The Nets are not the same team which moved to Brooklyn four years ago, it’s a new beginning for a team now under new management.
Last season’s 21-win campaign triggered a total rebuild for the Nets. The sacrificing of draft picks in 2013 for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, in the pursuit of a title, depleted the Nets and damaged their foundation.
How bad were the Nets last season? Well, that might depend on how strong a stomach you have. Not necessarily, but it was pretty bad.
Before the season, point guard Deron Williams was bought out of his contract, mercifully for both sides, bringing an end to his time in Brooklyn.
Lionel Hollins, a veteran head coach clearly in the wrong place at the wrong time, was fired midway through the season. His interim successor, Tony Brown, was unable to do much to improve the team and was out the door as soon as the season concluded.
General manager Billy King was reassigned, and eventually let go, when the decision was made to part ways with Hollins.
Joe Johnson, the last piece from Brooklyn’s failed push for a championship, was bought out of his deal and ended up in Miami.
Any repeat by the Nets of past blueprints, for the chase of a championship, would be insanity in the purest definition of the word. It all starts with general manager Sean Marks, he’s been entrusted by Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov with the keys to the future for the Nets.
Marks has brought a game-plan totally opposite of the win-now mode which brought minimal results to Brooklyn, he’s all about the process.
To help Marks with his message of patience and embracing the process, he went out and hired first-year head coach Kenny Atkinson. The Nets will field a roster consisted mostly of young pieces this season, Atkinson will be tasked with developing those pieces and seeing what fits where for the big picture.
One way to help gauge how far a rebuilding team has to go is to take a look around the league during free agency and see who’s interested in signing with them. Here’s a team, in the Nets, that’s coming off a 21-win season, a new general manager, another new head coach, and little to no draft picks for the next couple of years.
That’s why the signing of Jeremy Lin was so crucial for this team.
The addition of Lin in the off-season was huge and projects to bring positive results on and off the court. Lin’s a talent and fan favorite who’s not only familiar with playing in the tri-state area, he also has a history with his new head coach.
When Lin was thrust into the lineup for Mike D’Antoni’s Knicks, Atkinson was an assistant coach on that team. Lin has spoke in the past of how instrumental Atkinson was in his success as a Knick.
The comfort level Lin has with Atkinson, and his motion offense, was evident and on display throughout the Nets preseason. Lin, along with returning big man Brook Lopez should provide bread and butter for their offense. The keyword there is should.
How Lopez fits in Atkinson’s offense could help determine how long he stays a Net. In the preseason, Lopez didn’t look comfortable with the motion offense which demands quick decisions with the basketball and constant movement without it.
Where Lopez should thrive for the Nets is in the pick and roll with Lin at point guard.
The pick and roll between Lopez and Lin should be there for Brooklyn whenever Atkinson needs a quick score. Meanwhile, it’s imperative for Lopez to find his footing in the rest of the offense with Lin.
The rest of the roster is short on overall talent while loaded with question marks and loaded potential. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is worth keeping an eye on at small forward, he was the lone defensive standout for the Nets last season and will most likely get the assignment of guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter player.
Brooklyn struggled throughout the preseason sustaining their defensive-intensity for a full four quarters, that’ll have to change and here’s a youngster with the talent to help do it. Hollis-Jefferson, along with free agent pickup Trevor Booker, have the potential to set the tone for what Atkinson wants on defense.
Lin, as noted earlier, thrived in the preseason on offense for the Nets. Atkinson has made it clear he wants his players to keep the ball moving and be ready to shoot when they have an open look. The Nets shot the three-pointer at an alarmingly high volume throughout their 1-5 preseason, that should be remain the case heading into the season.
If not as if this team is lacking shooters. Bojan Bogdanovic shot 38.2% from behind the three-point line last season, he then went and lit up the Summer Olympics for Croatia. Lin has improved his outside shooting, benefiting from his time with the Charlotte Hornets, and has shown no hesitation when it’s time to score.
If there’s a player on this team flying under the radar it might be Joe Harris. His outside shooting in preseason action opened plenty of eyes and could be a source of instant offense for the Nets.
Anthony Bennett is a reclamation project worth keeping tabs on as the season progresses. Bennett’s story is well known by now, he was drafted first overall by the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2013. He was traded to Minnesota, then eventually cut. He spent last season with Toronto and eventually, after a stint in the D League, was cut again. Bennett is arguably on his last chance and, at only 23 years old, is a low-risk-high reward type of scenario for the Nets.
When it comes to the future the Nets are a team high on hopes, yet low on immediate future draft picks. Marks is hoping to find gold with a few calculated and creative moves made with limited options.
On draft night, Marks traded Thaddeus Young to the Indiana Pacers for their twentieth overall pick, Caris LeVert. The knock on LeVert is his ability to stay healthy, he’s rehabbing from foot surgery which most likely impacted his position in the draft. If he’s healthy, LeVert could develop into Brooklyn’s shooting guard.
In Hollis-Jefferson, LeVert, Chris McCullough, and Brooklyn native Isaiah Whitehead, the Nets have a plethora of pieces for Atkinson to help develop into potential building blocks or possibly even core players.
If you think this is a playoff team, I have a bridge or two to sell you.
Lin will be the main attraction, he could have a big-time season in this offense which would help the Nets with crowd attendance at Barclays Center. Fans should brace themselves at the possibility of this being the one shining moment for their team this year.
But that’s alright.
This season isn’t about making the playoffs for Brooklyn, fans shouldn’t hold their breath for next season either. There will be some tough stretches ahead that this team will need to go through in order to ultimately get where they need to be. It’s about building a foundation and player development, these are the strengths of Atkinson and Marks.
Every losing team that brings in a new voice to lead always seems to put changing the culture at the top of their team goals. Marks and Atkinson are no different, however it’s how they’ll aim to go about this which is what will be worth watching unfold.
At times, it might even be a little fun to watch too.
The fun starts Wednesday night in Boston, then the home opener Friday night against Indiana.