Mike Fratello knows basketball. He won 666 NBA games as a coach, and has recently resurrected the Ukrainian national team at the request of one of his former Hawk players, a Ukrainian citizen. He's also the Czar of the Telestrator and the a veteran analyst on both TNT and the YES Network, which arranged the interview.
We talked to him Friday about the Nets upcoming season and about what he thinks about three of the Nets' European talents: Toko Shengelia, Mirza Teletovic and Bojan Bogdanovic, all of whom he's played against in Europe. He's very positive about it both.
On the team's strengths...
"Number 1, they have depth," said Fratello. "They have built a very flexible roster and by flexibility, I mean they can play small or big. Also, every team has injuries but teams that have outstanding records are teams that can withstand injuries. If (Manu) Ginobili goes down, as he did last year, teams like the Spurs can maintain the level and style of play night after night. When an injury is incurred, the question is always, 'Can we keep on gone going or does it cripple the team?' You have the ability to move through the things that you face through the course of the season.
"Number 2, they have stars who can get and make big shots. A lot of teams don't have the ability to do that when the coach says, 'Go get me a basket. They ahave Deron (Williams), Joe Johnson who did that in Atlanta. They have a center who is one of those rare bigs who can make foul shots at the end of the game.
"You can post up a lot of players on that team. Teams crave post-up guys. The Nets can post up their point guard, their shooting guard, their small forward, their center."
Beyond that, Fratello noted, "They can run. They have speed and quickness and they have perimeter shooting. It's a well-constructed, well-built team."
And, said Fratello, they have an owner in Mikhail Prokhorov who is willing to do what it takes to get it all done. "All of this is nice to talk about, but they have had a commitment from ownership."
As for weaknesses, Fratello, like everyone else, brings up defense, but thinks it's not a lost cause.
"Defense is a culture you develop, its a mindset, a mentality," said Fratello who made his reputation as a defensive coach in the NBA. "Normally, in building a team, you bring in rookies, you get them into your mindset and get better. When they come back their second year, you tell them, 'remember the year before' and so on.
"But when you are bringing people in, from other systems, that doesn't develop that quickly. Look at Mike Brown, who's always been noted for defense. Was that Mike Brown defense the other night when Portland scored 116 points against the Lakers? No. However, now it's Mike Brown coaching Steve Nash, Dwight Howard. It's different mindsets, different mentalities. They react differently. They have to understand collectively that comes with time...and learning."
"An eight game exhibition season is not enough to make a team cohesive. The veteran teams that return key pieces jump out early. They jump out to 12-4 because they have key pieces, the same coach, execute better. They kept the core intact." The Nets, he noted, don't have that luxury and so it's going to take some time.
Asked if he was concerned about Brook Lopez's rebounding, Fratello made it he was not. "I'm not concerned about it. Avery has been emphatic with him that he needs to improve. And the point guard is a good rebounder. They have good rebounders. Deron, Joe, Gerald, Humphries can all rebound. It's more about team rebounding, team rebounding percentage. Is what's important or is it whether some individual player averages 12 rebounds? Is it going to make a significant difference if Lopez averages eight rebounds or nine rebounds a game? No."
So he says don't be surprised if the Nets don't come out of the gate slowly, that chemistry issues might take 20 or 25 games to resolve. "It's like every team. Everyone's talking about Philly having great perimeter shooting. If at the end of 25 games, they're shooting 29 per cent from three, are they still a great perimeter shooting team?"
Of the Euro-Nets, Fratello is quite high on Shengelia and Teletovic, who's already on the Nets as well as Bogdanovic, who's stashed overseas with Fenerbahce in Istanbul. He says he doesn't know much about Ilkan Karaman, Bogdanovic's teammate on Fener and a Nets pick.
"All of them have a real high upside. We had to face them in for real games or exhibition games.
"Shengelia is athletic, has size. I hear or read people say his shot needs improvement. That's all a matter of confidence. He can finish athletically and emphatically. He is a really good prospect for them.
"Teletovic will be a surprise. He's more athletic than you think he is. He is stronger. People may have to be patient.
"Bogdanovic is really a good scorer," he said, adding with a bit of a sigh, "We were up 79-77 with four seconds left. He has the ball, our guy is in right spot, has his hand in front of the ball and Bogdanovic cocks it back a little, shoots it a little higher, makes the three and we lose, 80-79. He is very confident, he gets to the foul
line. Fans are going to be happy when he comes over."
Fratello also had a message for European players and, by extension, the fans.
"As with the case of Drazen Petrovic, they can get down early. They can't lose confidence, lose sight early, like Drazen did with Portland. He was a rock star in Europe, comes here and makes the move. Then, they worry about not playing. There wasn't minutes for him. Do you give a guy who hasn't played in the NBA the minutes? The coach and the GM were under pressure to produce.
"Petrovic got discouraged, then he came to New Jersey and became he old Petrovic," Fratello concluded. "Players have to understand. They got to put their heads up. their time will come."