Lopez, Williams Must Retain All-Star Form
Brooklyn’s Once-Dynamic Duo Key to Nets’ Success in 2014-15
The Nets are fully embracing their role as 2015 All-Star co-hosts.
They’d like nothing better than to send two of their key cogs to the annual NBA spectacular at Madison Square Garden come next February.
Center Brook Lopez and point guard Deron Williams, the foundation of the Brooklyn franchise, must return to All-Star form if the Nets hope to seriously challenge for their first-ever NBA title and our borough’s initial major pro sports championship since the Dodgers fled for Los Angeles following the 1957 season.
“We are proud to embrace NBA All-Star by turning the Nets season into an All-Star Season in Brooklyn,” said Brett Yormark, CEO of the Nets and Barclays Center, on Wednesday.
“While basketball is at the heart of All-Star, we are expanding upon the All-Star experience like never before to include elements such as merchandise, food, and exercise. We are excited to build anticipation and prepare the ‘Borough of Basketball’ for its first All-Star season.”
The Nets will play host to the first two days of All-Star Weekend on Feb. 13 and 14 before the East River rival Knicks host the NBA All-Star Game at MSG on Feb. 15.
Having both Lopez and Williams suit up for the Eastern Conference All-Stars in that game would likely mean the Nets are exactly where they thought they’d be when they inked both to lucrative contracts back in 2012.
On July 11 of that year, the Nets handed Williams $98 million for five years in the hopes that he would play like the three-time Western Conference All-Star he had been during his heyday in Utah.
Instead, the former University of Illinois star has struggled through a myriad of ankle injuries, limiting his leaping ability and his staying power on the floor during his first two seasons in a Brooklyn uniform.
As for Lopez, the 7-footer from Stanford didn’t miss a single game in his first three seasons as a New Jersey Net, but has battled serious foot issues ever since, playing in only 17 games last season after earning his first-ever trip to the All-Star Game in 2012-13.
He was also limited to only five games during the team’s final campaign in New Jersey in 2011-12, after which he signed a four-year, $61 million deal to remain with the team in Brooklyn.
Both Williams and Lopez will be relied upon to push the Nets to the next level after the team was bounced in the opening round of the playoffs during its inaugural campaign here and received a second-round ousting last season.
And their new head coach knows it.
“Deron has been looking very good. I told him couple of days ago, man you look pain free, you’re moving very well,” Lionel Hollins noted in a recent local radio interview. “He’s looking for a big year. I’m looking for a big year out of him. He’s healthy, and Brook is healthy.”
Whether that health will translate into an All-Star level campaign for the tandem is another issue.
Williams, recovering from surgery on both ankles, admitted in a recent interview that he hasn’t been at full strength during his first two seasons in Brooklyn, something he feels will be different in Year Three.
“It’s definitely different this year, and I think it’s great,” he said. “Anytime you can’t walk, you can’t run, you can’t jump, it’s hard to play basketball, especially in this league. The only thing I wish is that I would’ve gotten surgery earlier.”
Lopez, who has undergone several surgical procedures on his foot the few years, is also expressing enthusiasm regarding his return to full health for the upcoming campaign.
“I got my second day of five-on-five [drills] in,” Lopez revealed earlier this week. “It’s been going well. It feels good to be back out there with the guys. Everyone’s been out there, and everyone looks good.”
Looking good and feeling good don’t necessarily add up to playing well for 82 games, or at least well enough to help the Nets seriously contend for their first Eastern Conference title in over a decade.
But for the Nets, who lost the likes of Paul Pierce, Andray Blatche and Shaun Livingston this offseason, the likelihood of advancing that far, and perhaps one step further, in the playoffs is predicated on the health, reliability and excellence of the two players they built this franchise around.
Two former All-Stars who must rediscover their All-Star form.
That would be something to celebrate in Brooklyn come February.
Nothing But Net: Nets general manager Billy King announced Thursday morning that the team had signed Willie Reed.Reed averaged 14.7 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks in the NBA Development League last season in 49 games with the Springfield Armor and Reno Bighorns. The Sacramento Kings signed Reed for the remainder of the 2013-14 season on March 28, before assigning the 6-foot-10 forward/center to the D-League’s Bighorns and then recalling him on two separate occasions. Undrafted in the 2011 NBA Draft out of St. Louis University, Reed was selected in the second round (30th overall) of the 2012 NBA Development League Draft by the Springfield Armor. He earned All-NBA D-League Honorable Mention recognition after averaging 14.8 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 48 games (30 starts) with Springfield during the 2012-13 season before signing with the Memphis Grizzlies. In stints with Memphis and Sacramento, Reed has yet to appear in a regular season NBA game. … The NBA All-Star events at Barclays Center begin on Friday, Feb. 13 with the league’s top rookies and second-year players participating in the BBVA Compass Rising Stars Challenge. On Saturday, Feb. 14, Barclays Center will host the State Farm All-Star Saturday Night, including NBA Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest, and Sprite Slam Dunk. … To launch All-Star Season in Brooklyn, the Nets announced Wednesday that they will feature a customized All-Star Brooklyn logo that will be placed on the baselines of the court at Barclays Center. The players will also wear a customized All-Star Brooklyn patch on their jerseys during home games leading up to All-Star weekend. In addition, the logo and patch will be featured on a special line of merchandise at the Nets Lifestyle Shop by adidas at Barclays Center.
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