A baseball analogy may be the best way to describe the Brooklyn Nets’ first off-season in their new home: The Nets tried hitting a home run, but settled for a productive RBI double.
The Nets made a pair of splashes on the first day of the new league year Wednesday, July 11, when they officially acquired six-time NBA All-Star Joe Johnson and re-signed point guard Deron Williams, who had considered playing for his hometown Dallas Mavericks.
Nets coach Avery Johnson told reporters Joe Johnson, a former member of the United States National Team and Williams, a two-time Olympian who is expected to start at point guard for the United States in the upcoming Summer Olympics, are “…the best backcourt players I’ve ever coached” while Johnson declared the Nets are the best team in New York. The New York Post identified the Nets as one of the biggest winners in the NBA’s free agent period and predicted they could be one of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference next season.
Getting home court advantage in the first round of the playoffs would be quite a feat for a franchise that is 142 games under .500 the last five seasons, hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2006-07 season, hasn’t had a winning season since 2005-06, and has won more than 50 games just once since joining the NBA during the ABA-NBA merger in 1976.
The off-season could have started off in even bigger fashion for the Nets, who have been linked to disgruntled Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard for months. A Howard-Williams pairing would have likely made the Nets immediate threats to the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference, but the Nets re-signed their own center, Brook Lopez, who would have been the centerpiece of a trade with the Magic. Per the NBA’s new collective bargaining agreement, Lopez cannot be traded until January. 15, 2013, by which point Howard will be less than six months from free agency.
Still, even without Howard, the Nets have done enough to create a buzz entering their first season in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center and, perhaps, supplant the New York Knicks both in the Atlantic Division standings and in the New York sporting conscience.
The Knicks annually draw well at Madison Square Garden, located in the heart of Manhattan, but they’ve won just one playoff game in the last 11 seasons and opened the off-season by signing 38-year-old center Marcus Camby and 39-year-old point guard Jason Kidd and acquiring 39-year-old forward Kurt Thomas. They have also been linked to 39-year-old Grant Hill. The Knicks are likely to lose Jeremy Lin, who became a league-wide sensation when thrust into the starting lineup last season, to the Houston Rockets.
Upon being introduced as Nets owner in May 2010, Mikhail Prokhorov told reporters that “we’re going to turn Knick fans into Net fans.” That hasn’t happened thus far, thanks to the Nets’ subpar play on the court and their locale beyond the George Washington Bridge: The Nets finished among the bottom three in the NBA in attendance the last three seasons and were dead last among the 30 teams last season, when just 460,719 people (an average of 13,962 per game) strolled through the turnstiles at the Prudential Center in Newark.
But now that they’re in Brooklyn, the Nets are sure to draw better and may even make a dent in the Knicks’ market dominance. According to the Nets, more than 2,000 full season tickets were sold after Williams announced his plans to return to the team. ESPNNewYork.com reported the Nets sold more than twice as much merchandise on their website on April 30, the day their new logo was unveiled, than they did last season combined. And the Nets’ attempts to supplant the Knicks might have gotten an additional boost Friday, July 13, Joe Johnson threw out the first pitch prior to the New York Yankees-Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim game at Yankee Stadium and head coach Avery Johnson participated in the “roll call” with the Bleacher Creatures.