Despite the Nets’ NBA-worst 20-62 record last season, point guard Jeremy Lin said during the offseason that he believes they can make the Eastern Conference playoffs, and several teammates, including first-round pick Jarrett Allen, have expressed confidence they can contend. General manager Sean Marks and coach Kenny Atkinson appreciate the competitive attitude, but they tamped down expectations on Tuesday and said their focus is squarely on the long-term rebuilding process.
“You love that the players think that way,” Atkinson said. “These guys are competitors. Our process is a little different. We’ve talked about how we’re thinking about it on a day-to-day basis, how we’re growing. Are we making incremental progress? Are we improving? My gut is I feel the momentum of this organization and where we’re going. I feel really good about it. Obviously, we want that to translate into results. But for me to stand here and say we’re going to win 35 games or 32 games, that’s not how my thought process goes.”
Marks echoed Atkinson, saying, “It’s important to have those small wins along the way. That can be how guys are progressing performance-wise, what they’re doing in the weight room, how they bounce back after a tough loss, how they practice, where their mind sits at. So, it’s about celebrating and finding those wins . . . It’s not just about wins and losses, although ultimately, we totally understand that’s what we’re going to get judged on.”
Challenge for Russell
Guard D’Angelo Russell was the Nets’ top offseason acquisition and is considered a potential star, but his reputation suffered when Lakers general manager Magic Johnson said Russell didn’t make his teammates better. Marks disagrees but said Russell must make strides.
“D’Angelo knows the expectations,” Marks said. “He knows that, defensively, he’s got to get better. We all know he makes players better. He’s got a high basketball IQ. Now, how does he take that on the court here with a new group of guys that he’s never played with before, and how do they develop trust together?
“The leadership, that’s in his court. We can certainly help him get there. In the position that he plays, you’ve got to be a leader to some extent. Kenny is going to rely on that position, Jeremy [Lin] or D’Angelo, a lot.”