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August 29, 2012
Contender Profile
Brooklyn Nets

by Bradford Doolittle

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Let's be frank here. To compete with Miami, the Nets will have to pull off one of the great one-season turnarounds in NBA history. Brooklyn was a 27-win team last season, prorated to 82 games, and to add the 30 wins or so that would move the team into the title conversation, the Nets will have to pull off what only a handful of NBA teams have ever done. Does the retention of Lopez, Williams, Humphries, Gerald Wallace and the addition of Johnson add up to a historic bounce back? If so, you're equating the arrival of Johnson to the great turnaround teams landing players like David Robinson, Tim Duncan, Larry Bird and Kevin Garnett.

The Nets have a lot of ground to make up against the league in general and against the Heat in particular. In three games against Miami last season, Brooklyn was soundly thumped each time. Oh, the Heat won the last contest by just three points, but that was late in the season and after sleepwalking for three-quarters of the game, the Heat turned on the charm in the fourth quarter and won without too much drama. Overall, Miami outscored the Nets by 17.9 points per 100 possessions -- a huge gap to close.

Additions

Mostly the Nets spent big to retain the lineup that was so bad, and fragile, last season. The biggest exception to that is Johnson, who brings a star-level ego to Brooklyn with the contract to match. The production doesn't live up to the hype and had been trending downward until a solid bounceback year for the Hawks in 2011-12. He'll be nearly 31 by playoff time next spring, not an age when non-elite wing players tend to prosper. The hope is that Johnson's window as a borderline All-Star will be pried open for a season or two by playing alongside Williams. Stranger things have happened.

Brooklyn also spent big to bring back Lopez (four years, $60.8 million), Wallace (four years, $40 million) and Humphries (two years, $24 million). Add in Williams' $98.8 million contract and the four years, $89.3 million left on Johnson's pact and you've got one expensive starting lineup. Get used to that configuration, Nets fans, because you're going to be seeing plenty of it over the next few years.

The Nets found better values while filling out the rest of their rotation. General manager Billy King managed to land Johnson without giving up second-year guard MarShon Brooks, who showed explosive scoring potential as a rookie. Floor-spacing Bosnian Mirza Teletovic was brought over after a long European career and will give Avery Johnson the ability to spread the floor. Teletovic and Humphries will be kind of like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito in "Twins" -- the strengths of one are the weaknesses of the other.

King pulled off a minor coup by getting former Bulls guard C.J. Watson to sign for a minimum-salary deal. Watson is a tough two-way guard with the ability to run a team, though he does tend to be most comfortable getting his own shot, which makes him a questionable fit with Brooks on Brooklyn's second unit. Beyond that, the Nets have brought in a lot of solid veteran types who should at least give Johnson some continuity after last season's revolving door. Reggie Evans, Keith Bogans and Jerry Stackhouse have all been useful at various times in their careers.

It'll be a more cohesive Nets roster this season, but is it one that can pose problems for the Heat?

Key personnel

Who poses potential matchup problems for Heat personnel? You've got to have a full contingent of perimeter playmakers to keep up with the Heat because of Miami's defensive versatility. Lopez is a better center than any true 5 on the Miami roster, but as a face-up big man, he's not that difficult of a guard for Chris Bosh. That will allow the Heat to play their positionless lineup in crunch time, with Wallace chasing around LeBron James, Johnson checking Dwyane Wade and everybody else glued to the Heat's arsenal of 3-point threats.

Williams will have to spend the first three quarters of Brooklyn-Miami matchups fending off the pesky Mario Chalmers, then down the stretch will likely face the daunting task of James trying to erase him from the game. So it'll be essential that not only Johnson step up, but that a third scorer like Brooks emerges as an offense creator againstRashard Lewis, Ray Allen or Shane Battier.

Essentially, the Nets have built a squad that lacks the kind of elite size that could make Miami pay for going small so often, not that it's an easy task anyway. The Nets will be a tough team to defend for most of the league, but this group of players doesn't match up well with Miami, and that's on the offensive end where Brooklyn projects to be a top-10 team. At the defensive end, the Nets are forecasted to be exceedingly weak.

One telling statistic: 47 percent

How bad do the Nets project to be on the defensive end, where they will have nothing resembling a basket protector? Only Sacramento projects to allow higher shooting percentages in the coming season. Even if the Nets can force a few misses, they are forecast to be in the bottom five in defensive rebounding. So not only will the Nets give you good shots, they'll give you plenty of second looks on the off chance that you actually miss.

Put it this way: According to SCHOENE, the Nets are projected to allow their collective opponents to shoot 47 percent from the floor in the coming campaign. The Heat matched or beat that percentage in 29 games last season. They won 27 of those games.

Can they beat the Heat?

Look, the Nets might be improved, but they aren't headed for anything resembling a historic turnaround. Brooklyn would be projected to be better even if it had brought back the same roster from last season in its entirety. That's simply due to regression in games missed for several key pieces. As it is, we've got the Nets pegged for the NBA's middle class, complete with the second-tier playoff seed and the lack of homecourt advantage that status entails.

As for beating the Heat? It's not happening. Not unless Howard hates L.A. and forces a trade to Brooklyn after Lopez is eligible to be moved Jan. 15. And even then it's not happening. The real question is how the Nets get better from here.

A version of this article originally appeared at ESPN Insider Insider.

Follow Bradford Doolittle on Twitter.

Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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