Nets embrace championship expectations

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For years, Joe Johnson played along.

In the hours before the first preseason practice, Johnson typically read from the proverbial manuscript in assessing his team's chances of winning it all: Sure it was within reach, provided things fell into place.

But as the shooting guard prepares for his second season in Brooklyn and 13th in the league, apparently there's no need to dabble in hyperbole any longer.

"Getting a chance to talk with guys like Jason Terry, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, guys who've won championships, it's a little different around here,'' Johnson said Monday at the team's media day at Barclays Center. "This is probably really the first time coming into a season feeling like we can really, really win a championship.''

Restocked with Garnett, Pierce and Terry -- plus the free-agent signings of Andrei Kirilenko and Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche's re-signing -- and featuring a payroll near $100 million, the Nets are saddled with championship expectations. But they certainly aren't shying away from them.

They didn't just embrace them Monday. They gave them a bear hug and gleefully pondered the potential.

"I came here to win a championship,'' Pierce said. "I don't even want to see an Atlantic banner put up if we win it. I didn't even know how many Atlantic Division championships we won in Boston. I don't remember getting a hat, T-shirt, a call for winning the Atlantic Division.

"The expectations have grown here in Brooklyn. It's no longer, 'The New Jersey Nets, hopefully we can win the division.' Now they're the Brooklyn Nets with championship aspirations, and you see that with the people around here, the owner, what they've done to try to turn this organization around. And that's what they are quietly building on.''

Garnett was direct with his marching orders. "We're here to get another ring. That's the only reason we came to Brooklyn,'' he said. "The only reason. But it's good to be here. It's good to be here in Brooklyn.''

The word "sacrifice'' was thrown around by virtually everyone. Minutes, shots and roles could vary, and it's going to take an unselfish approach to make it all work. That's where experience will come into play.

"When I was with the Clippers,'' Reggie Evans said, "I had got a DNP and I'm looking like, 'Damn, I've never got a DNP.' So I'm looking like what's going on? I ended up sitting down, but when it came to crunch time, to playoff time, they knew what's up. They knew who to call.

"You've just got to stay ready. That's the main thing.''

The Nets hope their additions give them more heart and toughness, something they lacked a season ago during their flop at home against the undermanned Bulls in the deciding game of their first-round playoff series.

"I just think that if you look at Game 7, we kind of were soft,'' Deron Williams said. "That's the only way to put it. So I don't see that being a problem this year, and I think us losing the way we did will definitely toughen us up, because we don't want to have that feeling again in our building.''

With this roster, they don't believe that will happen again.

Said Blatche: "I think we can be great.''

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