The excitement in Lionel Hollins' voice was easily detectable, a sign of the healthy progress of his two key cogs.
Deron Williams and Brook Lopez are coming off surgery, both apparently on track to be ready when training camp begins next month, and Hollins couldn't be more pleased. Lopez revealed earlier this week that he's received full clearance to play, and with Williams also rapidly on the mend, the Nets coach understands what that means both short- and long-term for the duo.
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"Well, that's what the whole goal is," Hollins told Newsday in a phone interview Wednesday from Africa, where he's spending the week participating in the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program. "You can't be where you want to be unless you're healthy, and you can't get in shape unless you're healthy. If you are injured all summer, there's no way you can work out.
"Deron is healthy, Brook is healthy and they are both able to work out."
So conditioning is something they both will be able to work on as they move forward, and when you are in shape you can go out, and try things, and do things because naturally if you are successful, your confidence rises. That's the only way I look at it and that's my approach."
Williams battled ankle injuries from the first day of training camp a year ago to season's end. He had surgery in May to remove bone spurs from his left ankle and had a loose bone fragment removed from his right ankle. He admitted the nagging injuries robbed him of his confidence, and Nets teammate Andrei Kirilenko believes Williams can return to the elite form he displayed when they played together in Utah.
"Oh definitely," Kirilenko told Newsday, also by phone from Africa. "I think Deron's potential is so high and I think last season, something was bothering him for the whole season. I bet his feet, his ankles were bothering him. Being fresh, having that surgery and being healthy for this season will definitely help him."
"I know how he can play and I know he can be a huge, huge part and huge leader of this team. So I will support him as much as possible and be there as much as he needs."
Kirilenko also is eager to reincorporate Lopez into the mix. Lopez needed surgery in December to repair a season-ending right foot injury and also underwent a surgical procedure in March to repair the tendon and ligaments in his left ankle. He was averaging 20.7 points in 17 games before getting hurt and the Nets went to a totally different style of play without him, utilizing a small-ball approach.
"I think when we lost Brook, we kind of lost our force inside," Kirilenko said. "With all my respect to Mase, he's still a little bit raw. He's working right now, he's getting way better. He next season is going to help Brook under the basket. But with Brook, we kind of lost that inside presence and constant threat because he's so good. He's probably the best center right now in the NBA."
" center who's got skills on offense and defense and got a deep variety of options how he can seek his offense in the post. When you that, you lose a huge, huge presence inside especially offensively."
That's why seeing the 7-foot Lopez back on the court, with the doctors' full blessings, has the Nets giddy as they await training camp.
"The fact that he's been cleared, the health, he can work out, I'm happy for him," Hollins said.
"I'm happy for us, but I'm happy for him because no player wants to sit around and not be able to do anything in the summer. "So being fully cleared makes me happy for Brook, and obviously that will help him and help us as we go forward."