Borrowing a page from Winston Churchill’s playbook, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson on Thursday told his players he was most proud of the character they showed during the season’s darkest hours in January and February when they went 1-27. Instead of falling apart, they went 11-13 in the final 24 games of the season, a rewarding stretch that showed they progressed.
“I think Coach said it five minutes ago,” rookie Caris LeVert said after a season-ending team meeting. “When we went through that tough stretch in January and February where we won one game, our attitude was the exact same as it was toward the end of the season when we were close to .500 and went on that three-game winning streak.
“So we have the right guys in the locker room. Everybody has the right attitude. So I’m really excited going into next year.”
As turning points go, those two months were far from ideal. But Atkinson told his players they were close to a turnaround, they kept the faith with everyone in the foxhole, and sure enough, they gained a measure of respectability.
“I think it really galvanized the group,” said point guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who started in place of injured Jeremy Lin for most of that stretch. “I think the character and spirits of the team really showed through.
“To come back and play .500 ball through the most critical stretch of the season when everybody is playing their hardest and trying to gear up for the playoffs, we beat some good teams in some very important times. It showed the type of team we can be going forward if we can be together more, be healthy.”
Second-year forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson credited the coaching staff and veteran leaders for helping the Nets keep their work ethic intact. “Mentally, you’ve got to be strong to go through those things and still be able to compete and have that smile on our face,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Night in and night out, we’d still come in and still have a passion for the game, and that starts with our leadership.”
Brook Lopez, indeed, was at the center, holding his team together with a positive attitude. Lopez took accountability and, in doing so, reassured his teammates they were in it together.
“It was never once hard to hold the locker room together,” Lopez said. “You have to attribute that to the culture we have and the kind of people Sean [Marks, the general manager] and Kenny were looking to bring in.”