This year is supposed to be different.
In 2016, Year 1 of the Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson – “Markinson” – era the expectation was that the Brooklyn Nets would probably be the worst team in the NBA, which was proven correct.
In 2017? Slight improvements were forecast. One year older, one year wiser, add D’Angelo Russell, maybe a healthy Jeremy Lin. Many fans and pundits had them in the high 20’s to low 30’s in wins. No Lin. Half a season of D’Lo and they finished with 28.
This time, Year 3, the Nets are another year older and wiser, but have shown competence, grit and progress since 2016. So now, with their own draft picks in-hand, along with an undetermined — but big — cache of cap space on the horizon, we expect more.
So does the head coach.
“Going into Year three, I think obviously just having the familiarity with the players – obviously more familiar with each player – I think that breeds a trust and a camaraderie,” Atkinson responded at Tuesday’s random press conference when NetsDaily asked if year three projects a different vibe compared to the previous two.
“Listen, that stuff matters,” he continued, talking about the vibe, what some might call culture. “Sean and I both believe that matters. I think we’re more together than ever as a group, as a staff, and that’s throughout the organization. Obviously that breeds confidence, all those things together.”
Although the future doesn’t appear as morbid as it once had, the team is still miles away from where they’d like to be. The culture’s been established, players have grown, but a number of things still keeps the team away from being (seriously) competitive at a high level. One of them, namely, is a singular “go-to guy.”
Last season, Lin and Russell went down early and Spencer Dinwiddie emerged to become, at one point, the most clutch player in the NBA, and in the process became its most reliable deep, deep shooter. The Nets were searching by committee and the uncertainty, along with Dinwiddie’s confidence, enabled the now 25-year-old to become the man down the stretch.
Still, the Nets don’t have a star ... yet, someone who has passed the test. They’d like to, the coach said, but the collective, the committee, remains the standard.
“I don’t think we’re built on ‘give it to this guy’ or ‘this guy’s our go-to guy,’” said Atkinson. “I think we have to do it collectively. I think it’s different guys every night, and I think it’s on both sides of the ball not just scoring the ball. Everybody thinks of end of game, who do we give the ball to. Who’s our go-to guy. That’s just not in our mentality. It’s gonna be a collective effort, and a collective effort getting stops, too. That’s obviously a big part of winning close games.”
Would they like a go-to guy? Yes. The search for stardom —and a clutch gene— is on.
“Yeah, I think that’s part of our goal, right? We want to develop players like that across the board. I don’t want to single out any single player, but yes, there’s no doubt about it; we’d love for players on our roster to make that huge jump, get in that elite, elite level of being a “go-to guy,” or being one of the top guys in the league. I think that’s a goal of ours.”
Atkinson also noted that avoiding slow starts would help. Perhaps with player improvement, the Nets won’t find themselves struggling to come back during critical fourth quarters as often than the previous two campaigns.
Atkinson certainly hopes so.
“That’s really a big part. Joe (Harris) is a poster child for putting in a tremendous off-season, and it paid off for him. Singling out D’Angelo’s had a fantastic off-season. Improving his body and working on his game. We expect Allen Crabbe really his first full off-season (with us) and Jarrett (Allen) really, too. First off-season in its entirety. I think you’re gonna see those guys make jumps,” he said optimistically.
That’s the hope, but don’t expect contract extensions this season, even though Russell, Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson – who along with Dzanan Musa will be good to go for training camp, per Sean Marks – are eligible.
“There’s no updates on our front,” said Marks, regarding possible new deals. “We’ve got several guys that could be up for extension. We’ve had conversations with them and their agents, they know where they stand. I think this year will breed a competitive environment for everybody out here. We’ll see how it falls.”
“If I was to say right now, I’d probably say we’ll let it ride out. But things change in this business pretty quickly, so we’ll adjust as we go,” added Marks after being asked whether or not the thinking can change.
Neither Marks nor Atkinson would predict win totals or a playoff shot. Marks in fact repeated some of what he’s said in Years 1 and 2. It’s not just about the wins.
“So we’re in a results-driven business, right? So I get that. But at the end of the day as Kenny said it’s never going to be purely on the wins and losses. It’s going to be about how we pivot throughout the year. We’ve maintained flexibility for a couple of years now. that’s going to be important moving ahead.”
As they should be, the Nets are patiently optimistic about not only their long-term future, but their immediate outlook as well. The vibes are different, and in 2018-19, it doesn’t appear that we’re to expect a miserable season once more.
The team has added Ed Davis on the cheap; Kenneth Faried and picks for basically nothing; Jared Dudley to provide veteran leadership and toughness; Shabazz Napier to back-up the backcourt; talented young rookies in Musa, Rodions Kurucs and Theo Pinson; a possible sleeper in Alan Williams, and the bulk of the returning group – like 22 year-old Russell, 23-year-old Hollis-Jefferson, 24-year-old Caris LeVert and 20-year-old Allen – moves a year closer to their collective primes.
“We know the challenge that’s ahead of us; it’s great. It’s us being creative, us jumping at that challenge like we’ve done all the way through it,” Marks noted.
Even though they have their picks again, this year can’t be a step-back, otherwise it will be difficult to sell free agents of the stacked 2019 and 2020 classes to come to Brooklyn.
The Nets are not without hope, but we’ll have to wait and see if the optimism is warranted, or downright foolish.
- Nets coach tired of moral victories — it’s time for real wins - Brian Lewis - New York Post
- Coach Kenny Atkinson expects jump in play from D’Angelo Russell, Allen Crabbe and Jarrett Allen - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Nets have several players up for extended contracts - Greg Logan - Newsday
- SEAN MARKS AND KENNY ATKINSON OFFER A BROOKLYN NETS PRESEASON BRIEFING - Tom Dowd - Brooklyn Nets