The Brooklyn Nets starting five, from left: Kris Humphries, Joe...

The Brooklyn Nets starting five, from left: Kris Humphries, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, and Gerald Wallace pose for photos during media day. (Oct. 1, 2012) Credit: AP

Maybe there's something in water up here, different than what he quenched his thirst with during his days in the south. Perhaps the answer is wrapped up in the custom- made cheesecake from a famous Brooklyn eatery he took home Monday.

But somehow, a new version of Joe Johnson has arrived in Brooklyn, far more confident than ever. The All-Star shooting guard, who rarely made any boastful claims in his Atlanta and Phoenix days, was at it again Monday. Nearly three months after he said the Nets are better than the Knicks, Johnson upped the ante, basically pushing all his chips right into the middle of the table.

"This year, the sky's the limit for us," Johnson said during the Nets' media day at the Barclays Center. "Hopefully, we can jell a lot faster than what people think. I think it's wide open for us. I think we've got a chance to win the whole thing this year. I'm not just saying that. I honestly believe it."

Johnson, one of the Nets' prized offseason acquisitions on a team with nine new faces, acknowledges that some other teams around the league improved as well. The defending champion Heat added a few pieces, and the Lakers got Dwight Howard -- someone the Nets were after seemingly forever -- and Steve Nash. Many believe the Nets aren't in the same stratosphere. Johnson dismissed that talk. The Nets, in his mind, are just as good.

"Yeah, definitely," he said. "You are going to have to go through those teams to win, right? I'm not sugarcoating nothing, man. We know and understand that right now, Miami is the favorite and nobody is picking us to win anything. We understand that. But I think hard work is definitely going to pay off. We've got guys who have really been working.

"I can speak for myself. Being traded, it took my mind to somewhere else, where I wanted to come in really prepared and try to do something that I've never done before."

In their last two seasons in the New Jersey swamps, the Nets stumbled to 46-102. With a new home and new attitude come lofty expectations, particularly when the word "championship" is thrown around. Avery Johnson is embracing the burden that's being placed on his shoulders.

"Absolutely," the coach said. "I've been waiting for this kind of pressure for two years, where it's pressure on us to win, expectations are a lot higher. This is what we want. This is what we signed up for, where we get really, really criticized when we don't win, and when we win, the players get celebrated.

"That's what it's all about. We don't want to continue to be in the situation where it's low payroll, low expectations. I'd rather it the other way."

That's because Johnson had enough of the losing, something that didn't chase Deron Williams away. The All-Star point guard seems as eager as everyone else to get things started.

"We have a new revamped team," he said. "We have some great pieces here. We have a great bench and only time will tell how big this thing can really be."

The Johnsons think they know.

"The goal is to win a championship this year," Avery Johnson said. "Are we a championship team right now? No. Do we have the potential to be one? Absolutely, and that's where we want to be."

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