Who's New?: F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (draft), C Andrea Bargnani (free agent), G Wayne Ellington (free agent), G Donald Sloan (free agent), F Chris McCullough (draft), G Shane Larkin (free agent), F Thomas Robinson (free agent), G Dahntay Jones (free agent)
Who's Gone?: G Deron Williams (waived), C Mason Plumlee (trade), F Mirza Teletovic (free agent), F Alan Anderson (free agent), F Cory Jefferson (waived)
Off-season Grade: B-. Nothing remotely exciting, but they got out from Williams' terrible contract and traded another player who was no longer in the long-term plans for a potential starting small forward, despite not having a first-round pick. On the other hand, their best free agent signing was literally Andrea Bargnani.
2015-16 Slogan: "We defy you to watch us play anyone but your favorite team without gambling being involved."
What Else Is New?: The New York Islanders of the NHL have left Nassau, their longtime home and are moving to Brooklyn, where they will be co-tenants in Barclays Center, and look at how excited the Nets players are by this news. The Islanders' third jerseys will basically be knockoffs of the Nets road unis (hockey clubs wear the whites on the road). I just think it's a bit of a neat coincidence that the best players for the two franchises are surnamed "Lopez" and "Tavares" for a pair of sports where you don't see too many dudes, let alone stars, who are of Cuban or Portuguese descent.
Your Likely Starting Lineup:
C Brook Lopez
PF Thaddeus Young
SF Joe Johnson
SG Bojan Bogdanovic
PG Jarrett Jack
After a first four months where he was either hurt or, bizarrely, coming off the bench, Lopez found his game in March and April and gave the Hawks a lot of problems in the first round of their 1-8 match-up. He's the most natural scorer of any center in the East (unless we're counting Pau Gasol as a center) and I think the criticism of his rebounding is a bit overdone. Check out Big Spain's rebounding numbers sometime, and he won Defensive Player of the Year. Lopez is certainly not an asset defensively, but for what it's worth he finished second on the team behind only Plumlee among regulars in defensive rating and was second on the team in net rating as well. Can you win anything of significance with Lopez as your best player? Of course not. But he's not the problem here, except for that whole "he's a ticking time bomb because of his chronically fragile feet" thing.
Thaddeus Young had a slight upswing in his play when he was dealt from Minnesota midway through last season for the burial rights of KG's corpse. The Nets re-signed Young to a 4-year, $54 million deal that seems dodgy from here, but he's a capable stretch four. Young's weakness is that at 6'8 he needs to be paired with a dominant shot blocker to be at all effective and that's not Lopez. Unless Hollis-Jefferson develops geometrically in training camp, Johnson will have to slide over to the three to start because there's no one else credible on the roster. Johnson's 34 now, in decline, and his scoring average has shrunk for four straight years. He's going to make nearly $25 million this season. Jessica Camerato of Basketball Insiders made the point that Johnson's contact expiring after this season is the best thing they have going for them as a franchise, which sounds like the kind of thing people say about Kobe Bryant. On the bright side, now that Tracy McGrady has officially retired, Johnson can claim the title of "NBA player who most looks like he's asleep on the bench."
Now, about the starting backcourt...
With Williams off to Dallas the starting point will be the well-traveled Jack, who's always been a two-guard in a point guard's body. You might as well run "Iso Joe" stuff for Johnson or toss it down to Lopez in the post because Jack isn't going to create Jack for anyone. Oh, and he shot a sweet 26.7 percent from deep last year. Bogdanovic had an okay rookie season but is a one-dimensional player who will be challenged to keep up with anyone on the perimeter. Ideally he'd be more suited to a sixth-man role, and that may indeed be the case, with Hollis-Jefferson or Ellington starting instead. Either way... yikes.
Your Likely Bench:
C Andrea Bargnani
G Wayne Ellington
G Donald Sloan
F Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
F Sergey Karasev
G Shane Larkin
F Thomas Robinson
F Chris McCullough
Remember when in the Celtics preview I questioned their starting lineup but championed their bench? This is, uh, not that. Almost everyone here is an import, and they're all fringe players. Bargnani has played 137 games total the past four years and has been a punchline in the league for longer than that. He actually had a brief offensive surge last season but averaged 4.4 boards in 27 minutes per game, which is special for a seven-footer. Ellington played a bunch for the Lakers last season with Kobe out and shot a blistering 41.2 percent while posting an 11.6 PER. Again, he might be the starting two guard. Compared to those two signings, picking up Sloan from the Pacers seems relatively sane. He at least has some play-making skills, even though he can't score. Larkin is moving on to his third club in three seasons but he showed some progression last season and could battle for playing time. Karasev is the one holdover here and a decent athlete, but he's also reed thin and has limited upside. Robinson, the fifth pick of the 2012 draft, is already on his fifth team but I'm surprised the Sixers didn't make more of an effort to retain him after he flashed in his brief time there.
Hollis-Jefferson is the guy who'll make or break their off-season. They offloaded Plumlee, whose development plateaued and who was practically out of the rotation by the playoffs for his draft rights. RHJ is a long rangy defender and an athlete, but he came in with a reputation for having a broken jumper and Summer League did nothing to soothe those concerns. He could be the next Shawn Marion or he could be in China in by 2019 -- neither would be surprising.
Your Coach: Lionel Hollins
A staunch antagonist of analytics, Hollins continues to find himself coaching less talented teams with each passing season and is on pace to be patrolling the bench at UTSA by the end of the decade. Hollins continues to be the runaway winner of "coach you'd least likely want to fight," though don't sleep on Pop, he's got some skills.
Bottom Line: If everyone is healthy and Hollis-Jefferson shows some spark, the Nets might go 32-50. If Lopez gets hurt and the rookie really can't throw it into the Brooklyn River, they might be the worst team in the league. Either way, I promise you I will watch a maximum of two Nets games this season and I might end up passing on the Spurs road game altogether.
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