Revamped Nets look like a championship team, and they won't settle for less
This is real and the Nets can feel it.
They aren't playing it nonchalantly. They aren't plugging their ears or whistling loudly to drown out the conversation whenever it shifts to title talk.
It would be hard to do that.
When an owner dips deep into his pockets, shelling out a record payroll of roughly $100 million and another $70 million in luxury tax -- as Mikhail Prokhorov has done -- there's going to be only one acceptable result: standing on a stage in June with incoming NBA commissioner Adam Silver, accepting the Larry O'Brien Trophy as league champs.
The Nets haven't downplayed their title aspirations one bit. Instead, they've approached them with open arms, squeezing them tightly enough to choke off the air supply, even with a rookie coach in Jason Kidd.
"Who doesn't want championship expectations?" said Paul Pierce, one of the Nets' key offseason acquisitions. "You look around this locker room and it's a lot of veterans in here, a lot of guys that have made their money, made big contracts and played in All-Star Games. It's like, 'What more do you want?'
"It's a championship. These guys always dream of winning it all. The guys who don't make the playoffs or the guys who get bounced early, you look up and see the teams that win championships and you're like, 'Man, I want to be in that position.' And now you have a team that can be in that position. It's great to have high expectations, and we're going to embrace them."
This is what Deron Williams was hoping for when he elected to be the face of the franchise's move to Brooklyn last season, deciding to remain with the Nets rather than bolt to his hometown of Dallas in free agency. The franchise's rough times appear further in the rearview mirror than ever when he looks around and sees the talent general manager Billy King has surrounded him with in seemingly little time.
In adding Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Jason Terry, Andrei Kirilenko and Shaun Livingston to a core that included Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche, the Nets have reshaped their roster into potentially one of the league's deepest.
Just the presence of Garnett, Pierce and even Terry has mentally transformed a team that admittedly was too soft during its inaugural season in Brooklyn. There's a certain confidence hovering over the Nets as the dawn of their highly anticipated season draws near.
"It's great," Williams said. "I think that's what you want. You don't want to be going into every game and people thinking you can't win. So those days are over."
One of the mantras they've adopted in their short time together is "whatever it takes," a way of implying that everyone is going to have to buy into the team concept and keep their egos in check. That's because they believe they have all the components to get it done.
Quality depth. Multiple playmakers. Outside shooting. Ball-handling. Post players. Versatility. Good rebounders. Adequate defenders. Size. Guys who can hit big late-game shots. Veterans. Young players.
It all reminds Kidd of the 2010-11 Mavericks team that beat the Heat for the NBA title.
"The championship team in Dallas, we were deep, and so that's probably the team I can compare this to," Kidd said. "We had some guys with a lot of wisdom and we had some young guys. You had a couple of stars. And that's the way this team looks to me right now.
"I think when you look at the roster of this team, you can check off a lot of boxes."
But the Nets are aware that there's only one thing on their master list that needs to have a checkmark next to it when their excursion is complete.
"Everybody in here knows what our expectation is," said Blatche, whose team will begin its trek Wednesday night in Cleveland. "Our expectation is to get the championship. So we are going to work on that and work toward that. We've got the right coaching staff, we've got the right players. Now we've just got to put the work in and do it. We can't really do too much talking about it. We've got to show it and we've got to go do it."
Terry, who'll provide a jolt off the bench in a sixth-man role, is confident that the Nets are well on their way to doing just that. He's pleased with how things are shaping up."We already know what our identity is," Terry said. "We're mentally rough, we're defensive-minded. We have championship grit and determination, and we're together. You've seen that. You've seen it on the court, you've seen it off the court. We spent a lot of time with each other. The chemistry is great.''