The New Jersey Nets (24-58) doubled their win-total from a season ago. Other than that, they made little progress in 2010-11. The Nets probably won’t be putting up another "The Blueprint for Greatness" billboard across the street from Madison Square Garden this summer. But if they want to continue to strive for success by the time they move to Brooklyn in 2012-13, they’ll probably want to address these five burning questions heading into the offseason:
Will the Nets be able to re-sign power forward Kris Humphries?
Who would’ve ever thought that would be the biggest question facing the team heading into the offseason? I certainly didn’t. However, Humphries came out of nowhere, proving himself both on and off the court. Humphries, now a free agent, has said he’d like to stay with the Nets long-term, and the feeling is mutual within the organization. Humphries finished fifth in the NBA in rebounding (a career-high 10.4 per game) and amassed 29 double-doubles. In a different season, he would’ve been a leading candidate for the Most Improved Player award. There are "Hollywood Gossip" rumors that Humphries and celebrity girlfriend Kim Kardashian are going to get engaged and move into New York City. Perhaps, it’s a precursor of what’s to come. And to think, the Nets wanted Humphries to opt out of his $3.2 million player option at the start of the season. Luckily for them, though, he didn’t.
Will point guard Deron Williams be healthy by the start of the 2011-12 season?
Question his heart, toughness and commitment to the franchise all you want. The fact is, Williams was never healthy during his 12-game stint with the Nets in 2010-11. Sure, he averaged 12.8 assists per game, but his scoring (15 points per game) and shooting numbers (34.9 percent field goal, 27.1 percent 3-point) were down considerably. Williams ended up needing surgery to remove bone fragments from his right wrist. His surgeon said he’d need six-to-eight weeks of rest and rehab. By then, general manager Billy King said, he’d be able to get back on the golf course and start shooting again. How good can the Nets be if Williams is healthy, breaking down defenders with his killer crossover dribble and being able to bury shots consistently from the perimeter? Who knows. But I’m guessing the sky’s the limit.
Will the Nets be able to find a taker for underachieving small forward Travis Outlaw?
If I shook a magic eight-ball, I’d venture a guess that it would come up "doubtful." Outlaw was a complete and utter disaster for the Nets in his first season in red, white and blue. He was brought in to make shots. He just couldn’t make any. Outlaw shot an abysmal 37.5 percent from the field and 30.2 percent from 3-point range. The Nets would do anything to remove the remaining four years and $28 million remaining on his contract off their books. The question, of course, is how? Baring a miracle, Outlaw is going to have to resurrect his fallen career in the Garden State -- at least for the time being. Let the mock "MVP! MVP! MVP!" chants continue to rain down from the team's "Loud and Proud" section in the rafters at the Prudential Center.
Will center Brook Lopez be able to take that next step toward become an elite player in this league?
Yes, I’ve seen his April. Offensively, the 23-year-old has improved. His statistics (29.8 ppg, 57.9 pct fg in the final six games) speak to that. Lopez is not settling for as many 15- to 18-foot baseline jumpers as he did earlier in the season. He’s establishing himself in the post, using his jump hook and step through move more often. But again, there is more to basketball than just scoring. Lopez has regressed in rebounding and his defense continues to be suspect. Yes, he’s had a calcium deposit in his arm; and yes, he’s had to adjust to playing next to the ferocious rebounding Humphries. However, Lopez needs to be more aggressive. He needs to develop a killer instinct. He’s shown signs of it, but now that he’s entering his fourth NBA season, it’s time for Lopez to become the all-star everyone believes he can be. He’s too talented not to be. Lopez will have the entire offseason to get healthy, get stronger and become a dominant force in the paint.
Will King and head coach Avery Johnson be able to find the right pieces to put around Williams and Lopez?
King pulled the trigger and landed himself a franchise player out of nowhere when he acquired Williams in a blockbuster deal a day before the Feb. 24 trading deadline. However, he still has to re-sign him. King knows his legacy as GM of the Nets depends on it. In the short-term, he’ll have his hands full trying to re-sign Humphries, while hoping to upgrade the roster. The Nets will go into the offseason with approximately $19 million to spend. Anywhere from $6-10 million of that will likely go to Humphries, should the two sides be able to reach an agreement on a multi-year extension.
King will also have to figure out if he wants to retain free agent swingman Sasha Vujacic as well. He’ll likely throw out feelers on Outlaw, while trying to find an athletic wing player that can defend and score. Philadelphia 76ers small forward Thaddeus Young, who was drafted by King in 2007, could be a guy that fits the bill. Young is just 22-years-old, but he’s entering his prime and the Sixers have the right to match any offer from the Nets (or any other team for that matter) since he’s a restricted free agent. Boston Celtics small forward Jeff Green is also in the same category, although the Celtics most definitely will match any offer to him. After all, they didn’t sacrifice young physical interior presence Kendrick Perkins to lose Green after just one season.
Expect King to also give Orlando Magic GM Otis Smith a call and bring up Dwight Howard. At this point, it’s probably just a pipedream, but it’s worth a shot. There have been rumors of a scenario in which the Nets would ship Lopez-plus for Howard. Not that it’s going to happen. It’s just something to think about. A Williams-Howard tandem would have the potential to do some serious damage in the Eastern Conference, and would be an incredible duo to headline the move to Brooklyn.
As for the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets traded their lottery pick to the Utah Jazz in the Williams trade. They do possess the Los Angeles Lakers' first-rounder, along with an early-second rounder, so King could look to trade up. But again, it's difficult to land an impact player with a top-20, 25 pick. You almost need to get lucky -- or have better scouting than the other 29 teams.
Either way, it should be an active offseason for the Nets.