As training camp approached these past few seasons, an unmistakable cloud hovered over the Nets.
Trade rumors abounded, all because the franchise was looking to shake things up and acquire another superstar before its big move to Brooklyn. Things are a wee bit different for Billy King & Co. this year, though.
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"It feels like my first year with the Nets because of the fact that each training camp, there was that distraction of Carmelo Anthony or Dwight Howard," the Nets general manager said Tuesday at the PNY Center in East Rutherford, N.J. "The greatest thing for our players and the organization is that we are going to go to training camp focusing on preparing for opening night, not preparing for guys thinking, 'Am I going to be here on opening night?'
"We've got a team now that's preparing for opening night on national TV and that's the difference. The distractions of all that are gone now, the trade scenarios. . . . It is a great relief. It really is, to not have to get questions, 'What about this rumor or that?' It's kind of nice."
King's assembled a cast with nine new faces, putting a team around All-Star point guard Deron Williams that he believes has the makings of a title contender. But he knows it all depends on the team building some cohesiveness.
"We've got a lot of talent, we've got a good team and it's, ''How quickly are those pieces going to jell?' " King said. "I think we have a team that's a playoff team on paper. We have a team that can withstand injuries because we have depth. As I've always said, 'Can we win a championship?' Yes, but it takes luck in an NBA season to do that."
"Those five, I think we can match up with any five on the court," King said. "I don't think there is a position where you'll say, 'Geez, we didn't win that position.' If you are going against the Lakers, Kobe is Kobe. But Joe Johnson is a pretty good player, Deron is a pretty good point guard.
"So there may be another position [teams] may be stronger. But I think out of the five, most nights we are going to have the advantage."
Still, King wasn't ready to take a bow or receive any congratulatory pats on the back.
"I haven't done anything," he said. "I've brought players in, but we haven't played a game . . . At the end of the day, I did what I was supposed to do with my staff in putting together a team. Now, it's Avery and the coaches. They get to play the games, and we get evaluate and see if there's any tinkering that needs to be done to make it better."'