The Brooklyn Nets have not been shy when talking about their title aspirations for this season.
“I think we got a chance to win the whole thing this year,” said Joe Johnson.
“We’re interested in trying to win championships,” Deron Williams said.
The old adage, “defense wins championships,” is exactly the message Coach Avery Johnson is sending his players.
“We must make a major step defensively,” Johnson said at Nets media day. “We got to be in the top ten, that is one of the barometers for us defensively. In the last two minutes of the game, I want to see a team that is physically and mentally tough.”
The Nets were one of the worst teams defensively last season, ranking in the bottom tier of every major defensive category. If the Nets want to have the kind of success the players are talking about, team defense must improve dramatically. It will take a collective team effort, starting with Brook Lopez in the middle.
“I’m focused on being the guy in the middle that everyone can count on,” Lopez said. “If they get beat, I’ll be back there.”
“You’re only as good as the people behind you,” said Williams. “If Brook Lopez has my back and the next guy has his back, we’re going to be a good defensive team.”
Johnson did not want to divulge details, but said he wrote out specific goals for each player, including Lopez, who joked with the media about being tested on defensive material the players got for training camp.
“Avery gave us a pretty big handbook for training camp,” said Lopez. “It’s all defense, all the defensive principles, our ideas and our beliefs. We even have four written tests.”
Although most of the team’s personnel are not known as elite defenders, newcomer Joe Johnson believes that as long as the defense stays unified, the Nets will be a good defensive team.
“I think defensively we are going to be OK,” Johnson said. “It’s not about one guy. It’s going to take a collective team effort for us to be a great defensive team.”
Johnson specifically mentioned one player known for his defense, Gerald Wallace, who he described as “a blue collar player, and a shot blocker at the three.”
Wallace believes the Nets have a defensive advantage because they can play a number of different lineups.
“I think we have a great chance of being a great defensive team,” Wallace said. “We have a lot of different lineups as far as playing big or playing small. We can play with our quickness or play with our muscle, depending on the type of game we want to play.”
The small lineup that Wallace referred to could see him sliding to the power forward position, Johnson moving to the small forward spot and bringing in MarShon Brooks or C.J. Watson to play alongside Williams in the backcourt. A lineup with more muscle could mean Wallace playing the guard position and having another big man like Reggie Evans or rookie Mirza Teletovic coming off the bench and playing the small forward position.
The Nets are confident they have the right pieces to be a championship team. They made big moves during the offseason and made an even bigger move to a new arena in a new city. Now it’s about putting the pieces together and figuring out how to win with defense.