EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Training camp began Tuesday with Vince Carter in Orlando, Jason Kidd in Dallas and Richard Jefferson in San Antonio. At the Nets’ practice facility there are some banners and coaches who represent some good old days, but little else.
Hanging at the reception desk inside the PNY Center are a Devin Harris jersey, a Lawrence Frank photo and a Yi Jianlian uniform. It once was Kidd, Carter and Jefferson.
The photos lining the hallways on the way to the gym feature Sean Williams, Josh Boone, Yi and Keyon Dooling. Guess who once was there.
It has been this way for some time here, especially after Carter was traded to Orlando in June, but with camp opening a new era in Nets’ basketball officially began today. Last year was supposed to be a new era, but this truly is, until next year when new Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov – provided the sale goes through – tries to throw around his millions to secure some of the best players money can buy.
By then the overall feeling of the Nets may be different. They are in good position for the future, but not for this year unless everything falls perfectly for them. They have a good young nucleus, and if everything works out, the makings of a Big Three that actually includes a big.
Harris, an All-Star guard last year, Carter’s replacement Courtney Lee and second-year center Brook Lopez make up what could be the cornerstones going forward. As of now, they’re the Big Three the Nets are counting on to improve the team and the chances of attracting LeBron James or another marquee name or names when July 1 hits.
“The funny thing is we help ourselves more by doing better,” Harris said after the first practice. “We attract free agents. If we do better as a team right now we attract more of those guys. So we keep ourselves more in the present because it will help us in the future.”
The Nets could surprise this year. You really don’t know. Chemistry, health, player improvement and perhaps most important for this group, a commitment to defense should determine the type of season the Nets have.
Right from the beginning, all Frank stressed was defense. He didn’t even want to talk about offense, saying he’s not putting in any offensive plays.
Now, we know that’s not true because you have to let the players express themselves freely on the fun end if you want them to get dirty on the workman’s end. But you get the point that Frank is trying to convey.
The Nets are winning with their defense, and rightfully so. As constituted they don’t have the makeup of a team that will outscore many if any teams. Harris is their lone 20-point scorer. No one else on the roster has averaged more than 16 points in a season and Bobby Simmons did it in the 2004-05 season.
If those numbers weren’t enough, these will tell why the Nets have to defend to have a chance to win: three players have averaged more than 10 points twice or more in their careers. Two have done it once and 10 have never averaged at least 10 points.
So it has to start on the defensive end and if guys like Lee and Terrence Williams lead up to their billing as stopper,s and Harris lifts his on-the-ball game, this could be an exciting team. They have athletes that can run and get up and down the floor in Harris, Lee, Williams, Sean Williams and Yi.
“I think our guys want to win,” Frank said. “You don’t have to be the brightest person in the world to figure out, regardless of sports, all winning teams defend. It’s a commitment. It’s an every day commitment. It’s about building habits. It’s everyone buying.”
Buying in and commitment are words often used in coach-speak, but in this case it’s more than that. It’s the truth.
Other then the importance of defense, the thing most often talked about today was how the Nets want to show they’re going to be better than expected.
“All the pundits say we’re going to be very bad,” Dooling said. “It would be nice to go out and prove everybody wrong.”
“That’s going to motivate us, knowing that we’re picked last,” Lee said. “That will definitely put a chip on our shoulders and motivate us to come in here and work hard and make sure we play for each other so we can bond and go out there and play to the best of our abilities.”
Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).