Three years ago, the Nets were a woeful New Jersey-based franchise coming off an embarrassing 12-win season.

Oh, how much has changed.

These Nets are no joke now. They're looking to build on last year's successful first campaign in Brooklyn with a star-studded lineup and a coach who was playing for the rival Knicks just six months ago.

Dramatic turnarounds such as this are rare in the NBA, especially when fueled mostly through free agency and trades. But the Nets are an exception, and they have realistic hopes of winning a championship.

Here are three predictions for the Nets' 2013-14 season as they tip off tonight in Cleveland against the Cavaliers.

 

Kidd makes a successful transition into coaching

Ex-NBA players as coaches are the norm nowadays, but most of them spend a few years as assistants. Jason Kidd was hired to coach the Nets two weeks after calling an end to his playing career.

While he won't be patrolling the sidelines for the first two games of the season as he serves a suspension, Kidd figures to be a highly relatable voice who has the respect of his players. That's especially important as it pertains to Deron Williams, who has a reputation as a "coach-killer." Fortunately, Williams and Kidd seem to be on the same page.

Coaching success often comes down to results, and Kidd's club will produce.

 

Deron returns to All-Star form

Williams wasn't quite himself in 2012-13. While 18.9 points and 7.7 assists per game are good numbers, they aren't on the level fans had become accustomed to from their point guard, who saw a three-year streak of All-Star berths snapped.

Williams enters this season, like last year, with ankle trouble, but the added presence of Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will take some of the pressure off him. As will Brook Lopez, who should return to the All-Star Game again. Expect his points to remain under 20 per contest, but the assist numbers will climb back above his career average of 9.0 per game.

 

Nets win season series against Knicks

All four of last year's meetings between the two Big Apple teams were close, but the teams ended up splitting the season series.

They'll be mostly competitive affairs again, but the Nets are a much better team than they were a season ago.

Joe Johnson and Pierce figure to be the fourth-quarter sparks when the going gets tough, as Brooklyn wins three out of four.

 

X-FACTOR: PAUL PIERCE

Pierce is the physical embodiment of the Nets' win-now philosophy.

Much like the other players who came over with Pierce from Boston in the Nets' offseason blockbuster deal -- Garnett and Jason Terry -- he brings much-needed leadership and postseason experience to a team that looked like it needed both when it was ousted from the first round of the playoffs by the Bulls in May.

"They understand what it takes to win," Kidd told Newsday regarding Pierce and Garnett.

At 36, the 10-time All-Star and 2008 NBA Finals MVP for the champion Celtics is not the player he once was, but he remains an effective starter who can complement Williams, Lopez and Johnson.

Both Pierce, who averaged 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.8 assists over 77 games last season, and Garnett are likely to see fewer minutes than either has since their first few years in the NBA -- especially the 37-year-old Garnett, who has battled injuries throughout his six-year Celtics tenure. Kidd likely will be happy just to have the duo fresh for a presumed postseason run.

 

2013-14 OUTLOOK

The major offseason trade that brought Garnett and company to Brooklyn should elevate the Nets from also-rans to contenders right away. The team won 49 games last year, but should do much better and supplant the Knicks as the Atlantic Division champions. They'll eclipse their best win total since joining the NBA (52) -- think closer to 60 -- and make a run toward the NBA Finals, but will need another season to get it right. They'll fall short in the Eastern Conference Finals.