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NBA Sunday: Let’s Not Sleep On The Brooklyn Nets

Moke Hamilton chats with Jeremy Lin and coach Kenny Atkinson, who each believe that the Nets are on the rise.

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Compared to the full-time NBA arenas in Madison Square Garden and Barclays Center, this arena, though located just 28 miles from downtown Brooklyn, feels worlds away from the house that Prokhorov built.

Except for the visual theme and decorations inside of the newly renovated Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, you’d have no idea that the venue was playing host to the Brooklyn Nets and Philadelphia 76ers.

And you’d have no idea that inside, scores of people across the country—perhaps even the world—would be interested in what was transpiring.

For the first time in 10 months and just a few days after signing a mammoth extension, Joel Embiid would absolutely torch the Nets and their less-talented front line. The masses saw Embiid channel his inner Stephen Curry when he effortlessly hit a 32-foot three-point shot after a whistle stopped play and saw him channel his inner Dirk Nowitzki when he connected on a left-baseline fadeaway off of his left foot, despite wearing a defender as a shirt.

In short, Embiid kicked the Nets’ teeth in en route to securing a 133-114 victory for the Sixers.

Believe it or not, though, for these Nets, the beating was a blessing in disguise.

“I kinda saw it coming,” Atkinson said after the 19-point loss. “It’s a good wakeup call for us—players and coaches.”

* * * * * *

For the most part, the preseason doesn’t count for much. But for a team with new faces and a new identity, at the very least, preseason gives a glimpse of the communicative flavor of a rotation unit, as well as a gander at how units collectively see the floor and each other. Even more so than talent, those characteristics go a long way toward a team stringing together consecutive wins.

After having soundly defeated the New York Knicks and Miami HEAT in their first three preseason games, the narrative around the Nets went from again expecting the team to wallow in the cellar of the Eastern Conference to possibly contending for a playoff spot.

Atkinson, being in tune with his team, wondered if a perfect preseason record would have given the team a false sense of security as to where they are as a unit.

Embiid ensured that wouldn’t be a problem.

“It’s a great wakeup call,” the coach said. “Maybe going through the preseason 4-0, we would think we’re a juggernaut and really we have a long way to go,” he said.

“My overall sentiment, training camp and preseason, I think there’s a positive feeling in that locker room that there’s some positive momentum going into the regular season.”

Jeremy Lin, one of the returning faces from last year’s team, came away from the preseason feeling somewhat enlightened. After the four games, including the blowout, it was impossible to not recognize the potential that lies in Brooklyn.

“The beauty of this preseason is that we saw what we could look like and we saw what we shouldn’t look like,” Lin said. “We kinda have a cheat sheet to the test.”

Heading into this season, around the NBA, not much attention is being paid to the Nets. As a team, they’re not of the caliber of the Toronto Raptors or the Washington Wizards, much less the Cavs or Celtics. But still, evident progress is being made, especially when compared to last season’s team.

“I think we’re a little more sure of ourselves,” Atkinson said when comparing this year’s team to last year’s.

“I’m a second-year coach, I’m a little more confident in what I do… The guys we brought in have a confidence about them—DeMarre and D’Angelo, they’ve been in the league. I feel like we’re not newbies. We have some scars under our belt and I think that’s gonna help us.”

To that, Lin agrees.

“I’m not really paying too much attention [to outside noise], but my evaluation of us has always been ‘Oh we’re pretty good,’ so I’ve never thought anything otherwise and I’ve never let anyone’s opinion make me think otherwise,” Lin said of the Nets.

“At the end of the day, it’s our job to figure things out and prove that to everyone else.”

Both Atkinson and Lin agree that this Nets team is more talented than last year’s, but Atkinston estimates that the first 10 games of the season might be rough, while Lin admits to not putting too much stock into the preseason.

“I think preseason, in a lot of ways, is fool’s gold,” Lin said. “The real character and demeanor of everyone comes out in the regular season.”

In short order, the Nets will begin their opportunity to show the league’s viewing public that they’re more than a hodgepodge of spare parts that their prior teams couldn’t afford.

Together, they’ll have a shot to become a team—a playoff team, at that.

* * * * * *

After turning in a 20-62 record last season, the Nets stood idly by as the Paul Pierce trade—the gift that keeps on giving—saw the first overall pick that the team won in the draft lottery get sent to Boston.

Despite the loss of the pick, general manager Sean Marks proved that he’s smarter than most men in any room by finding creative ways to add basketball talent to a team that probably now has enough talent to contend for a playoff spot in the top-heavy Eastern Conference.

There’s simply no way that a team can add Russell, Carroll and Allen Crabbe and get worse. That Marks was able to extract both a future first and second round pick from the Raptors in the Carroll swap was a stroke of brilliance, but that’s another story for another day. What it does indicate, at least in the present, however, is that Marks will find ways to improve this team. Additional evidence of that fact may become apparent sooner rather than later.

And what needs to be discussed sooner is the fact that, somehow, after inheriting a dire situation in Brooklyn, the Nets enter the 2017-18 season with renewed hopes—and it’s not all based on the pie-in-the-sky optimism that clouds everyone’s judgment in the preseason. Instead, it’s based partially on what has transpired before our eyes and knowing that on October 18, the season begins anew.

New York is appropriately called the city that never sleeps. It makes all the sense in the world, then, to not completely sleep on the Brooklyn Nets.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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