A quick explanatory intro:
I rank each team from 1-10 on their projected starters, bench, coach and watchability, using a 1-10 scale, and rate them overall based on a (starters x 5) + (bench x 2) + (coaching x 2) + watchability to give them an overall score. Why does watchability matter? Because we're not robots here, that's why.
I'm breaking down these previews into small, bite-size chunks to make them more palatable to read, around 1,000-1,500 words each, obviously spending more time on the contenders than the minnows. Enjoy and leave me all kinds of comments about why I'm terribly wrong.
Brooklyn Nets: 74
Projected Starters (8.5): C Brook Lopez, PF Kevin Garnett, SF Paul Pierce, SG Joe Johnson, PG Deron Williams
Pretty sure no other squad can claim that all of its starting five has made an All-Star team, so they've got that going for them, but Garnett and Pierce are significantly past their primes and can't be counted on to contribute every game, and it's worth wondering how they'll mesh with the three incumbents, who all have vastly different personas than the Boston culture Garnett and Pierce cultivated along with Doc Rivers. On paper, Lopez and Garnett seem like an ideal duo that can complement each other's strengths and weaknesses, but I'm skeptical if the pairing will be as seamless in real life. The potential clashes between Pierce and Johnson for "last shot" status and between Williams and seemingly everyone else for alpha dog status looms even larger. Meanwhile, the real on the court issue, besides the fact that they're going to be slower than slugs on the court, will be that nobody besides Garnett is what you'd consider a "plus" defender, and he's 37.
Projected Bench (7.5): F-C Andray Blatche, PF Reggie Evans, SF Andrei Kirilenko, SG Jason Terry, PG Shaun Livingston, SG Alan Anderson, SF Mirza Teletovic, C Miles Plumlee
It will be virtually impossible for new coach Jason Kidd to carve out any kind of rotation that will keep everyone happy. Really, I think they've got too many guys, but because of the age of the roster Kidd will at least be able to employ a pretty deep "B" squad for those back-to-backs. It makes perfect sense to have Kirilenko, who doesn't need shots, to be the starter, with Pierce supplying his scoring off the bench, but good luck getting "The Truth" to buy that. Far likelier is Garnett campaigning for Kirilenko in favor of Lopez to match the small-ball Heat. Also, I'm not sold on those backup guards and I have the feeling that Anderson and Teletovic will be buried (if not cut/moved) at the expense of less useful guys with "veteran experience."
Coaching (4.5): On one hand Jason Kidd's job should be fairly easy. He can just roll a ball out and he's got a team full of guys who know how to play and run sets. Williams can handle the offense and KG can handle the defense and the inspirational stuff. He's also got Lawrence Frank as an assistant who can help with the X's and O's, the scouting, the opponent's tendencies and so on. On the other hand, he's got to manage the most unstable roster of egos ever put together since the 2003-04 Lakers (yup, even Miami in 2010 wasn't this nuts). Obviously none of us can predict whether Kidd can coach worth a damn, even though the "coach on the floor" platitudes were thrown at his feet throughout his playing career. Still, he'd have to be basketball's answer to Rich Kotite to not pilot this ship to 55 wins.
Watchability (7.5): I hate to keep bringing up the Heat, but the parallels are striking between this team and the maiden voyage for the LeBron James/Dwyane Wade/Chris Bosh trio in that it will be fascinating to observe these guys during time outs and to read all the off-day stories about this guy being disgruntled and player X stared at player Y funny and all that, but the actual basketball on the floor could just be a slow, brutal mess for the first 30 games. If you remember, the Heat were an iso-ball nightmare until they figured it out the second half of that season and now they're one of the most dangerous, cohesive, multifaceted offenses going. The Nets will be like that, except without the otherworldly athleticism to give them those four or five highlight plays a night and the easy baskets off transition. There's just so little speed or athleticism on the roster anywhere. Really, this team will be like what idiots think the Spurs are, if the Spurs played in a big market, all their relevant players were African-Americans and their power-forward was a deranged psychopath.
Best-Case Scenario: The Bulls or Pacers take care of the Heat for them in round two, the Nets somehow scrape out four ugly 82-79 wins in the Eastern Conference Finals and draw a fatigued Thunder or Clippers in the Finals to win the whole thing.
Worst-Case Scenario: Injuries, dissension and fist-fights during games, and getting upset in the first round by (and this sounds ridiculous to type) the more-cohesive Knicks.
Realistic Scenario: A four seed, where they barely outlast the Cavaliers in round one and knock around James and co. for six games before succumbing to Miami.
Degrees of Best All-Time Player to Manu Ginobili: 3 (Julius Erving with Earl Cureton on the 1982-83 76ers, who was with Robert Horry on the 1994-95 Rockets, who was with Ginobili on the 2003-04 Spurs.)