets can steal, the less meaningful the pick swap becomes.  The Celtics are also expected to be really good this season, so the Nets will assuredly be picking somewhere in the 20s next June.  This alone should give the Nets some added incentive to win games.  For good measure, the Nets also owe Boston their 2018 first round pick to finally complete the deal and pay off their massive debt to the Celtics.  The Nets don’t completely control their own first round draft pick until 2019.

I’m going to be bold and predict a 32-50 season for the Nets, an 11-win improvement from last year.  That won’t be good enough for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, but the organization is finally on the right path to sustained success in the NBA with Marks and Atkinson leading the charge.  I think they will also be a fun team to watch this year, a far cry from past Nets teams where boring half court offenses featuring old and disgruntled players put fans to sleep at Barclays Center.

The Nets have a long road ahead of them, and everyone in the organization knows it.  The main goals for this season are to build and improve.  As long as the Nets make residual progress as the season wears on, the wins and losses may not mean as much to the players.  The Nets have to hope that their young players continue to improve, with some of them developing into long-term building blocks who many actually be around and contributing when the Nets are finally good again.  One thing’s for sure, it will definitely be a fun ride in Brooklyn this season.

Tickets for tonight’s game start at $68 with TD Garden parking available for as low as $20. Tickets to Friday’s home opener against the Pacers start at just $34 with Barclays Center parking available for as little as $9.


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Jason Goldstein is a co host of the Baseline Jumper NBA podcast, recording every Tuesday night along Ben McDonald. Jason has also spent time as the Basketball Editor at while also handling the Brooklyn Nets Lead Writer duties since October 2015.
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