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It’s been 35 years since the Nets departed the media giant that is New York and bolted next door for little brother New Jersey. However, even after a three and a half decade-long absence from the Empire State, they still understand good and well upon their return that the people of Brooklyn won’t tolerate the losing that infamously defined the franchise for the majority of their time across the Hudson.
The ensuing result is what we’ve witnessed over the past week – an organization that gave Deron Williams, its perennial All Star point guard, virtually no other choice than to agree to re-sign long-term after first convincing Gerald Wallace to do exactly the same, and then used basically all of its young assets to acquire Atlanta Hawks shooting guard Joe Johnson.
In fact, Williams confirmed last Friday that the transaction that landed Johnson in Brooklyn was the final deciding factor that persuaded him to ultimately agree to a five year, $98 million deal with the Nets at the last minute, as opposed to signing with his hometown Dallas Mavericks, who were his only other option.
“I was really close to going to Dallas,” said Williams. “I actually thought that’s where I was going to go. I had the meetings and it kind of changed my mind because once I got out of the meeting with Dallas and saw the way they were going and the team they were putting out there and I saw that we just made a trade for Joe Johnson and I felt like that team for a longer time would be the better team.
“Joe got me over the hump. I’ve never played with anybody like him, a guy on the wing that can get his own shot and also get me involved and is a great defender. We could be one of the top backcourts in the NBA for sure.”
This is exactly what owner Mikhail Prokhorov envisioned when he bought majority stake in the Nets back in September of 2009 and provided nearly half of the funds for the Barclays Center project that would make Brooklyn their new home.
While many of their diehard fans initially refused to look at the purchase as anything more than another investment for a Russian billionaire who only aspired to become even wealthier in the long run, Prokhorov has continued to open his wallet in hopes of building a championship-contending team for years to come.
“For us, it’s very important they [Nets fans] trust in us,” he told reporters back in April at the Barclays Center construction site. “And I’ll do my best. I’m very committed.”
When asked later about the job statuses of both Nets general manager Billy King and head coach Avery Johnson, Prokhorov continued to express a great deal of support for them despite the team’s atrocious 46-102 overall record over the past two seasons since the two joined the organization back in 2010.
“I think Billy and Avery, they are doing great job,” Prokhorov said. “We have a common view, not only on the day-to-day routine but on our strategic goal. Just to have a championship team we need to be global view, strategic view and you need to have the common knowledge of how to reach this.”
“So from my point of view, we have a great team spirit and we need a little bit of luck, because the team is very professional, and I hope next season we’ll be much, much better than the previous two,” he added.
A severe lack of talent more than plagued King and Johnson during their time in Newark. Now that the franchise enters a new era in its history and will spend an exorbitant sum of money to bring in a trio that has combined for a total of nine All Star appearances in Williams, Johnson and Wallace, King and Johnson suddenly believe that if they’re able to add a few solid complementary pieces – or possibly even Dwight Howard – they can make their way back to the Finals.
With King as G.M., the 2000-2001 Philadelphia 76ers made it as far as the NBA Finals before falling to the Los Angeles Lakers and their all-time great duo of Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal. His tenure in Philly lasted almost nine seasons.
Meanwhile, the climax of Johnson’s nearly four-year run as Mavericks coach was the 2005-2006 season, when he led them to the Finals before losing four straight to the Miami Heat after winning the first two games of the series.
Johnson did win a title in 1999 during his playing days with the San Antonio Spurs, but that doesn’t mean that he isn’t just as hungry as Williams, Johnson and Wallace, who are still ring-less.
It appears as though when you mix a couple of years of patience by Prokhorov, King and Johnson, the formulation of what will inevitably be referred to as a ‘Big Three,’ and a relocation to the enormous market that is New York City, this is what you get: the Nets with a realistic ambition of reaching the Finals for the first time since their glory years of 2002 and 2003.
To the Nets fans and the borough of Brooklyn – which has been wrongfully deprived of a major sports franchise since the Dodgers flew 3,000 miles to Los Angeles 55 years ago – welcome back.
Image Courtesy of Brooklyn Nets