By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
After spending two seasons watching his team wallow at the bottom of the Atlantic Division and sit on the outside looking in at the playoffs, Nets coach Avery Johnson is chomping at the bit to get down to some winning basketball, Brooklyn-style.
''I've been waiting for this kind of pressure for two years," Johnson revealed during the Nets' first official media day at the Barclays Center Monday.
The 47-year-old Johnson, who infamously broke Knicks fans' hearts with an NBA Finals-winning jump shot at Madison Square Garden as a member of the San Antonio Spurs in 1999, spent his first two campaigns with the then-New Jersey Nets presiding over a makeshift, injury-riddled unit that went a dismal 46-102.
With a rebuilt roster, spearheaded by the backcourt tandem of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, a brand new arena on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues and the hopes of Brooklyn fans eager to welcome their first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957, Johnson finally has what he wanted most when he accepted the Nets' coaching job on June 9, 2010: Meaningful games and the pressure that accompanies them.
Rather than playing out a season with an eye on the future, or counting the days until the next draft, Johnson can now set his sights on game-planning and building a legitimate title contender in the heart of Downtown.
''I'm losing sleep now for different reasons because I'm really excited about this team and all of the possibilities, all of the different combinations and intangibles, different ways we can play on both ends of the floor,'' said Johnson, who did enjoy success as a head coach with Dallas, leading the Mavericks to the 2006 NBA Finals.
Nets fans, old and new, have made their hopes for Season One clear to Johnson, whether he's walking around the neighborhood or out with his family.
''Even just going around the city, man, no matter where I'm at, somebody's hollering 'Brooklyn!' Or saying we want a championship the first year,'' Johnson said. ''So we got to deliver.''
To his credit, Johnson has played the good soldier during what many Brooklynites hope will be the last two of the Nets' five consecutive non-playoff seasons. He didn't have center Brook Lopez for all but five games last season and was constantly dealing with rumors regarding a potential trade for Dwight Howard or Williams' pending free agency.
General manager Billy King put his coach's heart to rest by inking Williams for $100 million, re-signing Lopez, power forward Kris Humphries, small forward Gerald Wallace and acquiring Johnson from Atlanta. The summer spending spree, estimated at over $300 million of owner Mikhail Prokhorov's money, finally gives Johnson a roster he can contend with, not only for the title of best basketball team in New York City, but potentially, in the world.
While the hoopla surrounding the Nets' arrival, which will become official in the Nov. 1 season opener against the East River rival Knicks, has been palpable, Johnson realizes his players cannot content themselves with being the hottest new show in town. Instead, they must bear down and take on the working-class mentality of our borough's inhabitants as they embark on what promises to be an historic inaugural campaign at the Barclays Center.
"We want to be a team this year that puts on its hard hat," Johnson noted. "Even though we look good on paper, we want to be a team that takes on the personality of Brooklyn, which is a hard-working community. I've always believed in teams that had that type of personality, that don't complain or make excuses, but just play hard on both sides of the floor. I've got some veteran guys on the roster that we think are going to help reinforce that message."
At 5-foot-11, Johnson overcame tremendous odds to earn "The Little General" monikor in acknowledgement of his hard-nosed, leadership during a 16-year NBA career. He's now been given a chance to lead arguably the best roster in the star-crossed history of the Nets on the journey of a lifetime, one that Prokhorov hopes will conclude wtih a trip not only to the playoffs, but perhaps the NBA Finals.
Judging from Johnson's ability to persevere under pressure in the past, this challenge, though formidable, is right up his alley.
"Expectations are a lot higher," he said. 'This is what we want. This is what we sign up for.''
In other Nets news, Williams, who warmed Brooklyn fans' hearts by tweeting that he'd remain a Net back in July, apparently led a group of his teammates in informal workouts in the weeks leading up the opening of camp. The former Utah point guard is relishing the opportunity to put Brooklyn on the NBA map with a strong first season in our fair borough.
''I feel like we can be special,'' Williams said. ''Guys are not really worried about contract situations, we can just go out there and play basketball. I think guys are at the point in their career, they don't care about what their statistics are, they just want to win.''
Owed $90 million over the next four years, Johnson will be on the spot to provide significant scoring punch along the exterior while Lopez, Humphries and Wallace figure to pile up most of their points slashing to the basket and working in and around the paint.
"I don't think I'll see double- and triple-teams," Johnson said during Monday's media session. "I'll get a chance to really play off Deron and Brook a lot, maybe more catch-and-shoot, not a lot of 1-on-1 creating, trying to break down the defense. My role will change, but I think it will be a great change."
The team officially revealed its road and home jerseys for the upcoming season, sure to be a hot item around Brooklyn in the days leading up to the Nov. 1 opener against the Knicks and for the upcoming holiday season.
The basic black-and-white color scheme -- white at home and black on the road -- is highlighted by "BROOKLYN" across the chest in capital letters.
The jersey's designer, Brooklyn hip-hop icon and Nets minority owner Jay-Z, actually gave those in attendance at his arena-opening show Friday night the first peak at the shirt, donning it onstage for the first of eight straight sold-out concerts.