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For Anthony Bennett, Nets a chance at redemption

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Brooklyn Nets

Don’t think Anthony Bennett doesn’t know that this is his time.

A number one overall pick who’s struggled mightily with three teams in three seasons, and has been associated with the term ‘bust’ as much as any athlete in recent years.

"Every year has been a learning experience for the most part," Bennett said of his time in the NBA thus far. "You’ve just got to be on your ‘A’ game or else someone is going to take your spot."

After stints in Cleveland and Minnesota, the Canadian native Bennett returned home and played for the Toronto Raptors last season, one which some felt would rejuvenate the once elite prospect.

With the Raptors, Bennett, 23, averaged 1.5 points and 1.2 rebounds in 4.4 minutes per game in 19 appearances before being waived in March. For his career he’s averaged 4.2 points and 3.1 rebounds on 39% shooting in 128 NBA games.

With the Nets, this is believed to be an addition possessing a ‘low-risk, high-reward’ feel in what could be Bennett’s last opportunity to prove he can be viable at the NBA level.  Both Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson think he's worth the small risk --a two year vets minimum deal, with only the first year guaranteed.

"We had him in for a mini camp. He was here early in the summer and we liked what we saw," said Marks. "He’d obviously taken the steps ahead of time to get himself in shape. He showed up with his body looking terrific, and how he conducted himself during that week here not only on but off the court as well, us getting to know him."

"He's a guy we've got to build up in confidence," Kenny Atkinson added. "I think because he's been torn down a little – we’ve got to build him up again."

Marks even volunteered that Bennett, with his length --7'1" wingspan-- and athleticism --a max vertical above 35", could back up Brook Lopez at the 5 when the Nets got small.

Confidence is something Bennett harped on during his media session after the introductory press conference Wednesday. It's been his focus.

"Just playing with more confidence," he said when asked what his big off-season goal has been. "I’ve been working on my game ever since I came in the league; it’s just going out there and playing with a clear mind. It’s been all about development, offensively and defensively."

The Nets had him in Brooklyn for nearly three weeks, from late May till mid-June when he joined Team Canada. People may laugh at the notion of a team like the Nets signing a draft flop to fill out and possibly bolster their roster, but Bennett remains optimistic and eager to get things rolling.

"I got picked number one for a reason. I’ve just got to come in here and work every day on my craft," he said. "The past couple of months I’ve been working out with Drew Hanlen out in Myrtle Beach, pretty much he’s been telling me to get back to having fun, that’s been pretty much our main focus and it’s helped out a whole lot."

In the past, the former UNLV Runnin’ Rebel has been criticized for his weight, even to the point of being called "fat" on national television.

He says he hasn’t lost a ton of weight, but has just been working out vigorously in order get in better shape, and reshape his body.

"I just toned up my whole body. I probably lost like seven or eight pounds just doing something in the weight room every day," he said. "I’m definitely watching what I eat and at what time too, (That's) pretty much the biggest part. Drinking water only helped me out a whole lot as well."

While his struggles on the court have been well-documented, Bennett has actually been thriving as part of Team Canada in international play, which includes but is not limited to, this hellacious dunk on a poor Italian big man. Bennett just laughed when asked about it.

Fellow Canadian and current Team Canada National coach Jay Triano has also seen Bennett progress throughout competitive contests against the rest of the world, and Bennett says Triano has also been an instrumental part of the 23-year olds recent development.

"Coach Jay Triano been pretty much talking to me for the past couple of years telling me he just wants me out there playing," Bennett said calmly. "Not to think about anything, not to overthink anything, and to play with a clear mind."

So the Nets are taking a gamble here, but it’s not paying $72 million for someone with a recent severe injury history, or dishing out $65 million for a marginal big in an act of desperation. (see Noah, Joakim and Mozgov, Timofey)

Bottom line: Bennett is here on a team friendly deal, and the Nets figure, hell, why not?

With a full roster (for now at least), the team has nothing to lose and everything to gain by signing a 23-year old who was one of the hottest draft prospects three years ago, and someone who may figure it out in his fourth year. So far the Nets seem encouraged, but we’ll see how this unfolds as we get closer to training camp.

Whether Bennett admits it or not, this is probably his last chance. Marks hinted at it and feels confident he will succeed.

"He’s well aware that this is a terrific opportunity and he needs to make the most of it. And he’s hungry," said Marks. "We’ll see. The ball’s really in his court, now"