The Brooklyn Nets enter this season at 1,000-1 odds to win the NBA championship, and that may be too generous.
Judging by the recent malaise this franchise has endured, the seemingly-annual coaching upheaval, antsy ownership, and the ill-fated Jay-Z factor, it’s no wonder Las Vegas doesn’t have much faith in the team being anything more than an also-ran.
But the Nets may be on the ever-slow upturn, if owner Mikhail Prokhorov can stay out of the way and let his new Spurs-themed regime take over day-to-day duties. The hiring of Kenny Atkinson as head coach and general manager Sean Marks is a step in the right direction. Atkinson’s hiring was lauded around the league, because as a lifelong assistant coach, he was a great bridge between the head coach and players, especially since Atkinson, 49, wasn’t too far removed from a professional basketball career himself. A former Knicks assistant under Mike D’Antoni from 2008-12, Atkinson knows New York and the importance of bringing a winner to the city. While it won’t be his task to do that for the Knicks anymore, he will bring that same verve and passion in trying to make Brooklyn into a respectable outfit.
The 6-foot-10 Marks played 12 years in the League and was the first New Zealand-born player to make it to the NBA, before heading upstairs and being mentored under San Antonio’s management for five years. The Nets job is his first gig as the top man in a front office. Naturally, there will be early bumps in the road, but due to his tutelage under Spurs’ general manager R.C. Buford, Marks is as able as any newbie to handle the rigors of lording over an NBA franchise – especially in that market and under that ownership.
He signed a four-year/$9-million deal with the Nets following an eclectic Spurs tenure that featured him as everything from an assistant coach, to director of basketball operations and general manager of the Spurs’ D-League affiliate, to assistant general manager of the Spurs.
His resume makes him seem as if he is ready to eventually win in Brooklyn. The roster, however, deems that they won’t be ready any time soon. Marks said that being an NBA journeyman during his playing career allowed him to see how other teams were run and what might work. And that’s a good thing, because the Nets are full of journeymen.
The new lead man, though, is defiant in calling this season a wash before it already begins.
"By no means is this a wasted year. I think you can still get some things out of this year,” Marks said. “We've got some really talented young guys on this team that need to be developed. We've got a culture that needs to be set, and that starts from day one."
Day one officially begins Wednesday when they visit Boston – which won’t be a pretty night for the visitors.
It’s going to be ugly way before it starts to get pretty in Brooklyn, but the coaching staff and upper management feel that the foundation for success begins with how the youth is taught and how quickly the system is ingrained.
That means their biggest star, center Brook Lopez, needs to buy into Atkinson’s 3-point-happy, motion offense. Of course, new starting point guard Jeremy Lin is all-in, considering that’s his preferred style of play. Lin also has a special kinship with Atkinson from their time spent on the Knicks together when Linsanity took the league by storm. The duo will be mostly surrounded by guys who need seasoning and there are scant few bright spots in the primary rotation, other than shooter Bojan Bogdanovic, the crafty Luis Scola, and defensive ace Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
The key to harmony and gelling ultimately lands at the large feet of Lopez, though, who was the highest-scoring center in the Eastern Conference last season, playing largely in former coach Lionel Hollins’s halfcourt, Isolation-heavy scheme. Atkinson’s scheme is the exact opposite. And judging by Lopez’s paltry eight-points per game and 39.5-percent shooting during the preseason, it’s going to be a hard sell for the pivot – meaning the neophyte coach will have a delicate job in getting his only good asset to believe in the cause.
Judging by Las Vegas’ odds, don’t bet on that happening this year.
-The Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook gave Brooklyn the worst odds to win the title at 1,000-1, as well as the lowest expected win total (20.5), six fewer than the next-worst team.
-Even if the Nets stink, they won’t even be able to reap the tanking, as their No. 1 pick in the 2017 could be swapped with Boston, who will have the chance to exchange first-round picks with the downtrodden franchise.