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Wednesday
Aug112010

The New Jersey Nets: Your New Second-Favorite Team

I don’t care who your favorite team is. Maybe it’s the team you grew up near. Maybe it’s the team you moved near. Maybe it’s the team your dad cheered for as a kid. Either way, I want to explain why the Nets should become any true fan’s second-favorite team.

First things first, by choosing to associate yourself with the Nets at this time you’ll be buying low, as in “buy low, sell high.” There isn’t much lower than finishing 12-70 like NJ did last year, and they didn’t add any big-name free agents this summer. These two things combined ensure you won’t be accused of being a bandwagon fan (if you became a Heat fan in the past 35 days, you should be ashamed of yourself).

So why should you start following the Nets? They weren’t as bad as their final record last year, so their current “selling price” is artificially low (projection of 17.3 Phythagorean Wins last year supports this). They were swamped by numerous concurrent injuries early in the year, and pretty soon losing at a historic rate became a self-fulfilling prophecy. Sure they were still losing in March, but the blowouts were gone. With terrible back-ups and a runaway train busting through their season, they were losing games late in the year by just a few points – yes, losing, but they were hanging with almost everyone.

Next, if they stay reasonably healthy, their roster is not bad. You’ll actually have something to be proud of and cheer for. Any fledgling team hopes to start building on the backs of a quality point guard and a quality center, which happen to be the Nets’ strengths. PG Devin Harris is the most recognizable star on the team, making the All-Star Game in 2008-09, the last season he wasn’t injured early in the year. He’s fast, able to score, and does a good job running an offense (solid 6.6-2.8 A-TO rate on a terrible team last year). Of course his shooting percentages took a hit in 2009-10 when he was trying to do too much on a sinking ship, so expect those to rise back to normal. In the middle is third-year C Brook Lopez who averaged 19 ppg, 9 rpg, and 1.7 blocks while being the only interior focus of other teams. He’s one of the three best centers in the East, so rest assured your new second-favorite team is set at the two most important positions.

The newbies to the team include SG/SF Anthony Morrow (best 3-pointer shooter in the league), PF Troy Murphy (10 rpg and 40% from deep – extreme offensive versatility, good passer, loves to bang inside which takes pressure off Lopez), rookie PF Derrick Favors (great defense, emerging offense, great attitude, arguably the best pick in the draft), rookie SF Damion James (consummate hustle player who can do a bit of everything), PG Jordan Farmar (very fast, plays smart), SF Travis Outlaw (great clutch scorer), and C Johan Petro (strong and athletic, actively working toward reaching potential).

A couple of the returning pieces aren’t too bad, either, if people stay relatively healthy and they can be role players and not necessary cornerstones. Two guys who will have to work harder to keep their minutes but are still important include SF/SG Terrence Williams (young, defensive-minded jack of all trades) and PF Josh Boone (hard-working defender and rebounder). Some other returning players who will have their moments include veteran PG Keyon Dooling, athletic PF Kris Humphries, and defensively-abled G Trenton Hassell.

So your likely 8-man rotation next year is C-Lopez, PF-Murphy, SF-Outlaw, SG-Morrow, PG-Harris, and 6 through 8 men-Favors, Williams, and Farmar. They got some interior muscle, some defense, some versatile scorers, some 3-point pop, and a smart point guard to bring it all together. Big man Yi Jianlian is gone, so there’s no pressure to play an underperforming, finesse PF who was way too high of a draft pick a few years ago. Not only that, almost every single player I’ve mentioned is known for working hard and being a mature locker room presence. That’s not by coincidence.

OK, your new team is definitely going to win way more than 12 games - in fact, they’ll probably come out the victor in three times that number, which spells possible playoff contenders in the East, which does wonders for your fanbase. Buzz will be going around the league by January how everyone thought they were better than 12 wins, everyone thought they’d bounce back, everyone thought they’d be fine, so make sure you get in now and tell your friends soon why you like the Nets to make some noise this year. Talk about them early and often no matter how much laughter follows it so that when that buzz gets going, your friends remember you supporting them before ESPN made it cool.

But that’s only next year – then what? Here’s where making the Nets your new second-favorite team really pays off. You know their new Russian owner, the tall guy with the tall head? He likes to spend money, and he already said the Nets will spend money…but not stupidly (Outlaw’s $7 million per year contract is suspect, but not a back-breaker). They thankfully didn’t land Amar’e Stoudemire or Carlos Boozer or anyone else who would cost a fortune and then get hurt (some other teams might be able be weather that storm, but not a rebuilding one). Believe it or not, they actually did a good job financially this summer – nothing crazy, no chasing max players to the brink of insanity (cough, Memphis).

They return everyone of importance in 2011-12, except for Murphy’s expiring contract (but Favors should be ready to take over the starting PF spot by then), and it’ll only cost them $38 million in payroll. The following year? Exact same group returns at virtually the same price. This gives them nearly $20 million in cap space to find new talent, maybe even land a superstar. And within two years from now, they’ll have a new recruiting chip to lure the top-shelf free agents.

The team is moving to Brooklyn in 2012. Every self-respecting basketball player wants to play in NYC, and the Nets are preparing to move into the coolest borough of the coolest city in two years. With an upwardly-mobile record, a rich owner who wants to spend, and tons of hard cold cash, this whole moving-to-Brooklyn thing could result in some serious loot in a few years. It’s too tough to start guessing who might be available which summer (getting Carmelo Anthony next year should definitely not be part of their plan), but the Nets are ready to make a big buy in the foreseeable future.

So there it is. A team that's already much better than casual fans imagine, will win way more games than they did last year, is way under the cap, has an owner willing to pull the trigger on a big deal, and a sweet move to Brooklyn coming up. There are plenty of reasons to like the Nets and their future.

But don't wait; you'll end up looking like a West Coast Heat fan.

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