Every offseason, sports writers around the globe are on the lookout for the next best thing. Last summer, roundball writers drooled over Oklahoma City’s potential. This summer, the focus should be in Newark. OK, so John Wall isn’t going to New Jersey, big deal. The Nets will still be an alluring destination team this summer thanks to Mikhail Prokhorov, the self-made Russian billionaire owner with cap room and money to blow. Prokhorov should also be aided by the team’s relocation plans for Brooklyn in 2012 and one of the best up and coming rosters in the league. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to come to Jersey?

Even though the Nets only won 12 games last season, their roster is stacked with young and attractive talent like 7-foot center Brook Lopez ,who’s already one of the best big men in the league at just 22. There’s also Devin Harris, a prototypical-sized, lighting quick and fast-twitch point guard (who probably benefitted the most from Washington winning the lottery since many forget he was an All-Star in 2008). In addition, there’s a trio of athletic wings in Terrence Williams, Courtney Lee and Chris Douglas-Roberts. Throw in serviceable bigs Josh Boone and Yi Jianlian, who averaged 13 points and nine rebounds to close the month of April, and New Jersey’s roster is only a couple of spectacular pieces away from being dangerously nasty.

While Lopez and Harris get most of the pub, Williams may be the most intriguing member of that group. The rookie didn’t start receiving consistent minutes last year until the final two months of the season when he averaged over 14 points, 5.6 assists and 6.2 rebounds a game in only 31.2 minutes of action. Consistent minutes and a year of seasoning could turn Williams into a certified player next year, but the salivating doesn’t stop there.

Keep in mind this year’s third pick in the draft should net New Jersey one of Evan Turner, Derrick Favors or DeMarcus Cousins. While many would argue for Turner if he’s available, consider that Williams is already giving the Nets what Turner would but he’s doing so with a few extra touches of athleticism (check his YouTube).

Stacking up on athletic bigs is never a bad thing. Look no further than the Lakers and Celtics for an example of what two long and athletic front court guys can do for a team’s roster. Pairing Cousins or Favors with Lopez would give New Jersey a pretty stout and athletic front wall rarely possessed from teams in the NBA.

And then there’s free agency, where a few extra dollars could land the marquee player this team needs to be a true contender. LeBron James, anyone? Guys like Chris Bosh, Amar’e Stoudemire and Carlos Boozer will likely wish to partner with James or Dwyayne Wade(who’s also a free agent) somewhere where they could run the league but James is the lynchpin here. Unlike Bosh, Stoudemire and Boozer, James doesn’t necessarily need to pair with a huge name to win and his a one-man band is more than capable of leading a group of misfits (as he’s already done) deep in the playoffs. Not that the Nets roster is any slouch but if any of the freebies could come to New Jersey solo and successfully run a group of highly-skilled talents, it’s James.

If it’s not James then maybe Prokhorov should throw his dollars at Memphis restricted free agent Rudy Gay. The 6-foot 9-inch, 23-year-old small forward is coming off averages of 19.6 points and six rebounds and adding him to an already capable squad could form Oklahoma City-like results in the East next year. Gay’s Baltimore ties might force him to consider relocating somewhere closer to home and the Grizzlies are going to let the market set a barometer for Gay but if Prokhorov throws some ridiculous figure out there, Memphis might likely decline to match.

Regardless of which free agents or if any signs with the Nets, with the third pick in the draft and a move to Brooklyn on the horizon, the Nets are clearly a team on the rise in the NBA.


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO