By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Though they stopped well short of the well-chronicled — and at times nauseating — posing and preening that Miami's self-proclaimed "Dream Team" orchestrated two summers ago on South Beach, the Brooklyn Nets did their share of showing off over the weekend.
And for darn good reason.
An offseason shopping spree for the ages, highlighted by the signings of All-Star point guard Deron Williams, center Brook Lopez, forwards Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and Mirza Teletovic, and the blockbuster acquisition of All-Star shooting guard Joe Johnson, has certainly been nothing to sneeze at for a franchise four months shy of becoming our borough's first major pro sports franchise in 55 years.
First, the Nets' backcourt, dubbed "the best in the NBA" by general manager Billy King, took center stage before a flock of thousands at Brooklyn Borough Hall last Friday. Later that night, Johnson threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium — a perfect strike — and coach Avery Johnson led the Bleacher Creatures in their ritual first-inning role call.
On Wednesday morning, the Nets will roll out the red carpet for Lopez, the 7-foot center who missed all but five games due to a foot injury last season but is expected to be at full strength come Opening Night at the Barclays Center in November, at the New York Marriott Brooklyn Bridge.
It's a great time to be a Nets fan, or maybe even become one if you've grown tired of waiting for the Knicks to rise back to the prominence they enjoyed during the Patrick Ewing era, or following the Jeremy Lin saga.
Johnson, who hit the game-winning jumper for the San Antonio Spurs to beat the Knicks in the fifth and decisive game of the 1999 NBA Finals at Madison Square Garden, certainly is enjoying the Nets' ongoing victory tour through the Big Apple.
"You know, when I first came [to the Nets in June 2010], we talked about it was going to be a process," Johnson said during Friday's Backcourt Bash at Borough Hall. "Even [Nets owner Mikhail] Prokhorov, he talked about how it was going to be a five-year plan; we're in the middle of those five years. This is what we've been dreaming about and planning for: this is our moment."
And not a moment too soon for a Nets team that has wallowed in virtual obscurity through five consecutive non-playoff seasons, including last year's injury-riddled last-place 22-44 finish. Brooklyn even lost the rights to its first-round draft pick in last month's draft to Portland via its trade-deadline deal for Wallace in March.
But none of that could curb the enthusiasm that continues to swell as the countdown toward their inaugural campaign continues.
King has resumed his offseason restructuring of the roster, inking the likes of backup point guard C.J. Watson and veteran shooting guard Jerry Stackhouse on Monday before Tuesday's announcement that the Nets had reached an agreement to bring back Humphries, arguably their most consistent player other than Williams, last season.
"This is a great day, because we've put together what I call the best backcourt in the NBA," King boasted Friday, when he could get a word in following always-animated Borough President Marty Markowitz's remarks. "There are a lot of good backcourts, but I don't think there are many where you've got two guys that can get 18-20 points every night and defend their positions."
Though Johnson declared that the Nets were in position to become New York's best team, neither he nor Williams went as far as to proclaim themselves championship-ready. Unlike the trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, who began counting their titles at their introductory press conference two years ago — a guarantee they began to make good on just last month by grabbing the NBA title from Oklahoma City in five games.
''This is a fresh start for us all,'' Williams admitted. ''I am excited to see where this team can go.''
So is King, who likely saved his job and deflected the ire of Brooklyn basketball fanatics by bringing back Williams, trading for Johnson and surrounding the dynamic duo with a formidable roster that promises to put an abrupt halt to the final half-decade of futility in New Jersey.
'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 Eastern Conference], so you can have home [court advanatage] in the first round of the playoffs,'' King said. ''We'll see how quickly it comes together."
Johnson, who coached the Dallas Mavericks to the 2006 NBA Finals, is well-acquainted with what it takes to make a serious run at an NBA championship, something the Nets have longed for since moving into the circuit from the long-defunct ABA in 1976.
''I really believe this is a playoff team,'' Johnson said. ''Once we can become a playoff team and get into the playoffs, then anything can happen."
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