Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson though he won’t be putting up 22-23 points a night, he should get closer to 20. The Nets absolutely need that from him. Point guard Williams is still a reliable man on the ball, but the condition of his ankles no longer allows him to be a huge threat offensively. His 14.3 ppg were way off his usual production, which hovered around—or exceeded—20 ppg. He and Johnson form a solid backcourt, but as each ages, the tandem’s ability to lift a team to big things diminishes. The Nets need rookie Bojan Bogdanovic to make a quick acclimation at the three spot. He was a solid European player and has the potential to be a reliable scorer, but it’s unlikely he’ll be a primary offensive Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images option. More than likely, the 6-8 forward will provide complementary production, unless his elders start to sag. Lopez will be a huge asset, if he can stay healthy. Four surgeries in three years on his right foot have made him extremely vulnerable and don’t necessarily provide a lot of hope that he’ll be able to be healthy and highly productive for 82 games. Lopez has the ability to score around the hoop and can hit the midrange jumper. He’s active and versatile, but his season’s success will be a function of his health. Garnett is still inspirational and capable of playing good basketball in short bursts, but expecting him to be a season-long force is unreasonable. He is not hitting his jumper as often as he once did, and he lacks quickness inside. Mason Plumlee can provide some help off the bench inside, while new acquisition Jarrett Jack is a solid rotation piece. Outlook I n a n E a s t e r n Conference that still includes a lot of teams with little-tono playoff hopes, the Nets are clearly a playof f-ca l iber squad. The question, however, is whether they can advance past the first round. The answer to that is probably not what Brooklyn fans want to hear. Although losing Pierce makes the team a little younger, it is still one of the older squads in the East, and that means there is the potential for injury and significant wear and tear. The goal will be to challenge for the Atlantic crown while still making sure that players like Garnett, Williams and Johnson aren’t overworked. Since New York, the Sixers and Boston are still rebuilding, the Nets should be Toronto’s main competition. If good health prevails, and the main contributors are able to be consistent throughout the season, Brooklyn could well make a run at the title. Eastern supremacy, however, will prove quite elusive. SPOTLIGHT: Brook Lopez If last year were the first time Brook Lopez missed any appreciable time during a season, Nets fans would consider his return from a broken right foot a natural process in the sports world. Athletes do get hurt, and they do return. But Lopez, who missed all but 17 games last year, played in only five contests during the 2011-12 campaign. Missing that many opportunities to play must have everyone associated with Brooklyn wondering whether Lopez is healthy and ready for full action or now seriously compromised and therefore liable to be a part-time contributor for the rest of his career. When Lopez does contribute, he does a darn good job. Now in the third year of the four-year contract he signed before the 2012-13 season, Lopez is a legitimate 20-10 threat who can also block shots and pass the ball well. In an era where centers are no longer valued for much beyond the ability to protect the rim against marauding wing players and four men, Lopez is the rare big man who can do it all. Whether he’ll get the chance over the course of a full season remains to be seen. The second surgery he had last year lowered the arch on his foot, the better to take pressure off the outside of his foot, where his most recent fracture occurred. The hope is that he will be able to avoid any repeat injuries. A loss of about 15 pounds is designed to take pressure off the area, as well. If it works, the Nets will be in good shape. If not, the questions will continue.
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