MINNEAPOLIS — Expectations for the rebuilding Nets were low as could be coming into this season because of a roster that relies heavily on fringe free-agent signings and projects reclaimed from the D-League. Under the circumstances, most Nets fans just want to see a team that plays hard.
If there has been a point of contention for many fans, it has revolved around the policy of new general manager Sean Marks and first-year coach Kenny Atkinson to frequently rest healthy players based on the recommendations of the organization’s “performance team,” made up of trainers and doctors, in consultation with coaches and management. It raises the question of whether the Nets are playing to win every game.
It wouldn’t matter if the team with the worst record in the NBA was going to have the best shot at the No. 1 draft choice, but because the Nets must swap their pick with Boston’s as a result of past trades, winning games seems more important in developing a more successful culture.
The Nets aren’t alone in resting healthy players and admittedly are drawing on Marks’ experience with San Antonio and Atkinson’s with Atlanta.
It’s a league-wide phenomenon that has its detractors. Detroit coach Stan Van Gundy said his players are paid to play 82 games if healthy. Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said he doesn’t rest healthy players because “we play to win every game.”
Nets guard Randy Foye, who is in his 11th season and has played for seven teams, said he first encountered the practice last season with Oklahoma City.
“I think we won like 10 in a row, and they rested guys,” he said. “Guys were [expletive]. As athletes and players, we really don’t look at the schedule long-term. We just look at who we play next.
“That’s why the Spurs and Sean Marks and even Kenny in Atlanta were so successful. They protected guys with the minutes and with their rest. So when you need to play them big time, they’re ready.”
Foye is aware of the debate around the league about resting healthy players, but he clearly agrees with the Nets’ philosophy. “Yeah, you kind of see it,” he said of the league-wide discussion, “people throwing shots at each other. But to tell you the truth, I think this philosophy works because you see a lot of fatigue injuries.
“I think fatigue injuries [result from] back-to-backs or three-in-four-nights where you don’t feel anything, but at the end of the day, you’ve strained a hamstring or pulled a muscle or something like that. I think the way we’re doing it right here is pretty smart. We’re building toward something.”
The Nets rested center Brook Lopez for the fifth time this season when they played Friday in Cleveland, and they also rested rookie Caris LeVert, who is coming back from foot surgery in February, for the second time in three games. Those two have expressed their understanding of the policy, and when the Nets recently rested forward Trevor Booker, he told Newsday, “I’m fine with it. I have some bumps and bruises.”
From a competitive standpoint, Foye acknowledged the Nets’ chances of upsetting the defending champion Cavaliers were compromised by not having Lopez and LeVert in the lineup. But he noted that it created opportunity for others.
“It’s not challenging because you understand Brook’s situation and Caris’ situation,” Foye said. “It’s just from the standpoint of protecting them, and it’s not just those two. It’s everybody. To be honest, I just think it’s best for them. We’ve got three games in four days. Brook’s been carrying the load and Caris has been playing big minutes as of late. I definitely understand where they’re coming from when they’re doing this.”