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Nets are cool and think they'll be a winner

10/23/2012 4:08 PM ET
By The Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- The Nets are suddenly cool.

They're the ugly duckling turned beauty after a remarkable makeover, the longtime laughingstock that transformed into the NBA's ''it'' team.

Their new home is beautiful, their redesigned uniforms sharp. They've got famous friends of the program and an unmistakable buzz all around the franchise.

Life in Brooklyn sure is different than it was in New Jersey.

And the Nets say they're not going to shrink in the unfamiliar spotlight.

''I think at some point we're going to have to be a little immune to it, but we know at the same time it's a good problem to have,'' coach Avery Johnson said. ''There's been so many jokes and laughter as it relates to our team and our lack of success and winning, so that goes with the territory. There's a greater responsibility and we would prefer to have it this way. Not being in the spotlight, not playing on national TV and all of the things that other teams experience is not good. So playing on TV, being in the spotlight, having more pressure to win, that's a better place to be.''

So is Brooklyn.

The Nets believe the $1 billion Barclays Center, which opened in September, will be the kind of place fans want to be, a building that will give them a home-court advantage they never had in New Jersey. They waited years to get here, following their lengthy stay in East Rutherford with two years in Newark while awaiting Barclays' completion.

The move back to New York, where the Nets become Brooklyn's first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers left for Los Angeles in 1957, has come with wall-to-wall coverage. They landed on the cover of ''Sports Illustrated'' and on NBA TV as the feature of this season's ''The Association,'' a behind-the-scenes view at an NBA team. The first public look at their new black-and-white uniforms with ''BROOKLYN'' across the chest came when Jay-Z, a part-owner of the team, wore the jersey during one of his Barclays concerts.

People are talking about the Nets like never before, and the players are aware that won't last if they don't win games.

''Obviously that comes with the territory. There's been a lot of pressure, a lot of excitement, a lot of attention,'' center Brook Lopez said, ''but we're very confident in ourselves.''

All-Star point guard Deron Williams said the hype surrounding the Nets means they will ''get a lot of teams' best shots.''

''It's just part of being an up-and-coming team. People are talking about us, we've got that buzz. You know you have to be able to back it up.''

The Nets have the talent to do it.

They re-signed Williams, whose departure to his hometown Dallas Mavericks would have been the only thing that could have dampened the enthusiasm about the team, along with starters Lopez, Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries. All-Star guard Joe Johnson was acquired from Atlanta, giving Brooklyn one of the league's best backcourts.

They get nine games on ESPN and three on TNT after neither network showed them last season. They host the Knicks in their Nov. 1 opener, a nationally televised chance to keep the momentum rolling right into the season.

Once people are done talking about Brooklyn and Barclays, the Nets think they'll provide plenty of discussion with their play.

''We understand what's at stake, and first and foremost we want to protect this house. Our first three games are here at home for the regular season, so we definitely want to come out and get off to a hot start,'' Joe Johnson said.

''Obviously we want to win a championship and we don't feel that we're far-fetched from that, so everybody's focused. We know what we've got to do to get there. We've got a great, veteran group here, guys who have been through a little bit of war and knows what it takes.''

The Nets didn't even contend for playoff spots in their final, depressing years in New Jersey. Avery Johnson arrived in June 2010 after the Nets' 12-70 debacle with the highest winning percentage of any coach in NBA history, then has gone 24-58 and 22-44 in his first two seasons here.

But he and the team are rejuvenated by their new building - more importantly by the idea of fans in it rooting for them and not the opponent.

''We feel good about where we are now,'' he said. ''I remember coming to this site and it was basically the frame was going up and I was standing where this room is right now. They'd say, 'OK, this is going to be the media room, Coach. This is going to be where your office is going to be.'

''So now we're here. So the past is the past, we think we have a bright future, and the future is now.''

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