Last year, anything short of a championship run by the Nets was to be a disappointment. That they fell far short of that goal with their Eastern Conference semifinal loss to the Heat capped a failed season.
But things are different now. The pressure to bring Brooklyn a title has dissipated, and a mere return to the playoffs would be good enough for this group. That's still not a guarantee in an Eastern conference with more depth than usual.
Here are three questions facing the Nets as they tip off their season tonight against the Celtics in Boston.
Will Deron and Brook be healthy all season?
Deron Williams had surgery on both ankles in the offseason and has declared them as feeling the best they have in years. When healthy, Williams is an elite point guard, making it imperative that he avoid reinjury. Brook Lopez is back after appearing in just 17 games last year, but he's already uncertain to play tonight due to more foot problems. The Nets need their center more than ever this year as a focal point on offense.
How much does KG have left?
Kevin Garnett is arguably one of the 20 best players in NBA history, but he's also beginning his 20th pro campaign. New coach Lionel Hollins probably won't be managing minutes as heavily as Jason Kidd did a year ago, but recent career trends would indicate Garnett will only find his way onto the court for about 60 games. Still, Garnett should be good for eight points and eight rebounds per game, and he's a better than average defender even at age 38.
Are the Nets a playoff team?
They should be. Williams, Lopez and Joe Johnson are a formidable threesome who've been teammates for two years now. But make no mistake, the Nets are a bubble team. They fall into the same collective as the Knicks, Pistons and Pacers who will vie for the eighth seed in the conference. How their role players (Garnett, Mason Plumlee, Jarrett Jack) perform will have a lot to do with where in that bunch the Nets wind up.