General manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have begun their third season of rebuilding Brooklyn together, where a lot will have to be determined over the next several months.
Atkinson – whose voice was already almost gone by day two of training camp Wednesday – knows that much more is at stake in year three.
“I think in training camp you have to fight fatigue and the pressure of doing drills, playing and all that,” he said Friday, the fourth consecutive day of training camp. “We didn’t handle it well today.
“We turned the ball over 8,000 times today,” he elaborated. “We’re either going to value the ball or we’re not. You’ve got to, there’s repercussions.”
After back-to-back 82 game seasons of only 21 and 28 wins respectively, the Nets aren’t using their recent significant injuries as excuses.
Not even D’Angelo Russell, who averaged 20.9 points and 6.0 assists through his first 12 starts last season before sitting out two months due to knee surgery.
He returned in late January to limited minutes, and never cracked the starting lineup until one month later after February’s All-Star break. Russell watched his production dwindle to 15.5 points and 5.2 assists per game, around his career averages of 14.6 points and 4.3 assists through his first three seasons.
“I always told D’Angelo, don’t compare your stuff by numbers,” said newly acquired veteran forward Jared Dudley, whom the Nets landed via trade in July. “If you look at us, there’s no star player here, so you’ve got to have some players on the team to make others better.”
Dudley’s not alone, coach Atkinson has also sought out Russell, expecting more of the dynamic 22-year-old combo guard this season, even stopping an entire scrimmage due to a turnover.
The only one Russell had.
”I stopped the practice and told him about it,” Atkinson recalled of the Tuesday incident. “And then the next day I came back and I said, ‘you know what? You did a hell of a job handling the ball’ and I pointed out the only turnover he made.’ His response was, ‘keep coaching me.’”
Atkinson even admitted to feeling a level of guilt, but Russell handled it in stride.
“I want that,” Russell told his coach. “If you want to sub me out because of a turnover, however you decide to do it, I trust it. But trust me, there’s no way you’re mad more than I am about the turnover.’”
A lot is also expected of Caris LeVert, who is entering his third season after averaging 12.1 points, 4.2 assists and 3.7 rebounds in 71 games last season.
Teammates say the 24-year-old guard is poised to take a big leap.
“I think this is his year,” said veteran swingman and second-year Net DeMarre Carroll. “I think this is a breakout year. Not to put pressure on him, but I’ve seen it every day.”
“He definitely surprised me,” added newly signed center Ed Davis. “He’s one of those guys that I’m calling people like, ‘he’s going to have a good year.’ I like his game.”
LeVert’s not letting the hype get to him, but he says his confidence is elevated due to countless summer gym hours with Nets assistant Jacque Vaughn, as well as consistently doing yoga.
“Just kind of focusing more on the mental aspects of the game,” LeVert says of how yoga has helped. “Focusing more on meditation, visualization and things like that. I think just focusing this off-season and trying to think outside the box, train a little different than I have in the past. “With the injuries, I haven’t been able to do everything I wanted to do with lower body strength,” he added, “but I was able to do that this summer and it’s paying off.”
In Brooklyn, a lot of questions will need to be answered this forthcoming campaign, especially with over 10 free agents to be.
Is Russell going to reach his star potential in a contract season? Will LeVert prove his teammates right and shock the NBA? Are the Nets playoff caliber yet?
They’ll begin to get answers after preseason tip-off at Barclays Center on Wednesday, October 3, against the New York Knicks, or regular season opening night on October 17 at the Detroit Pistons.