By Julie Parise, CBSNewYork.com
NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – With their move from Newark to Brooklyn scheduled for 2012, New Jersey Nets head coach Avery Johnson isn’t wasting any time in his efforts to build a new fan base – starting with the youngsters.
Johnson was at the Brooklyn Public Library on Thursday, where he read aloud to students and parents. In connecting with the community, the coach hopes to lay the groundwork for a loyal following for the franchise – just one part of what he sees as a transformation for his team.
With a new arena and a new fan base, Johnson isn’t exactly looking for a new start – just to build on the progress his team has already begun to make.
The Nets doubled their number of wins last season – up to 24 from 12 – and are looking to this month’s NBA draft to raise their stock. The team has the 27th pick in the first round and the 36th pick in the second round.
“We need to do big in the draft, we need to continue to grow in a couple of different key positions,” said Johnson, who added that he doesn’t regret the move earlier this year to trade two first-round picks for point guard Deron Williams.
“Deron is worth giving two lottery picks up, he’s that good,” Johnson said. “He’s a unique point guard in the NBA, and that’s the way you really get to the next level, by having that type of guy.”
With the Nets almost $20 million under the salary cap, the team has money to put towards their future investments. Realizing that location alone won’t be everything, Johnson is looking to bring a talented, experienced roster to the Barclays Center when it opens on Sept. 28, 2012.
“Brooklyn hasn’t had a team in 55 years, since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles,” said Johnson. “I’ve seen the way a basketball team, like San Antonio, can transform a city, and we want to do that here in Brooklyn.”
And the team needs to build on the talent they have in order to do so.
“With Deron Williams and Brook Lopez returning, one of the best center and point guard combinations in the NBA, we feel we have a chance to get better pretty quickly,” the coach said. “It’s gonna take a lot of work, and we understand that.”
Crucial to the Nets’ success is hanging on to Williams when he becomes a free agent in 2012, and resigning the Nets rising star, power forward Kris Humphries.
“We’re just looking to become a perennial playoff team and looking to become team that can compete for a championship in the next couple of years.”
In regards to this year’s championship, Johnson isn’t surprised that the Dallas Mavericks, a team he led to the finals in 2006, has another shot at a title. In fact, he’s pulling for them to win.
“[The Mavericks] have a much better team than we did in ’06, and that’s not taking anything away from our team,” he said. “Our team in ’06 wasn’t experienced, wasn’t as athletic.”
When asked if he thinks the Mavericks can take down the Miami Heat and the Big Three for the ultimate prize, he didn’t hesitate.
“They have a heck of a shot.”
Julie Parise is the features editor for CBSNewYork.com.