|The new-look Brooklyn Nets seem to think they have a shot at the 2013 NBA title. (Getty Images)|
The Nets' move from northern New Jersey to Brooklyn amounts to a massive upgrade. No one, except Chris Christie, is disputing that. With the move has come an increase in roster expenditures and a subsequent increase in both buzz and expectations. The Nets, a lottery loser last season, seem destined for their first playoff trip since 2006-2007.
But legit title contention? That's getting a few steps ahead of themselves. A team that went 22-44 last season isn't going to unseat the Miami Heat. Come on now. The idea doesn't pass the smell test.
But that hasn't stopped two members of the Nets from talking tough this week.
Newly-acquired guard Joe Johnson told SI.com that a championship is the team's goal.
"That's what we are shooting for — the ring. There's no need to sell ourselves short. You talk about gelling and figuring it out, and I think we have the perfect pieces: a great point guard, a great center. I don't think any of our positions are the same or overlap at all."
"Obviously our main goal is no question the NBA championship. I think it is realistic for us. We're already a good playoff team so with the addition of other pieces, we can target the ring," said Lopez, who was recently re-signed by the Nets to a four-year deal.
"I think we've got a lot of guys who'll complement our team very well. We have a fantastic core. We've been bringing in guys who will definitely give us quality minutes," said Lopez.
For some context, the Nets opened the summer at 100/1 odds to win the 2013 title, among the longest of long shots, thanks to the uncertainty of Deron Williams' future as well as the free agencies of Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. Only the Toronto Raptors, Washington Wizards, Charlotte Bobcats and Detroit Pistons were seen as less likely than the Nets to win the title. Oof.
Thanks to the trade for Johnson and the re-signings of Williams, Lopez, Wallace and Humphries, the Nets improved to 40/1, as of earlier this week. That number has improved to 30/1 as of Friday, putting them behind just seven teams. That's a pretty extraordinary rise and it makes some sense at first glance, given that their busy summer puts them in a much better position to win now compared to a year ago.
But don't be fooled. The Nets are still a long, long, long way from bringing home the franchise's first NBA title (the Nets won ABA titles in 1974 and 1976). Here's a list of things that would need to happen for the Nets to win the 2013 title.
Remember, Lopez said the Nets had a "realistic" chance at rings. You tell me how realistic this sounds.
1. Heat forward LeBron James would need to suffer a serious injury. The combination of Johnson and Wallace has no chance of stopping the James one-man show, even if he's somehow without both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. If James takes the court in a Heat-Nets playoff series, the Nets go home.
2. Therefore, the Boston Celtics would somehow need to eliminate the Heat before they face the Nets. No one else in the East, on paper, stands a chance against the defending champions. The Heat have eliminated the Celtics the past two seasons, so this is obviously unlikely too. Still, the aging Celtics pulling off the miracle upset and then running out of gas against the Nets would be the most feasible method for Brooklyn to advance out of the East.
3. Derrick Rose cannot rehabilitate in time to be a difference-maker in the playoffs. Even with Chicago's pitiful offseason, an 80 percent Rose would be enough to push Chicago past Brooklyn. The Bulls either need to be so bad during the regular season that they avoid Brooklyn in because of playoff seeds or Rose needs to be so limited by the time the postseason rolls around that the Nets are able to overcome them. Either way, not particularly likely.
4. The Pacers must take a step back. Indiana gets lost in the shuffle because they fell to the Heat right as James was beginning his postseason tear. The Pacers have an advantange in experience and chemistry over the Nets even though Deron Williams would be the best player on the court during the series. Indiana would need to get less consistent play from Roy Hibbert and George Hill than they got in their contract years or the Pacers, with their stable of versatile scoring options, would have too much firepower.
And that's just in the East. The Nets do not match up with any of the West's three best teams very well. (Nobody does.) The Los Angeles Lakers have significantly more talent and much, much better post play. The Oklahoma City Thunder have more athleticism, better chemistry and nearly unlimited offensive firepower. The San Antonio Spurs are more experienced, more cohesive and better coached. The Nets would be huge underdogs against all three teams if they somehow advanced to the Finals.
A dream scenario for Brooklyn, then, would look something like this: grab the two or three seed and dump either the New York Knicks or the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. Out-execute the Pacers in the second round and then pray that the Celtics get the four seed and knock off the No. 1 seed Heat. Find a way to conjure up enough scoring while also limiting Rajon Rondo to advance to the Finals. Pray again that the Spurs somehow surface above both the Lakers and the Thunder. Then, pray one final time that Tony Parker is completely off his game while the long season catches up to both Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan after three grueling Western Conference series.
Boy, when you put it like that, 30/1 odds don't seem nearly long enough. You can't fault the Nets for their high expectations, especially as they ride the care-free, positive momentum wave that comes with their big-city relocation. But rings in Brooklyn in 2013? Forget about it.