Ohm Youngmisuk and I were asked to participate in ESPN.com’s 5-on-5 Nets preview heading into the 2013-14 season.
Here are the questions we were asked, and our answers:
1. What grade would you give the Nets' offseason?
Mazzeo: A-. The future first-round picks they surrendered to acquire KG and Pierce could come back to haunt the franchise long-term, but with a win-now mandate, GM Billy King did a lot more with his cap-strapped roster than I thought he could. The AK-47 and Andray Blatche signings were tremendous value, the Jason Kidd hire a worthwhile gamble.
Youngmisuk: A. The hiring of Kidd gave the franchise an identity and a leader. The Nets then catapulted into contender status by landing Pierce, Garnett and Terry, with Kidd playing a pivotal role in helping convince Pierce and Garnett to come. And don't overlook the addition of Kirilenko.
2. What's the biggest question facing the Nets in 2013-14?
Mazzeo: A first-year coach and chemistry are big questions, but I think health is the biggest. KG (no back-to-backs?) and Pierce aren't young. D-Will's ankles are a concern. Brook Lopez is coming off his third foot surgery in 18 months. Joe Johnson was bothered by plantar fasciitis in the playoffs. Yeah, staying healthy for the postseason is key.
Youngmisuk: Can Kidd lead the Nets back to the NBA Finals as a coach? Owner Mikhail Prokhorov is taking a risk in handing over a roster built to win it all to a rookie coach. How will Kidd manage egos, substitution patterns and last-second situations? The bet here is that Kidd's Hall of Fame vision, high basketball IQ and on-court leadership skills will transfer to the bench and complement the mixture of All-Star veterans.
3. Who's the Nets' most intriguing player?
Mazzeo: KG is here to change the culture and improve the defense, but it's gotta be AK-47. Dude can play/guard so many different positions, and that versatility is so useful. He can also start if they want to rest KG. A $3.2 million salary was a flat-out bargain.
Youngmisuk: Kirilenko could play a pivotal role if he can stay healthy. He is capable of defending multiple positions, can score some, rebound and block shots. Kirilenko doesn't have to play huge minutes, but he can start in case of injury or a vet like Garnett needs to be rested. He might even be an option to finish some games for Kidd because of his length and defensive ability.
4. What's one bold prediction about the Nets?
Mazzeo: With good friend Kidd coaching him, Williams will lead the NBA in assists and merit MVP consideration after an up-and-down, injury-plagued 2012-13 campaign. The new system and supporting cast will benefit him greatly.
Youngmisuk: Under Kidd's direction, a rejuvenated Williams will return to elite point-guard status and average more than 10 assists for the first time since 2010-11. Williams has struggled with injuries and, admittedly, his confidence in the past few seasons but will return to being a dominant point guard with his most talented supporting cast around him.
5. Prediction time: How far will the Nets go next season?
Mazzeo: Eastern Conference finals. But with this team, who knows? Anything less than an epic second-round series with an elite team like Miami or Indiana would be a colossal failure. The pressure is on. Their window is now, but this is a superstar's league, and there are no LeBrons or Durants on this squad.
Youngmisuk: The Nets will win 50 games because it will take them some time to develop chemistry while Kidd also tries to keep his older veterans fresh for the postseason. The Nets will then advance to the Eastern Conference finals and perhaps give defending champion Miami a run for its money.