Expectations low, but Nets no longer worry about winning now

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NEW YORK (AP) Jeremy Lin will be urged to become a better leader. Brook Lopez will be challenged to rebound and defend better.

Kenny Atkinson believes in being direct and honest with his players, but there’s one thing the new Brooklyn Nets coach won’t discuss with them.

After all, the players already know some people don’t think very much of them.

“I think those guys are aware of it, so as a coach I don’t think I need to be putting stuff up in the locker room and motivating them that way,” Atkinson said Tuesday.

Expectations are low for the Nets, who open training camp next Tuesday. While they could be better than last season’s 21-61 record, they also could be the worst team in the Eastern Conference, now that the Philadelphia 76ers will be interested in trying to win.

Odds makers, media members and even some of their own fans don’t expect much from the Nets, and some players already have made clear they won’t be as bad as critics say.

“I don’t think we look at is as bulletin board material,” general manager Sean Marks said. “I mean, you’ve read probably a couple of pieces that some of our guys have said that they don’t agree with those odds and that’s great. That’s exactly what we want … that’s the competitor in them.”

Marks, a former assistant general manager with San Antonio, begins his first full season after he was hired last February. He hired Atkinson from Atlanta, where he helped the Hawks reach the second round of the playoffs as an assistant to Mike Budenholzer.

They made a number of additions over the summer, but not the splashy types the Nets favored during their first few years in Brooklyn, when they were trying to win new fans while also winning games. That led to trades for players such as Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Joe Johnson, and they reached the postseason in their first three seasons after moving from New Jersey.

But the mindset has changed now, with the bold predictions of Russian owner Mikhail Prokhorov giving way to tempered talk from Marks, a New Zealand native. Prokhorov wanted to win fast – time expired on his goal of winning a championship within five years of buying the team – but now is backing a plan to build slowly.

“Well, it depends on what your definition of slow is,” Marks said. “Our owners know exactly what the expectations are, so they’re 100 percent on board. They’ve been on board all summer long.”

Lopez is the team’s best player and the Nets hope Lin, back in the city where he was briefly a star with the Knicks in 2012, can build on a strong season as the backup to Kemba Walker in Charlotte. Atkinson was an assistant under Mike D’Antoni in New York during the Linsanity days and believes Lin is ready to handle the responsibilities of running this team.

“It’s a heck of a challenge for him, but I think he’s prepared for it,” Atkinson said. “I think it’s the right time in his career.”

The Nets were encouraged by the play this summer of guard Bojan Bogdanovic, who was Croatia’s leading scorer as it qualified for the Olympics, then surprisingly reached the quarterfinals. And they have high hopes for youngsters such as Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough, Sean Kilpatrick and rookie Caris LeVert, even though none of them have played a full NBA season yet.

That’s why Marks said success for the Nets won’t be measured only in wins and losses, but by how those players improve during the season.

“This is not going to be something that’s going to turn around in two, three months,” he said. “As we’ve said before, we want something that’s done strategically and systematically that builds a strong foundation and not something that’s a fleeting moment.”

Follow Brian Mahoney on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Briancmahoney

Report: NBA opened investigation into free agency tampering

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Summer in the NBA is always the most interesting time in the league. Free agency lets us see where players have not only decided to land, but which have schemed together in order to play with each other.

The term “preagency” has been coined to mark the period in which teams and players work out deals before free agency officially opens, and well before the moratorium ends.

It’s been thought that these rules have been circumvented as part of a gentlemen’s agreement between all teams with equal ability to navigate around the written rules. But according to a new report, several team owners are upset about the way things are going in the player empowerment era.

ESPN’s Zach Lowe and Brian Windhorst reported on the NBA’s Board of Governor’s meeting this week, saying that the league has even opened an investigation into what went on this summer in terms of potential tampering.

Via ESPN:

Within days, the league opened an investigation centered on the timing of some of the earliest reported free-agency deals on June 30, sources familiar with the matter told ESPN.com. The scope of that investigation is developing. It is expected to include interviews with players and possibly agents and team employees, sources say.

The league has the power to punish teams it finds to be guilty of tampering ahead of June 30 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time — the first minute that teams are allowed to speak with representatives of free agents. It also might seek information on the timing of negotiations so that any revised free-agency calendar might better align with what is actually happening.

