- Associated Press - Monday, October 18, 2010

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - The New Jersey Nets are not going to be as bad as last season.

It’s just impossible. No way they lose their first 18 games, or win just 12 overall.

This is a different team, from the ownership, to the front office, the coaching staff and even the players, where only four return from last season’s franchise-worst 12-70 debacle.

Even their home court is different. New Jersey will be playing at the Prudential Arena in Newark after a long run at the Izod Center in the Meadowlands sports complex.

“I really don’t want to compare this team to last year’s team, but we are improving very well and becoming a real team,” center Brook Lopez, who is the Nets‘ one up-and-coming star, said Monday. “Since we started camp, we’ve had a lot of guys improve tremendously. I’m sure we’ll be a better team this year in terms of wins. That’s what we’re all shooting for.”

The days of the Nets‘ dealing their best players to clear salary cap space also are over. Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov has taken possession of the team and given the NBA its first non-North American owner. He also is not going to settle for mediocrity after buying 80 percent of the team and 45 percent of an arena project in Brooklyn from developer Bruce Ratner.

Since he took over, the face of the team has changed. Billy King has replaced Rod Thorn as general manager and Avery Johnson has taken over as coach, giving the team someone who knows how to teach defense.

With the exception of Lopez, point guard Devin Harris, power forward Kris Humphries and swingman Terrence Williams, the roster is new.

What’s missing is a star. Prokhorov and the Nets tried to make a big splash in the free agent market in July and lost.

LeBron James, Chris Bosh, Dwyane Wade and Carlos Boozer all turned them down. Instead, they signed Travis Outlaw, Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow and acquired veteran power forward Troy Murphy in a multi-team deal.

New Jersey also drafted power forward Derrick Favors with the third-pick overall in the draft, and it toyed with the idea of acquiring Carmelo Anthony in another multi-team deal involving Denver.

It failed, but don’t be surprised if the quest for ‘Melo’ continues during the season.

The goal is to get a star, who will attract other stars to the franchise before it moves to Brooklyn in two years.

“We’re just going in the right direction,” Harris said. “We have a lot of younger players. We have a coach who has a good understanding of his players and where they should be. He’s going to put them in the right situations. We’ve shown great improvement, great strides in the short time we’ve been together. But we’re still figuring things out.”

Under Johnson, the Nets will learn how to play defense, something they haven’t done in recent seasons.

Story Continues →