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Brooklyn Nets Plan: Continuity, Core & Youth ... Will it work?

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It's always an interesting off-season when talking about the Brooklyn Nets. In the past, we've seen former star players come and go, press conferences with new coaches and goals that have certainly diminished.

But do the Nets, despite cutting costs and getting younger, have a plan that's worthy of praising? As their new slogan says, "We Are: Continuity. Core. Youth. Commitment." It's a different direction. But at least it's a direction of some sort...

Youth:

They went from the 'old' and 'zombie' Nets, to now one of the youngest teams in the NBA. They have six players UNDER 22 years old and the average age of the team is now 25.1, down four since the Kevin Garnett & Paul Pierce deal in 2013 and down two since April.

The boss, Mikhail Prokhorov, believes this is a positive strategy for the Nets. "Some of you have noticed a shift in our approach," Prokhorov said. "You'll see a team that is younger and more athletic this season. Our approach has been more strategic. We are making all necessary moves to be set up well for the future."

It all sounds great considering the Nets have been old and lacked athleticism the past few seasons. But the young and athletic players they're depending on - mostly off the bench - have a whole lot to prove. This is mostly directed at Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington and Thomas Robinson. Even Andrea Bargnani, who's not necessarily 'young' by NBA means, has a lot to prove in order to help the Nets prove their plan worthy.

"Well, everybody has a lot to prove," Lionel Hollins told ESPN's Mike Mazzeo. "Everybody on the team has a lot to prove. We as a group have a lot to prove. It's not just individuals. Players play on different teams nowadays. There's so much movement with free agency, salary-cap moves and all of that, so I don't look at it like they have a lot to prove from that perspective or do they have a lot to prove because, ‘Do they have anything left?' when you're certainly talking about Bargnani."

Let's take a quick look at who they're depending on to prove themselves next season:

Shane Larkin (22 years old, entering 3rd season):

This is somebody with a whole lot to show to the Nets and Phil Jackson. He's expected to backup Jarrett Jack this year, but people have their doubts, most notably his former GM of the 17-win Knicks. Despite playing just two seasons, the 5'11" point guard has gotten some flack over his inability to play in the triangle offense.

"Unfortunately," Jackson said, "Shane hasn't grown any since the start of the season."Larkin, a pick & roll point guard, fits the Nets' style much more than the Knicks' triangle offense, one that's been criticized a few times before.

But Larkin doesn't buy into the negative comments. Instead, he embraces them and understands that the situation clearly wasn't right for him. At 22 years old, why can't he strive in a system that's cut out for his style of play?

<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/adobk89">@adobk89</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/MazzESPN">@MazzESPN</a> couldn&#39;t grow in an offense I wasn&#39;t comfortable in. All good. No shade. Glad I&#39;m across the river now. Wish them luck.</p>&mdash; Shane Larkin (@ShaneLarkin_3) <a href="https://twitter.com/ShaneLarkin_3/status/625767233361416192">July 27, 2015</a></blockquote>

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<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr"><a href="https://twitter.com/prolificdotcom">@prolificdotcom</a> is Steve Nash the same player he was without a P/R.... NO. Who knows what kind of player he turns out to be.</p>&mdash; Shane Larkin (@ShaneLarkin_3) <a href="https://twitter.com/ShaneLarkin_3/status/625900132463190016">July 28, 2015</a></blockquote>

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Last season he averaged 6.2 points and 3.0 assists in 24 minutes per game. He'll likely own a large role on this Nets' team, backing up Jarrett Jack who also has a lot to prove as a starter. If Jack struggles to initiate his weapons into the offense, Larkin will be relied upon to spread the rock and run the P&R to success.

Wayne Ellington (27 years old, entering 8th season):

Ellington fills a critical need for Brooklyn, three-point shooting, particularly with the loss of Alan Anderson to the Wizards and the questionable status of Mirza Teletovic. Last season he averaged 10 points a game, hitting 90 three-pointers in 68 games. His career shooting percentage is over 38%. He'll be paid $1.9 million for the upcoming season

Take what you want from it, but Ellington's played on five teams in seven seasons - 40 games under Lionel Hollins and the Memphis Grizzlies back in the 2012-2013 season. He's proved himself as a decent shooter who can make a living in this league, but let's see if he can take his game to a level the Nets need him at. Backing up Bojan Bogdanovic or Joe Johnson, he'll be relied on heavily to provide a scoring punch for the second unit.

