Says Brooklyn In Rebuilding Mode: 'We Have A Chance To Make The Playoffs'

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Brooklyn Nets general manager Billy King reached his goal of reducing the payroll and getting younger players in the offseason.

He didn’t talk of a championship Tuesday for the first time in several years during his annual media day before training camp.

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“We have a chance to make the playoffs,” King said. “We’re going to build and develop our young guys. The goal in the offseason was to get under the (luxury) tax line (of $84.7 million) and we did that. We wanted to reduce payroll, get under the luxury tax and get more athletic and younger.”

It’s a far different message than when Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov bought a majority share of the team in 2010 and proclaimed the Nets would win a championship within five years or Prokhorov, one of Russia’s most eligible bachelor billionaires, would get married.

Well, Prokhorov is still single.

“We didn’t win the championship with the team we had,” King said. “That was the goal. We didn’t do that. When we traded to get Paul (Pierce), Joe (Johnson) and KG (Kevin Garnett), we thought we had a two-year window to win a championship. I don’t know why it didn’t work. I honestly don’t. We went as far as we could with those guys.”

Pierce (Los Angeles Clippers), Garnett (Minnesota) and former All-Star point guard Deron Williams (Dallas) ended up with different teams. To get his lofty salary off the books, Williams was released in June and signed with his hometown Mavericks, ending a three-year tumultuous tenure with the Nets franchise, both in New Jersey and Brooklyn.

When asked if the departure of Williams was addition by subtraction, King snapped “Next question.”

“We explored the possibility of trading Deron,” King said. “No question, this was the last option. I’m happy for Deron. Unfortunately for him, it did not work out for him here. Now he’s in a place where he’s happy. It’s a new start for us. Both parties agreed that this was the best thing.”

King denied that he actively tried to trade the Nets other high-priced former All-Star, Joe Johnson, who slumped in 2014-15. He averaged just 14.4 points, his lowest scoring average in more than 10 years. Johnson saw his overall field goal percentage (.434) and 3-point efficiency (.359) fall to its lowest averages since his second season in the league with Phoenix in 2002-03.

“I want to say that I was not trying to trade him,” King said. “I had a long conversation with Joe to assure him that we didn’t try. People did call about Joe and I did listen. But it wasn’t like we were shopping Joe Johnson or that he was close to going. Joe likes it here. I’m happy he’s here. We were able to get younger and keep Joe, getting pieces to help Joe.”

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Johnson is 34 years old and will turn 35 next June. He’ll make $24.5 million this season.

King said the Nets will build around center Brook Lopez, who averaged 17.4 points and 7.2 rebounds last season. Lopez had a chance to explore the free-agent market, but instead re-signed with the Nets, as did forward Thaddeus Young (13.8 points in 28 games with Brooklyn after the trade with the Timberwolves for Garnett).

The Nets finished 38-44 last year and reached the Eastern Conference playoffs as the No. 8 seed, facing the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round before falling in six games.

“I don’t think we have to go out and prove anything,” King said. “We just have to play and do whatever they’re capable of doing. The goal was to get in the playoffs last year and we did. The team competed and played hard.

“We have a good core of guys coming back. We’ve added some good youth. It all depends on how quickly this group jells.”

The team also welcomes back guard Jarrett Jack (12.8 ppg, 4.7 apg), who inherits the starting point guard position with the departure of Williams. Shooting guard Bojan Bogdanovic (9.0 ppg as a rookie) also returns.

The Nets signed former top draft pick Andrea Bargnani, the ex-Raptor who spent some time with the Knicks during the last few seasons. They also drafted Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (Arizona) and Chris McCullough (Syracuse), but McCullough isn’t expected to play until midseason because of microfracture knee surgery.

“This is a team that brings youthful exuberance,” King said. “The big change for us has to be athleticism and speed.”

But there was no talk of a championship.

“It just didn’t work out,” King said. “We tried some things and we thought we could do better. We did what we did. We’re not dwelling on it. We’re moving forward.”

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