The view from the Nets’ new high-tech training facility in the Industry City section of Brooklyn is an inspiring vista of the Statue of Liberty and the skyline on the New Jersey and Manhattan sides of New York City’s harbor. It’s inspiring, which helps because the Nets are putting in longer work days than ever before under the new regime headed by general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson.
Marks said the organizational structure he’s building is modeled after the San Antonio Spurs, where he served as assistant general manager. Since joining the Nets in February, Marks has dramatically expanded the support staff to include director of player performance Zach Weatherford, who previously worked for the U.S. Naval Special Warfare Command, strength and conditioning coach Dan Meehan, head trainer/physical therapist Lloyd Beckett and director of physical therapy Aisling Toolan, assistant trainer Sebastien Poirier and assistant strength and conditioning coach Lauren Green.
Rather than helping players rehabilitate following injuries, Marks said, the point is to emphasize “prehab” to prevent injuries. The approach was a major selling point when the Nets were recruiting free agents, and the reviews during the first week of training camp have been raves.
“I think the league is evolving and all teams are moving in this direction,” said forward Luis Scola. “All the teams are moving to more strength and conditioning, more treatment, more preparation, more sports science, diets, sleeping, resting. How can you get the edge?
“Players are coming here very early, staying here, doing the right thing for five or six hours, then go home and come back the next day and do it all over again. When I got [to the NBA], things weren’t that way. Players would come to practice, spend an hour and a half or two, and it would be over. That changed. Very soon, the teams that are not doing it that way are not going to be able to compete.”
The wide-ranging scope of everything the Nets are doing to maximize performance has been especially impressive to their players. “I’ve never seen an organization care for their players holistically from a 24/7 standpoint,” point guard Jeremy Lin said. “Its all-encompassing.”
The physical conditioning work several players put in during the offseason already is paying clear dividends. Center Brook Lopez lamented giving up ‘Slurpees’ and other sweet treats, but he’s lost seven pounds and gained agility he needs to improve on defense.
“We have so many people specialized at what they do, the best in their field, and they all are in there taking care of us,” Lopez said. “We’re taking turns with everyone going from PT to mobilization and weights. It’s just changing the way my body moves.”
Lopez is one of only five players remaining from last season’s 21-61 team, and he said the holdovers welcomed the transformation. “We felt we absolutely were moving in the right direction,” he said. “The camraderie is high, and the feeling has just been growing internally.”
Just as the Spurs did, the Nets plan to have a roster populated by players from all over the globe. Marks is from New Zealand, and he believes cultural diversity keeps things more interesting. The training camp roster includes players from six countries besides the U.S.
“I believe San Antonio built what they have for a lot of different reasons, but one of them was the mixture of cultures,” said Scola, who is close friends with the Spurs’ Manu Ginobili. “Everybody in that organization is open-minded, and they take stuff from other places, other continents, from other leagues. I believe here we can re-create something (like that).”
Atkinson’s hire is a major part of the change because he’s a specialist in player performance and has been very hands-on working with individual players. Team-bonding activities are a big part of his agenda and will include “team dinners and other cool things” during the season.
“Please don’t misunderstand that we have the secret formula,” Atkinson said. “Whatever approach you take, we have to get a great foundation of work. Hopefully, they’re enjoying it and they think they’re getting better. That will build credibility for the coaching staff, the performance staff, diet, the whole thing. The part for us is getting the buy-in. We’ve got to earn these guys’ respect by us bringing it every day, too.”