Nets Look to Reassert Power in Atlantic

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August 30, 2009

Nets Look to Reassert Power in Atlantic Most of the NBA offseason dust has settled, and clubs have pretty much solidified their 2009-10 rosters. We?re taking a look at how things should shape up in the Atlantic Division. Earlier this week, we brought you breakdowns of the Knicks, 76ers and Raptors.

Now, we delve into the Nets? lineup. Can they rebound from an awful 34-48 season a year ago, or will the loss of Vince Carter prove fatal?

It?s not often a team loses its second-leading scorer and is better off for it.

But that?s exactly what the New Jersey Nets could do in 2009-10. The Brooklyn club, which finished a miserable 34-48 a season ago, traded away its highest-profile player, Vince Carter, for two over-the-hill journeymen and a second-year guard (Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Courtney Lee, respectively).

?What was Rod Thorn thinking,? right?

The Nets president was thinking two things: I get to dump $16.5 million in salary for the summer of 2010, plus dump the virus that is Vince Carter.

Let me defend that statement. He?s 32; he has 11 NBA seasons on his knees; he plays defense only when he chooses to; he has never advanced past the conference semifinals (that alone should tell you all you need to know about Carter?s leadership skills); and he is coming off one of the worse statistical seasons of his career.

Trade him away and get what you can in return. And New Jersey got precisely what it needed: a reliable backup point to Devin Harris in Alston; a shut-down defender with excellent upside potential in Lee (the Nets allowed more than 100 points per game in ?08-?09); and some insurance in the post in Battie, a former Celtic.

Does it lift New Jersey into contention for the Atlantic? No. But does it spell playoff berth in 2009-10? Likely so.

1. Devin Harris. No doubt about it: This kid has a long way to go to become a leader. The numbers are there: 21.3 points, seven dimes and 1.7 steals per game this past season. But one need only look at Harris? game logs to see he?s lacking consistency. He?ll jump from a brilliant 47-point performance against Phoenix to a 2-for-7, three-turnover night just a couple of days later against Minnesota.

He shoots a bit too much — Harris took more than three treys per game last season, despite hitting just 29 percent of his attempts — is noncommittal on defense and is liable to pout if he feels the action isn?t coming through him enough (an attitude that created problems with Carter on the floor alongside him).

But again, the skill set is phenomenal. Harris proved a number of times against the Green last season that he?s in Rajon Rondo?s league for quickness, but he's taller and is a better shooter. Put another season of maturity under the 26-year-old?s belt, and Harris could become a serious force in the league.

(A scary thought when one considers that he was already an All-Star in 2009.)

2. Brook Lopez.
Had Derrick Rose not been an absolute stud in Chicago, this kid could have been the 2009 Rookie of the Year. The 10th pick of the 2008 draft posted 13 points, two blocks, eight boards and a 53-percent field-goal mark in just over 30 minutes per game throughout his rookie campaign.

Given New Jersey's issues rebounding and defending in the paint last year, Lopez?s development should be a boon for Lawrence Frank?s club.

3. As will the development of Yi Jianlian. His second season was cut short by a broken pinkie finger, after which the Chinese sensation was never quite the same. Yi finished ?08-?09 at 8.6 points per game on 40 percent shooting, with 5.3 rebounds and a block in 23 minutes of play. Extrapolate that to 36 minutes a game, and Yi starts to look pretty impressive.

The lingering questions are: Can the 7-foot, 21-year-old stay healthy, and if so, will Frank commit himself to playing Yi more often, in a twin-tower-type system with Lopez? Put some more meat on both those boys, and they could become a deadly combo.

 4. Terrence Williams. Yes, he?s a rookie, but the Louisville alum and 11th overall pick is exactly what New Jersey needs: size and strength at guard. He?s an effective outside shooter who can also take it strong to the hole, he likes to crash the boards, and — having played under Rick Pitino for four years — you know he?s defensive-minded.

Pair him with Lee, Harris and/or Chris Douglas-Roberts in the backcourt, and the Nets are suddenly stacked at a position that proved thin in ?08-?09.

Sure, New Jersey loses Carter, and with him a cool 20.8 points a game — and the Nets ranked 20th in scoring (including 24th in field-goal percentage) and 17th in defense just a year ago.

But for a proud franchise, there seems to be no place to go from there but up. With Carter?s big salary and big head off the court, the Nets should be poised to do just that in 2009-10.

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