The Brooklyn Nets are all-in for the 2013-14 season. How will this play out? We go 5-on-5:
1. Fact or Fiction: The Nets have the best starting five in basketball.
Chris Forsberg, ESPNBoston.com: Fiction. On paper, the Nets have a very talented starting five. But let’s see it on the floor before we start handing out superlatives. For the moment, Miami holds the right to all of the “best” titles, including the only one that truly matters in the NBA.
Jeremy Gordon, Brooklyn’s Finest: Fiction. If it’s where each individual player might fall within the ranking of his position, then sure — you can make an argument that the Nets have a top-10 player at every spot. But it’s still the sum that ultimately matters, and this Nets starting five needs to play at least one game before they make any designs on the top position.
Michael Wallace, ESPN.com: Fiction. On paper? Yes. It’s hard to out-fantasy that unit of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Brook Lopez. But dig a bit deeper based on recent evidence, and there are some serious concerns with each one of those players, from age to consistency. Until the Nets prove their value on the court, it’s all fiction.
Brian Windhorst, ESPN.com: Fiction. They have the most high-profile starting five, I would agree with that. We need to see them play together to have a feel for how they define their roles. There are two All-Stars from last season in the lineup. The Heat had three All-Stars in their lineup, the Bulls have two and get Derrick Rose back, the Clippers have two, the Rockets have two, the Knicks have two, the Thunder have two, and the Spurs have two. There are a lot of excellent starting lineups, let’s wait and see.
Ohm Youngmisuk, ESPNNew York.com: Fiction. Few can match the name recognition, and there will be nights when they look like an All-Star squad. However, Jason Kidd’s starters may not even play a ton together for much of the season because he has to regulate Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce’s minutes. And there isn’t one Nets starter who’s in the top two at his position.
2. Fact or Fiction: KG and Pierce are still All-Star caliber players.
Forsberg: Fact. With Boston’s 2007-08 squad as a guide, the Nets ought to expect a downturn in individual production from all of their stars as they assemble, but Garnett and Pierce still can make a case for the midseason exhibition. Garnett, a fan-voted starter last season, rebounded like an All-Star in the postseason and his defense remains a game-changer, while Pierce’s all-around efforts help him garner consideration annually.
Gordon: Fact. When they play, that is. Last season, Garnett averaged his lowest minutes count since his first year; Pierce, in his career. Their per-36 stats remained the same and the Celtics were better with them on the court, but Jason Kidd managing their minutes should keep them off the All-Star squad, barring some unexpected collapse from the rest of the competition.
Wallace: Fact. But only based on fans voting them in as starters. Otherwise, they’ll have a difficult time at this stage beating out LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Paul George, Luol Deng, Chris Bosh and possibly Josh Smith at those dynamic frontcourt spots. If Brooklyn lives up to expectations, the Nets’ balance may make it difficult for Pierce or Garnett to register the numbers necessary to make them surefire All-Stars.
Windhorst: Fact. Pierce had a pretty good season last year but had to compete with the likes of James, Anthony, Deng and George as a wing player and didn’t make it. Garnett is still one of the most valuable big men in the game. There is some question about the minutes they’ll probably get with such a deep team and that may affect their numbers and perhaps their candidacy.
Youngmisuk: Fiction. Because of age, new roles and the minutes limit they should be on, Garnett and Pierce likely won’t be All-Star caliber players this season. Nor do they have to be during the regular season. They still may be voted All-Stars, but the goal is to have Garnett and Pierce fresh and playing like All-Stars in the postseason.
3. Fact or Fiction: Deron Williams will reassert himself as a top-five PG.
Forsberg: Fact. With both Derrick Rose and Rajon Rondo coming off ACL rehab, this is probably easier than it sounds. But Williams should absolutely benefit from the additional talent around him. After averaging 18.9 points and 7.7 assists in a bit of a “down” year last season, it’s scary to think of the numbers Williams is capable of posting now. And team success has a way of making every floor general look even better.
Gordon: Fact. He’s got tough competition, but he was already playing like a top-five point after the All-Star break. The tricky thing is that all the best points play so differently that it’s hard to rank them along a firm scale — how do you value Stephen Curry against Rajon Rondo, for example? — but Deron should be in the conversation.
