In their preseason press conference, Nets GM Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson wouldn't talk wins or losses or goals other than "progress." No talk of championships or playoffs, no grand discussions of possibilities come the spring. Instead the two offered little but promises of hard work and diligence.
Said Marks in probably the quote that defined the press conference...
"As we've said before, we want something that's done strategically and systematically, build a strong foundation and not something that's a fleeting moment, something that will last and the couple of acquisitions that we've made so far and developing as Kenny said the young guys, that will help to establish that foundation."
He added that success isn't going to happen overnight.
"I know there's plenty of long hours ahead, and months to go," Marks said. "But the building of this is something that I'm excited about."
Specifically asked about wins and losses, Marks said...
"The season won’t be measured entirely by wins and losses. It’ll be measured by the progress that’s made throughout the season and the buy-in from our players. Our goals aren’t necessarily six months down the road goals. It’s this next block of five games and asking did we improve from the last block of five games."
"Hopefully with all the interaction the coaches will have throughout the year and the performance staff, you’ll see guys’ bodies improve, physical abilities improve and also the way they play the games."
None of that is new, of course. Marks and Atkinson have said some variant of the same theme at the many press conferences they've had since taking over the top jobs in February (Marks) and April (Atkinson).
That doesn't mean the Nets brass didn't make some news (not all of it good) in the 45 minute session. Marks admitted that two key rotation pieces -- Greivis Vasquez, the back-up point guard, and Caris LeVert, the team's first round pick, are unlikely to be ready for Opening, as they recover from ankle and foot surgeries.
While LeVert's rehab was expected, Marks said he faces a "long, long road" before he'll be ready to play, although he said the 6'7" swingman wants to play now. He gave no timetable, but noted that LeVert is spending most of his time with the performance team.
As for Vasquez, Marks was only slightly more optimistic, saying the 6'6" back-up point guard from Venezuela is coming along but is unlikely to be playing big minutes early. He also noted that rookie Isaiah Whitehead may be "thrown into the fire earlier than expected."
The two spoke highly of the team's two stars, Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin, with Atkinson suggesting both can improve, Lopez on defense, Lin on leadership.
Of Lopez's defense, Atkinson said...
"The first thing we’re going to do is to challenge him defensively to improve. Rebounding – I know that’s been a thing in the past – pick and roll defense and we have to find the right scheme that fits him. Offensively – I think it’s with all of these guys – become even more efficient than you are. Taking better shots, getting to the rim more, mixing in some 3-point shots to balance your game… We’re going to challenge to improve in those areas and again that fit our style of play and we do believe that he can take another step."
Of Lin's leadership, Atkinson noted a lot is possible...
"He came off the bench in Charlotte last year and did a heck of a job, but this is a different deal here. You’re kind of the quarterback, the Eli Manning, those guys have a different level of responsibility and that’s new to him.
"He can be a darn good defender with his athleticism and his competitiveness and I think he feels a little slighted that he’s not considered a better defender, so we need to hold him accountable there. There’s a lot of things, but the last thing is make this team work, make it work on the offensive end and make sure everyone’s touching it and get that right feel of where we have balanced scoring and a balanced team. It’s a heck of a challenge, but he’s prepared for it, I think it’s the right time of his career and I think he’s smart enough and will grow into being a better leader as this thing goes on."
As for the latest controversy involving the Knicks dissing his defense, Atkinson said Lin is not letting it pass, that Lin feels "slighted" by his reputation as a poor defender. Atkinson also noted what Lin's coach last season, Charlotte's Steve Clifford, said about how much the Hornets will miss Lin's versatility, being able to guard both point guards and shooting guards.
In general, the two praised their roster, veterans and young players alike, noting that Lopez and others have been in camp since May, working. There was no need to call them at night, Atkinson said, and tell them they have to be at the gym at 7 o'clock the next morning. "They're there," said Atkinson.
Finally, Marks made it clear that his boss, Mikhail Prokhorov, has bought in on the slow rebuild after a half decade of what one Prokhorov aide recently called "jumping from the starting line to the finish line without running the race."
"Our owners know exactly what the expectations are, so they're 100 percent on-board, they've been on-board all summer long. They were on board when I first took the job, they were on board when Kenny took the job," Marks said. "We wanted to be very clear on how we're going to build. This is not going to be something that's turned around in two or three months.