We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:
Can Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson get blood from a stone in Brooklyn?
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
For Sean Marks, the new GM of the Brooklyn Nets, the first steps last February was to buy out Andrea Bargnani and waive Joe Johnson, then sign D-League guard Sean Kilpatrick in a quest for undervalued talent.
No team in all the NBA is in a worse rebuilding situation than the Brooklyn Nets. In their owner-pushed quest to open a new building with a splash a few years back, the Nets traded young players and control of their draft picks for expensive players on the back ends of their careers (Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Johnson). When that fell apart as everyone could see it would, the Nets were left without the tools for a quick rebuild. They don’t control their own first-round pick until 2019.
This is a long, slow journey of 1,000 miles.
The question today is: Can Marks and his new coach Kenny Atkinson squeeze more wins out of this team while making that journey? The Nets won just 21 games last season.
They should win a few more this season — 25? 28? — and they should be more competitive. Certainly, they will be more entertaining. However, real change is going to take time. And patience — we’re looking at you, Mikhail Prokhorov.
The Nets have one good young player who should be part of the future core: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. He needs to become more confident with his jumper, but he is a long, athletic wing who can get to the rim on one end and defend on the other. He should thrive in a more uptempo Atkinson system. If he can stay healthy this season and take a step forward (as expected of second-year players), the Nets get a little better.
Then the Nets have some solid veterans around him. Brook Lopez is still one of the better offensive centers in the NBA, and while the trade waters were tested (and will be again), Lopez remains a Net.
Marks added veteran point guard Jeremy Lin to the mix — Atkinson was an assistant coach to Mike D’Antoni in New York during the Linsanity era, and he knows how to get the most out of him. The Nets brought other vets on the roster such as Luis Scola, Greivis Vasquez, and Randy Foye. Trevor Booker is still on the roster. There is rookie Caris LeVert to develop.
All of this should make the Nets considerably more entertaining (they were the hardest team in the NBA to watch last season) a little better. They should win a few more games. The issues keeping them from making any real leap begin with this was the second worst defensive team in the NBA last season and adding guys like Lin, Vasquez, and Scola to the roster is not going to improve that end. Add to that the fact this team has no true alpha players, plus a lack of depth, they have a lot of fringe players trying to establish themselves (which makes cohesion on the court difficult), they have almost no home court advantage, and it’s hard to be optimistic about the short term.
But Marks and Atkinson know it’s not about the short term.
Hopefully, ownership understands that as well, stays back, and lets the men do their jobs. Find some young talent, trade for what they can, and develop it. Progress will be incremental for years.
Marks has made a lot of good moves as GM, but no quick fixes are coming to Brooklyn. They don’t even have enough picks to trust the process. Progress is going to be incremental.
Marks and Atkinson may get a drop or two of blood from the stone — if you consider five more wins some blood — but don’t expect miracles.
Expect a long journey — and Marks to keep them walking on the right path. Which is all that can be reasonably asked.