With younger team, Nets' playoff streak could be in jeopardy
NEW YORK (AP) They had big names and bigger payrolls, and that's what the Nets felt they needed when they came to Brooklyn.
Chasing championships was necessary to build a brand and a fan base, and the Nets gave it a shot. They made the postseason every season since arriving from New Jersey in 2012 with a roster built on blockbuster trades.
That strategy is gone, and the playoff streak might be, too.
The Nets aren't talking about titles anymore. This season is about getting younger and more athletic, and putting themselves in position to make a splash in free agency next summer.
''We want to build and keep developing our young guys so we put ourselves in a position at the end of the season to be able to have some cap flexibility and then build from there,'' general manager Billy King said.
That included agreeing to a buyout with Deron Williams and waiving him with two years left on his $98.5 million contract. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were already gone and Joe Johnson likely will be sometime between now and next season.
Brook Lopez is still the man in the middle, and the Nets hope they can surround him with enough talent to make another playoff push after grabbing the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Conference on the final day of last season.
''How good we're going to be, it's going to depend on how quickly it jells, but I think with the core of guys, proven scorers, proven guys that can win, we have a chance to make the playoffs,'' King said.
They would have to do playing a style that would be unusual for the Nets and Lionel Hollins. The Nets played slow with their aging roster and Hollins won in Memphis with teams that grinded it out and pounded it inside, but now Brooklyn probably needs to speed it up to win.
That will require guards and wings such as Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, Markel Brown and rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, plus forward Thomas Robinson, to become contributors and take some of the scoring load off Lopez.
''It's just a matter of taking advantage of what strengths we have,'' Lopez said, ''and we have a young, athletic and a high-energy group and so we've got to learn to play that way. I've got to get adjusted to it and we can definitely go both ways.''
Here are some things to watch with the Nets:
AT THE POINT: Injuries and unhappiness marked Williams' years in Brooklyn, but he was still the best the Nets had at point guard. Jarrett Jack inherits the starting role he held for part of last season.
LOPEZ'S LOAD: Lopez was dominant down the stretch and averaged 19.7 points and 9.2 rebounds after the All-Star break. The Nets might need him to be that good from the start this season.
T-ROB'S TIME?: Robinson is already on his fifth team since being taken with the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft. The Nets might finally be the one to give him a long look, assuming he can keep up the rebounding and energy he showed in the preseason.
DOES JOE GO? King has said teams called him about Johnson but he wasn't interested in making a deal. Still, with the 34-year-old Johnson remaining productive and set to make $24.9 million in the final year of his contract, the calls might keep coming.
STORMY START: The Nets play eight of their first 10 and 11 of their first 16 on the road, including visits to San Antonio, Memphis, Atlanta, Houston, Golden State, Oklahoma City and Cleveland. They could already be in a hole before December.