Friday, August 9, 2013

Paul Pierce Says It's Time For The Nets to Start Running New York

This Summer the Brooklyn Nets made a trade with the Boston Celtics in which they acquired veterans Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett.  This move was considered one of the best, if not the best offseason move this year in the NBA, and many people believe that the Brooklyn Nets have immediately been vaulted into title contention.  One of those people is newly acquired small forward Paul Pierce.
Well, it didn't take long for Paul Pierce, who has more than a little familiarity with a Knicks rivalry, to turn up the heat from Brooklyn. "I think the hate [for the Knicks] has grown a little. Everybody knows how much I disliked the Knicks when I was with the Celtics, but I think it's grown to another level," Pierce said on ESPN NewYork 98.7 FM's "The Michael Kay Show" on Thursday. "I think it's time for the Nets to start running this city." Pierce later told reporters at a Sprint H-O-R-S-E event in Manhattan: "The only thing that separates the two teams is a bridge. And both of them are in the same division and both of them are considered contenders. You can't help but say this is probably gonna be the best rivalry in sports next year."

I love this, I absolutely love this and let me tell you why.  First of all, since the Nets acquired Deron Williams, and subsequently moved to Brooklyn Nets management has been doing everything possible to turn the Nets into a title contender.  They acquired Joe Johnson last season and though Johnson didn't have his most productive year the Nets did improve immensely from their 22-44 record that they posted in the 2012 season.

With the addition of Joe Johnson, and the acquisition of Gerald Wallace from the season before the Nets looked like they had a pretty solid core between Williams, Wallace, Johnson and center Brook Lopez.  Many outlets, including ESPN were dubbing them immediate contenders, and many began to speculate on a great rivalry with the Knicks.  Brooklyn would go on to split the regular season series 2/2 with the Knicks.  

Though hopes were quite high the Nets struggled early in the season and head coach Avery Johnson was fired, and replaced by PJ Carlesimo.  Deron Williams had a slow start, but managed to put together one of the more brilliant years of his career as the season went on.  Unfortunately, Gerald Wallace seemed to lose all semblance of his game after the all star break, and power forward Kris Humphries who had a breakout 2012 season struggled to replicate that production and live up to his 2yr/$24M contract.
The Nets would eventually limp to the playoffs as the four seed where they were bounced from the playoffs in the first round by the Chicago Bulls who were missing Derrick Rose and who didn't have Luol Deng for the better part of the series.  The series went seven games, but the Nets never really looked in sync, and apart from game one every game was close.

The Nets responded to their playoff failure in the way that everyone expected new owner Mikhail Prokhorov to do and immediately sought high priced talent.  They were ultimately able to make a deal with Boston, who are in the beginning stages of rebuilding.  The deal showed that the Nets are clearly in win now mode, as they should be with the huge contracts they already had as they sent Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, journeyman shooting guard Keith Bogans, talented prospect Marshon Brooks and first round draft picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018.  The Nets received Garnett and Pierce, but also acquired veteran sixth-man Jason Terry who is sure to add some firepower off the bench.  Obviously, the move makes Brooklyn better, but are they now contenders?

Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett have won on the biggest stage before, capturing the Larry O'Brien trophy against the Lakers in 2008.  They also made a return to the NBA Finals in 2010 before falling to the Lakers in seven games.  The point is, they've been there, they've won there, and they know exactly what it takes to get back there.  While the Celtics may have struggled last season and only ended up the seventh seed in the playoffs, just two years ago they gave the Miami Heat all they could handle in the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to LeBron James and the Heat in seven games. 

Jason Terry is no stranger to the big stage either, as he was a key player in the Mavericks win over the Heat in the 2011 NBA Finals.  Terry was called out by LeBron following a game three loss, and then responded in kind, averaging 21.7 points per game through the finals three games of the series.

The point is, these guys are veterans, and they're very, very good.  They've been very good for a long time, and while they may be older their production hasn't dropped off that much.  Pair that with the fact that they won't have to be the go to guys all the time on their team and that makes Brooklyn that much scarier of a matchup.

There is no doubting by any means that the Nets have gotten better, but there is one question that remains.  How are all of these alpha personalities going to co-exist with one another?  Deron Williams was signed to be "the guy" for this Nets team before they had their arena in Brooklyn, and when the Nets were preparing to build for the future.  Joe Johnson was "the guy" in Atlanta before he came to Brooklyn, and he seemed to mesh decently well with Williams, but can the same be said about Garnett and Pierce? I think so.

