NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Paul Pierce has seen it happen.
He played on one of those teams that started as potential and turned into potent, the 2007-08 Celtics winning 66 games and an NBA championship in the first season after Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined him in Boston.
Now Pierce and Garnett play for the Brooklyn Nets, whose roster is even more accomplished — and certainly more expensive — than those Celtics.
And it may be their time.
“The potential is definitely there for us to be one of those teams that can be talked about in NBA history,” Pierce said. “But it’s up to us to go out there and show it, be healthy and make a great run, and then win a championship to be in those talks.”
Every member of the starting lineup has been an All-Star, and the Nets have a combined 36 All-Star selections. Whereas the Celtics were still unproven around their Big Three, Pierce and Garnett join a first five with Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopez, with players such as Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry coming off the bench.
“To be quite candid, they’re loaded at most every position,” new Boston coach Brad Stevens said.
It came at an exorbitant cost. The payroll is more than $100 million and the Nets will be socked with a luxury tax bill of more than $80 million on top of that after blowing miles by the salary cap of $58.7 million.
Owner Mikhail Prokhorov said when he bought the team in 2010 that he wanted a title within five years, and he signed off on a flurry of moves to give himself a chance. The draft-night trade with the Celtics that brought in Pierce, Garnett and Terry was a blockbuster, and other players were signed in hopes of keeping those old guys fresh for the postseason.
Jason Kidd, who led the Nets to two NBA Finals as a player, now is on the bench in his first coaching opportunity. But the most important newcomer may be Garnett, who brings his trademark intensity and the loudest voice in practice to a team that Kidd said was too “vanilla” last season in losing to an undermanned Chicago team in the first round.
“I’m a team player. I’m not a selfish guy. I have no ego. My stats and my body of work speaks for itself,” Garnett said.
“My style is my style, and understand I’ve grown into this style. I haven’t always been like this. I’ve had to grow into being a man and understanding responsibilities and having different responsibilities. Through my course of my career from Minnesota to Boston I’ve understood all that, and now reaping some of those benefits of trial and error, I’m able to give wisdom and advice off of experience.”
The Nets are realistic about the difficulty of winning a title with a first-year coach and so many new pieces. League executives who voted in the NBA.com GM Survey favored the Nets to win their division, but none picked them to even win the East, let alone the NBA title.
“I think it’s tough to come together and win a championship in the first year. That’s not saying it can’t be done, we’re looking to do that,” Williams said. “But as far as people not picking us, that’s all right. We’ll worry about us, we’ll worry about getting better, and we feel like if we get to the playoffs and everybody’s healthy, we have a chance to beat anybody.”
Here are five things to watch with the Nets:
D-WILL’S WHEELS: Williams has sat out all preseason after spraining his ankle shortly before the start of training camp. His ankles were a problem early last season, and the two-time Olympian played well below his usual form until sitting out a week around the All-Star break and getting platelet rich plasma treatment on both ankles.
PIERCE’S PRODUCTION: The 36-year-old forward looked gassed during last season’s playoffs, perhaps worn down from having to carry so much of the load for the Celtics after Rajon Rondo’s season-ending knee injury. With a much deeper cast around him, Pierce shouldn’t be taxed as much.
TAKE A SEAT, KG?: Kidd talked about sitting Garnett on the second night of back-to-back games, an idea Garnett isn’t interested in entertaining. He wasn’t even thrilled when Kidd sat him out on the back end of a preseason back-to-back, but coach and player will have to come to some kind of compromise.
CAN HE COACH?: Kidd was an NBA and Olympic champion, and ranks among the top three in NBA history in assists, steals and 3-pointers. But he’s never been a coach and he needs to be good at it in a hurry, since he’s leading a team that has championship aspirations but a small window to win one.
HYPE OR HOPE?: Yes, the Nets have made plenty of news and are getting more attention than ever before. But they have to prove they’re worthy of it. Brooklyn was fourth in the East last year, and with Miami, Indiana and Chicago all looking powerful, it’s possible the Nets will end up no better than they already were.
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