The NBA lockout has been lifted, and we’ll have basketball shortly. Given this rapid development, it’s time to think about what the Nets are going to do before the abbreviated season begins. Here are five burning questions facing the team as it enters its last season in New Jersey:
KEEP UP WITH THE EX-KARDASHIAN? Kris Humphries made a quantum leap last season. He ranked fifth in the NBA in rebounding (10.4 per game) and had 29 double-doubles. And he got married and divorced this summer -- sorry, no more Kim Kardashian courtside. He's a free agent in basketball, too, and can sign with any team he wishes. He may even ask for an eight-figure-a-year contract. It's up to GM Billy King to determine if that asking price is warranted. If not, hopefully King has a contingency plan. The Nets could pursue New Orleans’ David West, a free agent four-man who would provide the scoring punch the team so desperately desires, but the Teaneck, N.J., native is coming off a season-ending knee injury. Nene and Tyson Chandler are loftier options. Reaching an accord with Humphries appears to be the most plausible scenario.
GRANTED AMNESTY? THEN OUTLAW MUST GO: As far as bad offseason contracts are concerned, Travis Outlaw's was arguably the worst. Signed to a head-scratching five-year, $35 million contract by New Jersey, Outlaw was supposed to provide perimeter scoring. But what he wound up providing was a nightly headache for Nets fans. Outlaw shot 37.5 percent from the field, and an even worse 30.2 percent from 3-point range -- both career worsts. If given the opportunity to wipe the final four years of Outlaw’s albatross off their books at a significantly discounted price, the Nets have to take it -- and relish it. Otherwise, get used to seeing a lot of bricks, because no one is going to be willing to take that deal off the Nets' hands.
BEGIN THE COURTSHIP: The Nets' future success largely depends on Deron Williams -- and they're clearly at his mercy. If they ink him to a max deal, he'll be the face of the franchise heading to Brooklyn, and life will be good. But if he opts out -- he'll have to forgo $17.8 million to do so -- and goes elsewhere, the Nets could potentially be crippled, assuming they don’t trade him to get some sort of compensation. Williams has been playing overseas in Turkey, but it will be interesting to see if he's fully healthy this season after undergoing offseason wrist surgery (that 50-point performance for Besiktas was promising). If he is indeed the 20-and-10 point guard he was in Utah, the Nets (24-58 in 2010-11) might just be able to sneak into the playoffs in 2011-12.
WE NEED BUCKETS: The Nets finished 28th in the league in scoring, averaging 94.2 points per game. They drafted Providence's MarShon Brooks -- the second-leading scorer in the nation last season -- to help out in that department. Having a healthy Williams and Brook Lopez, who also had offseason surgery to remove a calcium deposit on his upper right arm, will also be a plus. Lopez averaged 29.8 points per game in the last six games of the 2010-11 campaign on 57.9 percent shooting. The Nets could use another scoring swingman who can defend (Sasha Vujacic is playing overseas and has no NBA out in his contract), but given their current salary obligations and the fact that they have to re-sign Humphries, they may not be able to address it. Free agent options at small forward could include among others, Tayshuan Prince, Caron Butler and Andrei Kirilenko. And Jamal Crawford recently tweeted that he'd like to play in the same backcourt as Williams.
TAKING THE NEXT STEP: Lopez finished last season with a 20.4 points per game scoring average. But his rebounding (6.0 per game) and defense left much to be desired. Still, Lopez is just 23 years old, and he has plenty of time to develop. Right now, he's a borderline All-Star. Plus, there's always the possibility that the Nets may want to pursue the Dwight Howard pipe dream -- and why wouldn't they? Lopez would likely be the centerpiece in that blockbuster deal. As much as a 66-game season out of Williams will go a long way to helping the Nets' postseason aspirations, so will Lopez taking the next step. It could mean D-12 meets D-Will in 2012-13.