The truth hurts and it can set you free. The Nets are banking on both as a net positive.
One of their guiding principles this season has been “radical truth,” a mantra that coach Jacque Vaughn introduced in the preseason. It was the first thing he wrote in a team meeting, and it basically means promoting full honesty among everyone.
With the Nets having won five of their last six games entering Friday, they’re seeing how keeping it real helped built unity while also holding everyone accountable.
“We not holding things back from each other,” Day’Ron Sharpe said. “We all trying to get better, we all want to win, we all want to be great. So we’re all trying to buy into that.”
Vaughn wanted to empower his players to speak their minds and be direct. In a way, it could create more trust among a team fused together by two trades near last season’s deadline.
It’s worked in several ways. The players credited assistant coach Kevin Ollie’s pregame speech for their fast start and complete effort in a 129-101 win over the Magic. They’ve also done the same if something needs to be addressed on the court.
“You’re not calling each other out like in a bad way. It’s just helping each other,” Royce O’Neale said. “We can do better. Every player-wise, team-wise. And, you know, just being honest.”
Even with the personnel changes, O’Neale doesn’t think it’s easier to tell the truth now than it was last season. The challenge stemmed more from everyone adjusting from different systems and finding ways to speak the same language on the court.
But with better chemistry, there’s more room for honesty.
“It means a lot. As a vet, the young guys listen,” O’Neale added. “Everybody’s listening to each other. We all have experience in this league, different levels of the playoffs. So I think just being able to hear somebody else’s side is always beneficial.”
Some didn’t need time to adjust. Dennis Smith Jr., who was signed during the summer, didn’t waste time speaking his truth in practice, whether it was trash talk or offering correction.
Not surprisingly, the Nets embraced him right away. Smith took to Vaughn’s mantra because that fits his approach of both speaking his mind but also wanting the best for his teammates.
“Dennis is going to say what he’s got to say. No matter who it is,” Sharpe said. “He’s trying to win no matter what. He’s definitely got that leadership role on the team, for sure.”
It’s also not a surprise that the Nets have cleaned up some mistakes during this six-game stretch. Before last week, Mikal Bridges and Lonnie Walker IV were among the players who said the team needed to be more physical and talk more on defense.
Since then, they’ve made improvements. In their last five wins before Friday, the Nets held teams to 13 or fewer three-pointers. The Nets also held four of those opponents under 110 points.
O’Neale said it comes from players willing to correct each other immediately. Whatever needs to be said, it’s better coming in the moment than just waiting for a film session.
“We’re the five that’s out there playing,” O’Neale said. “Coach can tell us what to do, but at the end of the day, we have to communicate with each other, talk to each other and then compete.”
With a five-game road trip coming up beginning Monday, they’ll need more truth-telling to maintain their strong play. Honesty isn’t easy, but it’s helped the Nets play with more freedom and trust while building on what they learned the last two weeks at home.