After dinner Monday night, the Brooklyn Nets gathered in a meeting room for their first private team talk.
Expectations were laid out. Roles were defined. Priorities were set.
There were no surprises when training camp opened yesterday with what several players described as the most intense first day of practice they had ever experienced.
When the two-hour run ended, the players broke a huddle with this mantra: All In.
“It was just a different feeling,” said point guard Deron Williams. “I can't explain it.”
Sort of like confidence, that amorphous quality that is so vital to the success of a player and a team.
For his first six pro seasons, Williams was a portrait in confidence, a fighter pilot on the break. He emerged as one of the league's best point guards. But by the first half of last season his play had dropped.
There were plenty of concrete reasons: The Nets were adjusting to an early-season coaching change. And Williams, quietly, had been playing on an ankle pained by bone spurs.
Williams' struggles, however, he acknowledged yesterday, were more esoteric.
“I think it's just confidence,” said Williams. “I think the last couple of years I've lost confidence. Being on a losing team was tough on me. For the first time in my career I picked up bad habits; got negative at times.”
“It's hard to get out of that,” he added. “Now I've got great teammates. I got guys that will keep me straight if things go south.”
Confidence wasn't an issue the second half of last season. Williams got cortisone shots and had platelet-rich plasma therapy in both ankles during the All-Star break. He went on a juice diet, losing 15 pounds and regaining his burst.
He was back to being D-Will after the break, scoring 42 against Washington in early March and posting back-to-back 13-assist games later that month. He averaged 22.9 points and eight assists over the final 28 games of the season.
But the season ended with a brutal home playoff loss to the Bulls, in a decisive Game 7 in Barclays Center. Williams pulled no punches Monday at media day, describing last year's team as soft.
No team that adds Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce remains soft. The 37-year-old Garnett had the passion and trash talk of a 17-year-old today. He's a walking boost of confidence, as is newcomer Jason Terry.
“I'm his support group,” Terry said of Williams. “We talked last night, 'Lean on us as veterans. When you feel like your confidence isn't where it should be, lean on us. We've seen all types of situations. We're here to help.’”
So is Kidd, one of the best point guards ever to play the game. Williams said that he and Kidd have spoken and will continue to do so. Williams knows he has more places to go with the ball. And he has more support than at any time in his career.
“Confidence is something that's overlooked in this league, I think a lot of times,” said Kidd after running his first practice. “Everyone has talent but the ones that have that confidence are the ones who can dominate a game.
“For Deron, I thought he was at that level at the end of the season last year, the second half. Health does play a little part, but for us, to get his confidence high and at a consistent basis is something that this team needs.”
Williams, 29, who recently sprained his right ankle while working out in Utah, did not practice yesterday. He took shots and showed no limp. He said he expects to be back in about a week.
Perhaps the best sign his confidence is back is that Williams acknowledged he will sit until trainer Tim Walsh gives him the green light, but it is not an easy wait. Not at all.
“I’m very impatient,” he said. “It's very hard, very hard.”
Especially for a player that believes he is poised to reclaim his place as being one of the best in the world at his position.
“It's important but it doesn't overshadow what we want to do as a team,” said Williams. “Competing at the highest level, I haven't been part of that. I want to play well for my teammates, for this organization, for our fans.”