SB Nation Chicago's NBA season preview reaches the Eastern Conference. Zach Lee profiles the Nets and Hawks.
Sitting in Barclay Center for the first time a few nights ago, you could see the lift the Nets will get from their move to Brooklyn. The stadium is state-of-the-art and brand spanking new. Free wi-fi, amazing food (Cuban pressed pork sandwich? A-YES PLEASE), but more than that, every fan was giddy to be there. Nobody minded waiting in lines. Ushers were preternaturally friendly. Brooklyn has a new car, and the smell alone has a WAR of 5.7.
On the court itself, the Nets are an interesting bunch. Forget what you remember about that team that played in New Jersey. Big names abound, but hearing how long some of them had been in the NBA stunned me. Joe Johnson
? He's good! Holy crap it's his 12th year? Gerald Wallace's too? Jerry Stackhouse
is on this team?! He was drafted the same year as Big Country Reeves and was an ESPN analyst last year, for cripes' sake.
Still, any team led by Deron Williams
raises an eyebrow, and with Johnson and Wallace in the fold and Brook Lopez
back from injury, the Nets are almost certainly a playoff team and if things go well, potentially a top-4 in the East. The bench will entertain the internet on a daily basis, as Andray Blatche
and Tyshawn Taylor
take turns auditioning for the next season of "That's So JaVale". Former Mr. Kardashian Kris Humphries is back, and free agent additions CJ Watson, Reggie Evans
, Josh Childress
, Keith Bogans
, Tornike Shengelia
, *HUGE BREATH* and Mirza Teletovic
fill out the roster. How excited do you think NBA agents were this summer when Billy King's number came up on caller ID?
For all the shiny newness however, an adjustment period is to be expected, and the Nets' play has reflected that thus far in the preseason. Save for Deron bringing the ball up the court, no one seems to know where to be or what to anticipate, and coach Avery Johnson has his work cut out to bring a team of new faces together in a hurry. Ownership has spent a mint to build this roster, and if the Nets falter it'll be Avery who pays the price.
It matters little for now, though. As long as the Brooklyn Nets
don't careen off the highway in their slick new ride, 2012-13 should be a honeymoon of sorts in the borough that sports forgot.
Prediction: 49 - 33
The last time we saw the Hawks they were on their way to yet another early playoff exit, a result as predictable as rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon. For the fifth straight year, the bridesmaids of the NBA lost in the first two rounds of the playoffs, despite an inarguably talented roster and years of continuity.
Ownership finally had enough this offseason and made the decision to break up this meagernaut, Gone are Marvin Williams
- who had nearly played himself out of a job anyways - and ISO Joe Johnson, a player so overpaid that even Rashard Lewis
was impressed. Johnson was a focal point of the Hawks' attack and an incredible talent, but his game had become somewhat obsolete in a league that allows zone defenses and calls the hand check. While other teams adjusted to the new rules by emphasizing ball movement and a more European drive-and-kick style, Johnson and the rest of the Hawks often fell victim to the ball-stopping isolation offense that nearly bored NBA fans to death at the turn of the millennium.
It's an over-simplification of sorts, but Atlanta was a team of get-mine's. Johnson, Josh Smith
, Jamal Crawford
, and Williams would take turns shooting contested 20-footers while more unselfish players like Al Horford
and Kirk Heinrich wasted unused talent. Go to second round of playoffs, lose, rinse, repeat. With the clutter at the top gone and an influx of more traditional role players this season, the Hawks are in line for significantly better team chemistry, and just maybe, better results.
Josh Smith returns as the team's clear number one option, and along with a healthy Horford, Atlanta's starting frontcourt is nothing to sneeze at. (Why do people sneeze at things they don't like? Is it allergies?) Replacing Johnson at shooting guard will be Lou Williams, formerly of the 76ers
, and the well-traveled Devin Harris
takes over at backup point guard for the oft-injured Hinrich. Williams is skilled at getting to the line, although he's still a shoot-first player and doesn't have nearly the defensive size of Johnson. Also, by acquiring Kyle Korver
and Anthony Morrow
, the Hawks now have the deep threats to keep defenses honest and encourage Smith to roam the interior, where he can be his most devastating.
More than anything, if coach Larry Drew
can change the offensive culture in Atlanta, this team could surprise. The 2012-13 Hawks are finally guaranteed to be something different this year, and for the poster child of NBA purgatory, that is a good thing.
Prediction: 45 - 37