LeBron James has departed the Eastern Conference, providing immediate opportunities for those already near the top of the standings to reach the NBA Finals and for second-tier teams to make a jump at least into playoff contention.
The Nets still might not be ready for either of those scenarios, but third-year Nets coach Kenny Atkinson likes the offseason moves made by GM Sean Marks, and he's looking forward to building on last year's 28-win campaign.
"Listen, from the first day I was here, I've never been a predictor, or gave win totals. I think we will make another positive step forward," Atkinson said Tuesday morning at the Southampton Town Recreation Center, where he is running a camp for 145 boys and girls this week. "I think we're on an upward trend and I want to continue in that vein.
"Sean says it all the time, you can't skip steps, right? To all of a sudden be at the mountaintop and be screaming 'championship contention,' I think that would be pretentious. I would say we just have to keep building with our building blocks, keep building that foundation and take another step forward."
Atkinson believes veteran imports Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier, Jared Dudley and Kenneth Faried — who was arrested earlier this month on a marijuana possession charge, which the coach declined to address — fit into the team's system. Atkinson said they will augment a youthful core highlighted by guards D'Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie and forwards Jarrett Allen and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
"I think for one thing, we have a nice mixture of veterans and youth," Atkinson said. "They are all guys with high basketball IQs, guys who've all had success in this league.
"So I think that's going to help our young guys, their development curve. I think it's huge to have veteran guys that know the tricks of the trade . . . But I always like to talk in terms of the collective, and I think collectively we do have to take another step this year."
That goes for the coach, as well, looking to improve on last year's record, which was an eight-game boost over the team's 20-62 mark in 2016-17.
In the meantime, the Northport native and St. Anthony's High School product already is running drills and offering tutorials for the local kids of Long Island at the Nets' DRIBBL basketball camp.
"It's been everything and more. Here we are out in Southampton, I'm a Long Island guy and you constantly run into someone you know, or you went to high school with, or who knew your brothers or your mom. It's amazing," the 51-year-old Atkinson said. "I'm proud to be from Long Island, I grew up here and I'm proud of our basketball heritage. A lot of good players and coaches have come out of Long Island. To be able to do this now in Brooklyn, 40 miles away, it's special.
"Because listen, I was these kids. This is how it started for me, going to camps, that was the spark that got me going on my way, so I can really relate to it."
Notes & quotes: Hollis-Jefferson suffered an adductor strain at an exhibition game in China earlier this month, but Atkinson declined to offer an update on the swingman's recovery or even his availability when training camp opens on Sept. 25.