Avery Johnson, Nets look to improve with existing roster

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Avery Johnson insists he's the kind of person who always believes the glass is half full, not half empty.

"I'm a positive guy, an upbeat guy," the New Jersey Nets coach said as he prepares for his second season at the helm. "I'm always optimistic."

The reality, however, offers few reasons for optimism with the Nets coming off a 24-58 season and making no major improvements to their roster since the 2010-11 season ended in April.

"I don't want to put my team in any position where they think they can't win," said Johnson. "The main thing right now is that we want small victories, establish small goals. We really have short term goals right now or what (assistant coach) P.J. (Carlesimo) calls a small menu. There's so much uncertainty right now that we can't pinpoint one thing. We have to play four out of five and six out of eight nights. The key right now is doing a good job of keeping the games tight."

Johnson has to realize he doesn't have a roster that can compete from the outset. The team is bereft of talent at power forward, with only journeyman Sheldon Williams and rookie Jordan Williams in camp. Even the younger Williams can't practice at full strength right now and Johnson hinted that the second-round pick out of Maryland might be headed for the NBA Development League.

"Let us get the roster set before I say something about what I have," said Johnson, whose team begins the shortened 2011-12 season next Monday against Washington. "It's hard to say what we have. I know (general manager) Billy (King) has a few irons in the fire. But we're going on the idea that we're going to start opening night with this team we have. I can't try to put something in for a player or something that's not here."

Since the Nets opened training camp, there were rampant trade rumors about the team making a push to acquire All-Star center Dwight Howard from the Orlando Magic, but those talks have fizzled considerably since the Magic announced they were taking Howard off the market for now and expect him to begin the season in Orlando.

"The main thing is that we don't want to put any unreasonable expectations on this team," Johnson said.

Johnson believes his team needs to rely on defense after a loss to the New York Knicks in their preseason opener last Saturday revealed an overall lack of offensive firepower.

"Offensively, we're a little out of sync right now," Johnson said. "The offense has to make a pretty big step up."

If the Nets are going to be competitive, they need a better contribution from fourth-year center Brook Lopez, who has been in the middle of all of the trade talk with Orlando regarding Howard.

"He has to take a step up," Johnson said. "I have a lot of confidence in Brook. It's his time. But it's all about consistency night in and night out."

Lopez averaged 20.4 points last year but collected only six rebounds per game. According to Johnson, the rebound total is unacceptable for a 7-foot center.

"The rebound attempts were low," Johnson said. "Watching him on film, he didn't attempt to get rebounds. There just wasn't this 911 urgency to go after the rebound. Where he was last year was not good enough."

Lopez knows that he has to improve.

"I think there were a number of things," Lopez said. "First and foremost, it was all about me being lazy. I wasn't doing a good job of rebounding and found myself leaking out a lot. I didn't crash the boards the way I should have. I know that."

The Nets will have a full season with All-Star point guard Deron Williams, who played in only 12 games with New Jersey after being acquired in a trade from Utah. Williams, entering the final season of his contract, has apparently lessened his demands for the Nets to acquire another marquee All-Star before the team moves to Brooklyn after this season and before he heads to free agency.

Williams knows his team is struggling for any consistency on the offensive end.

"The offense is a little out of whack right now," Williams said. "The guys we have here right now have to prepare and be professional. We're trying to get better. We really don't know what the offense is going to be like. We have to work through all of this. But I still think we can be a good team, but we have to be solid defensively."

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From left, New York Knicks forward Amare Stoudemire, 2011-12 NBA preview