Avery Johnson joked that when the time comes for the Nets to get something done with free agents, he’s like Mariano Rivera.
“They bring me in to close,” Johnson said today.
Johnson can give the final sales pitch – he ultimately decides how much a player plays. But the two biggest things for the Nets in their pursuit of any free agent are Mikhail Prokhorov’s fortune and Deron Williams’ future.
Williams declared his intentions yesterday, saying, “I plan to stay.” That should help the Nets lure some players. But the almighty millions could be the deciding factor.
The truth is the Nets are going to have to spend more than they probably would like in order to get Nene or Tyson Chandler or Caron Butler or even to bring Kris Humphries back.
In most cases, the players are not going to take less to go to Newark this year and Brooklyn in the fall. The Nets aren't Miami, the Lakers or the Celtics.
The Nets are a team that won 24 games last year, one season after winning 12. The Brooklyn move, Prokhorov and Williams give the Nets a different feel, but they’re still not one of the elite teams or franchises just yet.
“We’re not in the situation where we’ve been a playoff team here recently, or a championship team, but we have a lot of positives in our situation,” Johnson said as he met with reporters for the first time since the lockout was settled and announced the expected hirings of P.J. Carlesimo and Mario Elie as assistants.
“It’s a matter of trying to convince, from a statistical standpoint, from just communicating with guys, that this is a great situation to be a part of. But most of the free agents, guys that we’re after, we’re not their only option.”
Johnson said all the right things. He’s perfect for the Nets. He loves to talk – is a fantastic talker – carries himself well and is a fierce competitor. That’s what the Nets need.
It has been a very good week for them overall. Last week, Nets general manager Billy King spoke to the media and addressed trade rumors about Dwight Howard and the importance of keeping everything in-house so the players are unaffected.
The next day, Williams’ agent, Jeff Schwartz, and the All-Star point guard said he won’t sign an extension with the Nets now, but added that it doesn’t mean he won’t re-sign with them later. He can get more money – about $40 million more – this way.
Then, yesterday, Williams declared he wants to remain a Net, that he would say there’s a “90 percent” chance he signs with them after the season. He left a little wiggle room in case the Nets don’t make the moves that will keep him. By now, everyone knows getting Dwight Howard would be a guarantee.
“We definitely need to add some guys to our roster,” Johnson said. “We have glaring weaknesses in certain areas. But Deron definitely has some ideas. Billy and I are confident. I’m confident in Billy, but it takes two to Tango.”
By the way, most of the stuff Williams said on WFAN and what he told beat reporters yesterday is what he has told the Nets behind closed doors. They know the players Williams wants to play with – now, and when the Barclays Center opens next year.
Now it’s about executing the plan and making some major moves and changes before the start of camp on Friday. They may not be able to get Howard by then, but the Nets have to start putting together a playoff-contending team and acquiring the assets that may enable them to get Howard later, which would assure them Williams isn’t going anywhere.
“We’re just excited that he’s happy to be here,” Johnson said. “There’s a strong possibility that we’re going to have him, not only this year, but in years to come. Nothing is guaranteed. June 30 is a long time away.
“We’re a much better team starting this training camp, without having signed or having done anything up to this point, than where we were at the start of last year.”
The Nets are better. They’re still not as good as they want to be and need to be, but they’re working on it.
The NBA schedules were released today and in a word, the Nets' is brutal.
Most team schedules are because of the condensed season, but the Nets open with 10 of their first 14 games on the road. They also play six games in eight nights to start the season – three sets of back-to-backs with four of those games on the road.
Here’s a little more of the schedule breakdown:
* The Nets’ home opener is Dec. 27 against Atlanta.
* The Nets only play three games each against the two teams closest to them in proximity: the Knicks and the Philadelphia 76ers. The Knicks play at The Rock just once (April 18).
* Deron Williams makes his Utah return on Jan. 14.
* LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat visit Prudential Center twice (Jan. 7 and April 16).
* Kobe Bryant and the Lakers, and the world champion Mavs, with Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd, don’t play at the Prudential Center.
The Nets have two sets of three games in three nights (Jan. 21-23 vs. OKC, vs. CLE and at Chicago, and Feb. 18-20 at Chicago, home for Milwaukee and at the Knicks).
Their nine road games against the West are at Denver, Phoenix, Utah and the Clippers (Jan. 11-16), at Dallas (Feb. 28) and at Golden State, Sacramento, the Lakers and Portland (March 30-April 4).
The Nets end the season with seven of their final 10 games at home.
Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone
Al Iannazzone covers the NBA for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)