The Nets didn’t just lose two All-Stars in a matter of days. They also lost two big voices in their locker room, two players whose games and records deserved respect, particularly among the younger players on the roster. Now, with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving gone, who will step up?
It’s early of course. Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith have played four games with Brooklyn, Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson only three, but so far, Jacque Vaughn believes he hears two voices that are louder than the others: Dinwiddie and Bridges as he told the media the other night.
“Hopefully guys are OK with me saying it, but it’s been great to form a relationship with this new group and see who’s the vocal person at times,” Vaughn said. “Right now, I think it’s been Spencer and Mikal, just naturally their IQ and want and feel for the game.
“It’s not a knock on whether [Johnson] has also been included in the conversation. We’ve probably been the most vocal as a group and collectively talking together than I’ve been around a team in a long time. So it’s pretty cool to see. Guys who are hungry to win and also want to share knowledge and help younger guys behind them.”
“Most vocal” that the head coach — and long time assistant — has been around? That’s a good sign, even with the Nets only 2-2 since losing KD and Kyrie. And the two players have accepted the role willingly, particularly Bridges who was low in the leadership pecking order while with the Suns, what with Chris Paul and Devin Booker ahead of him. Bridges told Brian Lewis that his belief in the roster is what’s driving him.
“It’s tough for me personally because I don’t wanna be that new guy they think that’s just talking too much and stuff — I just believe in this team a lot,” Bridges said. “So just trying to lead and just trying to do whatever it takes and trying to see what our best offense can be, what our best defense can be. Just because I know we’ve still got months left, but if we keep getting better and keep learning and keep growing together, I feel like we’ll be a scary team that teams don’t want to play against.
“…I just try to come out here and just bring the mentality of trying to win. It’s funny, because everybody else is the same way. If I say something, they’re always like, ‘Yeah, for sure, that’s what we want.’ So the guys in the locker room and the coaches make it so much easier for me. I appreciate them so much.”
Bridges has already proven he can lead between the lines, scoring 45 points, grabbing eight rebounds, handing out five assists with multiple steals and blocks in his third game as a Net, a virtuoso performance that has made him a fan favorite and won him the nickname “Brooklyn Bridges.”
Lewis also spoke to Cam Johnson about his friend and teammate’s emergence.
“In Phoenix, there was no suppressing what anybody had to say — people were able to share their thoughts,” Johnson said. “So Mikal, as he came into his own more this year, and he’s just been such a steady presence over the last four years, five years, that that’s how he led, by just being out there, by playing hard. It was a real staple and anchor of the team.
“But he’s also a goofy personality, so he brought that attitude to the team, where a lot of times, he was the one that was lightening things up.”
Dinwiddie, of course. is the sequel, having played in Brooklyn for five years before being traded first to Washington, then to Dallas before returning in the Irving trade.
“I think being comfortable here, knowing people, knowing this stuff,” Dinwiddie told the Post when asked about stepping into a leadership role. “Also having the ball in my hands, being a PG and trying to be connected to Coach, it’s probably that, too.
“And just I think very quickly guys will see that I’m out there just trying to win the game. Whether I shoot it, whether I pass it, whether I turn it over, I’m not hunting stats or trying to do something else. … Gaining the trust of the guys fairly quickly — and obviously there’s still a lot of building to go with that — but I think that’s kind of what allows me to do it.”
The Nets, of course, lost two NBA champions in the trades, KD with two, Kyrie with one, leaving only Nets player with a ring: Patty Mills who won one with the Spurs (as did Vaughn and Sean Marks.)
The Nets have a tough stretch when they come back from the All-Star Break with nine of their first 11 games on the road, including a four game in six day stretch that includes stops in Milwaukee and Denver. It will be a telling time on and off the court.
- The new Nets leadership dynamics emerging in the wake of superstar defections - Brian Lewis - New York Post