The Nets are rocking. After season of misery that saw the team go 1-27 over the middle part of the season, a healthy, young and athletic team is 9-10 since March 1, 5-3 since Brook Lopez’s buzzer beater vs. the Pistons.
After the win over Orlando Saturday, Lopez, the team’s leader through the losing and the winning, spoke enthusiastically about how the Nets want to finish the season.
“It was very important, very big,” said Lopez, who had 59 points over the weekend. “We continually talked about no slippage until the very end of the season … but we want to continue to improve and take every opportunity we can to get better as a team.”
Indeed. All the talk about improvements and breakthroughs, it finally happened: the Nets are playing well on both ends of the court, scoring 121 points on Saturday, allowing only 82 on Sunday. They are competing. Both games were played before big and very happy crowds at Barclays.
So is this is THE turning point? An earlier-than-expected dividend from Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson’s investment in culture, in change? Not really. The sample is still small and the room for improvement is still quite large. They still lack draft picks while their closest rivals outside New York, the Celtics and 76ers, have more pieces, more picks.
But is this A turning point? Now, there you’d have to say yes, maybe even a resounding yes. The Nets aren’t just playing well. They’re playing like a team that (finally) knows what it takes to win, that is comfortable in its own skin and perhaps most importantly is ready for THE turning point, which could come earlier than expected.
The culture based on character and strategic planning throughout the system is bearing fruit. The players Marks and Atkinson have chosen are a team. Professionalism has been established throughout the HSS Training Center. There is a plan.
The front office (and ownership’s) patience is still needed, that plan Marks talks about must play out, incrementally. If there’s one thing we think we know about Marks, it’s that a few wins (or losses) at the end of the season isn’t going to change his thinking.
In his periodic discussions with the media, Marks has never given a timeframe for the Nets rebuild, when they might be in playoffs again. But others inside have whispered three-to-five years. Nor has Marks sugar-coated it.
As he said back in December, when things looked really bad, “We’re making the best with what we've got. We realized that going into this, it's not going to be easy, it's not going to be pretty."
Things are better now, of course. Jeremy Lin is back and playing well. His chemistry with Lopez keeps growing. The young players, including the two rookies, have each taken a step forward, shown the value of athleticism. Fallen angels are getting new wings. And the Nets could have as many as five draft picks come June. None are lottery, but five is better than none.
And maybe, just maybe, this end-of-season success and word-of-mouth approval will encourage free agents, restricted and unrestricted, foreign and domestic, to join the Nets this off-season. Positive vibes help.
There will be temptations to go for the quick fix. There always are. In the midst of another miserable Knicks loss Sunday afternoon, Jeff Van Gundy wondered aloud if Carmelo Anthony would accept a trade to Brooklyn. Really? Does Van Gundy think that Billy King is still GM, that Mikhail Prokhorov and Dmitry Razumov haven’t learned their lesson?
In case anyone forgot, there’s the mantra Marks had carved into the glass of the Nets war-room window at the HSS Training Center: ‘A united team driven by high character, cooperative and talented people working unselfishly to achieve sustainable excellence.’
There are likely to be many turning points along the way, and not all of them will turn positive. But for the first time, fans see what things might look like when that long turn is complete. Can’t ask for much more.