The Nets ended the first season of the Mikhail Prokhorov/Avery Johnson/Billy King era with 24-58 record after a tough, hard-fought 97-92 loss to Chicago Bulls last night.
The Nets doubled last year’s win total but still have plenty of work to do to become not only a playoff team, but a championship contender as Prokhorov promised. The next phase of that process begins now, but here’s a look back at that first year.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Naturally, if Deron Williams would have been with the Nets all season, it would have been him. He proved that in his 12 games as a Net. But for the duration of the season, it was Kris Humphries. He did it all for the Nets in terms of defense, dirty work, physical play and rebounding and finished the season with career-high averages of 10.0 points, 10.4 rebounds and 1.08 blocks.
MOST UNDERAPPRECIATED: Brook Lopez went backwards as a rebounder and many times disappeared in the third and fourth quarters. But he had a strong end to the season and looked as sure of himself as he ever has. He definitely grew at the end and will continue he get better. Lopez played all 82 games and averaged a Nets’ high 20.4 points. He needs to get tougher physically and mentally and has to improve as a rebounder and go-to guy, but he was there every night for the Nets and has been every game of his career. That counts for something.
MOST DISAPPOINTING: When the Nets failed to get LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade, Rudy Gay, Carlos Boozer, Tyrus Thomas they decided to give Travis Outlaw a five-year, $35 million contract. Expectations come with a figure like that and Outlaw didn’t live up to them. He didn’t adapt to playing small forward, average of 9.6 points, on 37.5 percent shooting, and lost his starting job to rookie Damion James.
BLOCK OF THE YEAR: Humphries had a few more than a few, but you have to give it up for the rejection he had on Brook’s twin brother Robin. That was some stuff.
REBOUND OF THE YEAR: King had the best rebound in the NBA this year. After nearly six months of pursuing Carmelo Anthony – and losing him to the Knicks – in about a 24-hour period King was able to pry Williams from Utah in a franchise-changing blockbuster.
RICHARD JEFFERSON INSANELY OPTIMISTIC AWARD: There are several candidates. We remember Humphries talking about the playoffs in January; Williams talking about it when he first arrived; and several players, including ex-Net Devin Harris, saying the team had gotten its swagger back. But Johnson gets it for always being outwardly positive about the Nets’ situation.
On Williams’ future, Johnson said "I have no doubt and I'm really, really confident that we'll be able to re-sign him … All signs that I've seen and heard are that as we move forward, he'll be in a Nets' uniform.” Johnson on the Nets: “We still have as bright a future as anybody that does not win a championship this year. That’s the whole deal.”
3 BEST WINS
1. Nets 88, Celtics 79 (March 14): Williams returned from a two-game absence for the birth of his son and the Nets won their fifth straight game with Williams’ delivering a big-time three with 35.6 seconds left to make it a seven-point game.
2. Nets 115, Nuggets 99 (Jan. 31): The Nets were fired up for this game against Anthony and the Nuggets and won big with Harris delivering 18 assists.
3. Nets 137, Raptors 136 (March 5): In London, the Nets and Raptors played a classic game that New Jersey pulled out in triple-overtime behind a monster 34-point, 17-rebound, 8-block game from Lopez, a 21 and 18 night from Williams and 20 and 17-board effort from Humphries.
3 WORST GAMES
1. Wizards 97, Nets 77 (Jan. 7): The Nets didn’t show up for this game against one of the worst teams and trailed 26-6 in the first quarter.
2. Charlotte 91, Nets 84 (Dec. 3): Just a terrible offensive game by both teams as 117 shots were missed and Lopez had with just two rebounds – none on the defensive end
3. Indiana 105, Nets 86 (Feb. 6): The Nets were in a stupor on Super Bowl Sunday and got trounced for the second time in nine days by the Pacers. The previous game, Indiana shot 62.5 percent and won by 32.
1. Sneak-er attack: Late in the March 30 loss to the Knicks, Lopez bent down to pick up his sneaker instead of finishing the offensive trip and the ball bounced off his back and out-of-bounds.
2. Thunder Struck: Up three, the Nets were supposed to foul the Thunder, but Stephen Graham fouled with Jeff Green shooting a three. He made all three and ultimately the Nets lost in three OTs.
3. The Boo-Dential Center: On many nights, there were more fans of the visiting team than the Nets in Prudential Center, but the worst cases of that were the two games against the Knicks. In February, Nets players were booed late in the game when they attempted free throws, and last week it sounded as if the game was at Madison Square Garden.
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)