Like we are currently seeing in the NFL, the 2011 NBA off-season is up in the air with a lockout looming. Free agency could be delayed and completely restructured depending on the new agreement reached by the owners and players. Still, The Sports Bank will break down all thirty NBA teams over the next six weeks to see what areas they need to address in the off-season.
The New Jersey Nets were hoping to be major players last season, but failed to make a splash in landing a big name free agent. The team was able to trade for Deron Williams during the season but still have some serious work to do this off-season.
By: David Kay
New Jersey Nets (24-58 last season)
2010-2011 Season Summary:
A disappointing off-season in which the Nets were unable to land any of the marquee free agents with their plentiful cap space resulted in New Jersey struggling through their fourth straight losing season. While their play on the court failed to draw headlines, a major transaction prior to the trade deadline stole the show.
New owner Mikhail Prokhorov made amends for the team’s air ball in the off-season by acquiring Deron Williams from the Jazz for Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, and first round picks in 2011 and 2012. While Williams battled injury during his short time with New Jersey, his mere presence was the type of splash the franchise needed to make to try and set themselves for the future.
A key piece of that future is center Brook Lopez who continues to develop into an All-Star caliber player. The third year player topped the 20 point per game plateau for the first time in his career though his rebounding numbers took a serious dip as he averaged less than six boards per game. Still, Lopez proved that he is the center of the future and an integral piece of the Nets’ long-term puzzle.
His frontcourt mate, Kris Humphries put together a career-year as he emerged as the team’s starting power forward due to Troy Murphy’s injury issues and trade of Favors. Outside of that, the overall production of the team was incredibly inconsistent.
New Jersey spent a chunk of their cap space last off-season on Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro, Travis Outlaw, and Jordan Farmar. Morrow, Outlaw, and Farmar had their moments, but also brought into question whether the multi-year investment the Nets made to each player was a wise decision. The Petro signing was an eye raiser when it originally went down and that feeling was further brought to light as the back-up center does not seem to be worth the three-year, $10 million contract he signed.
The Nets also seemingly gave up on 2009 first round pick Terrence Williams as he was dealt in a three-team trade that sent Sasha Vujacic and a 2012 first rounder to New Jersey. Vujacic played well in the minutes he was given but is a free agent this summer and likely not a part of the team’s long-term plans.
2011-12 Projected Depth Chart:
C: Brook Lopez/Johan Petro
PF: ^Brandan Wright
SF: Travis Outlaw/Damion James
SG: Anthony Morrow/#Ben Uzoh
PG: Deron Williams/Jordan Farmar/Sundiata Gaines
PF-Kris Humphries (UFA)
SG-Sasha Vujacic (UFA)
C-Dan Gadzuric (UFA)
PG-Sundiata Gaines (UFA)
SF-Stephen Graham (TO)
SG-Mario West (UFA)
^PF-Brandan Wright (RFA)
#PG-Ben Uzoh (RFA)
’11-’12 Team Salary: approximately $39.8 million
1. Lock Up D-Will
The Nets somewhat mortgaged their future on Williams which was a risky move since he can become a free agent next summer. The franchise is trying to sell Williams on their future move to Brooklyn in hopes that he will sign an extension to stay with the Nets. If New Jersey is unable to lock the former Illinois point guard up for the long-term, they jeopardize of him hitting the open market and possibly leaving next off-season. When you consider what the Nets gave up to get Williams, they cannot afford to let that happen. Plus, re-signing Williams will help draw better talent to the team.
2. Power Forward
The Nets entered the 2010-2011 season with a ton of depth at power forward as Murphy, Favors, and Humprhies gave head coach Avery Johnson plenty of options. With Murphy and Favors getting traded and Humprhies an unrestricted free agent, that suddenly leaves New Jersey with a gaping hole at the four. The team also rolled the dice on acquiring Brandan Wright who has been a major bust during his short tenure in the league, but he has a qualifying offer worth more than $4.5 million which means he too could be let loose.
Addressing this position is a must for the Nets who will have to decide if Humphries’ career season can be a sign of things in the future or whether it was just a one-hit wonder. If his price tag is too expensive, finding fresh faces at the four will be a challenge since the free agent class of power forwards is weak this off-season and the Nets highest draft pick is the 27th overall selection in one of the worst drafts in league history.
The only wing players under contract for next season are Morrow, Outlaw, and Damion James. Morrow battled through injury but was still productive at the two especially from downtown where he hit 42.3% of his triple tries. He is a suitable option to start at the two but the Nets still need find a solid back-up.
An up-grade is needed at the three as well since Outlaw and James should not be starting for a team with playoff aspirations. The Nets once again have a good amount of cap space this off-season but with a weak crop of free agents, they might be better off saving the money in hopes of swinging another key trade or spending it next summer when bigger names hit the market. Regardless, they need to find someone to improve their small forward play.
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David Kay is a senior feature NBA Draft, NBA, and college basketball writer for the Sports Bank. He also heads up the NBA and college basketball material at Walter Football.com and is a former contributor at The Washington Times Communities.