The Brooklyn Nets played their final game before the All-Star break, a 25-win team with a bit of an identity crisis. Kenny Atkinson’s Nets haven’t had those type of problems in the past. It was about “Brooklyn grit,” a way to describe their scrappy style of play in the past. Hell, they were granted a trademark for the phrase last August! The problems are different now, as they try to integrate superstars into their system while facing injuries and a host of other distractions.
Brooklyn enters the All-Star break three games below .500, but they have some momentum – six wins in the last eight games and two straight against teams above .500. Jubilation was heard outside the Nets locker room after Brooklyn’s 10-point victory over the scorching hot Toronto Raptors Wednesday.
Still, more than 50 games into the season, the question remains: What is Brooklyn’s identity at the break?
“It’s kind of hard to put your foot on it,” Joe Harris told NetsDaily. “You see with a lot of teams whenever you have new guys come into the fold, it’s not just Ky (Kyrie Irving), we have so many new players and it’s an adjustment. We have five guys from last year.”
Joe Harris is the poster boy for Brooklyn’s culture under the Markinson regime. The guy who was essentially a towel boy for LeBron and Kyrie’s Cavaliers gained a second chance in Brooklyn, worked hard with the coaching staff and has turned into a top 3-pointer shooter in the NBA not just this year, but in league history.
His high IQ, high character, business-like approach are the intangibles that mark Harris. But his game, his style of play is what truly embodies the Brooklyn Nets: the motor to their offense with his 3-point prowess and analytically sound shot selection.
Joe knows what it was – and what it is. What’s ultimately costing the Nets game is the combination of injuries and new players adjusting.
“Yeah it’s been tough, and I don’t like to make excuses, but we’ve had a lot of injuries, whether they’ve been long term or minor ones, or you look at Wilson where he was suspended earlier in the year; we just haven’t had the collective group together for that many games,” said Harris.
“Once we get everybody healthy, we’re confident we can match up with anybody. We’re not worried with where we’re at. obviously we have expectations, playoffs and make a push, but right now it’s about getting healthy and playing good basketball late in the season.”
Kevin Durant has been out the entire season, as expected, while Kyrie Irving has missed 33 games with shoulder and knee injuries. Caris LeVert missed 26 games due to thumb surgery.
“We’re versatile, adaptable,” veteran Garrett Temple told NetsDaily. “As of late, gritty, defensive team. I definitely feel like we’re coming together.”
Temple is one of the new guys. While he may not be a superstar, he’s been on nine different teams in 10 years. They call him the “President” in the locker room. He’s always dressed sharp and speaks eloquently, understands the circumstances and why it’s derailed the first portion of the season.
“It’s tough because we’ve had a lot of guys out, we haven’t played the full complemented players,” said Temple. “Obviously we haven’t won as many games as we hoped halfway through, but the fact that we’re able to win, find ways to win, guys understanding their roles, it’s made things a lot easier.”
Despite the adjustments with new players forced into bigger roles due to injury, circumstances seem to be understood throughout the locker room. Jarrett Allen is in his third year – all as a Net, starting his rookie season in Year 2 of the Markinson rebuild. Like Harris, Allen understands the culture, the business around Brooklyn.
He’s what Jared Dudley called “the foundation” during exit interviews last season. At 21-years-old, Allen is beyond his years on the court and how he conducts himself off the court.
How? “My mom raised me right,” Allen said with a smile on his face.
The point: He understands what the moment and the potential of the new Brooklyn Nets could be as soon as they all grow accustomed and get healthy.
“It’s kind of hard to tell what our identity is right now,” Allen told NetsDaily. “We’re still finding ourselves. We still have grit in our heads, but we have a little more finesse with us right now. We only have, what, five guys from last year? Plus, a lot of guys that came in are vets, and not that it’s hard, but it’s different because they have to adjust. Obviously injuries haven’t helped either.”
Allen is having the best season of his career, averaging 11.1 points, 9.7 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 64 percent from the field. He also has 23 double doubles this year. And he doesn’t turn 22 until April.
Prior to the season, there were questions about his development with DeAndre Jordan arriving with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. There were questions about playing time, role, fit ... everything. Instead, Jordan has become a glue guy for Brooklyn – and somebody who’s helped Allen find a balance between having fun and consistency on the court.
Before every game, DJ checks Allen’s afro at the scorer’s table. The two seem to jab at one another in a fun way, the most recent example being an actual jab delivered from Allen to DJ, in a fun way as the Nets were beating up the defending champs.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Allen said while chuckling. During his post-game interview, Jordan headed towards the showers, in the opposite direction from Allen and behind the backs of the cameras. DJ was laughing, his middle finger high up in the air.
Allen could barely maintain his composure, laughing in the middle of the reporter’s question. It’s different than the relationships he’s had in the past, but it’s a good one, coming from a veteran player.
“We have a great relationship,” Allen said of Jordan. “We’re having fun out there and if we’re being serious, it’s him teaching me stuff, cheering me on and things like that, so it’s a good mix with him. He’s a good mentor and a good person.”
“Nah I’m just being me,” Jordan told NetsDaily when he was asked about his mentorship role with Allen. “That’s the type of player I am. Have fun with the guys, speak my mind and tell the guys what I see, I think that’s big for Jarrett and our team.”
The 12-year veteran is averaging a near double double in just 21 minutes per game. Head coach Kenny Atkinson raves about Jordan’s physicality, which often leads to him giving Jordan big minutes late in games. It isn’t a “career year” but Jordan is fulfilling is role and then some.
“It should be our defense,” Jordan said of Brooklyn’s identity. “We come out, get stops and be aggressive on the defensive end, then we’re out on the run getting easy buckets. That’s what fuels us.”
DJ has become a leader in his own way, and he’s a major part of Allen’s development whether he acknowledges it or not. Temple is a new guy, a friend of Kyrie’s, and a good fit in Brooklyn’s blue-collar culture. Harris and Allen are the younger guys who must help transition the new guys into the culture.
When you look at the Brooklyn Nets in the past, it’s easy to understand what their identity was. They were tough, overachievers. That isn’t gone, but it’s certainly different. That alone is something worth keeping in mind with this Nets team as they enter the All-Star break.
Given the circumstances, things could be a lot worse. Sure, they may have a temporary identity crisis, but that’ll change with more time together… and health. Kyrie Irving is working to get back to form while Kevin Durant continues to look better by the day.
As Joe Harris put it: “We’re slowly piecing it together, and guys are beginning to buy in.”