Christmas Countdown: Forwards, march (!)

December, 19, 2011
12/19/11
9:00
AM ET
Continuing through Dec. 23, ESPNNewYork.com will run a series called "Christmas Countdown" examining a hot topic each day that involves the New Jersey Nets.

Today's Hot Topic: Forwards, march (!)

The Nets may have rid themselves of Travis Outlaw and his four-year, $28 million albatross via the amnesty clause, but they still have plenty of issues to address at forward.

Consider: As of Monday -- a week before the team’s season opener in D.C. -- their projected starters at the 3 and 4 spots are second-year pro Damion James and veteran journeyman Shelden Williams.

Try to name a worse starting forward tandem in the NBA. You’d be hard-pressed to find one.

Williams is a solid rotation big man who possesses the intangible qualities NBA coaches love -- in bench players. The Nets clearly need to upgrade at power forward, but the prevailing thought is that they want to wait and see if they can land Orlando center Dwight Howard before the season begins. They currently have $18.9 million in cap space, so they have the ability to take on the bloated contracts of Hedo Turkoglu and Chris Duhon.

Kris Humphries appears to be their fallback option if they can’t meet the Magic’s steep demands for their franchise player. Humphries is coming off a career season in which he averaged a double-double in New Jersey, and he may have to settle for a short-term deal in an effort to prove he’s not just a one-year wonder. If Humphries is agreeable to signing a one-year pact, he’d be eligible to be dealt on March 1, and could serve as an expiring contract in a Howard blockbuster. Andrei Kirilenko was allegedly another option -- and the Nets have spoken highly of him -- but he’s hurt and may stay and play in his native Russia.

In the offseason, the Nets contemplated moving 23-year-old Brook Lopez from center to power forward, but had to abandon those plans after failing to score Tyson Chandler or Nene in free agency.

As for the small forward spot, James will likely get the starting nod due to his defensive prowess. He’s probably the Nets’ best wing defender given his size and strength, and did an admirable job guarding Carmelo Anthony on Saturday afternoon, holding the Knicks swingman to 7-for-15 shooting. Coach Avery Johnson has said James is going to be every opportunity to try and contain the hybrid forwards that caused so many nightmares for the Nets last season.

Behind James is ex-Knickerbocker sharpshooter Shawne Williams, who connected on 40.1 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2010-11.

Stephen Graham sits third on the small forward depth chart, but he’s an offensive liability and his $1.1 million salary is only guaranteed unless he makes the team out of camp. And then there's Ime Udoka, whose contract is also unguaranteed.

As for the wildcard, it’s Dennis Horner, an NBDLer who made quite an impression in his NBA debut. And then there's second-round pick Jordan Williams, who hasn't been able to practice recently due to dehydration issues. The 21-year-old was a tremendous rebounder at Maryland, but he's still acclimating himself at the NBA level.

There’s no question forward is the Nets’ weakest position, and one that needs to be improved immediately.

Mike Mazzeo

ESPN New York Writer

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Joe Johnson
PTS AST STL MIN
16.7 3.8 1.0 34.9
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsK. Garnett 8.0
AssistsD. Williams 6.8
StealsD. Williams 1.1
BlocksB. Lopez 1.6