BROOKLYN, N.Y. — As I made my way to the Barclays Center last Monday, a nor’easter was on the way and starting to hit hard. I walked out of Atlantic Terminal with my umbrella in hand. My usual walk to the arena included heavy winds, dark clouds and heavy rain. Less than 10 seconds into my walk, the umbrella snapped and flew away. You know, like the Nets season.
I missed Sean Marks’ press conference on Jeremy Lin’s injury update. I was displeased because my suit was drenched. Later, the Nets lost their 35th game of the season to a team that rested four of its starters. That made me displeased as well.
I had one simple thought walking out of Barclays and back to Atlantic Terminal in the pouring rain. It was something along the lines of, “this is very fitting.”
You know, the rain, the game, the season, the lack of picks… almost everything. A perfect storm, you might say.
But really, was there no silver lining reflected off the clouds above Barclays?
Well maybe. On macro level, things aren’t as bleak. The rain stopped (eventually), umbrellas are cheap ...and available at most big subway stops ... and the Nets have four maybe more, good young players who are improving. Should I be looking for a rainbow or two, or three, or FOUR?
While many disagree with micro things such as resting players, usage of players, style of play or whatever else there is to nitpick at – there are Brooklyn Nets fans out there who believe in the future.
I’ve always believed that with development comes (some) winning, but the Nets caught some unlucky breaks this season (i.e. Jeremy Lin, Greivis Vasquez) and things went from tough to tougher. That’s the way this league works and who knows it better than Nets fans?
So, the winning goes out the window and you’re left with development. Most people who don’t follow the Nets would probably laugh and say, “Develop whom?”
This is Brooklyn. This is New York City basketball. This IS the big stage. Similar to the line in Field of Dreams, if they build it, people will come. But who exactly are “they”? and how do you measure “development?”
They are the four key building blocks for the future: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert, Isaiah Whitehead and Chris McCullough. All have shown flashes in their own way, and none are older than 22. Hollis-Jefferson and LeVert are 22 while Whitehead and McCullough are 21.
The first three remain with the Brooklyn Nets. McCullough, continues to develop with Long Island Nets where he’s averaging 19.0 points and 8.0 rebounds. He still remains a part of the Brooklyn Nets, being that he’s called up for almost every home game.
“We walk around calling each other brothers,” Isaiah Whitehead, who’s currently ranked No. 9 among rookies, explained to NetsDaily. “Calling and playing around with each other. It’s really a great relationship between all of us, especially me, Caris, Rondae and Chris — who hasn’t really been with us a whole lot but we’re still in touch and staying close.”
Being around these guys often and seeing them on social media, you realize they aren’t just teammates or friends… they’re brothers, the way Sean Marks and the Nets want them to be. There needs to be cohesiveness among the guys on and off the court if they plan on building a special culture here.
“I would say that we’re very close,” LeVert told NetsDaily. “I didn’t know any of them before I got here, but I feel like I’ve grown really close with all of them so we’re really building something special together on and off the court every single day.”
LeVert sat out the first 20 games of the season after recovering from a third surgery on his foot. Essentially a point-something, LeVert has shown signs of brilliance on both sides of the ball. He was Sean Marks’ first ever draft pick as GM. Marks traded Thaddeus Young in order to get him. He knew this kid could be something special and really fit in with what they are trying to build: culture.
“Me and Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] live in the same building – two floors apart to be exact, so we see each other and hangout all the time,” LeVert noted.
It’s something along the lines of a family. And that ‘family’ I’m talking about is filled with four guys that have good character, heart and dedication to their craft. These guys love playing together and being around one another. It’s special.
“Definitely brothers,” Hollis-Jefferson told NetsDaily when he was asked about his relationship with rookie Caris LeVert. “That’s something we say all the time (big grin) if you hear us talking, we always call each other brothers. We always try to say, ‘brother, brother, brother!’ you know, put that bug in each others ears just so each of us know that we’re always here for one another.”
For RHJ, that means channeling his charisma over the long season ... and the losses.
“We went through the losing last year, so it’s just about understanding you’re going to have these lows but you’re just gonna have to try to stay as positive as you can.”
Prior to this season, some questioned whether he would fit in with Kenny Atkinson’s fact-paced, three-point heavy offense because he doesn’t shoot the three ball at a high or steady clip. But he’s finding other ways to score and contribute by driving, cutting and getting to the free throw line more than three times per game.
As rookies, LeVert and Whitehead are grateful for the bond and that the Nets are giving them time to prove themselves. Both have developed nicely, particularly in the last month. Whitehead had a season high eight assists in Saturday night’s debacle. In January, he shot 39.3 percent from deep and is starting to show confidence in his point guard skills.
“It feels great to be a part of the future building blocks. Sean and the Nets thinking of me in the future, hopefully it happens and we get there,” said the Coney Island and Seton Hall product.
“It’s an honor for us because we’re the young guys here for the future,” said the player fans most see as a future star. “We really embrace that and play as hard as we do with the minutes we’re getting right now, because a lot of young guys around the league aren’t really getting minutes. The minutes we’ve earned we’re going to make the most of.”
Will it work? Leave it to the charismatic Hollis-Jefferson to point the way, preach the message to Nets fans who have seen the team go through some of its toughest days.
“I really think [we can build something special] but I also see a lot of things on social media. You know, a lot of people talking about how we should be -- and their expectations,” Hollis-Jefferson said, his signature smile replaced with a serious face. “If there’s a message I had for the Nets fans it would be for them to stay on the positive side. Because when things change, you’ll see those same people will be like, ‘yeah I knew it!’ but we already know this.
“We know the things that people say, we notice the little comments, but we’re still human at the end of the day. I know we have this great job and we’re supposed to be the world’s greatest athletes, but we’re only human and I feel like some people, some fans should take it easy on us because the good days will come.”
Or, you might say, the clouds will part.