Those familiar with the NBA’s Western Conference elite know that “Grit and Grind” is the motto of the Memphis Grizzlies. The Brooklyn Nets should hope to steal it in the next six months.
The Nets’ 2012–2013 campaign was a respectable showing for a team thrown together during the offseason and told by a Russian oligarch that it was supposed to bring home an NBA title within three years. But for an organization that paid top dollar for talent, it’s hard to see a first-round playoff exit as anything but a disappointment.
General manager Billy King’s busy summer of 2012, when he signed Deron Williams, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson, and Gerald Wallace, will weigh heavy on next season. Barring some major development, those four guys will still be the identity of the Nets, and safe money says the latter two will never truly live up to what the Nets overpaid for them.
So the biggest question for the Nets this offseason is who can lead this group to new heights in the wake of interim coach Peej Carlesimo’s dumping a day after the Game Seven loss. When it comes to curing the Nets’ ills, one of the most promising names tossed around as a replacement is the Grizzlies’ Lionel Hollins.
Hollins helms a Grizzlies squad that is fundamentally old-school in an age of “flex” players who can straddle multiple positions thanks to length and athleticism. The Grizzlies are built around a pure center in Marc Gasol and a throwback pounder at power forward in Zach Randolph. At point guard, Mike Conley does whatever is needed, as opposed to carrying the load by default like many of today’s star point men.
Don’t get it twisted: the Nets aren’t the Grizzlies. It would be nice if Lopez had Gasol’s rebounding nose, if any of the Nets’ power forwards possessed Randolph’s offensive game and if D-Will only had to account for Conley’s stalwart presence.
But the average talent level is pretty similar across the two starting fives, and both feature traditional position players in defiance of the latest fads. What’s missing in Brooklyn is the “grit and grind.” The Grizzlies wear down opponents, often seeming like they just want to win more than the other guys. That approach was sorely lacking on a Nets squad that played as if the combination of its pieces would produce a win.
It takes more than talent to succeed in this league. It takes someone who knows how to challenge talent — how to make a guy with the bland on-court demeanor of Joe Johnson play with visible heart, how to make D-Will a guy who needs to win instead of a guy who seems to prefer it over the alternative.
Brooklyn must come up with an offensive scheme that allows its stars to do what they do best in rhythm, instead of in isolation. To further that aim, with the little salary cap flexibility the Nets have, management needs to add budget players who bring a measure of athleticism that will create better floor spacing.
But more than anything, Brooklyn needs the mentality Hollins has helped cultivate in Memphis. Doc Rivers — also rumored to be a Nets target — has overseen a like-minded team in Boston, aided by the veteran leadership of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Even if neither coach is wooed by King, they provide a template for the most important move the Nets will make between now and November.
Matt Spolar is a nearly 6-foot-1 journalist with a middling high school basketball career who is sure the Nets win thanks to team’s top-tier guards.
©2013 Community News Group
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