After spending more than two months recovering from a groin strain during an exhibition in China with former Net Jeremy Lin, forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson finally is on the verge of returning just in time for the regular-season opener Wednesday night in Detroit. He missed all the preseason games but has been practicing fully and you can tell he’s back to his old self by the way he hit the floor hard twice in post-practice drills on Sunday and bounced right back up.
“Whenever they give a green light, we’re good,” Hollis-Jefferson said. “Because I play so energetic and all over the place, it’s definitely good to be in control, understand how you play and get that natural feel back.”
The green light will flash against the Pistons, but it’s not certain Hollis-Jefferson immediately will regain his starting position. “We’re integrating him slowly,” coach Kenny Atkinson said. “He’s with the second team right now, but that’s nothing set in stone . . . It was a big setback. I feel bad for him. He worked his tail off all summer.”
Hollis-Jefferson and Spencer Dinwiddie both accompanied Lin on his tour of Hong Kong and China, where the injury occurred Aug. 4 during a “Hope for Hope” charity event in Shenzhen. Hollis-Jefferson went up for a dunk, felt pain in an adductor muscle on the landing and was on a flight back home the next day.
“Adversity happens, and you have to deal with it," Hollis-Jefferson said. “Coming back from China, my mindset was just to lock in and get better each day, listen to the training staff and the coaching staff and just make the best of it.”
Hollis-Jefferson is expected to regain his starting role at some point if only because Atkinson has described him as the Nets’ best defender. “I’m going to call myself that, too,” Hollis-Jefferson said with a smile.
If nothing else, Hollis-Jefferson’s injury opened up preseason playing time for several others at power forward, including DeMarre Carroll, who started last season at small forward, and veterans Jared Dudley, Kenneth Faried and Treveon Graham. But second-round rookie Rodions Kurucs also is making a bid for playing time at the four according to Atkinson.
Kurucs’ joy since being freed from a situation where he barely played for FC Barcelona has been palpable and is reflected by his effort on the court. “Actually, the guys and coaches and all the people here give me this energy,” the 20-year-old Latvian said. “I feel way different than I felt in Barcelona. I’m just enjoying every day here with this club . . . I just adapted so fast. It’s my game. I know how they play here. I think that was the easiest part.”
Notes & quotes: Carroll (ankle), Allen Crabbe (ankle) and Shabazz Napier (hamstring) all sat out practice, but Carroll and Napier were active in post-practice drills.