Coach Avery Johnson said that before the New Jersey Nets found out that they didn't land LeBron James, he envisioned a scenario in which the Nets didn't land any major free agents as a "horror film".
But on Tuesday, when the Nets brought in their free-agent haul to meet the media, there was no superstar. Of the four players holding jerseys, the one with the most NBA starting experience is Johan Petro, a seldom-used center from France.
The focus, if anything, seemed to be around who wasn't there. Johnson spoke at length about how he didn't mind James' decision, he just didn't like "coming in second". Travis Outlaw spoke about how no teams made an effort to contact him until they knew exactly where LeBron would end up. While introducing four career backups, Johnson spoke about how important depth and having a good second unit is. Even the players' jerseys seemed to indicate second-fiddle status: each players' new uniform number features the number "2".
Yet there's a sense of optimism around the franchise that won 14 percent of its games last season. As his horror film arrived, Johnson seemed less terrified than excited.
"This is more like an action movie," Johnson said.
Jordan Farmar has seen nothing but success in his four years in the NBA. He's been in three NBA Finals and won twice. Last year, his Los Angeles Lakers won more games in the postseason -- 16 -- than the Nets won all year long -- 12. Why was he smiling with his new Nets jersey?
"It's about stages in our careers," Farmar said. "For me personally, it's about having a chance to play for a point guard and a good coach in Avery Johnson, and having an new owner who says he's willing to do anything to win, whatever it takes to do some big people in here, and about being one of the guys who was part of it and responsible for the whole turnaround."
At 23 years old, the Nets see Farmar as someone who can bring winning wisdom to the franchise.
"(Playing for the Lakers is) a different beast," Farmar said. "The expectation level there is to win, and that's what helps you get better fast. You're expected to win, and you don't really take anything else into consideration. And the guys coming in here in this new regime are trying to establish that mindset. We're not just satisfied with being a team and going out and playing the games, we're trying to win. And it doesn't matter what happened last year, it doesn't have anything to do with what can happen going forward."
Also looking to adopt a role as a leader of a young, impressionable team is the 26-year-old Outlaw. Outlaw's $35 million contract was the biggest the Nets inked in the offseason, coming the day after James signed with the MIami Heat. The seventh-year veteran seemed surprised when told he was now the most tenured player on the team, but sounded ready to assume the responsibility that comes with that fact..
"If the players need pushing," Outlaw said, "I'm going to try to do my best to push them."
One person saying all this positive stuff about a franchise with a league-worst record last year sounds like a madman. Four recently signed free agents and a new head coach saying that sounds more like a movement. And if there's going to be a movement, it's going to start at the top.
"Sometimes coaching is overrated, and sometimes coaching is underrated," Johnson said. "But this is a scenario where it's not underrated. You've got to get guys to believe, and buy into it, and from where we are right now, we've got a long way to go. But if we're going to go anywhere, we've got to have guys believe."
He's off to a good start. Every player who signed spoke of Johnson's importance in bringing them to the franchise. Seriously. As noted, Farmar cited his new coach's point guard credentials.
Petro: "i have no idea how that's going to be, but i can't wait to start. He's a player's coach, he's going to know how to coach us."
Anthony Morrow: "He's from the south, I''m from the south. There was interest in me outside of New Jersey, but coach Johnson let me know my role, and he was being really honest about everything."
Outlaw: "I got a call from Avery, and I was very excited, because he's a coach that's turned a lot of players' careers around."
I asked Johnson how he felt about the players citing his presence as a reason for joining the Nets. He said he felt honored, but told me to "see if they still felt that way at the All-Star Break."
The Nets will need more than just careers turned around -- this is a franchise in need of a U-Turn. But at least now, they are committed to U-Turning in the right direction.
"The core group that was there last year knows how it feels to lose," Petro said. "And I don't think that's how they're going to come this year."