Entering Year 2 of their rebuilding project, Nets general manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson Tuesday expressed excitement about the five new veterans and first-round draft pick they added to the roster, but they admit the gaping hole created by the departure of center Brook Lopez in a trade to the Lakers means the franchise is entering uncharted waters with a drastically different look.
The Lopez trade not only netted D’Angelo Russell, the No. 2 overall pick from the 2015 draft, and center Timofey Mozgov, but it also shifted the Nets’ playing style to the so-called “position-less” modern model Marks and Atkinson favor. Marks also traded for wings DeMarre Carroll and Allen Crabbe, who should improve the outside shooting, signed free-agent center Tyler Zeller and drafted center Jarrett Allen, all moves that upgraded the depth of talent.
“Any time you can add talent that’s a bonus, that’s what we’re trying to do,” Marks said. “We’re thrilled. They fit the brand of ball we’re trying to play, but they also fit what we’re trying to do off the court, as well. They’ll hopefully make the Brooklyn brand proud.”
Atkinson said the loss of Lopez means the Nets’ big men in the frontcourt must replace Lopez’s 20.5 scoring average “by committee,” but he added that the versatility of the new players is an advantage he plans to emphasize when training camp begins next Tuesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.
“We have a new group and new guys we have to integrate,” Atkinson said. “I can’t give you all the specific answers right now, but I’m confident with the talent we brought in and that we have left over that you’re going to see some improvement on both ends of the court.”
With such a young roster and no proven mainstay like Lopez, veteran leadership will be critical. Marks named eight-year veteran Carroll, who was acquired from Toronto and played for Atkinson when he was an assistant with Atlanta as a valuable addition to set the locker-room tone, along with Jeremy Lin and Trevor Booker.
“Kenny and DeMarre are close,” Marks said. “DeMarre’s been on 60-plus win teams three of the last four years, so, he knows what he’s doing out there. He didn’t come here to lose, so he’s going to hold these guys accountable to certain expectations.”
Most fans view Russell as the face of the future for the Nets, and how he blends with Lin in the backcourt will be watched closely.
“I really believe we can make it work,” Atkinson said. “There’s 48 minutes out there. If you put it on a spreadsheet, you can figure out they’ll both be playing a lot of point guard. The great thing about both those guys is that they’ve both played the two, and they both can guard the position. So, it kind of fits into what we’re doing.”
Asked if he views the 29-year-old Lin as a mentor to the 21-year-old Russell or part of the Nets’ long-term future, Marks said, “Well I would hope he’s more than just a mentor, and I know Jeremy wants far more than that, too.”