Time to call the roll! Who among the young Nets think they can make the playoffs, meaning they’ll be able to double last year’s win total and leap frog half the East?
The young Nets pride themselves for hard work and development under Kenny Atkinson and his staff. They like being the underdogs with a chip on their shoulder. But the playoffs?!? Say what you want, expectations are low but many of the players think that’s a good thing for them. So let’s review who’s said what...
It started with Jeremy Lin, who no doubt will be a leader in Kenny Atkinson’s locker room. He’s stated three times that he firmly believes the Nets will make the post-season. The key to that -- among other things -- is Lin’s health.
“We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else tells me,” he said as he departed the Taipei airport at the beginning of his Asia trip in July. In a Periscope video shoutout to his Asian fans, recorded on YouTube by @infinity88 and other Lin fans, Lin was definitive. (The video has since been taken down.)
"We're making the playoffs. I don't care what anybody else tells me,” he said. Maybe it was jet lag? Nope.
Later at a press conference in the Taiwanese capital, Lin reiterated that if the team is healthy, the playoffs are an “opportunity” to win enough games —”37, 38” needed to make the post-season in the East.
Then, a week later in Shanghai, after plenty of sleep, Lin defended his earlier statements and reiterated what he had said across the Taiwan Straits.
“I still feel like we can make the playoffs. I know everyone will laugh, but that’s no problem. If I believe we can make the playoffs, this is most important.... “Hopefully we can perform exceptionally well. Everyone thinks we’ll suck, so I feel like we don’t have a lot of pressure.”
D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn’s shiny new toy, told NetsDaily in late August how he feels about the Nets as a team this upcoming year. He wouldn’t commit to playoffs, but the word “confident” came up quite often.
“I want teams to hate us,” Russell said at the Nets Inaugural Basketball Camp at Battery Park City. “We’ve struggled over the last few years in Brooklyn. Teams are used to coming in and taking nights off. I just want to rebuild that and make it a place where people come and say, ‘alright we got the crowd against us. It’s New York.’”
Again: no commitment, but he feels the Nets can do something with the chip on their shoulder.
“I feel like everyone’s confident around here. Individually speaking I know I’m coming in with an edge. Allen Crabbe – I know he’s coming in with an edge. DeMarre Carroll’s coming in with an edge. I feel like we’re a confident team and we’re looking forward to doing what we do best.”
Second year pro Caris LeVert is ready to take the next step individually and as a team, too. He traveled a bit with Lin so maybe he’s not the best one to ask.
“I feel like it’s really realistic,”LeVert told the New York Post when asked about Lin’s comments. “Last year, we were like top seven in the East when we had all our players healthy. Just building off that momentum with the pieces we’ve added — obviously we lost a great player in Brook [Lopez] — but I feel with the pieces we’ve added we’ll be in that conversation.”
Jarrett Allen even used the “C” word —”contenders”— when he asked, also by the Post, about Lin’s comments.
“We have all the pieces that we need to,” Allen said. “We can always get more, but it’s going to be a good season. Yeah, we can do it. The East is [weakened]. We’re contenders in the East.”
Pretty strong words for a rookie.
Of all the comments, Isaiah Whitehead’s were the most skeptical. Whitehead offered optimism, but...
“The team has definitely gotten better,” Whitehead at his Coney Island Give Back. “We have a tremendous amount of talent, and I think we should win more games.”
But what about Lin’s playoff prediction? NetsDaily’s Bryan Fonseca asked.
“That’s Jeremy just being Jeremy,” he said, adding. “In the NBA, you never know.”
Spencer Dinwiddie, ever eloquent, described the motivation, when asked if he and his team have a “thirst” for the playoffs. “Definitely. Every team does. But I think we have a lot of guys who have been discounted their whole careers so there is a lil bit different mentality/hunger with our group.”
“We’re going in right direction, ready to take next step,” Joe Harris added in an interview last week. Because? "We've added more talent to the roster helps out a lot. We have a good balance of young and veteran guys. We just have talent across the board now.”
Most of the new guys won’t commit just yet, but they remain optimistic. And there was lots of code in their first media outing as Nets.
D’Angelo Russell also told reporters at his press conference in June that "I'm preparing for 82 games and plus. I want to make the playoffs. So I try to get as prepared for that the best that I can...
“I think the sky’s the limit – we’ve got a lot of great guys out here. The front office, those guys do their thing, the coaches, they’re just as hungry as the players. Everybody really wants to win, that’s the main focus.”
Allen Crabbe, at his press conference, went the KG route.
“Anything is possible. I feel like we made the right moves this offseason by bringing in the right guys, by bringing in guys who want to win. I feel like once that culture is built everybody is going to buy in.”
Same with DeMarre Carroll. He didn’t quite go there in his first comments but came close.
“If we just keep competing, we don't know what the future holds. Just gotta compete every night. and if I can teach that to these young guys, I feel like we can do some things this year.
Most recently, Timofey Mozgov was optimistic and skeptical all together.
“I think we can make it, but it’s a long run.”
So, despite finishing with the league’s worst record, players are optimistic about the upcoming year. Management doesn’t want to set expectations too high. After all, this is a long-term project and winning will not outweigh the developing the younger players. Here’s Sean Marks tempered expectations at Allen Crabbe’s introductory press conference last month...
“I’m not really too focused on the playoffs. We’re obviously making steps that everybody can see. We are going younger, we got a youth movement here, we’ve got guys that are versatile and still have a lot of upside,” Marks said. “I’m looking forward to getting these guys with our coaching staff and developing them and we’ll just see where it goes from there.”
It’s good the Nets are optimistic and believe they can indeed pull of the unthinkable. Going from a 20-win to a playoff team sounds nearly impossible in today’s NBA, but it has been done, like in 2001-02 when Nets went from 26 wins with Stephon Marbury to 52 with Jason Kidd. There is no Jason Kidd on this season’s roster, but at least one veteran player with a ring thinks the Nets are on their way.
Still, Marks’ words ring true and he’s keeping expectations where they should be. They were the worst team in the league last year and they have several HUGE question marks. They added talent, but they’re still a very young team – an average of 25-years-old to be exact. If they can put it together, stay healthy and finish out games then maybe we’ll be in for a treat.
And Metta World Peace will also look like a genius.