Long Road Ahead For Nets

(Wayne Ellington slams one home on Wednesday night –@BrooklynNets)

The playoff-bound Toronto Raptors opted to leave their entire starting unit behind Wednesday night, but Dwane Casey’s second and third strings did enough to get past the Nets, 103-96. In the process, the Raptors further showed Nets management just how long a road they have in front of them.

The final two weeks of the regular season were very much a struggle, as the Nets closed their schedule with a 10-game losing streak. Most of those games came without Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, although the duo alternated rest days in losses to the Orlando Magic, Cleveland Cavaliers, and New York Knicks. The Nets finished the season at 21-61.

Against the Raptors, however, they could not point to a starting unit running up the score against the team’s role players. In fact, Bruno Caboclo and Lucas Nogueira spent much of the season in the D-League, and both played 36 minutes apiece in the season finale. Delon Wright, Norman Powell, and Jason Thompson were responsible for the rest of the damage. Powell scored a game-high 30 points, while Wright collected 18 points and seven assists. Neither received much playing time until the final month of the season.

Powell eventually slid into the starting lineup as Casey experimented with replacements for DeMarre Carroll, who recently returned from a lengthy knee injury. The Raptors reserves surged ahead by 17 points in the third quarter and came up with all the necessary plays to close out the game after the Nets had cut the lead to 94-90 in the fourth. “It’s a culture that we want to develop said, Casey, whose team was missing Kyle Lowry, DeMar DeRozan, James Johnson, Luis Scola, DeMarre Carroll, and Jonas Valanciunas. “It starts at the top and it goes all the way down to 905 (D-League team). I think that continues the culture with these young guys that go down there and play and develop a style of play–a mentality that when you come onto the real team, you have to play a certain way. These guys did that (tonight). It’s great for the whole organization to develop culture and maintain it.”

Sean Marks and the rest of Nets ownership had the ability to compare benches, and the results came up very much the same as the rest of the season. Outside of Lopez and Young, the team needs a lot of work. Bojan Bogdanovic played and scored 29 points–second only to his 44-point outburst against the Philadelphia 76ers on March 15. Neither opponent offered much in the way of star NBA talent, though. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough–the team’s two rookies–both show signs of potential, but each needs a fair amount of development.

“I was injured, but aside from that, I feel like I did some pretty good things,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “There’s some things I could’ve done a lot better, but I feel like it went well–aside from the losing–personally, myself.”

Aside from those five players, the Brooklyn roster is filled with question marks. By shutting down Lopez and Young, Marks at least got the opportunity to evaluate which players should be a part of the program going forward. Hollis-Jefferson has emerged as one of those players, and he exemplified the kind of attitude the organization will need to build from the ground up.

“I think any basketball player is going to work on his game (in the offseason), if you want to be good–if you want to be great,” Hollis-Jefferson added. “I’ll definitely get into the gym a lot, just live here, just put in the work.”

The Nets will need to follow the lead of teams like the Raptors and Miami Heat. Miami found Josh Richardson in the second round, and Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri unearthed Powell just six picks later. By virtue of the Reggie Evans’ trade, the Nets are required to swap second round picks with the Los Angeles Clippers. Therefore, Brooklyn’s 33rd pick will go to Los Angeles, and the Nets will select 55th. The Nets’ first rounder, which projects to land at three pending the lottery, goes to the Boston Celtics.

Marks will need to get creative to find talent. He made a solid move finding Sean Kilpatrick, who looks to be a good scoring spark plug coming off the bench. He will also surely gauge the market for interest in the team’s current players. Interim head coach Tony Brown did not believe he would be a part of the evaluation process.

“No one has asked me about that,” Brown said. “I don’t really expect that. I think they have enough eyes to see what’s going on out there on the floor and what’s going on in practice and seeing improvements in certain players, so I’ll let them judge that. That’s why they were hired, and I’m sure they’ll do that.”

At some point following the season, management will name a new coach, as well. Names rumored to be in the mix include Ettore Messina, Ime Udoka, Kenny Atkinson, and Jeff Van Gundy.

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