By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Except for the at-times excruciating pain in his knee, Nets general manager Billy King is in the midst of a dream summer, one that saw him put together one of the best starting fives in team history with one big splash move after another, either in free agency or via trade, the past several weeks.
King, who underwent surgery last week to repair a torn meniscus, is certainly an offseason candidate for NBA Executive of the Year.
But if the Nets are to fulfill their goal of becoming a playoff team and Eastern Conference title contender during their historic first season in Brooklyn, it will more than likely be due to King's ability to surround his star-studded Opening Night lineup of Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace with some important and valuable complementary pieces.
To his credit, King hasn't exactly lifted his foot off the pedal since re-signing Williams, Lopez, Humphries and Wallace, and acquiring Johnson from Atlanta earlier this month. He's kept himself busy filling out the team's work-in-progress roster by peppering in the likes of veterans Keith Bogans, Jerry Stackhouse and Reggie Evans, and foreign imports Mirza Teletovic and Tomeka Shengelia, as well as backup point guard C.J. Watson.
Rookie point guard Tyshawn Taylor should be well-mentored by Williams and Watson while second-year shooting guard MarShon Brooks, who scored a team record-tying 34 points in his Summer League swan song last week, could do worse than to get tips from Johnson, a six-time All-Star with the Hawks.
But as Nets coach Avery Johnson sagely noted during last week's press conference to announce the return of Lopez at the Brooklyn Bridge Marriott, there are no championships awarded to the best team on paper.
"Billy King, who's not here because he’s on the IR getting his knee surgically repaired, has had an outstanding summer in terms of re-signing our key players like Brook, Deron Williams and Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace," Johnson said. "That’s a really nice starting lineup and it will be supplemented by some key guys that we signed to come off the bench. But you have to understand that there’s a lot of work ahead of us. Just because we look good on paper, we’ve got to make it become a reality. We haven’t looked this good on paper in a long time. I’m excited about that.”
While the starters, if they are in perfect health, figure to get between 30-40 minutes a night, the Nets' bench must also produce when called upon if the franchise is to end a streak of five consecutive non-playoff seasons.
King believes Evans, a 10-year veteran, can aid Lopez and Humphries along the boards, while Watson is expected to pick up the minutes Williams will need off during the 82-game grind of the regular season.
Watson, who backed up 2011 NBA MVP Derrick Rose in Chicago before signing with the Nets, knows the secret to building a well-rounded playoff contender.
"We have to be good, for one," the five-year vet from Las Vegas noted during his introductory press conference Tuesday. "We've got to play well and our starters have to do what they do and the bench has to come in and back the starters up and play well. I think that was the main thing in Chicago — our starters were great and then our bench also did a good job and won a lot of games for us. So long as our chemistry is good and we start to click, we'll just go from there."
Teletovic, who may have been forced to start at power forward if the Nets were unable to bring back Humphries, is clearly a stronger outside presence despite his 6-foot-9, 242-pound frame. The 26-year-old Bosnian averaged 21.1 points per game and shot better than 43 percent from 3-point range during his stint in 10 Eurocup games this summer while playing for Caja Laboral Vitoria of the Spanish ACB League.
"I think — in this moment — the best option was the Nets," said Teletovic. "When Deron Williams signed, I knew that this was the team for me. I watched him a lot playing in Europe, and also in Utah; I know he was a winner and he's a guy that wants to win. So I wanted to play for a team who wants to do big things, who wants to try to get a championship."
Stackhouse, who will provide veteran leadership in the locker room as well as on the court, has spent 17 seasons in the NBA. Bogans, entering his 10th year, averaged 4.2 points off the bench in five games for the Nets last season before being waived by King due to an ankle injury.
Shengelia, acquired from Philadelphia in a draft-day deal after the Nets had lost their first-round pick to Portland via terms of the Wallace trade last season, was signed Tuesday as well, giving the Nets a 6-foot-10, 230-pound insurance policy along the front line.
“Toko had a very good summer league which led us to signing him for this season,” said King, noting Shengelia's 10.2 points per game in Orlando after he spent the previous season on the Belgian pro circuit.
Though none of the above-mentioned role players came to Brooklyn with the excitement generated by Williams' return or Johnson's acquisition, each will have his moment to provide relief for the starters while energizing the crowd at the Barclays Center come November.
Before he went under the knife, King intimated that he was pleased with how the Nets were coming together as they prepare to become Brooklyn's first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles 55 years ago. He also echoed Johnson's belief that the heavy lifting is yet to come for a franchise that is still chasing its first-ever NBA title.
"Now, the goal is to work together and see if we can be a team that ultimately can be in the top four (in the conference), so you can have home [court] in the first round of the playoffs,'' King said. ''We'll see how quickly it comes together. The whole process — once we got Deron — was filling around him. We have people around him who are all natural fits.''