Hey Brooklyn! Don’t forget the Nets
Begin Quest for Fourth Straight Playoff Bid at Duke University
The New York Islanders are coming to Brooklyn, just in case you haven’t heard yet.
But the franchise that has already established itself as our borough’s very own is quietly going about the business of preparing for its upcoming fourth season here in Downtown.
That’s right folks, the Brooklyn Nets have officially kicked off training camp at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, hoping to secure the team’s fourth straight postseason appearance since making history in November 2012 by becoming our first major pro sports franchise since the Dodgers fled for Los Angeles back in 1957.
“I’ve heard you have got a field trip planned. I thought I would join you there to say a personal hello and find out how we get ready to start the season,” Nets billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov said in a video missive on the team’s website earlier this week, officially declaring it basketball season here in Brooklyn.
Owners of the top payroll in the NBA during Prokhorov’s stint at the helm, the Nets are coming off a first-round playoff ouster at the hands of the top-seeded Atlanta Hawks, and a parting of the ways with the former face of their franchise, Deron Williams, via a $27 million buyout of the final two years of his contract.
That means veteran Jarrett Jack is likely to be the Nets’ starting point man come Opening Night, Oct. 28 at Barclays Center.
Also, by re-signing big men Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young to lucrative deals this past offseason, Brooklyn finally appears to be shifting away from its original identity, which was based heavily on the production of backcourt mates Williams and Joe Johnson.
The latter, who is slated to pull in nearly $25 million in the final year of the cumbersome six-year, $123 pact he originally signed with Atlanta, believes the Nets are in position to open some eyes this season despite the steady losses of big-name players like Williams, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and former head coach Jason Kidd over the past several campaigns.
“I’m looking forward to it,” Johnson noted in advance of his 15th NBA training camp. “I think that the biggest thing for us is how hard we play. You can’t make up for effort. We should be all right. We should always give ourselves a chance.”
They have for three straight seasons, entering the NBA playoffs in each campaign, and advancing as far as the Eastern Conference semifinals during Kidd’s lone year as head coach before his tumultuous and well-chronicled exit to Milwaukee.
Last season, the Nets brought in Lionel Hollins, whose firebrand coaching tactics didn’t always sit well with Lopez, who will now be called upon to lead this franchise to greater heights, as indicated by the three-year, $60 million deal general manager Billy King handed him this past summer.
“Chemistry is a big key to winning. It starts now,” insisted Johnson, who figures to be gone next year when the Nets will have upwards of $40 million of salary cap space to play with in free agency. “We’re picking up one another and playing off one another.”
Lopez averaged 17.2 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 blocks per contest in 2014-15 despite spending a good portion of the first half of the season coming off the bench under Hollins.
But the 7-footer from Stanford began to embrace Hollins’ credo of toughness and emerged as Brooklyn’s best player during the stretch run to the playoffs, pacing the Nets to a season-closing 13-6 mark that secured the eighth and final seed in the East.
Now, as by far the longest-tenured member of this franchise and the only player remaining from the New Jersey days, he will be asked to lead by example, both in training camp and during the regular season.
“You don’t have to ‘Rah-Rah’, jumping around waving towels,” King intimated of the leadership role thrust on his high-priced former All-Star center. “But we need [Lopez] to push this group and help guide it where you want it to go. You’ve got to put your stamp on it a little bit and I think he’s accepted that.”
Lopez will have help on the leadership front from Jack, who will not only man the point on the hardwood, but should be a steadying presence for young Net guards like former Knick Shane Larkin, Donald Sloan and Markel Brown as they try to establish themselves with the team.
“It’s about working hard first and foremost, having somebody, example-wise that [the young players] can follow and when there are times that a vocal presence is necessary, being that too,” Jack said. “You know, I’ve been in this league going on 11 years now, so I’ve seen things from all sides of the spectrum. Being able to help somebody personally or the team collectively is something that falls on me at this particular point and time.”
Hollins, hoping to become the first Nets coach to complete a second season with the team since its move here, is embracing the challenge of building a winner in his own mold, which worked very well for him in his previous coaching stint at Memphis.
“Every year you come in with an ideal of what you want to do,” he said. “It’s my mindset and everybody knows that. But we might not have the skill set to do it. Just going out there and being consistent and making an impact every night, that’s how you develop a good team.”
Nothing But Net: Following their extended weekend at Duke, the Nets will be back in Downtown Brooklyn on Monday night for their exhibition opener at Barclays Center against Turkish League powerhouse Fenerbahce Ulker. … With two full-time inhabitants at Barclays Center now, the Nets will have to schedule their games around the new tenant Islanders, who open their regular season Oct. 9 against the visiting Chicago Blackhawks. The Nets will host two more exhibition contests at Barclays following the Islanders’ opener, taking on Boston (Oct. 14) and Philadelphia (Oct. 18). … The Nets will also hold an open practice on Oct. 10 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. at the Barclays Center. Tickets are $5 and the first 5,000 attendees will receive co-branded Brooklyn Nets and MetroPCS earbuds
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