Pierce and Garnett are both competitors, and they want to win at least one more before they retire.  Because of this I think that they will both be willing to give up personal statistics in order for the team to win.  However, that is not the issue.  Ultimately the issue comes down to how many alpha personalities there will be on this team.  

Brook Lopez is probably not going to be someone who is going to clash with his teammates over the way things are going, but could Deron Williams and Kevin Garnett? Absolutely.  There's also the possibility that Pierce and Garnett may take each others sides in certain issues and that could obviously be very devastating for locker room chemistry.

Not helping this matter is the fact that Jason Kidd is a head coach after only just a year of playing against every single one of these players.  Kidd himself will obviously have his ideology, and his system, that he is going to put in place because he is the head coach.  The question remains though as to whether or not a roster full of veterans is going to listen to a man they were just competing against.  Sure, these guys all have respect for Jason Kidd, but that doesn't mean that they're going to want to take coaching advice from the man.

Jason Kidd himself is also an alpha personality, and should players and the coaches not agree on things it could end up poorly for Brooklyn.  I'm not saying this is necessarily going to happen, but there's always that possibility.

Of course, everything mentioned above is merely speculation as to whether or not the team will be able to function correctly.  Should the team have zero chemistry issues, well, then the Nets could very well end up representing the East in the NBA Finals.  Obviously Johnson, Williams, Pierce, Garnett, and Lopez are the guys who are going to be getting attention, but this team has bench depth to rival any team in the league.

One signing the Nets made this offseason that got somewhat lost in the wake of the Garnett/Pierce trade was the signing of Andrei Kirilenko who opted out of his contract with Minnesota and is playing for Brooklyn for considerably less money.  Kirilenko proved last season that he still has a lot to bring to the table, and is still the same staunch defender that he's always been.  Kirilenko will provide great minutes off the bench, as he's a multi faceted player and can significantly impact games.

The Nets' other big time player off the bench is Jason Terry as mentioned earlier.  Terry is a hybrid forward who over the last several years of his career has embraced his role as a very efficient sixth man off the bench.  Terry can score at will, and is a great shooter from the outside.  He's instant offense, and much like Kirilenko gives you 100% every time he steps on the court.  Terry has shown that he can go off for 30 on a given night, and anytime a team has someone capable of doing that you can never count them out of any games.

Quite obviously Terry and Kirilenko are the big names, but Brooklyn has even more depth.  Reggie Evans and Andray Blatche will both be coming off the bench, and both of them are very solid defensive players, and both of them can grab rebounds in bunches.  Blatche has a much more polished offensive game, and he looks like he's finally matured since his time in Washington.  Blatche is 6'11 and can play either the center of power forward positions.  Though Reggie Evans is not very skilled offensively, he's a bruiser and a force to be reckoned with underneath.  Evans is not hesitant to bang with any player underneath, and may very well be the most physical player in the league.  I personally like to compare him to a poor man's Dennis Rodman as he busts his ass all night long, and grabs rebounds like it's nobodies business.

Other role players on this team include guys like Jerry Stackhouse, Shaun Livingston, and Alan Anderson.  I don't expect Stackhouse or Anderson to get much more than spot minutes, but both of them can shoot from the outside and should be able to contribute.  Livingston will get minutes at the backup point guard, but some of those will be eaten up by Terry.  Though he may have limited minutes Livingston can contribute on both ends of the floor and should be a solid bench piece for Brooklyn.

When it comes down to it, Brooklyn may struggle to find chemistry early on in the season much like Miami did when they acquired LeBron James and Chris Bosh.  However, I don't expect that to be long lasting if it even is a problem, as I have no doubt that every player on their very loaded starting five.  While I ranked them fourth in my way too early Eastern Conference preview that's more a testament to the strength of the top teams in the Eastern Conference as opposed to how good I think Brooklyn will be next season.

Make no mistake, this team became serious contenders this offseason and if anyone is going to dethrone King James and company, Brooklyn may very well be the team to do it.  Either way, this team is definitely going to be a fun one to watch next season, and I can't wait. 

Follow me on Twitter - @DbRedickulous

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