Nets Enter Training Camp Ready to Flee NBA Purgatory
The Brooklyn Nets are getting ready to enter year two of the Sean Marks/Kenny Atkinson era. They may have gone an NBA-worst 20-62 last season, but optimism is running high in Brooklyn that the Nets will no longer be the laughingstock of the NBA.
The Nets will hold their annual Media Day on Monday, September 25, at the HSS Training Center before departing to Maryland for training camp. For the third time in five years, The Nets will hold their initial camp outside of Brooklyn. The team officially announced that they will hold camp at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD.
This move makes a lot of sense for the Nets. They have several new faces on the roster and the goal of training camp is to get these players to bond both on and off the court. It is those same new faces that give the franchise reason to believe it will win several more games during the upcoming season than they did last year.
D’Angelo Russell is arguably Brooklyn’s best, yet most controversial acquisition. The 21-year-old played his first two NBA seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers and was essentially given up on by them after the team knew it would be drafting Lonzo Ball to take his spot. The Nets gave up franchise center Brook Lopez to acquire Russell, so Marks is definitely going all-in on him in hopes that he becomes an All-Star in Brooklyn. He can score the basketball in bunches and has the personality to be a successful New York athlete, but it’s his defense and questionable leadership that could hold him back. I’m giving Russell the benefit of the doubt here. Marks and Atkinson are extremely high on him, and I believe the addition of Russell alone gives the Nets at least four-to-five more victories.
Four of the six new players on Brooklyn’s roster were acquired via trade. They should also make up 80 percent of Brooklyn’s new-look starting lineup to begin the season. Along with Russell, Center Timofey Mozgov and wing players Allen Crabbe and DeMarre Carroll were also brought over in trades. Mozgov gives the Nets a serviceable starting center who has experience playing with Russell in Los Angeles. He is nowhere near the scorer Lopez was, but he can rebound and block shots when healthy. Crabbe is one of the best 3-point shooters in the NBA who has been a long-time target of the Nets. Brooklyn landed him, and his salary while only giving up Andrew Nicholson’s bloated contract. Carroll was dealt to the Nets from Toronto, along with first and second round picks in exchange for backup center Justin Hamilton. He played the best basketball of his NBA career while playing with the Atlanta Hawks, where Atkinson was the top assistant coach. Reuniting Atkinson and Carroll should bode well for the entire team. Training camp has yet to begin and Carroll has already emerged as a leader in the locker room.
With the 22nd pick in June’s NBA draft, the Nets selected center Jarrett Allen out of the University of Texas. He is extremely raw, but has a chance to become the team’s center of the future. He has all the tools that a modern NBA big man should possess, but he sat out the Las Vegas Summer League with a hip injury and needs to be developed. Atkinson is known for developing players and getting maximum effort out of them, so Allen landed in the perfect situation. He is only 19-year-old and should not feel the pressure to start with the presence of Mozgov. When he is ready, he should overtake Mozgov in the starting lineup and bring energy to this young Nets team. Journeyman center Tyler Zeller was signed earlier this month to round out the front court rotation. Before his signing, the Nets’ only players over 6’8″ were Mozgov and Allen.
What about the Nets players returning from last year’s team? The most important veteran is undoubtedly Jeremy Lin. Lin was limited to just 36 games last season due to several different injuries, but it’s no secret the Nets were a better team with him on the floor. He returned to play down the homestretch of the regular season and The Nets went a respectable 11-13 during the months of March and April after an 0-10 February.
One of the Nets’ biggest questions entering camp is how will Lin coexist with Russell in the backcourt? Atkinson has said that they will share ball handling duties, and it looks like one of them will be on the floor at all times, which makes sense given Lin and Russell are two of the better players on the roster. If they can develop chemistry quickly, the Nets will be a much-improved team right off the bat. Fellow veterans Trevor Booker, Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick and Quincy Acy are also chomping at the bit to prove they belong and that they should be a part of Brooklyn’s future.
Another critical factor in Brooklyn’s improvement is the development of the young players already on the roster. Caris LeVert is one player the Nets are viewing as one of their cornerstones, along with Russell. After a slow start to his rookie campaign, LeVert came on strong and looks like a strong rotation piece once Brooklyn turns this thing around. I am not sure LeVert will start this season with the presence of Crabbe and Carroll, but he should be able to come off the bench and continue his development. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is another player the Nets are high on. He is the only remaining player from before Marks took over the team. The Nets view him as a poor man’s Draymond Green, someone who can play on the block in a small-ball lineup and knock down open shots. Isaiah Whitehead and Spencer Dinwiddie round out the roster. They are both guards who made strides last season, but will fight for limited minutes behind Lin and Russell.
Is this a roster that will make a playoff run? Absolutely not. But in a weakened Eastern Conference, anything is possible. All Marks and Atkinson want to see in year two of their regime is progress. If a playoff berth as the eight seed comes out of it, great, but they are not going to base the upcoming season’s success rate on that. A long journey is about to begin. It will be grueling and sometimes a bit ugly, but if there are two people out there who will help the Brooklyn Nets turn things around, they are Marks and Atkinson. They don’t want to get too ahead of themselves. It all begins on Tuesday, at a small Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
Let the journey begin.
Congratulations to Sarah Kustok: The Nets also announced their broadcast teams for the upcoming season. Ian Eagle returns as the lead play-by-play announcer, with Ryan Ruocco serving as his backup. The big news is that long-time sideline reporter Sarah Kustok slides into the lead analyst role alongside Eagle. This is well deserved, as Kustok has been reporting for the Nets and the YES Network for the past five seasons.
Kustok is a former DePaul Women’s Basketball star who has become an even bigger star behind the microphone. Nets fans who don’t know her will be thrilled with her array of basketball knowledge and sense of humor during broadcasts. She and Eagle will make a strong YES crew even stronger. We wish her the best of luck during her first full season as an analyst.
Michael Grady was hired to be the new sideline reporter. Former lead analyst Mike Fratello will be moving to a studio role.