Hoopshype’s Alex Kennedy talked to current —and one former— Nets players recently and came away with one overriding thought: this isn’t about taking the next step. It’s about taking the ultimate step and bringing home the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
Kennedy spoke with Spencer Dinwiddie from last year’s team as well as new Nets Wilson Chandler and Garrett Temple and even ex-Net Trevor Booker. Each of them (like DeAndre Jordan earlier in the week) talked about how talent, experience and culture brought the Nets to a new level.
“Everyone understands how this shifts what we’re doing. We aren’t just a young group trying to improve. We’re trying to put our stamp on the NBA,” Spencer Dinwiddie, increasingly the spokesman for Nets ambition. “They’re here to win championships. We aren’t trying to be okay; we’re trying to be great.”
Dinwiddie and the others discussed a number of issues but one theme echoed through each of their comments: the Nets are a family-oriented, player-oriented organization ... and that matters. From creating a million dollar family room early in Sean Marks’ tenure to sending flowers to the wives, significant others and even mothers of new arrivals to getting families settled in Brooklyn, the Nets are at the forefront of the NBA.
“What separates Brooklyn from other teams is that they really take care of their players. Everything is family-oriented too. They’re going to make sure you and your family members are straight. If there’s anything you need, they’ll get it for you,” said Booker, who the Nets traded at the end of 2017, but still speaks highly of his experience.
“That’s what sets them apart,” said Booker of the Nets. “I’ve been in organizations where they don’t care at all about your family and it was terrible. I played for a few organizations like that and I didn’t enjoy my time there because I’m all about family. To them, it was all about business.”
Dinwiddie says, in fact, that the family atmosphere appealed to the Nets two new stars, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, along with Kenny Atkinson’s style of play and the ready made playoff roster.
“That stuff really goes a long way with players,” said Dinwiddie. “When your family is happy and feeling comfortable in the city, that positively affects your mood. Your home life is important, and they do a great job of taking care of that. I’m not surprised that people were attracted to this organization, especially now that we’re winning a bit.”
And, Temple noted, players talk to each other, as he did before signing a two-year deal in July. In the era of player empowerment, relationships matter.
“I reached out to Jared Dudley, my good friend and former teammate from Washington, because he played under Coach Atkinson in Brooklyn last year. I asked him what he thought about Brooklyn and everyone there, and all the stuff I heard about Brooklyn as an organization is that they’re amazing and only continuing to get better. That had a lot to do with my decision.”
That, all of the players noted, make it easier for superstars like KD and Kyrie —and to a lesser degree, DeAndre Jordan— to take less than the max, agree to do sign-and-trades, etc.
“It tells you how badly those guys want to win. KD has done this before. This is, what, his third time taking less than the max? These are guys who know what it takes to win at the highest level. Sometimes, sacrifices are necessary,” said Chandler.
“The three of them took discounts not only to play together, but also to transform the face of Brooklyn basketball and try to win a championship,” added Dinwiddie.
The players also expressed praise —and a little bit of wonderment— at the way Marks constructed the team while sticking to his principles.
“They bring in the right guys who fit their culture, and other guys see it and they want to be part of it too,” said Booker, now retired. “They do a lot of homework on every single player and if he isn’t someone who fits their culture, they won’t bring him in. Each of the guys they brought in this offseason fits their mold.”
“Every person on this team brings their hard-hat every day,” added Dinwiddie “It’s nice when you have a bunch of hard-working guys who are going to give it their all every day and you don’t have to worry about [whether everybody is putting in work]. We all love going to work every day.”
Dinwiddie also noted how the Nets, unlike the other teams that paired superstars, didn’t have to give away their future. (The Lakers, Clippers and Rockets gave up a total of 10 first round picks and five swaps —as well as a couple of good young players— to get their superstars. The Nets did have to give up D’Angelo Russell, but wound up with an extra first rounder.)
“One of the craziest things about this ‘rebuild’ is that we got two stars and a third semi-star and we didn’t have to mortgage everything to do it,” he said. “We still have Rodi [Kurucs], we still have Jarrett [Allen], we still have Caris [LeVert] all on rookie deals. Joe [Harris] and myself are only 26 years old. We’re not very old.”
Indeed, the Nets are barely older than they were, on average, last season.
Temple revealed that he joined the Nets after being recruited by Irving (who Kennedy notes also made unsuccessful runs at Iman Shumpert and Thaddeus Young.)
“I talked to Kyrie on July 2 and he told me that he put together a list of free agents that he wanted to play with. I don’t know who else was on there, but he told me that I was on his list. He said he knew what I brought to the table and he enjoyed competing against me,” Temple said.
“Kyrie just turned 27, so he still has another four or five years in his prime. The rest of the guys are so young – Spencer, Joe, Caris (who’s a really talented young guy), Jarrett. Then, you add in DeAndre, who’s a great vet, and KD coming back next year… There’s a lot to look forward to with this team.”
Dinwiddie spoke as well about how he’s happy to do his part in stoking the Knicks-Nets rivalry.
“All I said last year was, ‘We’re going to be better than you guys,’ and they lost it. It was funny,” said Dinwiddie. “After seeing how enraged they got by the truth, I was just like, ‘Shoot, if that’s how it’s going to be, I might as well just keep saying the truth!’”
Almost to a man, the players said they had heard for a while that Irving was coming to the Nets, but the signing of KD was a bit of a surprise, even though they knew that the two stars were friends. Booker, in fact, said that he’d heard for years that KD harbored the idea of playing in Brooklyn.
“Around four or five years ago, I used to hear rumors about KD going to Brooklyn,” he said. “I just didn’t know how true they were. But this summer, it finally happened. It was something that players had been discussing for a while.”
Bottom line for Chandler, who with 12 years in the league has the most experience on the team: “They did a really good job of adding talent next to the young guys that they already had in place, who proved that they can win last year. Now, this looks like an amazing team.”
What’s next? In the immediate future — next few weeks, Temple said the Nets will once again travel to California for a getting-to-know-you gathering and workouts.
“We have a lot of new faces, so it’s going to be important for us to mesh. We plan on starting that process quickly. We’re going to work out together as a team in L.A. for a few weeks. I’m planning to go out to Brooklyn a lot earlier than usual too. We have a lot of guys who are ready to compete, and we’re actually competing for something really big here.”
- Behind the scenes with new-look Nets: ‘We got stars without mortgaging everything’ - Alex Kennedy - Hoopshype