Sean Marks took over as general manager of the Nets just 19 months ago, but forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is the only remaining player from the roster he inherited. It’s hard to believe an NBA roster can be turned over top to bottom in such a short period of time, but that’s why the training camp that opens Tuesday at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, is full of intrigue.
Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson believe their offseason moves have added considerable depth of talent for the team that had the NBA’s worst record and have created competition at several positions. Asked recently if he has a tentative starting lineup in mind, Atkinson pointed to his cranium and said, “Way back here.
“Eventually it’ll come to the mouth and I’ll let you guys know. But we’re still learning our group. Sure, I have an idea. But again, I want confirmation in competition. This is an exciting training camp for us.”
The biggest addition, of course, is third-year guard D’Angelo Russell, who came from the Lakers in the trade for longtime Nets center Brook Lopez. Russell technically figures to start at shooting guard next to Jeremy Lin, but both will share point guard duties. The exchange of franchise scoring leader Lopez for Russell more or less completes a transition that began last season from an inside-out offense to a perimeter-oriented attack relying on ball movement.
Caris LeVert finished his rookie season as the starting small forward, but he might battle with DeMarre Carroll, who was acquired from Toronto in a trade, or Allen Crabbe, who came in a trade with Portland. Crabbe also is an experienced two-guard and Carroll can shift to power forward, which underlines the versatility of the roster Marks and Atkinson have put together.
Hollis-Jefferson started most of last season at power forward despite being undersized and Trevor Booker backed him up. Without Lopez, Timofey Mozgov (who was part of the Lakers trade), first-round rookie Jarrett Allen and free agent Tyler Zeller will split time at center.
Playing time figures to be a battle for the perimeter players who were part of a strong bench unit last season, including Spencer Dinwiddie, Sean Kilpatrick, Joe Harris and Isaiah Whitehead.
“Maybe we’re deeper in some positions,” Marks said. “But when you lose a player like Brook, that obviously takes something out from your roster as well. It’s a changing of talent, maybe fits a little bit more of how Kenny wants to play, the style of basketball, the pace. Obviously, shooting is something we’re going to continue to try to address. In a strange way, it’s a good problem to have.”
Atkinson loves the depth the Nets have at point guard and the wing positions because of the variety of options it gives him with the first and second units.
“I think with the league going in that direction, it’s important to have good depth there,” Atkinson said. “We’ve added some shooting on the perimeter. Like Sean said, losing Brook will obviously be a challenge for our bigs. Timmy Mozgov had a great EuroBasket [tournament playing for the Russian national team], so we’re excited about that.
“We’re excited about our rookie [Allen]. I think he’s going to be really good . . . His athletic ability is pretty impressive — how fast he gets up and down the court and how quick he is off his feet, how well he moves. When we’re talking about ‘modern five’ men in this league, he kind of fits the bill.”
The focus remains on the long-term development process for the Nets, but stirring so much more talent into the mix has given rise to far more optimism. “Adding the young talent that we did, I do think there’s development through competition,” Atkinson said. “We’re going to have to compete for minutes.
“I think we have a plan in place, obviously for the guys who’ll be playing the big minutes but also for the other guys. They’re going to get their opportunity. It’s a long season.”
TOPICS OF CONVERSATION
1. How will Jeremy Lin and D’Angelo Russell co-exist in backcourt: Both players want to be the point guard and leader. Lin has vastly more experience but as No. 2 overall pick in 2015, Russell might have more upside. So far, Russell has shown willingness to blend in, but Lin’s profound impact was undeniable when he was healthy last season. Coach Kenny Atkinson may divide minutes to keep one or other on floor for 40 of 48 minutes.
2. How will Nets replace loss of Brook Lopez and 20.5 scoring average: Lopez developed a remarkable three-point shot. His 134 made three-pointers easily led Nets and .346 shooting percentage was sixth. Lopez was tough to stop in low post when offense soured. But Atkinson believes in more fast-paced attack and in Timofey Mozgov, Tyler Zeller and Jarrett Allen to take up slack at center. Atkinson described athletic Allen as “modern five” in NBA because of ability to run the court as 6-10 center.
3. What impact will trade acquisition of DeMarre Carroll and Allen Crabbe have on Nets’ rotation: No matter how Atkinson splits first and second strings, Nets have far more quality depth than last season. Veteran Carroll already has been designated as key leader and might replace second-year man Caris Levert as starting small forward. Crabbe is used to coming off bench at shooting guard but should get a lot of time off bench with Russell at PG when Lin sits. Sean Kilpatrick and Isaiah Whitehead will fight for backcourt minutes.