Nets to Brooklyn: ‘Hump’ year

April 25, 2012 By John Torenli Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Wedding-scarred Humphries a Nets winner

Brooklyn loves a tough guy.  

That’s why the Nets should seriously consider bringing power forward Kris Humphries across the river with them for their historic opener at the Barclays Center in November.

Just before Christmas, when the NBA was scrambling to put together a 66-game season following a tedious, and at times ugly, lockout, Humphries was in the middle of his own personal nightmare.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

The eight-year veteran out of the University of Florida was coming off his well-chronicled disaster of a 72-day marriage to reality show icon Kim Kardashian.  He was also admittedly out of game shape and more than just a little shaken by his pending divorce and newfound celebrity status.

Booed virtually every time he touched the ball in opposing arenas during the abbreviated exhibition schedule, Humphries knew the 2012-13 campaign would be the most trying of his career.

His response was to put up unprecedented individual numbers while emerging as the Nets’ most consistent and toughest player on a nightly basis.  

The free-agent-to-be averaged 13.8 points, 11.0 rebounds, 1.5 assists and 0.8 steals, and hit 75.2 percent of his free-throw attempts, achieving career bests in each and every category.

But it was Humphries’ cheeky, and at times humorous, response to hostile opponents and fans that should endear him to every Brooklynite with a basketball pulse.  He just sneered and kept on playing, using the perceived hate to fuel his game.

“People are yelling at you. You know you have to go and perform, go and play hard,” he revealed following a particularly brutal night in Washington. “They want to have a reason to say something, so you have to try to not give them that reason. It makes it a hostile environment and it’s kind of fun to play in that environment.”

While his much more famous soon-to-be-ex-wife went on a campaign to restore her image following the reality world’s version of the royal wedding, Humphries, a native of Minneapolis, got back to work.

After inking a one-year, $8 million pact to return to New Jersey for a third straight season, the 6-foot-9, 235-pound dynamo finished fourth in the league in rebounding behind Dwight Howard — a player the Nets are likely to pursue again this summer — Kevin Love and Andrew Bynum.  

His ability to pick up the slack when oft-injured center Brook Lopez and fellow free agent All-Star point guard Deron Williams weren’t available carried the Nets through their fifth consecutive non-playoff campaign and final season in the Garden State.  Humphries refused to put his head down, instead doing all the dirty work for a team that appeared to be in wait-till-next-year mode following a dismal 8-23 start.  

“That’s what the NBA is all about,” Humphries said after ripping down 21 rebounds against the Raptors in March. “With Deron out and Brook out, there is a huge void in every category when those two guys miss.”

The Nets have gone a more respectable 14-20 entering Thursday’s season finale in Toronto since the poor opening, and Humphries has been the most steadying presence on the roster during that run back to semi-respectability.

The effort wasn’t lost on coach Avery Johnson, who thanked Humphries for his determination in the wake of an ongoing tabloid scandal throughout the campaign.

“He competes every day,” Johnson said of the player who started all but three of the Nets’ games. “A guy thinks he has a layup on a break and Hump comes out of nowhere and blocks the shot. He is just a warrior. He is there every night and I know what I am going to get.”

Asked recently if he was interested in being a part of our borough’s first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957, “Hump” did not hesitate.

“Of course,” he declared. “I think everyone wants to come back and be a part of Brooklyn. But we understand that we probably won’t have the same exact team as this year, so hopefully, as many guys as possible can be a part of it.”

During his state-of-the-Nets address at Barclays Center earlier this month, owner Mikhail Prokhorov dubiously failed to mention Humphries when discussing the franchise’s slow, steady rebuilding process.

With Williams ready to test the open market and Howard’s status up in the air due to recent back surgery and a falling out with his head coach in Orlando, Humphries can provide the one thing any major construction project desperately needs to succeed: a solid foundation.

If the Nets want to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues, they won’t have to look far to find the first solid brick in their infrastructure.

He’s on the cover of virtually every tabloid rag in Brooklyn.  And thriving in spite of it.  Sounds like one of our own.

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