Friday, September 28, 2012
D-Will: Nets have something to prove
By Mike Mazzeo
Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov's goal is to win a championship within the next three years -- but his $98 million point guard isn't about to make any predictions.
"I hope we can win a championship in the next three years, but we haven't even played a game together, we haven't even had a practice together yet, so it's kind of hard to say how our team is gonna come together," Deron Williams told ESPNNewYork.com in an interview on Friday morning.
"For some teams it comes together, for some teams it doesn't. I don't see it being a problem that we won't come together. But there a lot of teams that are good out there, especially in the East with Miami, Boston, Indiana, the Knicks. We're just gonna focus on becoming as good a team as we can be in the preseason and training camp and then see what happens from there."
The Nets haven't made the playoffs since 2006-07, but Prokhorov, determined to turn the franchise around as it moves into the $1 billion Barclays Center, allowed general manager Billy King and assistant GM Bobby Marks to spend around $330 million to upgrade the roster. And King and Marks did just that, retaining Williams, center Brook Lopez, small forward Gerald Wallace and power forward Kris Humphries, while bringing in shooting guard Joe Johnson via trade and revamping the bench with the additions of point guard C.J. Watson, stretch forward Mirza Teletovic and rugged rebounder Reggie Evans.
Still, many pundits don't believe the Nets can compete with the likes of Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers and Oklahoma City Thunder -- and that is just fine by Williams, who said earlier this summer that he's glad people are "sleeping" on the Nets.
"A lot of our guys are guys that are a little underrated, undervalued. It is what it is," Williams said. "Joe hasn't made it past the second round in Atlanta. People forget he's a six-time All-Star. Me, I've recently been on losing teams. And when you're in losing situations, people tend to forget about you. I think a lot of us have something to prove, and we're going to have to do that as a team, not individually.
"It's a fresh start for everybody. Nobody's in a contract situation or anything. We have veteran guys that are in the stage of their career where they want to win, and that's a good thing to have. We feel like we're definitely a playoff team, and we want to try to get home-court advantage. Anything can happen in a seven-game series."
Williams is looking forward to the team's regular-season opener against the rival New York Knicks on Nov. 1, but he wasn't about to call the Nets "the better team."
"It's a rivalry. But our concern isn't just beating the Knicks or being better than the Knicks. That's not our focus," Williams said. "The media likes to pump that up. If we do what we're supposed to do, then hopefully we will be better than the Knicks. They probably feel the same way (about their own approach)."
Williams called last season's 22-44 campaign the most difficult of his career.
"Losing," Williams replied when asked what the hardest part was. "We weren't a very good team last year. We had a lot of injuries that really hurt us, and we just had guys in and out of the team. It didn't matter who came in. They got hurt. It was like we were cursed. It was a frustrating year for everybody, not having fans coming to the games, losing. It was a tough year."
Williams believes 2012-13 will be different. But with nine newcomers, he wanted the team to get into its practice facility and begin working out two weeks before training camp, which begins Tuesday, so everyone could get acclimated with one another.
"We're a brand-new team," he said. "A lot of us didn't get to play together last year, so it's important for us to get to know each other. We've been playing together now, so we've got some chemistry building and all this helps going into training camp."
Williams said the team's biggest question mark comes on defense.
"I don't think it's going to be a problem scoring the basketball," he said. "We have guys that can score the basketball. That's not going to be a problem for us. Defensively is where we have to focus in. We may not have the greatest individual defensive players, but we have to take that mindset where we have to trust each other and help each other."
Williams believes this season is going to be a lot easier for coach Avery Johnson, who is going into the final year of his contract, because he won't have to do as much teaching as he did in 2011-12.
"He hasn't had a lot to work with until this year," Williams said. "I know he's excited. He was as frustrated as I was last year and as frustrated as Billy was last year. But it's going to be a lot easier for him this year because he has guys that know how to play the game of basketball, not having to spend all that time teaching.
"Last year, even the last week of the season, he was still trying to teach because we don't know how to play as a team, we don't know how to make the right plays, the right passes and do the right things. But I don't think that's going to be a problem for him this year, he can just focus on coaching, which will make things a lot easier."
Williams will be attending the first of eight sellout Jay-Z concerts on Friday night as Barclays Center opens to the public for the first time.
"It's definitely exciting man. It's been a long time coming for a lot of people. A year-and-a-half for me," Williams said. "Guys like Jay-Z, (Bruce) Ratner, (Brett) Yormark, guys that spent a lot of time and energy into making this happen, I'm happy for them."
Beginning Friday, fans can enter to win a chance to watch a Nets game at the American Express Vault Suite at the Barclays Center and meet D-Will by submitting a short video demonstrating their commitment as the ultimate fan of sports, music or entertainment. D-Will will pick 20 finalists before giving all fans a chance to vote and select winners. Learn more here.