Looking for an exhaustively researched, well-written portrait of where the Nets are right now? Jackie MacMullan just wrote it.
In a lengthy, but delicious report on the Nets, MacMullan portrays the depth of the Nets woes, the frustration of Kenny Atkinson and the (now) patient optimism of Mikhail Prokhorov.
Here are some of the highlights...
—Atkinson is up at 4:30 a.m., often three hours after going to bed, riding an exercise bike and watching game tape, revving up the bike as he watches a bad play develop. “The worse the team plays, the harder he pedals,” MacMullan writes of Atkinson.
"I'll be quite honest with you," Atkinson tells her. "There are people I really respect who told me, 'You're insane if you take this job.'"
MacMullan describes his coaching style this way...
“Atkinson imported a practice from his mentor, Mike Budenholzer, who uses film sessions to single out the vets and spare the rookies. If there's a bad defensive rotation, even if rookie Isaiah Whitehouse is at fault, someone else will pay.
"‘The other day Kenny was yelling at Jeremy, 'You should be helping these guys more!'" Foye says. "And Jeremy wasn't even playing.’
“Sometimes, the mistakes are so egregious Atkinson allows the images to do the talking. He'll add a subtle ‘WTF’ with eight question marks scrolling at the bottom of the screen for emphasis.”
—Pat Riley talks about how he watched the Nets ownership go for it in big and small ways, not so much criticizing the process, rather finding it fascinating.
MacMullan writes: “Riley recalls various road trips where he encountered Prokhorov shadowing, at one time or another, Wade, James or Bosh, lingering just long enough to make a connection with some of the most coveted players in the game.
"‘He was after all the same guys we were,’ Riley says.”
Riley, never one to rebuild, respected what Prokhorov was trying to do.
"I'm a gambler -- I might have done the same thing," Riley says. "At the time, they were trying to build something. They had a new arena, a new owner, and so you go after the best players, and you tell everybody you are going to win. It didn't work, and now they are paying the price."
—Sean Marks was at first reluctant to make the switch from San Antonio to Brooklyn and warned ownership if they gave him the job, watch out.
"I was clear in our meeting," Marks told MacMullan. "I told them, 'If you are looking for a quick fix or similar to what you did before, I'm the wrong guy.'"
MacMullan describes all the moves Marks has made from the performance team to the family room, often in more detail than we’ve seen before, things like how ownership added more than a million dollars in amenities to the brand new HSS Training Center.
She describes one addition...
“What was once a generic conference space is now the team's "war room," where the coaches, analytics staff and front office spar with one another over how they can improve their team. Marks had the team's mantra carved into the glass of the war-room window: ‘A united team driven by high character, cooperative and talented people working unselfishly to achieve sustainable excellence.’ Inside, on the war room's white board, Marks has scribbled, ‘If you interrupt that means you aren't listening,’ a fervent belief espoused by Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.”
MacMullan notes as well the “one notable piece of wall art framed above his desk: Prokhorov's open letter pledging humility and patience.”
—Prokhorov didn’t speak to MacMullan but engaged in an email exchange. He makes no excuses.
"There is no shortcut to a championship." He writes MacMullan. He says his initial approach was to run the Nets "in the same way I've approached my business, which, by the way, has brought considerable success. That is to say, throw everything you've got at a challenge, and you're bound to be the victor."
Winning, he notes, "requires the patience to build, step by step."
"I try to be zen about it," Prokhorov adds. "It's a process, as they say." (Did someone say “zen?” Did someone say, “process?”)
Atkinson tells MacMullan that he credits ownership for taking responsibility.
"There was a humility to the ownership group when I met them," Atkinson says. "They put up their hands and said, 'We did it this way, and it didn't work. We're going to do it another way.' That's got to be hard, especially for a billionaire who has been extremely successful."
--Then, there’s the simple truth of the team record, the frustration of Jeremy Lin who “wanted to make it so much better than people anticipated," then went down. Or Brook Lopez, who also thought the team might surprise people. He does tell MacMullan it "feels different" because under his ninth coach, everyone is consistently accountable.
Not everything works. Although Atkinson is quoted as saying Luis Scola would be worth every penny of his $5 million salary even if he didn’t play a minute, that’s what happened and Scola wanted out. "I need to find out what to do with it and remain positive," Scola said after yet another DNP-CD. "It's been challenging. I thought it was going to be fun here."
MacMullan writes, “The point of this year, and this job, is to build the habits that will be the foundation of the team's next greatness. The unanswerable question is how long Marks and Atkinson have to complete the foundation, then start building the walls and roof, which is mostly a question of unearthing, or developing, players other teams missed.
“To that end, the Nets believe the rookie LeVert is a keeper, perhaps shooter Joe Harris as well, and Whitehead and Spencer Dinwiddie have shown flashes.” Bottom line, of course, is that will be a long slog. No one is saying anything else.
There is so much more here, so much about Atkinson and how he operates, how the team interacts, etc. etc. If you read any story this season on the Nets, this is the one.
- When 'all-in' backfires: how the Brooklyn Nets are rebuilding from nothing - Jackie MacMullan - ESPN