The New Jersey Nets ended out their last season in the Garden State with a 22–44 record, good for last place in the Atlantic Division, while finishing their fifth straight season without a playoff appearance.
Not much went right for the team that will be calling Brooklyn’s Barclays Center its home next season.
To start things off their dreams of pairing star guard Deron Williams with Orlando’s center Dwight Howard had to be put on hold for now, and maybe forever, with Howard extending his stay in Orlando by a year. The team’s varied attempts at acquiring the NBA’s best big man were repeatedly rebuffed this past season and now that Williams is set to become a free agent this offseason, just keeping him will be a chore in and of itself.
Reports had the Nets offering anyone and everyone on their roster, outside of guard Deron Williams, plus as many as five future first-round picks for Orlando’s Howard. But the Magic ultimately said no as Howard, clearly torn over wanting to come to New York and play with Williams versus becoming the perceived villain (as LeBron James turned into after taking his talent to South Beach) that forced his way, eventually decided not to opt out of his contract after this season.
Injuries were another problem for Avery Johnson’s team.
Center Brook Lopez, who had not missed a game in his three-year career heading into the 2011–2012 season, played just five games all year due to an assortment of injuries. His lack of good health not only hurt the team on the court, but also in the front office, as the 24-year-old was the on-again, off-again centerpiece of the failed Dwight Howard offering. With him on the shelf, the Nets offer for Howard were clearly weakened, yet might have still failed had Howard refused to drop his opt-out right for this season.
Another important piece to the Howard-deal was rookie shooting guard MarShon Brooks. The 6-foot-5-inch Providence grad looked like a draft-day steal after averaging better than 15 points per game through the first month of the season, but injuries took a toll on him as well, limiting him to 56 games on the year.
All in all, the Nets have some good players, but aren’t yet a good team. Here are three keys to them competing next year
1. Win the NBA draft lottery
The May 30 drawing this season is huge for the Nets in a couple of ways, the biggest of which is just acquiring Kentucky forward/center Anthony Davis.
The 6-foot-10-inch shot-blocking post presence is the most coveted prospect since Greg Oden and Kevin Durant left school for the 2007 draft and Davis will undoubtedly be drafted first overall.
The 19-year-old, who led the National Champion Wildcats in almost every statistical category, looks like a cross between Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncan and should soon become a franchise-type player in the very near future.
The Nets, tied for the fifth worst record in the league, have a 7.5 percent chance of getting the first pick and just a 25 percent chance of getting a top-three pick. Getting just a top-three pick would itself be a big help, because if they don’t, the pick then goes to Portland to complete the trade for forward Gerald Wallace. In that case, the Nets would only have their second-round pick to build with.
The 29-year-old Wallace was actually acquired by the all-in Nets in March as more trade bait to throw at Orlando, which reportedly was very high on the 6-foot-7-inch forward.
The 29-year-old Wallace…