Wallace: Fact. I’m willing to write off the past two seasons based on the injuries, turmoil and drastic roster turnover. But D-Will is all out of excuses at this point. He’s either going to solidify his stature as an elite player or he’ll hitch himself to Joe Johnson as the biggest bust of a starting backcourt max money could buy. He’ll get his mojo back.
Windhorst: Fact. If you look at the numbers after the All-Star break last season you could make the argument he was already there. Williams seemed to be soured a bit by that season and a half he was mired on bad teams in Newark and didn’t come in the best shape or with the best mindset to Brooklyn. He seemed like a different player in March and April and you would assume he carries that over to November.
Youngmisuk: Fact. Williams will be even more rejuvenated with the talent surrounding him. He will be eager to show that this is his team and veterans such as Garnett and Pierce will make him better. Also, Kidd — his friend, mentor and coach –- will push the right buttons and get the best out of Williams.
4. Fact or Fiction: Coaching will be the Nets’ biggest weakness in 2013-14.
Forsberg: Fiction. Coaching is one of the team’s biggest wild cards at the moment given the untested nature of first-year coach Jason Kidd. That said, having a proven top assistant such as Lawrence Frank will ease Kidd’s transition and prevent coaching from hurting this team. Coaching will get blamed as the Nets’ biggest weakness if they struggle, but chances are the Nets will have more glaring issues elsewhere.
Gordon: Fact. Only by default, though. It’s hard to look at the lineup and see a strongly identifiable weakness, and we know that Kidd is still learning the ropes — some of the plays during his first Summer League games were drawn up by Frank, who’s surely going to justify his fat contract. It hopefully will be less so as the year wears on.
Wallace: Fiction. Kidd has a solid mentor beside him on the bench in Frank. Kidd was always a coach on the floor during his remarkable career at point guard. Managing clutch situations, egos and minutes will be a challenge as coach. But he’s got a team of veterans who appear to have his back. But it’s still early. Adversity hasn’t struck yet. Age will be their biggest strength — and potential weakness.
Windhorst: Fiction. While I think it is a risk to trust a team with such championship aspirations to a rookie coach, health will be a huge factor. This is an older team and their youngest star, Brook Lopez, is coming off foot surgery. Last season, injuries to Lopez and Joe Johnson really gave the Nets problems. If they’re healthy, they’ll be contenders.
Youngmisuk: Fiction. Kidd may be a rookie and there certainly will be a learning curve. Kidd, though, will lean on his staff, especially Frank. The Nets have potentially bigger pitfalls such as health, age and chemistry.
5. Fact or Fiction: The Nets will win a championship by 2015.
Forsberg: Fiction. Money can build you a competitive team and a fantasy roster, but championship teams have a little something extra and we won’t know if Brooklyn has that until we see this group on the floor. The Nets will give themselves a short window to compete for a crown, but winning one in the next two seasons is no slam dunk, particularly if the group in Miami keeps its band together.
Gordon: You’re not getting me to answer this one with a straight face. If everything breaks right for them — Garnett and Pierce’s health, Kidd’s feel for the job, etc. — the Nets should surely be in the running. But all of that means they carry more risk than any other contender, too. (Hey, the boom-or-bust thing is kind of fun, right?)
Wallace: Fiction. It’s hard to say for sure that any team will certainly win a title by 2015. But the Nets have their work cut out with the Heat, Pacers and Bulls collectively in the midst of their prime. Considering Garnett and Pierce have a relatively short window of opportunity, the Nets have this season and next to get it done. I’ll believe how reliable they are when I see it. But I wouldn’t be absolutely stunned if they broke through.
Windhorst: Fiction. I can’t possibly predict what the landscape will be in the 2014-15 season, so basically I’m answering this on this season. If all teams stay healthy, I believe the Heat and Pacers are still better than the Nets. The Bulls are right there as well. I am not picking them to win the East at this point, so I can’t say they’ll win the title.
Youngmisuk: Fiction. They will contend but they might be the third-best team in the East. If they don’t win it all, the task only gets more difficult. The Nets’ cap-strapped roster will only get older while the 2014 superstar free-agent crop may alter the balance of power in the league, with the top players constantly looking to join forces to create the next star-studded team.