DURHAM, N.C. - Andrea Bargnani has one specific goal this season, a solitary driving force after a pair of injury-riddled years with the Knicks.
As someone who has missed 191 games in the last five seasons and become a punch line because of that, the Nets big man simply has his mind set on sustaining something that's given him problems since he was chosen by the Raptors with the first overall pick in 2006.
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"The main thing I'm looking for is being healthy, and being on the floor and contributing to the team's success," Bargnani said Thursday. "I just want to be a part of it. We have a great group of players and I want to be on the court. I want to be able to help them. Sitting out, obviously, was very frustrating and so I really don't want to do that again. I just want to be healthy and stay on the court. That's it."
Bargnani, 29, is searching for a fresh start with the Nets. He's ready to put the struggles that plagued him with the Knicks in the rearview mirror. Hampered by calf and hamstring injuries, he never reached the heights the Knicks envisioned when they shipped three players, a 2016 first-round pick and second-round selections in 2014 and 2017 to Toronto for him.
After seeing the floor in only 42 games his first season, Bargnani was on the court for a career-low 29 games last season. He averaged 13.9 points and his inconsistency led to Knicks president Phil Jackson taking shots at him in articles during the offseason. Jackson called Bargnani "a big tease," questioned his resolve for overcoming injuries and hustle, and said he's a "malingerer."
But Bargnani, who signed a two-year deal with the Nets for the league minimum despite being offered more money by the Kings, insists he's as bothered as anyone about his penchant for collecting lingering ailments. "You cannot do anything about it. There's not much you can do," he said. "It's just extremely frustrating.''
"That's the worst thing I have ever been through in my career, is missing so many games. So you just sit out, try and keep working, [focus on] being there with your head. You do as much as possible so you don't go crazy."
At 7-1, Bargnani gives the Nets added versatility. His outside shot should aid in stretching the defense, particularly when he's on the floor with 7-footer Brook Lopez. Shane Larkin believes the Nets' scheme plays better to Bargnani's strengths overall, taking advantage of his skill set in a way the triangle offense didn't.
Larkin said Bargnani, who has averaged 15.0 points and 4.8 rebounds in his career, flourishes more in pick-and-rolls and in uptempo settings.
"A.B., he's really happy in the situation that he's in this year," said Larkin, who also was Bargnani's teammate a season ago with the Knicks. "Last year, me and him just learning a new offense, it was kind of hard just to grasp that whole concept of the offense . . . A.B. is a great player. I don't think anybody across the league doesn't think he can play. Obviously, he was a No. 1 pick, so they expect him to give you 20-and-10 a night. But he is what he is. He's a great pick-and-pop player, he can play down low. He has some good post moves in the bag; he's got a little hook shot."
Larkin already has noticed a connection between Bargnani and Joe Johnson.
"Him and Joe work well together because Joe is so big as a 'two-three' that they have to double on him,'' Larkin said. "And you get swing, swing, swing [passes]. We have A.B., 7-1, sitting in the corner shooting threes. So I feel like he's going to fit in really well."That was the Nets' hope when they brought Bargnani on board, figuring it was a low-risk move. Bargnani couldn't be happier to be in a new environmentbut says he's not out to prove he's still got game.
"I'm always a motivated player, not to show somebody nothing," Bargnani said. "It's for myself and the other people that care about me. That's why I play basketball, because I love the game. I love to be on the court. That's my passion, that's my life. So I love the game. That's why I play. Not to show somebody."