If Brook Lopez is the Nets’ franchise player, it’s because he has been the only constant for nine seasons unless you count the constant change that has swirled around him. You couldn’t blame him if he had hung his head and said, “Here we go again,” when the Nets brought in new general manager Sean Marks last February, then hired Kenny Atkinson, who is the seventh head coach Lopez has played under.
But that was merely the beginning of sweeping changes the Nets have made from top to bottom. Their 15-man roster includes 10 new players, and the training staff has been completely revamped. Perhaps most importantly to the 7-foot center, he is being asked to play in a completely different fashion, helping to space the court and play facing the basket in Atkinson’s motion offense.
It has been the biggest adjustment of Lopez’s career. “Just from top to bottom, when you look at changes at every level, they’ve been pretty complete,” Lopez said. “Barring my rookie year coming from college, this is probably the biggest transition I’ve been through yet in the league.”
At the same time, Lopez never has been a more important part of the franchise thanks to the way Marks and Atkinson have included him. “I’ve never really been involved this completely in the process before from being a part of free-agency pitches, meeting with all our training personnel and getting to know them and just being a part of the process from top to bottom,” Lopez said.
“It’s been a new experience for me. I’ve learned so much from an off-the-court standpoint about the business of basketball.”
How this all will work out for Lopez is a bit of a mystery because his playing time was rather limited during the preseason, and he and new point guard Jeremy Lin hardly ran any pick-and-roll plays while Atkinson experimented with different combinations and worked to establish the principles of his offensive and defensive systems.
For now, the only sure thing is that free-agent Trevor Booker will start at power forward next to Lopez, and Lin will be at the point. Second-year player Rondae Hollis-Jefferson was the starting small forward, and free agent Randy Foye was the starting shooting guard most of the preseason, but Bojan Bogdanovic could find himself at either of those positions, and a variety of guard combinations are possible with Joe Harris, Greivis Vasquez and Sean Kilpatrick.
Veteran Luis Scola will be counted upon to back up both Booker and Lopez, and 7-foot Justin Hamilton is likely to play an important backup role because of his three-point shooting ability. Despite the lack of pick-and-roll offense in preseason games, Lopez is confident it will be prominent in the regular season.
“No question,” he said. “It’s something we’re confident in our ability to execute. We have lots of great pick-and-roll players, and we have a great person to run it in Jeremy. We’re very confident in ourselves.”
Still, Atkinson has said he’s not going to call a steady diet of pick-and-rolls because the Nets need a more diverse offense, and that includes a heavy dose of three-point shooting even by Lopez. It will take some getting used to.
“Brook’s adjusting to how we’re playing,” Atkinson said. “He’s trying to figure out where he fits. We all have to have patience. This is totally different from how they were playing in the past. I think it’s going to take time.
“That being said, when I look at his game, the way we play should fit him. It’s just a matter of playing with a little more pace and figuring out where he fits offensively. Defensively, he’s getting it. I’m happy. He’s a smart guy, and he’s picking up our defensive schemes pretty easily.”
The Nets went 1-5 during the preseason, but they were experimenting and have been encouraged by the progress they have seen on the practice floor. “I’d say this has been a lot easier than normal,” Lopez said of the changes. “It’s been facilitated so well. Having so many people here in the summer and getting into it headfirst helped so much.”
Asked if he has any worries about his continuing place as the centerpiece of the Nets’ franchise, Lopez replied firmly, “I’m not worried about my situation here one bit.”