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Brooklyn’s Last Chance Nets, The Team To Beat

When your team has over a $100 million payroll and is set on forking out over $85 million in luxury taxes, it had better be the team to beat. The Miami HEAT are the back-to-back NBA Champions, but not even they can lay claim to a roster with as many superstars, All-Stars and unique role players as Brooklyn can this season.

The Nets are deep. They are experienced. The Nets feature lots of All-Stars. They are also old and possibly brittle. Their championship window isn’t going to be open for long, however, this potential all Hall-of-Fame starting lineup extends even into the rotation:

Point Guard: Deron Williams (3x All-Star, 29 years old)
Backup: Shaun Livingston (27), Reserve: Tyshawn Taylor (23)

Shooting Guard: Joe Johnson (6x All-Star, 32 years old),
Backup: Jason Terry ( 2009 NBA 6th Man, 35 years old), Reserve: Alan Anderson (30)

Small Forward: Paul Pierce (10x All-Star, 35 years old)
Backup: Andrei Kirilenko (1x All-Star, 32 years old), Reserve: Tornike Shengelia (21)

Power Forward: Kevin Garnett (15x All-Star, 37 years old)
Backup: Reggie Evans (NBA Rebound percentage leader 26.7%, 33 years old), Reserve: Mirza Teletovic (27)

Center: Brook Lopez (1x All-Star, 25 years old)
Backup: Andray Blatche (26), Mason Plumlee (23)

There are 36 All-Star appearances between 6 players on the Nets, plus a former NBA 6th Man and the current league leader in rebounding percentage. Reggie Evans had the second best rebounding percentage in league history last season behind only Dennis Rodman in 1994-1995 and would be second all-time for his career if he qualified for minutes played. Everyone should be impressed by this roster.

The issue on the Nets isn’t talent, its age and injury concerns. The average age of their top 10 players is 31.1 years and only three of those players are under 29. Plus, the players the Nets are counting on who are younger have their own issues.

Brook Lopez, their young starting center, bent the screw that holds his foot together and needed surgery to repair it this summer. Deron Williams had three rounds of Cortisone shots to keep his ankles feeling good last season and that should keep the Nets feeling just a little nervous. The reason Andray Blatche was amnestied by Washington was conditioning, effort and attitude. None of that was apparent last season, but Blatche will get big money whether he plays or not this year and next. Shaun Livingston blew out his knee in 2007 and today, it is as good as it will get. Livingston is a very old 27. It’s apparent even the little youth the Nets have doesn’t alleviate many of the concerns about an aging roster.

The window for a championship is now. All they need to do is get this very talented group of players through an 82 game schedule in one piece. As Paul Pierce told Adam Figman in a Slamonline Q+A, the reason he and Garnett are in Brooklyn is to win a championship and he knows how to do it.

Paul Pierce: “I didn’t want to be a part of rebuilding; Kevin didn’t want to be a part of rebuilding; Doc didn’t want to be part of rebuilding. I think it was all mutual. We’ve done so much for the franchise that they wanted to help on our end. So Doc went to L.A., and they sent us to Brooklyn for a chance to win a Championship. That’s pretty much the way it was. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Pierce sees how this roster of All-Stars can create wins even if a lot of their talent is on the downside of their careers. Pierce, Garnett and company have the respect of other players, coaches and referees. They are a presence on the court.

Paul Pierce: “I think people don’t understand the impact of a presence. For me and Kevin, it’s not gonna be about our numbers night in and night out. We’ve had the days where we averaged 25 points a game. It’s gonna be our presence: our ability to draw defenses, our ability to maybe command a double team, our ability to knock down shots. Even if we don’t have the ball, our presence out there alone is intimidating.”

Pierce is right, the Nets will have a starting lineup with presence, but unlike the HEAT that have three players with presence in their starting lineup, the Nets will have five and the Nets can argue their bench has more presence as well.

Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has committed about $190 million to winning an NBA championship this season and he has bought about as many NBA All-Stars and as much presence as there was available to acquire. No one could argue against the players he has taken on, but when six of your best players average 34 years old, there is no point in pretending the window of opportunity Prokhorov has created extends very far past this season.

This is a one-shot deal. If the Nets can’t complete the task of winning a championship this season, the odds will drop next year. This is a first and last chance with this group of stars.

All they have to do is to stay healthy and Pierce can ride his presence to a shot at the championship and the highest outlay for players in the history of the NBA should be enough to bring the Larry O’Brien Championship Trophy to Brooklyn.

82 games can’t be completed quickly enough, if you are in Brooklyn this season.

Stephen Brotherston covers the Toronto Raptors and visiting NBA teams at the Air Canada Centre. A member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association, Stephen is the editor and publisher of Pro Bball Report.

You can follow Stephen on twitter @stevesraptors