Confident Nets feel ready to contend in improved Eastern Conference Print
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Monday, 01 October 2007 13:55
NBA Headline News

 EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) -The New Jersey Nets think they have a better team than last season. They will have to be to compete in an improved Eastern Conference.
``I think we've gotten bigger and I think we're better,'' All-Star point guard Jason Kidd said. ``Now, the biggest thing for us, as a veteran club, is to stay healthy.
``Boston got a lot better and I think Toronto is the team to beat in the division. We're not going to have any nights off this year - we have to be ready.''
The Nets held their media day at the team's practice facility Monday, with training camp set to begin Tuesday.
The Nets were 41-41 last season and managed to make their way into the playoffs in the final days of the regular season. They defeated Atlantic Division champ Toronto in the first round, but fell to the eventual Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference semifinals.
Most of the teams in the division improved, especially the Boston Celtics with the addition of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and the Nets know that they can't expect to make the playoffs if they have another slow start.
``We can't afford another start like last year. We definitely want to have a great year and we need a great start,'' said guard Vince Carter, who signed a new four-year contract with the team over the summer. ``We're very capable of it, but with the division so strong, we don't want to fall behind and try to catch up, because that will be very hard.''
The Nets are relatively healthy, with forward Richard Jefferson declaring himself to be 100 percent after having ankle surgery midway through last season, missing 27 games before returning right before the playoffs.
Kidd, who spent most of the summer playing with the U.S. national team in the Olympic qualifying tournament, said he's also in great shape as training camp opens.
``Playing with the Olympic team was a great experience for me and it was a talented group of guys. I learned a lot and had a fun time,'' Kidd said. ``Now, I'm physically and mentally ready for the year.
``I felt great at the end of last year and I felt like I got stronger over the summer. ... It was one of the best offseasons I've had in a long time.''
Center Nenad Krstic will have to work his way back slowly after having knee surgery in January. Krstic was having a great season, averaging 16.4 points and 6.8 rebounds when he blew out his left anterior cruciate ligament, ending his season after 26 games.
The 7-footer will use training camp to gain stamina and strength, and his contributions are expected to be limited when the season starts Oct. 31 against Chicago.
The Nets will be without backup point guard Marcus Williams, who is expected to be sidelined for six weeks after breaking a bone in his right foot, requiring minor surgery. He played in 79 games as a rookie, averaging 6.8 points and 3.3 assists.
The Nets added center Jamaal Magloire and forward Malik Allen as free agents and drafted Sean Williams out of Boston College with their first-round selection. All three are 6-11 or better and will definitely help the depth of a team that ranked among the league's worst in overall rebounding and blocked shots last year.
The team is still in discussions with former Knicks All-Star Allan Houston, who is coming out of retirement after missing two seasons with chronic knee problems. Houston, who is also weighing an offer from the Knicks, is expected to decide later this week.
``I think it would be great if he came aboard,'' Kidd said. ``He'd help the bench tremendously with his ability to make shots.''
The Nets have signed free agents Mateen Cleaves, Jumaine Jones, Rod Benson and Eddie Gill and invited them to participate in training camp. Cleaves, Jones and Gill are all NBA veterans with at least five years experience, while Benson is a rookie from the University of California.
 

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