BROOKLYN, N.Y. — When you’re building a culture the way the Brooklyn Nets are, sometimes the intangibles outweigh wins and losses.
DeMarre Carroll played perhaps the best basketball of his career. He led by example for the team’s younger guys. His leadership inside the locker room is simply immeasurable, like we said, an intangible.
Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson told him from Day One this would be his biggest role, Carroll said. The role doesn’t end with the end of the season either.
“I’m going to come in and hit it hard this summer and try to lead like Sean and Kenny told me,” said Carroll at Thursday’s exit interviews. “I got a job not only to perform on the court but to lead these young guys. That’s one thing they really challenged me [to do].”
It’s crucial for a team considering they played with 11 guys 25-years or younger. The term, “veteran leadership” is often tossed around and simply attributed to the old guy in the locker room. Carroll isn’t quite the oldest guy —Dante Cunningham and Timofey Mozgov are slightly older— but Carroll has fully embraced his leadership role in Brooklyn... while producing on the court.
Before the season, Carroll was asked which of the young players impressed him the most. Without hesitation, he said Caris LeVert because of his work ethic. The Nets want Carroll to guide D’Angelo Russell and be that voice in his head.
Carroll wants Russell to show him what LeVert showed him last summer.
“I know coming here he wanted a new beginning, a new start, he had high hopes. He played well for us at times, but he just has to be more consistent. If we can get a more consistent D’Angelo, that would help our team a ton. He just has to come in this summer and buy in, hit the weights, do what the performance team tells him to do, live in this gym like Caris did last year.”
Of course, Russell didn’t join the Nets until late June. A full summer in the gym with Atkinson and the coaching staff, Carroll feels, can help DLo can reach all-star level.
“His talent – nobody in this room or arena will question his talent. You just want him to do it consistently. D’Angelo is probably the closest thing we have to an all-star on our team if he did it consistently. Me, being his big brother, being a leader, I just challenge him to come in and hit it hard every day,” said Carroll.
“D’Angelo’s 22… that’s when a guy like me says, ‘Come on, let’s do this together.’ I think that’s my biggest challenge, not only for myself, but for Kenny and Sean challenging me to help a guy like that get to the highest level.”
It goes back to what’s been said about Carroll all season. He’s become the middle-man or player-coach, somebody who can lead by example on the court but can also communicate with the coaching staff and help translate the message for the younger guys, especially somebody like Russell.
Just ask DLo, who said something similar about Carroll in mid-March.
“That leadership role, that voice, that experience. He brings a lot to the team. We appreciate it, you know, we can just be a young team with no veteran guys. [We’re] fortunate enough to have a guy like him. [He’s] been through it, been around Kenny [Atkinson] for a long time, knows what Kenny wants, and kind of dumbs down the message whenever he gets the message from Kenny,” said Russell.
Carroll has been where Russell was for a majority of the season: Out with a knee injury.. After a career season with the 60-win Atlanta Hawks in 2014-15, Carroll struggled with his health during two seasons in Toronto.
Russell returned January 19 from a two-month absence after being “scoped” in November. So if anyone knows what Russell was going through, it was Carroll.
So Carroll, who averaged career-high’s in points per game (13.5), rebounds (6.6) and assists (2.0), produced on the court after being labeled a “salary dump” when he was traded to Brooklyn along with two draft picks, Nos. 29 and 40 this year. Again, it’s the intangible things that often mean the most.
And it that means getting D’Angelo Russell to work harder and buy in, then it’s all worth it.