EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Don't tell Lionel Hollins this is a transition season for the Nets.
They may have stripped things down, infusing the roster with youth and shedding payroll to get under the luxury- tax threshold, but the mindset and approach of the Nets' coach leading into the 2015-16 campaign hasn't been altered. He refuses to concede that the Nets are merely bridging seasons while waiting to toss their hat into the free-agent ring come July, when the likes of players such as Kevin Durant and Mike Conley could be on the market.
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"Nobody's said, 'Wait until next summer,' " Hollins said Thursday. "We're going out and trying to win. Whether we can or not remains to be seen. But it's not my mindset. And the players' mindset is not going out there [thinking], 'We don't have to try to win this year because it's a gap year, and the expectations have changed because we broke this group up versus that group up.'VoteNets 2016-17: Keep 'em or dump 'em?
"Whatever group you put together, you're trying to win. I don't think that you sit around saying, 'We'll wait until next summer.' ''
Hollins' initial plan revolves around gauging if the core five of their seven returnees can play together as a starting unit. The hope is to use a game-opening quintet of Jarrett Jack, Bojan Bogdanovic, Joe Johnson, Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez, allowing Hollins to quickly determine the roles of a reserve unit filled with new faces such as Andrea Bargnani and Thomas Robinson.
With the Nets carrying a roster full of twentysomethings, Hollins' vision involves playing with a more upbeat speed than the team did in his first season in Brooklyn. He has a few general ideas on the precise style he wants to implement but has to wait until he sees how things go once training camp starts at Duke University on Tuesday.
"We're younger and a little more athletic, so hopefully these guys perform to the level where they deserve and earn playing time so that we can play," Hollins said. "I want to get the ball up and down the court a little faster, get into our offense better, quicker, and have more clock to operate versus getting up slow and the pressure building on us as the clock goes down, versus having the defense on their heels through the course of the whole shot clock."
Sustaining offensive consistency was a problem at times with Deron Williams running the point for the Nets, and they have an even bigger question mark at the position now that he's gone.
Jack, entering his second season with the Nets, has bounced around, playing on seven teams in his 10 seasons in the league. Shane Larkin has struggled in his two seasons, Donald Sloan hasn't played more than 53 games in any of his four NBA seasons and Ryan Boatright is an undrafted free agent.
"We have three to four guys that are making a mad dash and we'll see which two rise to the level that we need them to rise to," Hollins said. "As I said, the five veteran guys -- the core guys -- will be the guys that get the opportunity first, and then those other guys will have to come in and supplant them. As I say, it's not always how well you're playing as an individual but how well those groups fit together.
"We went through that last year and I thought when we moved Brook and Deron to the bench we had some success in terms of the groups being balanced. The second unit played better. But we still weren't winning, so I had to make another change."
Hollins may very well find himself tinkering with his rotations and lineups again, given that more than half of the roster was turned over in the offseason. The influx of their lower-level acquisitions has them flying way under the radar and out of the playoff picture in some people's eyes. Hollins couldn't care less.
"It don't matter. It really doesn't matter," Hollins said. "If everybody's talking about you, you've got to go do it. If nobody's talking about you doing it, you've still got to go do it. So what does it matter? And hopefully my team's mindset [is] it doesn't matter what people say about you. There's a lot of people that don't like me. But it don't matter."