EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — To a man, the Brooklyn Nets realize that the 2013-14 season was a bit of a disappointment. Despite winning a first-round series against Toronto, they were swept out of the playoffs by Miami.
“It wasn’t what I expected,” said Joe Johnson, the team’s leading scorer down the stretch last season. “I expected more from us as a team.”
So as they met Friday for media day at their practice facility, the Nets recognized they have turned the page on last season. Former head coach Jason Kidd unceremoniously moved on after just one season to Milwaukee, and veteran NBA head coach Lionel Hollins has been given the responsibilities to replace Kidd, perhaps the franchise’s best player ever.
“Every year, it seems as if we start from scratch,” said Johnson, who will play for his fourth head coach in his three years with the Nets. “Hopefully, this year, we start out better.”
The Nets struggled out of the gate with a new lineup last season as veteran superstars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett tried to get acquainted with a new coach, new team and new surroundings. They were 10-21 at one point, but rebounded well down the stretch to make the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 6 seed.
Pierce is now gone, signing as a free agent with Washington, but Garnett has returned for his 19th NBA season.
Garnett realizes he’s not the same All-Star standout that he once was but feels he can improve on his subpar performance last season.
“I don’t see myself as a primary player anymore,” Garnett said. “That’s the reality of it. I understand that. But I still feel I have something left to give this team.”
The 38-year-old Garnett said that he seriously considered retirement in the offseason, especially after close friend Pierce departed.
“It’s always a thought when you’re my age,” Garnett said. “It’s somewhere in there in the back of my mind. I think I’ve done that for the last three years. I think about life and basketball and whether basketball was a priority. It’s either yes or no. But I am committed to something, and I’m sticking with it. It’s that simple.”
Garnett hesitated when he was asked whether this would be his last season.
“I’m just looking forward to having an excellent year and enjoy this year,” he said. “I was dealing with a bunch of stuff last year. This year, I’m just going to enjoy things, make things more enjoyable, and make the year a better one.”
Deron Williams, another former All-Star on the Nets’ roster, is coming off his worst season as a pro, complicated by two severely sprained ankles that limited his performance. Williams had surgery in the offseason on both ankles and said that he is recovering slowly.
“I don’t think I’m 100 percent yet, but I’m pretty close,” Williams said. “I’m about 20 percent better than I was all of last season. I took care of the issues I had, and I think we’re all looking to improve.”
Hollins, who was a playoff-contending head coach with the Memphis Grizzlies, is eager to take over the Nets and vows to make changes.
“I’d like us to be tougher,” said Hollins, who promised that his team would practice more and harder this season than Kidd pushed them last year. “I want us to be more aggressive and compete harder.”
When asked how a veteran team gets tougher, Hollins replied, “Practice, practice, practice.”
“That’s the foundation we’re going to build on,” Hollins said. “That’s what we’re trying to learn. It’s no secret. Can everyone be tougher? I have no idea. That’s what we’re going to find out.”
The Nets will also welcome back Brook Lopez, the All-Star center who missed most of last season after undergoing foot surgery. They also have second-year player Mason Plumlee, who improved tremendously during the season and earned NBA all-rookie status. Plumlee spent the summer months playing for Team USA, which won the FIBA World Cup gold medal.
The Nets should have a healthy Andrei Kirilenko from the start of the season. Kirilenko missed most of last season with back problems.
The Nets lost Pierce, Shawn Livingston and Andray Blatche from last year’s team, but added veteran Jarrett Jack to back up Williams at point guard and signed highly touted European Bojan Bogdanovic to help the team’s perimeter game.
“I think we can compete in the East,” Williams said. “I think it’s there for the taking.”