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Why So Serious?

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Despite 2-6 start, Nets’ coach Avery Johnson has faith in his squad

The Nets are trying to put 2011 behind them amid persistent trade rumors and an offseason lockout, but it hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing for the soon-to-be Brooklyn basketball team. New Jersey lost center Brook Lopez for 6-8 weeks, and after beating Washington opening night, the Nets have dropped 5 straight and dubiously hold the second worst record in basketball (Washington is 0-7). Shooting just 37% from the field and failing to top 100 points thus far, their offense is in shambles. And not to mention their relentless schedule, which recently included heading to Boston and Toronto, then hosting Miami tonight. It’s times like these that make 66 games seem like an eternity and get fans thinking about life on Atlantic Avenue.

While Avery Johnson realizes the team’s difficult circumstances, the head coach has not given up on his squad. He gave his team a vote of confidence after Monday’s 108-94 loss to Indiana, claiming he’s “encouraged” and “excited about being the coach here and working with these guys.”

Johnson sees hints of success from his team that has yet to form an identity and is struggling to hit open shots. The coach attributes a lack of practice, complemented by a string of six games in eight days, to the team’s early season woes. “We just have a lot of guys that haven’t had a lot of practice time with our ball club and we’re doing this all on the fly,” said Johnson in defense of his players, but acknowledged that “all other 29 teams are in the same situation.” Hopeful that their four injured starters will not miss substantial time, Johnson feels New Jersey will be competitive on a nightly basis and hopes his team will hit their stride by mid- to late-January.

Both Avery and his players agree that the team is taking smart shots from the field, but are failing to execute. Rookie MarShon Brooks, one of this season’s few bright spots, admitted the team is “missing good looks” but realizes the opportunity an NBA season presents compared to that of a 30 game college year. “We’ll go through our stretch where we’re hitting shots. This is a long season. We’re not going to get down on ourselves,” assured the confident rookie from Providence. “Once we start hitting open shots, we’ll be fine.”

Although it may feel like preseason for the NBA’s other 29 teams, the lack of offseason preparation is essentially a dagger into the side of a team that could have used one. With seven new faces, two major front-court injuries, and the absence of a stable core, the Nets are still trying to figure themselves out three weeks into the season.

In spite of their early season struggles, Coach Johnson’s apparent overly-optimistic approach isn’t too far-fetched. There is hope for a team with a potentially dynamic backcourt to complement two big men, both of whom are injured, and a solid rotation of three point shooters. They will start competing because this is a fairly talented roster. It is just a question of when.

Even when the Nets finally gel though, it still will not be enough to make a playoff bid. They have nice pieces alongside Deron Williams, but his superstar presence isn’t enough. In a star-driven league, elite teams carry multiple superstars on their roster that keep them in contention for 82, or in this case, 66, games. Although their key trade chip, Brook Lopez, is sidelined, a exchange for Dwight Howard could give this team the spark it needs to take a step towards postseason play. They are capable of surpassing their meager 2011 24-win season, but certainly are not amongst the NBA’s elite; not yet at least.

Don’t give up hope just yet Net fans. Yes, Brooklyn is around the corner, but Avery Johnson wants his players competing over the next three and a half months and he sees hope. Frankly, he’s got a point: this team can cause some trouble for playoff contenders. Although they stumbled out of the gate, these next three months can serve as important building blocks for a Brooklyn-bound franchise that can compete once things start breaking their way.