Nets to Brooklyn: Brave face

April 24, 2012 By John Torenli Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Johnson Bears Brunt of Lost Season for Brooklyn-Bound Nets

Somewhere between the moving video montages and the star-studded halftime ceremony featuring great Nets of the past, Avery Johnson had to sit through another humbling defeat during the franchise’s last game ever in the Garden State.

The Nets’ resilient head coach watched helplessly as his undermanned unit fumbled down the stretch of Tuesday’s 105-87 loss to playoff-bound Philadelphia before a crowd of 18,711 at the Prudential Center.

And as usual, the former Spurs point guard did his best to put a brave face on his second straight losing season with New Jersey (soon to be Brooklyn).

“Great fan support tonight,” said Johnson, who spent more time chuckling about former Nets center Darryl Dawkins’ hot-pink pinstriped suit than his team’s latest defeat. “They came out, they cheered us on, and our guys just ran out of gas in the fourth quarter.”

In an all-too-familiar scenario during his 46-101 two-year run at the helm, Johnson was left to explain away another loss after All-Star point guard Deron Williams missed his fourth straight game with a hyper-extended right knee.

He did so with the resolve of a championship-caliber player — Johnson hit the game-winning jumper in the Spurs’ NBA Finals-clinching victory at Madison Square Garden in 1999 — and coach, who took Dallas to the NBA Finals only six short years ago.  

“We knew before this season began that this was a product that needed to grow,” he insisted. “We made some major strides this season. We showed a lot of professionalism and we need to keep our foot on the pedal as we try to get better and move forward.”

Moving forward means moving to Brooklyn, where the Nets will play their historic opener in November at the “75 percent complete” Barclays Center in the heart of Downtown.

The pomp and circumstance surrounding a new beginning after 35 mostly dismal campaigns in Jersey have taken some of the sting off the Nets’ fifth consecutive non-playoff campaign.

But knowing Johnson, the state-of-the-art digs won’t mean much without a winning environment.

Though he was addressing the loyal Nets fans who showed up for the finale, Johnson could have been talking about himself when saying goodbye to Jersey.

“They’ve been through a lot,” he noted. “There are a lot of memories for the fans. I do feel for them. A lot of things happen in sports that the fans can’t control. I know they’re disappointed. But this begins a new chapter in Nets basketball.”

Team owner Mikhail Prokhorov gave Johnson a strong vote of confidence during his press conference at the Barlcays earlier this month, noting that the Nets, much like their new arena, are still under construction.

Building a winner in Brooklyn will begin with finding a way to re-sign Williams, who is eligible for free agency this summer and is doubtlessly disappointed that the Nets weren’t able to land All-Star center Dwight Howard from Orlando at the trade deadline in February.

Adding pieces to a promising roster featuring rookie MarShon Brooks, Gerald Green, Gerald Wallace, injured center Brook Lopez and rebounding machine Kris Humphries will be the key in determining if the Nets show up in Brooklyn under-construction or ready to challenge for an Eastern Conference playoff bid in seven months.

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