Nets' prospects hinge on Lopez
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. --
That's the Nets' unofficial rallying cry. The summer of 2010 is when the team that was once hemorrhaging cash -- $25 million in the first six months of 2009 -- is expected to put some of prospective owner
Of course, the Nets have another season to play before then. And that could get a little messy.
New Jersey has been slowly stripping itself of talent since the end of the 2004-05 season. First it was
Not exactly dollar-for-dollar value, is it?
"No question, we're going to miss Vince," Nets coach
No, but whether the Nets are competitive this year or merely counting the days until the draft lottery by December probably comes down to one player: second-year center
To that end, Frank -- who dumped the Princeton-based offense before last season in favor of a dribble-drive system that maximized the talents of Carter and point guard
It's definitely a different offense," Lopez said. "There is less dribbling and more swinging the ball and evaluating options. I'm really confident in it. I'm really looking to facilitate."
Said Harris: "We need him to progress to be the dominant center we need him to be."
Lopez looked quite comfortable in the new role in the preseason opener, when he scored 19 points in 12 first-half minutes against the Knicks. More impressive, Lopez was able to get his points in a variety of ways. He scored in the low post, in transition and off the pick-and-roll, a play in which he and Harris have developed terrific chemistry over the last year.
"He makes it so easy," Lopez said. "He's always teaching. When you are setting picks for a guy like Devin, other teams have to respect him off the dribble. And Devin just passes it right where I need it."
But any conversation with Lopez or Harris always circles back to one topic: defense. Both cornerstone players know that if there is any hope for this season, the Nets will have to improve a porous defense that has surrendered more than 100 points per game in each of the last two seasons. Harris, who was considered one of the best defenders at his position when he was with Dallas, has said improving his own defense -- which he admits dropped off last season -- is his No. 1 priority.
"It was tough being asked to do so many things [offensively] last year, but at the same time it was a position I wanted to be in," Harris said. "My offense increased but my defense took a step back. Now, it's about finding that happy medium. I want to lead that defense. I need to do more containing the ball, keeping guys in front of me, keeping guys out of the paint. That allows us to do so many different things."
In addition to his offensive responsibilities, Lopez is also being asked to anchor the defense. Frank says he would like Lopez to have a
"We're working on communicating all the time," Lopez said. "Obviously, people think we're not talented enough to do anything this year. ... We have to be the team no one wants to play because we are outhustling and outworking them."
1. It will be interesting to see how Frank handles his backcourt, which has become crowded with the additions of Alston and Lee, two starters on Orlando's NBA Finals team last year. Lee is almost assured of a starter's spot. Alston, however, is not only competing with Harris but also
2. The Nets have high expectations for second-year guard
3. Think the players don't care about who owns the team? Think again. Several Nets veterans are excited about the deep-pocketed Prokhorov, whose purchase of the team is awaiting approval from league owners. "It gives our team a little direction," Harris said. "With the moves that we were making, like getting rid of Vince and getting younger, it raised a lot of questions about what direction the team was going. We really didn't have an answer. The ownership we have had before has been a tough situation. Now, with the potential of this owner, it could shoot us back into the right type of mind-set. Next summer is going to be a huge summer for free agents. We have to be a big part of that."
Aside from practice on Tuesday, when Harris and Lee suffered ankle injuries after getting tangled up with Williams (earning the energetic Williams the nickname "Tazmanian Devil"), the Nets have been thrilled with the play of the 6-foot-6 swingman from Louisville. Williams has the potential to be an explosive offensive player -- he threw down a monster dunk on Lopez during one practice -- but it's clear that if he makes it on the floor early this season, it will be because of his defense. "Defensively he really gets after it," Harris said. "It's going to take him a little time to get there offensively. Right now it's about slowing himself down and learning to play the game at different speeds."