Daniel Daugherty-Samowitz, Staff Writer
After an offseason in which they got rid of one of their most recognized players (Paul Peirce) and their head coach (Jason Kidd), the Brooklyn Nets are looking like a different team heading in to the 2014-2015 NBA season.
Lionel Hollins (Head Coach): Although last season’s small lineup allowed the Nets to force the sixth most turnovers in the league, the lack of size and constant switching on defense had the team often outmatched on the boards. New Head Coach Lionel Hollins will bring stability to the organization, something they have not had (seven coaches in as many years) and will bring a sense of toughness to a team that has gotten bullied in the playoffs over the past few years.
Former Head Coach Jason Kidd’s relaxed style will no longer be tolerated and the players fully understand there’s a new sheriff in town. Shortly after being hired, when asked how he was going to be able to duplicate his success in Memphis, Hollins said, “Practice, practice, practice,” he continued, “We’re going to put them in stressful situations in practice, and we’re going to push them.” Reflecting on last season, superstar forward Joe Johnson said, “Under Jason we practiced, but not really.” This antithesis of Kidd will lead the team to more success come playoff time because bigger and tougher teams are what gave LeBron James and the Miami Heat the most trouble.
Brook Lopez (Center): When healthy, Brook Lopez is arguably one of the best centers in the league. However, the key word there is ‘when,’ because over the past three seasons the all-star has missed 134 games. Having their main low-post threat back will benefit the Nets moving forward. Hollins will be able to implement a bigger lineup, which will help the team in both the defense and rebounding departments as well. Look for a healthy Lopez to have a career year as Hollins has proven he knows how to get the most out of his big men, just ask Zach Randolph and Marc Gasol.
Shaun Livingston (Shooting Guard): The combo guard showed great versatility last season and there is a strong case to be made that he was Brooklyn’s best defender. He has the combination of speed, size and length that allowed Kidd to assign Livingston to defend the best wings in the NBA, such as Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony, on a nightly basis. Livingston is excellent at plugging holes and his large wingspan allowed him to close out quickly on shooters. The Nets struggled mightily in the preseason at guarding the perimeter and Livingston will be missed.
After a relatively quiet offseason, the Nets are looking to fly under the radar. Many are pointing to their age and major health concerns as reasons for a decline from last season. However, with an established and successful head coach now in place, the team should silence their doubters. Look for a big season from point guard Deron Williams after a disappointing playoff and for Lopez to return to all-star form. The Atlantic Division is arguably the weakest in the league and the door is wide open for the Nets to take control of it. The Nets’ biggest competition will be the Toronto Raptors. However, after beating them in the playoffs a season ago without Lopez, the team has proven they are more than capable of overthrowing Toronto. Winning the division would give them a top-four seed in the playoffs and home court advantage in at least the first round. While the new look Cleveland Cavaliers are an obvious threat, as long as the Nets can avoid them in the second round they should have a decent shot at advancing to the Conference Finals.
Final Prediction: Nets lose in the Conference Finals