BROOKLYN — When Mikhail Prokhorov bought the New Jersey Nets in 2010, he famously said that his team would win a championship within five years.
Now in Brooklyn, the Nets finally have a roster that at least moves in the right direction. And their coach and players aren’t in the least bit afraid to use the “c” word.
“Where we are now, the goal is to win a championship,” coach Avery Johnson said during media day Monday at Barclays Center. “At the end of the day, that’s what we all play for. I couldn’t say that about the team the last two years, because we weren’t there on any level.”
They’re a lot closer now, and they have a strong starting lineup from top to bottom. But are they on the level of the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder or Los Angeles Lakers?
“We’re not a championship team today,” Johnson said. “Hopefully, we’ll be one as we move on in training camp and get on into the regular season, and as we move into the playoffs. But the goal is to win a championship this year.”
This year. Really.
Players sometimes avoid such lofty goals, but new Net Joe Johnson was right there with his coach.
“I think we’ve got everything that you could possibly want on a championship-caliber team,” Joe said. “So now we just have to come together as one and just make it happen. The sky’s the limit for us, honestly.”
But Joe, do you know the Heat, Thunder and Lakers are really good?
“You’ve got to go through those teams to win, right?” he said. “I’m not sugarcoating nothing. We understand right now that Miami’s the favorites. And nobody’s picking us to win anything. We understand that, but I think hard work is going to definitely pay off. We’ve got guys that have really been working.
Coach Johnson knows what it’s going to take. Defense will be priority No. 1 in training camp, with the goal of being in the top 10 on that end of the floor, a long way from where they ranked (29th) last season.
“We must make a major step defensively,” the coach said. “We’ve got to be in the top 10.”
So the players have a training camp handbook, with Avery Johnson’s defensive principles spelled out clearly. And during camp, they’ll have four written tests on those principles.
“We have specific goals,” Johnson said. “It’s written out. They all have it in front of them.”
Top 10 is a lofty goal considering the lack of impact defenders on the roster. But it’s a goal that must be achieved if the Nets really want to talk championship.
“I think we’ve got the chance to win the whole thing this year,” Joe Johnson said. “I’m not just saying that. I honestly believe it.”