The balls were bouncing and people yelling inside the Nets’ newly coined PNY Center. Training camp started today with optimism and chips on everyone’s shoulder to prove that all those who picked 20-30 wins are wrong.
“We have guys with a competitive nature,” Devin Harris said. “We read the same stuff you guys are writing about – how we’re picked from 21 to 30, we had the worst summer of all teams. That harps on us. We want to prove ourselves and be competitive every night.”
Who picked them 21st or does he mean between 21-30 wins? But you get the point.
The biggest thing today from what we heard – we only saw the last 20 minutes or so – was defense.
“That’s all we’re allowed to talk,” Keyon Dooling said.
The Nets have to defend to even have a shot at an overachieving season. They also have some players who can help along those lines in Courtney Lee and Terrence Williams. Coach Lawrence Frank is so focused on it that he doesn’t even want to talk about the other end of the floor.
When do you start doing the offense?
“We’re not doing offense.”
In your life?
“We’re going to play some defense. We’re playing defense.”
So you’re going to….?
“Defense. Score off your defense.”
What plays do you call?
“Score off your defense. Defend better. Defend harder.”
It could be a very long season with the Nets putting up about as many points as they will have victories. Seriously, Frank wants to shut up the critics as much as the players do. He knows the best way is to get everyone to commit to the defensive end of the floor. Frank needs a job next season after all.
Here is what some of the players said about defense:
“If you look at our team, we’re talented but if you look at it on paper we’re not as talented as other teams,” Harris said. “So we have to make up for it with hard work and aggressiveness and obviously having a defensive presence. That was kind of the mark on the trade, bringing guys from a winning team, obviously from a defensive standpoint. It starts with the point guard leading the team leading the break.”
“This team can be very good defensively,” Lee said. “We got a lot of guys on the perimeter who are quick and athletic. That’s the key, you have to be quick. You have to have lateral quickness and I think we got that here.”
By the way, Lee has been cleared to remove the mask, but he plans to wear it at least through the preseason.
Dooling continues to rehab from hip surgery, but he can’t say when he’s going to be available. When he was asked about opening night he said he hopes to return before then.
Joining him on the sideline was Tony Battie. The veteran big man has arthritis in his right knee so the Nets limited him to about half of practice. That’s the way it’s been the last few weeks.
Noticeably absent was Eduardo Najera. His back has been bothering him so he went and received treatment. Frank said the discomfort was “a result of the hernia surgery.”
These are three critical players when it comes to defense and leadership so the Nets need them to come back soon.
Rafer Alston denied the story that he wants to play for Miami or New York. It’s true he probably would put up better numbers, in a contract year, with the Knicks, but the Nets need him here, especially since Dooling may not return until after the regular season starts.
“You didn't hear a quote come from me,” Alston said. “It was a weird story. For somebody to put that out there right before camp, I immediately called in and told them that story didn’t come from me. First of all, I've never been that type of guy to one, demand to be moved or even want out of anything. I think I'm one of the most grateful guys even to have a job and to have played this long in this league.”
Bobby Simmons and Josh Boone were two players who seemed to have trimmed down and be better shape. But Boone still needs free-throw work. During an end-of-practice drill he airballed a foul shot.
The Nets’ annual open practice is Saturday at the Bill Bradley Sports and Recreation Center at Ramapo College starting at 12 p.m. Free tickets are available on a limited basis at www.njnets.com.
The Nets encourage all patrons who attend practice to bring canned food items. The food drive is in partnership with Action Against Hunger, which feeds those in need in northern New Jersey. Everyone who brings a canned food item will receive a voucher for a free ticket to a NETS regular season game.
The Nets have three roster invites: guard Will Blalock, who played for the Pistons a few years back, forward Bennet Davis, who was with the D-League’s Utah Flash last year, and Brian Hamilton, also a former member of the Flash. With 15 guys with guaranteed deals they're likely showcasing themselves for other teams.