The old Nets training facility was parked in the shadow of the Meadowlands Sports Complex, among anonymous brick buildings that made up an East Rutherford industrial park. On the first floor, players would go through drills under harsh fluorescent lights, the only source of illumination in a windowless room.
Brook Lopez said it felt like being in a cubicle. A very large cubicle.
Things are different now. On Wednesday, the Nets unveiled their state-of-the-art facility in Brooklyn replete with large windows that illuminate the court, a touch-screen whiteboard and a breathtaking view of the Manhattan skyline.
Maybe it was a sign. Maybe it was a start. But with the addition of new general manager Sean Marks on Thursday and a win over the Knicks on Friday night, it feels as if the sun is finally shining in Brooklyn.
“I don’t think we had three straight days that have really been like that for a while,” Donald Sloan said. “We had a good practice today, so we can say four days, but if we can piggyback and kind of do some of the things we did tomorrow night, we’ll make it five days.”
The Nets are optimistic but realistic. For all intents and purposes, their season is over. Their 15-40 record is third worst in the league and they don’t have a first-round draft pick this summer. But misery gets stale, and for the first time in a very long time, this team has something to be excited about.
“Everything is looking positive and we’ve just got to keep working on it as players to keep improving on the court,” said Joe Johnson, who has been the Nets’ version of Sisyphus — repeatedly trying to roll the team up the hill, only to have it topple back down. The task seemed to wear on him this season, and his responses to the team’s difficulties often ended with a head shake and an “I don’t know.”
But on Saturday, Johnson had something of a vision. The Nets have won three of their last five going into tonight’s game against the Charlotte Hornets and have 27 games left. “You just want to try to finish strong and try to develop some type of chemistry,” he said. He was excited about Marks and liked that he is a former player. “It’s almost like it’s a new situation,” he said.
It’s true that if any turnaround happens, Johnson might not be here to see it. He’s an unrestricted free agent after this season, but he’s open to returning to the Nets.
His only qualifier is that he wants to win, and so far, that’s something the Nets haven’t given him. But if the team can build off the seeds they’ve sown the last few days, Brooklyn can become viable for free agents on the prowl. Which is why this last third of this season could mean a little something after all.
“Well, we can try to go 27-0 in those 27 games,” Sloan joked before opting for a more realistic goal. “I think for us to just getting our identity — defensively and offensively — developing more chemistry . . . rhythm, winning games, of course, competing, getting Brooklyn behind us a little more. Create some of that going into next year, I think that will be big.
“The last three days have been good for us,” he added. “Let’s see how many days we can get around here.”