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Nets reveal the long and short of new plan

Measured Expectations for Brooklyn as Training Camp Set to Open

September 21, 2016 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
General manager Sean Marks and first-year head coach Kenny Atkinson aren’t measuring the Nets’ success by wins and losses in year one of their rebuilding plan. AP photo
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Long on patience and short on wins isn’t exactly a ticket-selling team motto.

But the Brooklyn Nets, currently spearheaded by general manager Sean Marks and first-year head coach Kenny Atkinson, are apparently all in for a long, slow ascension through the NBA ranks, a far cry from the win-at-all-costs regime billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov came storming into our fair borough with five years ago.

“The season won’t be measured entirely by wins and losses,” Marks said Tuesday at the team’s Sunset Park training facility, where players have been gathering regularly for workouts leading up to next week’s official opening of training camp.

“It’ll be measured by the progress that’s made throughout the season and the buy-in from our players,” Mark added.

Buying in from players looking for playing time shouldn’t be a problem.

The Nets’ revamped roster is littered with young, unproven talent – Brooklyn’s-own Lincoln High School prodigy Isaiah Whitehead – and a few key veterans – projected starting point guard Jeremy Lin via a three-year, $39 million pact – determined to be at the forefront of this new movement.

But for Brooklyn basketball fanatics, who showed up in droves for the franchise’s first three seasons here, averaging better than 17,000 fans per night at Downtown’s Barclays Center, the measure of a season is, in fact, dictated by wins and losses.

Last season, the Nets won 21 of their 82 games, ranking second-to-last in the Eastern Conference and third-worst overall in the NBA with a .256 winning percentage.

That was a far cry from the team that averaged nearly 44 wins during its first three campaigns here, reaching the playoffs in each of those years and going as far as the Eastern Conference semifinals in 2013-14.

The result: The Nets fell to 27th in the league in average home attendance with a final figure of 15,125 per game, numbers that could decrease again this coming season if the new patient approach isn’t somehow sped up.

“Our goals aren’t necessarily six months down the road goals,” Marks said.  “It’s this next block of five games and asking did we improve from the last block of five games.

“Hopefully with all the interaction the coaches will have throughout the year and the performance staff, you’ll see guys’ bodies improve, physical abilities improve and also the way they play the game,” he added.

Atkinson, brought in for his player-development skills and already the sixth man on the job since the Nets arrived in Brooklyn back in 2012, echoed Marks’ belief that this team would certainly improve over the course of the 82-game season, but that those results may not show up in the standings.

“The fans, media and everyone around the team will see a team that’s building, improving, competing at a high level every night,” the Northport, Long Island native insisted.

“Individual improvement and our young players are getting better,” he added. “We are interested in advanced stats, so we’ll see improvements in statistics in areas we think are important and the style we want to play.”

And what exactly will that style be?

“Emphasize team defense,” Atkinson revealed. “It’s not easy to overachieve in the NBA, but if there is a way to do it, we can do it with good team defense. On the offensive side it’s the same thing, we’re going to have to share the ball, we’re going to have to hopefully be a high-assist team that plays together.”

“An unselfish style of play, don’t take contested shots, move the ball, make the extra pass,” Marks added. “A lot of it will be predicated on what the roster looks like, you can’t say we’re only going to be a 3-point shooting team if you also have to involve Brook [Lopez] down there. Kenny will argue that Brook will shoot the corner 3 as well. We’ll be flexible, but he’s the guy with the system.”

The system, doubtlessly influenced by Atkinson’s assistant coaching stint in Atlanta and Marks’ previous affiliation with San Antonio, will be quarterbacked by Lin, who became a folk hero during the “Lin-Sanity” era at Madison Square Garden nearly five years ago, and hopes to do so again on the other side of the East River.

“He can be a darn good defender with his athleticism and his competitiveness and I think he feels a little slighted that he’s not considered a better defender, so we need to hold him accountable there,” Atkinson said of the player he helped shape during his time as an assistant coach with the Knicks.

“There’s a lot of things, but the last thing is make this team work, make it work on the offensive end and make sure everyone’s touching it and get that right feel of where we have balanced scoring and a balanced team,” Atkinson added of Lin’s duties as the team’s coach on the floor.

“It’s a heck of a challenge, but he’s prepared for it, I think it’s the right time of his career and I think he’s smart enough and will grow into being a better leader as this thing goes on.”

Of course, the Nets’ longest-tenured, and perhaps most valuable asset remains in the middle of it all.

Lopez, who is coming off one of his most productive seasons, averaging over 20 points, nearly eight rebounds and just short of two blocked shots per game in 2015-16, will rely on Lin and the rest of the as yet to be determined starters to get him the ball early and often.

But again, Atkinson and Marks are more interested in what the hulking 7-footer can do when he is not trying to score.

“The first thing we’re going to do is to challenge him defensively to improve,” Atkinson said.

“Rebounding – I know that’s been a thing in the past – pick and roll defense and we have to find the right scheme that fits him. Offensively – I think it’s with all of these guys – become even more efficient than you are. … We’re going to challenge to improve in those areas and again that fit our style of play and we do believe that he can take another step.”

Brooklyn fans have to be hoping that the Nets are selling low, yet still aiming high.

Otherwise, Season Five here doesn’t promise very much for a fan base that only a few short years ago was actively in the hunt for an Eastern Conference title.

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