Thomas Robinson (24 years old, entering 4th season):

The Nets and Robinson have flirted with the idea of a collaboration since T-Rob entered the league. Most recently (as in last season) the Nets reportedly nabbed Robinson off waivers just to get blind-sided by the Philadelphia 76ers so they could get above the CBA salary floor.

It may have been a blessing disguise. The former 5th overall pick built his best career numbers with the Sixers, averaging 8.8 points and 7.7 rebounds. Rob Mahoney of Sports Illustrated wrote highly of the signing. "Despite having their hands tied by other salary commitments, the Nets scrounged up a great value for the minimum in Robinson."

However, Fred Katz of Bleacher Report offers a different hand, saying the Nets' veteran minimum deal might be the "last chance" Robinson has in the NBA. Here's his list:

  • He has always had a reputation of struggling to remember plays...
  • He doesn't always stay within his supposed role....
  • He doesn't command double-teams. He's not a passer. He's not a creator. He's not dynamic off the dribble. He doesn't have range beyond six or seven feet.
  • He's not a threat, and defenses acknowledge that. So, they let him drunkenly steamroll toward the iron. The results often speak for themselves.
While Katz explains that Robinson still has a long way to go, he also peeps a light of optimism for Nets fans. "Hollins, who has rightfully earned a reputation of developing big men over his decades of coaching, could be the right man for his future development."

If Robinson plays to his potential and fill his role as a backup to Brook Lopez, we'll be discussing how much of a steal he was for the Vets minimum.

He, along with the others noted above have crucial roles on this team. If they're unable to help the Nets with their young/athletic legs, we may get used to 40-minute nights for the 'core' guys like Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young and Bojan Bogdanovic.

Continuity/Core:

The Nets have always discussed the importance of continuity and consistency similar to the Spurs since their move to Brooklyn. Unfortunately, they've yet to really have either -- changing coaches and revamping the roster every season. This time around, it's a little different. Lionel Hollins will be the first coach in Brooklyn Nets history to enter a second season with the team. And while the roster changed dramatically yet again, at least they have the same core as last season.
  • Brook Lopez finally ISN'T on the trade block. He'll be the offense's go-to guy, obviously, after averaging 17 points & 7 rebounds last season under Lionel Hollins. "If you look at the stretch that he had when we were really playing well, I mean, he averaged like 28 points a game, 12 rebounds a game, a couple blocked shots a game -- that's pretty good," Hollins told Mazzeo.
  • Thaddeus Young returns on a four-year deal and prepares for a legitimate starting role on this team. Thad averaged 14 & 6 last season, helping Brooklyn become on of the most powerful frontcourts in the league. The Nets finished the regular season 17-13 after trading for Young.
Is Billy King trying his hand at a Nets version of Lionel Hollins' Grizzlies team that revolved around the hefty big man duo of Marc Gasol & Zach Randolph? Looks like it.
  • Joe Johnson is back to provide the youth with his leadership. (He's also pretty happy that a certain player is out of town). With this in consideration + playing a contract year, Johnson is expected to have a bounce-back season.
  • And of course, Bojan Bogdanovic has very high expectations on him. He may be the x-factor for this core and their success after ridding his rookie jitters late last season.  In the 27 games he played in the second half of the season, he shot 51 percent from the field and 43 percent from three, averaging 12 points a game.
Ian Eagle spoke of the Nets' expectations for Bogie, saying, "They don't expect the Bojan Bogdanovic who was tentative at times last year, who was trying to figure out what his role was, trying to develop a niche in the NBA. It's a hard transition. We know that. By the playoffs you saw the capabilities and the way he can take over games offensively."

******

It certainly isn't the most optimistic time to be a Nets fan, especially after pundits ranked them at the bottom of the league -- some lower than the Knicks -- in the post-Deron Williams era.

A lot of things need to go right in order for the Nets to do well and make the playoffs like the past three seasons. But if that's how you look at it, well, a lot of things have gone wrong when they expected them to go great these past few seasons. Who's to say when expectations are low that they can't exceed them?

Whether you consider this team a playoff contender or not, at least there's a plan.