With their eyes on the NBA’s biggest prize and the swagger to match, one question remains for the Nets: How far can the team really get if Deron Williams is not 100 percent over the course of the regular season?
That is what Nets fans should want to know.
The answer is if Billy King and assistant general manager Bobby Marks are unable to find a way to bolster the Nets' backcourt, is "probably not far."
With Brook Lopez, Kevin Garnett, Andray Blatche, Andrei Kirilenko, Reggie Evans and the impressive rookie Mason Plumlee, the Nets have six big men who all belong in NBA rotations. And while it may be too soon to make such a proclamation for Plumlee, my take on young big men has always been that good hands, good timing and crisp off-ball movement are the hallmarks of a pro in the making, and in those realms, Plumlee had already impressed me, as I wrote previously.
But follow the bouncing ball...
As it currently stands, the Nets backcourt reserves are miles behind their frontcourt in terms of talent.
Jason Terry, the leader of the pack, is 36 years old and is coming off of a fairly miserable season as a member of the Boston Celtics—at least by his standards. In his final season with the Dallas Mavericks, Terry -- whose greatest attribute is his scoring ability -- managed to score just 13.15 points per game off of Doc Rivers’ bench, after scoring 17.1 points running with Dirk Nowitzki.
If there is one thing that NBA history has shown us, is that aging guards do not often experience a revival this late in their careers. While still productive, Terry should not be counted on to play 30 minutes per game for the Nets as a reserve combo guard.
As for the newly acquired Shaun Livingston, his return to the game and place in an NBA rotation is one of the best stories I have witnessed in my years of watching the NBA. Because of his gruesome knee injury suffered back in 2007, Livingston is only a shell of the explosive player that took the NBA by storm back in 2005. At this point, the comparisons to Magic Johnson have long ceased and right now, he is properly best cast as a solid reserve point guard.
Tyshawn Taylor, on the other hand, is a youngster whose best days are ahead of him. When we spoke on media day, Taylor told me that he felt that he was "the youth" of the team and that he is looking forward to learning as much as he can from the veterans around him. In his progression as a professional, that is exactly where his mindset should be. He has the tools to be a good rotation guard in the NBA, but he should not be counted on to do any heavy lifting for this Nets team, not even in an emergency.
So, the most pertinent question is, and shall remain: What happens if Williams, or even Johnson, goes down for any extended period of time?
In all likelihood, Terry's minutes would increase and Paul Pierce would likely spend some minutes at shooting guard spot. Extending the minutes of either, though, would be a catch-22 for a team that hopes to have its veteran core well-rested when the playoffs roll around.
That is why the Nets would be wise to bolster their backcourt, if possible.
One more rotation-ready NBA combo guard may be enough to put this team over the top, so even with the successful preseason, the Nets front office has work to do.
As the season progresses, on the trade market, names will undoubtedly begin to surface, especially with the likes of the Sacramento Kings and Minnesota Timberwolves having an apparent abundance of quality guards. But even before then, if I know King and Marks (and I do), then they have probably already privately begun discussing the weakest link in the chain that connects the Nets to their lofty championship goals.
No question, the Nets are a legit championship contender, but there is a difference between merely being a contender and being a challenger. Here and now, as the franchise is set to embark on what it hopes to be a championship journey, the Nets are just one attainable player away from bolstering their brawn.
With one piece to go—one more to put in place—the championship puzzle may almost be complete. There is still one more piece missing. He is probably about 6-foot-5 and is on one of the NBA's cellar dwellers. I do not know his name.
But I'd be willing to bet that King and Marks already do.
Moke Hamilton is the NBA Analyst for SNY.tv, contributing to both TheKnicksBlog.com and SNYNets.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MokeHamilton