The investigation followed a tense owners meeting, which multiple sources described to ESPN. Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan, speaking as the head of the labor committee, discussed the possible need to revisit free-agency rules in the next collective bargaining agreement, sources said.

I have two thoughts about this.

First, even if something does come of this, the fine has to be puny. Adam Silver has not strayed on the disciplinarian side the way David Stern did — much to his credit — and any reprimand is unlikely to satisfy upset parties.

Second, there will definitely be sweeping changes in the next CBA. So much has changed since the last lockout, and the money has gotten so big it’s inevitable that people want to make things better for their side. The players got themselves in a hole since 2011. They mishandled the cap jump in 2016, and the max contract rules didn’t create a rising tide that floated all boats. Star players benefited, but low-level guys are even more disproportionately compensated.

This stuff seems like the most boring part of the league, but in reality it’s what makes everything tick.

I won’t be surprised if the NBA levies tampering charges against one or even several teams. I’d be surprised if the league did much about it, though.

Wizards owner says John Wall ‘probably won’t play’ in 2019-20

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It was always likely that Washington Wizards star John Wall would be out for much of next year’s regular NBA season. The team has even filed for a disabled player exception for the 2019-20 season.

Now we have confirmation that the team is expecting Wall to miss significant time.

According to NBC Sports Washington’s Chase Hughes, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis has said that they are going to take things slow with Wall, and that he will miss serious time.

Via Twitter:

Washington is still trying to figure out what to do with Bradley Beal, and with Wall’s contract on the books, they don’t really have much of anywhere to go. The Wizards used their No. 9 overall pick on Rui Hachimura, which raised a few eyebrows.

But the team at least does have a GM in Tommy Sheppard, and they’ve made several hirings in the front office to try and out-think their competition. Washington has made a few moves, including trading for Davis Bertans and signing Isaiah Thomas.

Expect to see the Wizards at the bottom of the East next year. Still, that doesn’t mean they won’t be entertaining.

Is FIBA’s decision to move World Cup to year before Olympics reason for USA drop outs?

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FIBA made a mess of World Cup qualifying moving the games from the summer to during the season for the NBA and all the major European leagues. The USA qualified thanks to a team of G-League players coached by Jeff Van Gundy, but the process was not pretty. For anyone.

Now it could be another FIBA decision that has led to the rash of stars — James Harden, Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Damian Lillard, and others — deciding not to play for Team USA this summer.

Traditionally, the FIBA World Cup took place every four years, on the even-numbered year between Summer Olympic cycles. For example, the last World Cup was 2014, the Rio Olympics were 2016 with the Tokyo games in 2020. However, FIBA pushed this World Cup back a year to 2019 (instead of 2018) and that has changed the calculus for players, something Michael Lee of The Athletic speculated about.

For American players, the Olympics are the bigger draw, when more people watch. We grew up with the Dream Team at the Olympics, not the World Championships. That means if players have to choose, despite the allure of the Chinese market, they will choose the Olympics next year.

The other factor: The NBA feels wide open, with as many as eight teams heading into the season believing they can win the title. A lot of those contending teams have new players, which is leading players to prioritize club over country this time around.

This is different from 2004, when the NBA’s top players stayed home from the Athens Olympics because of a combination of terrorist concerns and players not liking coach Larry Brown. Today’s players love Gregg Popovich, but other concerns are weighing on them more.

It has left team USA without the biggest stars of the game — Kemba Walker is the only All-NBA player on the roster — but USA Basketball has such a depth of talent that they are still the World Cup favorites. The margin for error just got a lot smaller, however.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was working on jump shot with Kyle Korver (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s jumper is getting better. Last season after the All-Star break he shot 31.5 percent from three (up from 22.3 before the ASG) and in the playoffs that jumped to 32.7 percent. He struggled on catch-and-shoot threes in those final 19 games after the ASG, shooting just 16.7 percent, but off the bounce he shot 33.8 percent after the break. Also, all of last season he didn’t take many long twos, but when he did he shot 41 percent on them.

What would make his jumper better? Working on his shot with the newest Buck, Kyle Korver.

Which is happening.

Be afraid NBA. Be very afraid.

Antetokounmpo recently said he is only at about 60 percent of his potential. If he can start to consistently hit threes off the bounce when defenses sag back off the pick-and-roll (trying to take away his drives), he might become unstoppable. Or, more unstoppable. If that’s a thing.