“A moral victory is like kissing your sister,” said Adolph Rupp, legendary Kentucky coach. For the Nets, maybe not so much.
Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson made it clear before the season that they had every intention to compete, but they also preached patience since day one. But as the season wore on, the Nets exceeded expectations just by playing teams until the very end, even without Jeremy Lin the entire season and D’Angelo Russell for 10 weeks.
In any rebuild, the first step in getting to where they want to be is respectability. The Nets may not be earning it in the standings, but the way they’ve played has certainly been noted around the league.
It’s hard to commend moral victories, but the Nets have built a reputation — an identity — on playing hard until the clock hits all zeros. You cannot take a night off against them no matter who is on the floor. Atkinson and his staff deserve credit for that alone with his guys still playing hard not just late in games, but also after they were eliminated from playoff contention a few weeks back.
Look at it how you’d like. DeMarre Carroll, 31, has been the veteran voice in a room filled with young guys. He’s happy they’re competing, but he refuses to accept it as a good thing.
“You can look at it in a good way, but at the same time you don’t want no moral victories. When you look at a stat like that you’re looking for moral victories,” Carroll told NetsDaily. “But at the end of the day, it says a lot about our group and how hard we play all the way until the end of the games.”
They’ve lost 18 games by six or fewer points; 14 games by five or fewer. Of the 14 games lost by five or less, a majority have been playoff teams: Indiana (twice), Boston (twice), Toronto (twice), Portland, San Antonio, Oklahoma City, Los Angeles Clippers and Philadelphia.
Rookie Jarrett Allen, 19, has a somewhat different perspective. Seen as one of the cornerstone pieces of the rebuild, Allen understands that the Nets are a young team with low expectations. The idea that they’re even in these games and showing they can play at a high level is enough of a reason to be optimistic going forward.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Allen told NetsDaily. “You can tell we’re playing against some really good teams and we’re competing with them throughout the whole game, it’s just the ending where we’ve made mistakes. It feels promising though. We have a lot of young guys on this team and we’ve been competing.”
Indeed they have struggled late in games. It’s no surprise considering how young they are – an average of 25.4-years-old which is good for eighth youngest in the league. They’re also very inexperienced. Their average time in the league is a mere 3.7 years. The next step in their growth seems very clear.
“Closing. That’s the biggest thing for us,” Carroll said in the same interview. “We’re playing really good basketball right now and we’re winning in a lot of these games, but we’ve got to learn how to finish. We got to learn that we can’t get stagnant at the end of games, we got to play the same way we play the first three quarters.”
It’s not the effort that abandons them. It’s the inability to get it done. That lack of experience shows. And as the Cleveland game Sunday showed, the other team often has that closer the Nets don’t.
With just eight games left, the season is “lost” in terms of playoffs, but for the Nets players and coaches, the season isn’t lost. Obviously they’d like to win as many games as possible since they don’t have their own pick. No tanking in Brooklyn, but the coaching staff and front office would like to see the team grow and carry some momentum into next season. In other words, progress.
These moral victories can be seen as a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it and who’s wearing what colored glasses. They’re humble and they know who they are and how this is going to be a process. But they also understand that they might not be as far away as people think.
“I don’t know how next year is gonna go, none us do, but you can tell that it’s going to be something special,” said Allen.