Tomorrow the Nets tip off against Yao Ming and the Rockets in Beijing for the first of two exhibition games headlining the NBA China Games 2010. This preseason pit stop arrives on the heels of the team’s day-long debut in Moscow. New Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov met many of the players for the first time and introduced them to Russian basketball fans by way of an open practice and a clinic for 3,000 youths in an effort to build their global brand and broaden their fan base.
Prokhorov has set his team’s sights on making the playoffs this season and winning a championship in five years. This might sound like an impossibly tall order for a 12-win team that is coming off the worst season in franchise history.
However, just a few years back the reigning Eastern Conference champion Celtics reminded us what a difference a summer can make. After finishing with the second-worst record in the NBA in 2007 and drawing a disappointing fifth-round draft pick, the Celtics reinvented their roster, acquiring Ray Allen, Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett, and took the championship title in 2008 – their first since 1986.
With a new owner, a new GM, a new head coach, a new arena and lot of new names on their roster including third overall draft pick Derrick Favors, who is certainly a special player, the reconstituted Nets are poised to stage their own incredible comeback. But first they must convince themselves that they’ve got what it takes. A little self-induced amnesia may go a long way as the team’s ability to head into the new season with a winning mentality will be crucial to its success. This starts at the top so it bodes well that Prokhorov has a strong desire to win and is committed to turning the program around, backing up his lofty expectations and goals with a financial commitment.
General manager Billy King and head coach Avery Johnson share Prokhorov’s ambitions and are taking a “team first” approach to their relationship. In addition to the support of Prokhorov and King, Avery has assembled a tremendous coaching staff consisting of former head coaches with great basketball minds and invaluable experience including lead assistant Sam Mitchell, Larry Krystkowiak, John Loyer, Popeye Jones and longtime Nets guy Tom Barrise, who was also my former scout back in Atlanta.
In last Thursday’s exhibition game against the veteran Celtics, the Nets got off to a good start, faltered in the second quarter, and then made a game of it in the fourth. Though Boston ultimately held off the Nets 96-92, there’s a lot to like about how competitive a game it was. A combination of youth, talent and veteran leadership, the new Nets are already looking much improved this season.
It was unusual to see Nets’ former head coach Lawrence Frank sitting on Celts’ bench as Doc’s new assistant. I like Boston’s new pickups and thought that former Cavs Shaquille O’Neal and Delonte West played well and looked like they will be contributors.
The Celts’ new roster gives them depth and versatility, which becomes extremely valuable down the stretch. Ian pointed out we could be looking at five future Hall of Famers on the Celtics starting lineup. They still have to get back their starting center Perkins, but it will be interesting to see if this season’s roster is stronger than last year’s title contenders.
The NBA China Games 2010 opener featuring the Houston Rockets against the New Jersey Nets will be televised live from the Wukesong Arena in Beijing, China on NBA TV this Wednesday, October 13 at 8:00 AM EST.