Expectations Low, But Nets No Longer Worry About Winning Now

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 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."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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