No Dwight Howard? No problem. The boys in Brooklyn have a lineup to be pretty excited about. The price may tag look scary to some, but will it concern a Russian industrialist in the largest media market in the US? Nyet. "What is couple million in this luxury tax? I make couple million in matter of hours."
2012-13 Brooklyn Nets Offseason Recap
Draft Picks: Ilkan Karaman (surprisingly, no relation to M. Night Shyamalan)
2012-13 Brooklyn Nets Prospective Depth Chart
PG: Deron Williams | CJ Watson
SG: Joe Johnson | Marshon Brooks
SF: Gerald Wallace | Tornike Shengelia
PF: Kris Humphries | Mirza Teletovic
C: Brook Lopez | Reggie Williams
So the Nets have been... busy. They managed to re-sign their top four free agents with a total of $53M in 2012-13 salary. Then they traded for Joe Johnson, himself due $20M this year, without sending out much of anything of consequence. All of this made Brooklyn the top spender this summer, and despite that expense they're quite similar to last year's New Jersey Nets. One difference is the luxury tax commitment, which is a bit more than the "couple million" I joked about above. It's closer to $36,215,405. This is kind of sad, because it might mean that Prokhorov has to sell his prototype submarinehelicopteryacht. Oh, the humanity.
So wait a minute, Mike Payne, you're telling me that this expensive new Brooklyn team isn't that much different from the 22-win New Jersey team of last year? Yes and no. Brook Lopez was only available for 5 games in 2012-13 due to a right foot injury. He should be at full health in November, so his presence can be seen as an addition over last year. Gerald Wallace only played 16 games with the Nets, having played the other 42 with Portland prior to his trade. The main difference in Brooklyn is Joe Johnson, and if Johnson, Lopez and Wallace are available for a full season, this will be a very different Nets team.
Let's talk about Joe Johnson. If you ignore his age and his submarinehelicopteryacht of a contract, he's actually a nice player. Even at 31, it could be argued that he's coming off of the best year of his career. The nickname "Iso Joe" just isn't applicable anymore. Unless you consider his defense. The 6'8" Joe Johnson was ranked the 7th best isolation defender in the league last season, regardless of position, by Synergy Sports. He held isolation plays to .53 points per possession. Compare that to our own Rodney Stuckey, who allowed .78 points per possession on iso plays, good enough for 158th in the league.
Iso Joe just isn't the same player he used to be. For the first time in his career in Atlanta, he wasn't the first option last season. Josh Smith led the team in shot attempts, and Johnson attempted just 15.5 shots per game (down from 20 a few seasons back). The lowered offensive burden allowed Johnson to be a bit more selective with his shot, leading to one of the most efficient shooting performances of his life. Again, according to Synergy, Johnson attempted 151 post-up shots (and was ranked 10th in the league), 211 spot-up attempts (good for 24th in the league) and only 23% of his attempts were iso plays.
Assuming the Nets manage Johnson in the same way that Atlanta did last year, they may not see significant diminishing returns throughout his contract. Johnson is 31, will be 34 by the end of his current contract, and the last season is evidence that he may age gracefully. If players like Reggie Miller and Ray Allen were playing at 75% of their prime at 34, there's evidence to suggest Johnson might too. The $90M he's due is ridiculous, but if you shrug it off with some Russian Industrialist swag, you can look at Johnson as the perfect fit he might be.
Let's assume a few things. First, let's assume Brook Lopez goes back to the 82-per-season lock he was for the first three years of his career. Let's assume Deron Williams was under some New Jersey curse that will be gone in Brooklyn, and we'll see him as he was in Utah. Let's assume Joe Johnson is a second or third option for the Nets. Let's assume Crash stays angry and Humphries stays away from reality TV. How can this team not make the playoffs? How can this starting line not challenge Boston, Chicago, Atlanta or New York in a 7-game series?
Sure, Lopez's foot injury could nag him this season. Deron Williams might be as bad as he had been in New Jersey. Johnson could dominate the ball and Wallace could continue to give up some athleticism. If you split the difference between this and the most optimistic assumptions above, you're still left with a very capable five man lineup. From my perspective, the first playoff berth in six years is theirs to lose.
Dwight Howard, who?