With a little under two months left in the season, it’s reality-check time for the Brooklyn Nets.
The Nets, and their 9-42 record, find themselves in the midst of yet another losing streak. Their latest two defeats at home, a 106-97 to the Indiana Pacers and Sunday 102-95 to Toronto should be ranked right up there with some of the tougher losses.
Friday night, in particular this team had to endure their most difficult one.
Brooklyn battled their way out of a 19-point hole to eventually take a fourth quarter lead and give fans inside of Barclays Center something to cheer about besides the t-shirt giveaways during time outs.
The lead, however, was brief. The Pacers eventually re-took their lead and handed the Nets their eighth straight loss.
Nets head coach Kenny Atkinson decided to stick with his recent changes to the starting lineup. With Bojan Bogdanovic getting a night off, Atkinson gave 2016 first round pick Caris LeVert his first NBA start and put him alongside fellow rookie Isaiah Whitehead and second-year forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The results couldn’t have been exactly what the Nets were looking for, the trio only tallied a combined eight points against the Pacers.
It was, in fact, the veterans off the bench which led Brooklyn’s comeback from 19 down. Former starters Trevor Booker and
“I thought the bench was great, really all night even,” Atkinson said after the game. “They dug us out of a little bit of a hole from the first quarter. We got in a deep hole and I thought our bench was really good. Luis (Scola) gave us a boost, Trevor, Quincy Acy, I thought Sean was good. Good job off the bench. That really kept us in the game, kept us in the mix until the end.”
In this season-long evaluation of the Nets, Atkinson has made it clear he’s looking for players who are buying in, not just for the moment, but the for the full ride.
Outside of the fact the Nets are lacking in overall talent, it shouldn’t go overlooked their commitment to improve under Atkinson hasn’t faded despite all the losing.
The veterans have put their pride and egos aside, at least for now, and are doing what they can to contribute to the process.
Once you get the veterans to buy-in, that’s supposed to make it a little easier to bring along the young players. At least, that’s what my thirty years of watching professional sports has taught me.
Atkinson has an ideal opportunity to take a long, and at times painful, look at what exactly he has in the trio of LeVert, Whitehead, and Hollis-Jefferson.
“They’re young guys and sometimes they do too much and I think that’s our job. We have to rein them in a little bit and again improve our execution, help them make the simpler play, keep defining their roles and what we are looking from them offensively.”
The Nets know what the rest of this season has in store for them. The veterans can best help by continuing to provide a lift off the bench, much like Friday night against Indiana. LeVert received valuable playing time in the fourth quarter with the veteran players, this can only help in his progression.
It’s going to hurt a lot more before it can ever fully get better, it’s the growing pains this team must continue to confront as they rebuild. So just bring on the pain.
Keep the young men out there and let them play.