The vibe is different this time around.
The Brooklyn Nets aren’t perceived as, and no longer are, the worst team in the NBA. In fact, many within and around the organization and in league circles projects the team to significantly improve from a dismal 21-61 campaign last year.
During the off-season, the Nets managed to execute a number of praiseworthy deals, which earned immediate regard for general manager Sean Marks in his second full year with the team.
Stemming from a series of deals, the Nets dealt Brook Lopez, a first-rounder, which became Kyle Kuzma, Justin Hamilton and Andrew Nicholson, and acquired D’Angelo Russell, Timofey Mozgov, DeMarre Carroll, Allen Crabbe, and two 2018 picks, including the Toronto Raptors’ first-rounder.
What they lost in salary cap flexibility they gained in talent and, subsequently, hope.
The players themselves are hopeful to make strides, and the only word on the minds of Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson is “playoffs.”
“You love that the players think that way,” Atkinson said. “These guys are competitors. Our process is a little different. We’ve talked about how we’re thinking about it on a day-to-day basis, how we’re growing. Are we making incremental progress? Are we improving?”
The talk of the town, and perhaps the main reason for such playoff optimism, is the addition of Russell, who arrives from the Los Angeles Lakers with perennial all-star potential at the age of 21.
The 6-foot-5 point guard was the third overall pick in 2015 after one outstanding season at Ohio State. After two seasons of growing pains, criticism from the top of the Lakers organization (namely, Magic Johnson), superstar flashes and a cell phone scandal (Google it), the Nets could have their franchise star.
Whether he is or not hasn’t been the focus of his teammates, who have been complimentary of Russell’s fit, which has largely been off the court, since he arrived in Brooklyn over three months ago.
“People feel a way about giving compliments and giving love and that’s how we do here,” said Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. “We hug each other, we tell each other we miss them, there’s nothing wrong with that. People want to feel that.
“It just comes down to knowing someone has your back,” he continued Hollis-Jefferson. “If you just meet someone for the first time you’re not going to put all your trust in their lap, you’ve got to build and develop that relationship. I feel like we’ve done that.”
Nets’ point guard Spencer Dinwiddie also spoke to the cultural development going on in Brooklyn. “Culture” has become the buzz word within the organization, used ad nauseam by Marks, Atkinson and others.
“From the front office, our head coach, the assistant coaches, you just have a different kind of air to the organization,” Dinwiddie said. “It’s confident, it’s optimistic, and overall it’s a joy to be there.
“Don’t get me wrong, we’re hungry,” he added. “We want to win this year. What NBA player, what team doesn’t? We want to go 82-0.”
The Nets’ first of four preseason games will take place on Tuesday, October 3, at Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks. The next two will be on Thursday and Sunday at Barclays against the Miami Heat and Knicks, ending with a Long Island-held showing versus the Philadelphia 76ers.
Then, they’ll have a shot to go 82-0.