Teams rarely admit the present season is simply a building block for the future and the New Jersey Nets are no different. Head coach Avery Johnson will be the first to talk about the playoffs this season, but make no mistake that everything the Nets do in the 2011-12 season is with an eye on their future in Brooklyn starting next year.
The Nets find themselves chasing a star to build around for their first season in the brand new Barclays Center. Sound familiar? Last year they tried unsuccessfully to bring Carmelo Anthony to New Jersey before hauling in Deron Williams. Now the focus is on Orlando Magic star Dwight Howard, who has stated he wants to play for the Nets.
Even with all eyes on Brooklyn and the Howard drama sure to hang over the franchise until it is resolved one way or another, the Nets do still have games they need to play. Leading the team this season will be free agent to be Williams, one of the league's best point guards.
Joining Williams in the starting lineup will be players he's familiar with, including Anthony Morrow at shooting guard, Damion James at small forward, Kris Humphries at power forward and Mehmet Okur at center. Okur is taking the place of Brook Lopez, sidelined six-to-eight weeks with a fractured foot suffered in the Nets final preseason game.
Explosive rookie MarShon Brooks is hot on Morrow's heels for playing time and could replace him in the starting lineup sooner rather than later. Brooks averaged 24.6 points per game as a senior at Providence and has brought his offensive swagger with him to New Jersey.
Though the team struck out in free agency on big names like Tyson Chandler and Nene, GM Billy King brought in some new faces for 2011-12. Leading that group is former New York Knick Shawne Williams. The wing hasn't been able to suit up for the Nets yet due to the flu, but will be a major contributor for the Nets as soon as he is healthy and in game shape.
Also set to be a major player for Johnson is guard DeShawn Stevenson, fresh off winning an NBA championship with the Dallas Mavericks. Possessing a swagger on defense, when New Jersey needs a stop, expect to see Stevenson -- a long time irritant of LeBron James -- on the floor.
No one knows just how the Nets will handle this 66-game sprint of a season, but there's no doubt it will be full of drama -- both on and off the court.
Best Case Scenario:
The Nets get a lift from a rejuvenated Okur, helping to make up for the loss of Lopez. Lopez returns, shows he is healthy and is shipped to Orlando for Howard. Deron Williams teams with Howard to make noise in the playoffs, leading both players to sign five-year deals with the Brooklyn Nets for over $100 million each. The future is bright for the Nets.
Worst Case Scenario:
Succumbing to the constant Howard speculation, the Nets start to lose and they sink to the bottom of the standings. Howard stays in Orlando (or is traded to the Los Angeles Lakers) and King is unable to find another star to pair with Williams. The point guard decided to leave in the summer so he can go to his hometown Dallas Mavericks. The Nets are left with a shiny new arena and no stars to light it up.