Pretty Much Screwed: The Brooklyn Nets

  • Spencer Lund

Welcome to “Pretty Much Screwed,” our 2012-13 guide to the upcoming NBA season, in which we identify the reasons why your favorite team might have to start looking forward to 2013-2014 — and highlight at least one reason for you to be hopeful. Today: the Brooklyn Nets, the Jay-Z and Mikhail Prokhorov-owned and Brooklyn upstarts that cost more than the entirety of Brooklyn’s DIY craft breweries.

The Brooklyn Nets have been one of the most talked about teams this offseason, primarily because of the new first part of their name: Brooklyn. They’ve moved across both the Hudson and the East River and now they’re sharing real estate with dive bars galore, mustache-waxed dads pushing babies rocking Velvet Underground tees in strollers, kids in jeans that hug the crotch an uncomfortable amount, and [insert Brooklyn trope of your choice]. They’re also the first professional sports team to claim the borough as their own since the Dodgers took off for Southern Cali in 1957. That means there’s been a dearth of professional sports in Brooklyn for 55 years, so it’s too bad they’re stuck with this: an expensive, motley group that’ll be nearly worthless on defense.

They can’t play defense.

Even their prepubescent-voiced head coach, Avery Johnson, admits as much: the Nets need to get tougher on defense. We’re sorry, but Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries are about as terrifying a defensive low-post tandem as Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.

Reggie Evans is an upgrade at the 4 on defense, but he’s obviously not the starter and he’s limited on offense. Lopez is a legit 7-footer, but he’s coming off a broken right foot that limited him to just 5 games last season, and he makes Lou Amundson look svelte on defensive rotations. And Humphries, when he wasn’t busy in his blink-and-you-missed it marriage to Kanye’s current amour, was befuddled by opposing power forwards. Joe Johnson is a big 2 that can match up against most small forwards and Gerald Wallace is a big 3 that can match up against a most power forwards, but they’ll still have to hide Humphries or Lopez on defense. Deron Williams is an all-world point, but that’s primarily on the offensive end.

Last season Nets opponents had an effective field goal percentage of .513, good for second to last in the league. They weren’t much better on the boards either, finishing 28th out of 30 teams in defensive rebounding percentage (via basketball-reference). This wasn’t a coincidence, as they finished second to last (only better than the historically bad Charlotte Bobcats) in points allowed, giving up 106.9 points per 100 possessions (via Hoopdata). I’m pretty sure I could drop 20 points on this defense, and I haven’t played organized ball in more than a decade.

They can’t rebound; specifically, Brook Lopez can’t rebound.

Sure, Joe Johnson can pick up some boards with his size, but since there’s a component of hustle involved in collecting any rebound, Johnson leaves you wanting. He ranked 31st among all shooting guards in Offensive Rebounding Rate and 58th (tied with Ray Allen, for comparison’s sake) in Defensive Rebounding Rate (via ESPN). So it’s obvious his height is negated by his hustle (just ask Hawks fans, who are nodding eagerly).

But Johnson, the most significant addition to this year’s team in Brooklyn, isn’t the real reason this team will be so horrible rebounding the basketball. That distinction belongs to one Brook Lopez, possibly the worst rebounding 7-footer in the history of basketball. Just read this piece from Grantland‘s Zach Lowe: Lopez finished 70 (out of 73) among centers in Defensive Rebounding Rate (via ESPN). If you talk to any NBA stats geek, they’ll tell you he rebounds like a particularly undersized off-guard – except, you know, he’s FREAKIN’ SEVEN FEET TALL!

They’re still the Nets.

Recently, Rembert Browne wrote an excellent piece about the new Brooklyn Nets franchise. Yes, the Nets front office has done a good job emphasizing Jay-Z’s involvement (while downplaying the diaspora of displaced homeowners that resulted when developer Bruce Ratner broke ground on the Barclays Center) and the fact they’re in Brooklyn now, while also downplaying the actual name of the franchise: Nets. The Nets are synonymous with New Jersey and its second class status in the mind of just about every person that’s lived in New York for longer than a week. A friend that just moved here exclaimed recently when I said I was going to Jersey, “Ewww, why?” So the Nets are still the Nets. Nothing can change the fact that this franchise came from New Jersey.

There’s simply no accounting for the stank of the Nets on this franchise. Yes, they’re trying to re-imagine themselves as a Brooklyn entity, and they are – they should be commended for this – but they’re still second class citizens in New York, and no amount of PR and Jay-Z/Beyonce love fests at the Barclays Center can change that.

They’ve spent a fortune, and now they’re locked up financially for the foreseeable future.

Russian oligarch owner Mikhail Prokhorov looks really awesome on a jet ski, but he’s spending money like it grows on trees (though actually, for him, it might). They’re currently paying $85 million in salaries this year, and that jumps to $89 million next year when the new CBA luxury taxes take prior years into account, which means the luxury tax will be even higher. They took on Joe Johnson’s salary that will pay him a little under $20 million this year, $21.5 million next year, over $23 million the year after, and an astronomical $24,894,863 for the 2015-16 season. We’re pretty sure the Hawks ownership group threw GM Danny Ferry a party when he unloaded Johnson’s outlandish salary. Is it even worth getting into Gerald Wallace’s, Kris Humphries’ and Brook Lopez’s deals? Nope. Prokhorov might have oodles of money from his time in the wasteland of post-Communist Russia, but they’re spending a fortune for less ROI than fans would hope.

One reason you might not be screwed: OOOO SCORING BIG OFFENSE.

This team will score, and score often. The backcourt of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, while expensive, will be one of the best in the league and a matchup nightmare for any team starting a small set of guards. Kris Humphries is a decent power forward with the ball in his hands, and Gerald Wallace can put together some big games without being the offense’s primary target, even if he’s far from his heyday with the Bobcats. Trading for Joe Johnson and re-signing Deron Williams (thanks Mark Cuban!) means they’ll be in playoff contention every year. Some even have the Nets getting a top 4 seed in this year’s weak Eastern Conference. They’re also in Brooklyn, which, if you read the New York Times Style section, is very hip. I actually live in Brooklyn, and I’m not hip at all, but I’ve already seen roughly 324 Napoleon Dynamite-looking dudes rocking a Brooklyn Nets hat and jersey. They’re here, and people are excited.

Actual prediction: 44-38, 3rd in the Atlantic Division and 6th in the Eastern Conference. And yes, I’m biased, but only because my Walt Frazier jersey is un-ironically cooler than anything my fellow Brooklyn denizens are rocking.

Read more of our NBA Previews here.