NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — MarShon Brooks stood wearing his brand-new uniform in front of a green screen on the Brooklyn Nets’ practice court, screwing up his face and making kissy lips at the camera. He stopped, then puckered up again for another take that will eventually introduce the “Kiss Cam” at the Barclays Center.
It was a fitting visual for a day the Nets formally kicked off what they hope will be a love affair with the New York City borough that hasn’t had major professional sports since the Dodgers left town in 1957.
So much has changed in sports and Brooklyn since then that 55-year old baseball references hardly seem relevant. One thing has stayed the same, though: Fans still want to support a winner, even in the borough of “Dem Bums” and “Wait `til Next Year.”
So can the Nets provide? Maybe.
“I think we have a chance to win the whole thing this year,” said new guard Joe Johnson. “I’m not just saying it. I honestly believe it.”
Yeah, Johnson went there. And he insisted he wasn’t “sugar-coating anything.”
“We understand Miami is the favorite,” Johnson added. “Nobody is picking us to win anything. We understand that. But I think our hard work is going to pay off. We have everything you could possibly want on a championship-caliber team.”
Coach Avery Johnson is going to try to have a team the borough’s residents can approve of even without star-studded rosters like those belonging to the Los Angeles Lakers or the defending champion Miami Heat.
“We want to be a team that takes on the personality of Brooklyn, which is a hard-working community,” Johnson said. “I’ve always believed in teams that had that type of personality.”
How about a title?
“The goal is to win a championship this year,” said Avery. “Are we a championship team right now? No. Do we have the potential to be one as the season progresses? Absolutely.”
Even though the borough has become better known lately for being home to a population of mustachioed slackers making artisanal foodstuffs while cable TV series shoot in the background, it’s still very much a diverse, blue-collar town.
With a population of 2.5 million, if Brooklyn were its own city, it would be bigger than every NBA town but Chicago, Los Angeles and, well, New York itself, with or without its largest borough.
And being New York, it will be filled with impatient sports fans who would like to win now, thanks.
To that end, the Nets revamped their roster in the offseason.
Most notably, they acquired Johnson in a blockbuster trade, and added veterans Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Childress, Andray Blatche, C.J. Watson, Reggie Evans and European free agent Mirza Teletovic.
“We have a great roster,” Blatche said, according to the New York Daily News. “We have a team that’s winning the title.”
Even more significant than the Johnson trade, though, was that they kept star point guard Deron Williams, who re-signed in July, agreeing to a five-year contract worth about $98 million. The Nets also kept center Brook Lopez, power forward Kris Humphries and small forward Gerald Wallace, all of whom were potential free agents.
With that group, the Nets expect to contend for a playoff spot this season after their last two dismal years in New Jersey.
“I’m losing sleep now for different reasons because I’m really excited about this team and all of the possibilities, all of the different combinations and intangibles, different ways we can play on both ends of the floor,” Johnson said. “I’ve been waiting for this kind of pressure for two years. Where there’s pressure on us to win, expectations are a lot higher.
“This is what we want. This is what we sign up for.”
The Nets will get an early taste of that in their opener when they host the Knicks, a franchise that has enjoyed a monopoly on the hearts of New York basketball fans for decades. That game could spark a budding rivalry in this hoops-crazy city where fans are used to woofing at fans of crosstown rivals.
“It’s definitely a rivalry we want. We hope that’s a great rivalry. I think it’s good for basketball it’s good for New York.”
The Nets haven’t swayed one of Brooklyn’s favorite sons, though. Spike Lee, whose production company’s offices are just a few short blocks away from the Nets’ arena, is adamantly not getting on this bandwagon.
Plenty of fans seem willing to be persuaded, though. And probably even more if the Nets can live up to Williams’ highest expectations. He organized team pickup games and workouts in the offseason to help the varied group of players get a feel for each other before training camp starts this week.
“I feel like we can be special,” Williams said. “Guys are not really worried about contract situations, we can just go out there and play basketball. I think guys are at the point in their career, they don’t care about what their statistics are, they just want to win.”
Johnson said he’s felt the love, too.
“Even just going around the city, man, no matter where I’m at, somebody’s hollering `Brooklyn!’ Or saying we want a championship the first year,” Johnson said. “So we got to deliver.”
Do the Nets have the goods to contend with the NBA’s best? Be heard in the comments below!
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