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2011 Nets Camp Week One

December 9-11, 2011

The Nets' Practice Report includes notes, quotes and photos from the week's practices at the PNY Center. Read on to stay current with all the Nets news you need, and be sure to get your View from the Couch for a more in-depth look at all aspects of Nets Basketball.

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—Sunday, December 11—

Nets Set at Shooting Guard
Amidst all the rumors and unsettled roster spots, one position the Nets enter the season with knowledge of is shooting guard, where incumbent starter Anthony Morrow is joined by rookie MarShon Brooks.

“Anthony and MarShon really have a good battle going on,” Johnson said. “And they’re so different. Anthony is Anthony, and now you’ve got the young kid who is very creative with the ball, can score, can play above the rim, really can get out and run.”

Morrow, entering his fourth season and second with the Nets, averaged 13.2 points in 58 games (47 starts) last season, shoting .450 from the field and .432 from three-point range, good for 10th in the league. He did miss 23 games due to injury: 17 with a strained right hamstring, one with a mild concussion and five with left knee tendonitis.

That weighed upon Morrow at the end of year, and he’s made it a goal to stay healthy through all 66 scheduled games, despite the looming back-to-back(-to-backs) and frequent travel. He altered his stretching routines and began paying better attention to nutrition and his diet, working at performance training center in his home state of North Carolina.

“That really took it to another level in terms of ball-handling and strength work,” Morrow said. “Explosiveness is a really big part of it: I feel a lot better going to the basket, I feel a lot better making the extra step defensively, cutting my man off, helping out of the paint. My focus defensively is there, I just want to have my reaction time faster, so I was working on that. I worked on everything: eating better, getting in better shape, improving my conditioning because I knew when the lockout ended, it was going to be fast-paced.”

Though Morrow will likely open the season as the starter, Brooks could push him throughout the year. The 6-foot-5 rookie is a supremely talented scorer, with the athleticism and length to develop into a solid defender at the NBA level.

Morrow knows these things – he first met the younger player while serving as counselor for a Georgia Tech camp Brooks attended during high school. The pair stayed in touch afterward, right through Brooks’ being drafted by the Nets, and Morrow praises Brooks’ natural ability and varied offensive game. But Brooks will need to step up his efforts on the other end of the floor if he hopes to earn major minutes.

“We’re asking him to get more involved defensively: get some more steals, take more chances – be a rookie,” Johnson said. “He’s more of a rookie on offense, and too much of a veteran on defense!”

—Saturday, December 10—

Points of Return
The motivation might have been different, but the results were the same: Nets point guards Jordan Farmar and Sundiata Gaines each traveled across the Atlantic to play overseas, and came away feeling validated for having done so. Back at the PNY Center in East Rutherford for Saturday’s practice, the second of training camp, the two guards spoke about their experiences abroad.

Farmar, a sixth-year guard, sought to explore his Jewish heritage (his mother is Jewish; his step-father’s family lives in Tel-Aviv) and reward Maccabi Electra Tel-Aviv’s willingness to offer an NBA buyout. He signed a contract that grew progressively, allowing him to leave without negatively impacting the team’s budget while compensating him fairly were the NBA season to be canceled.

Playing the point for Maccabi, Farmar proved overly deferential at first, needing a nudge from coach David Blatt to force the action and take over. That, combined with the playoff-level intensity of Israel’s passionate fans, helped Farmar build upon the skill set he began re-sharpening last season with the Nets, his first in the NBA outside of the confines of the Triangle offense. In 73 games with the Nets (18 starts), Farmar averaged a career-high 9.6 points and 5.0 assists in 24.6 minutes per game, racking up eight double-doubles.

“I just think I’m better,” Farmar said. “Going through last year was kind of like going through a rookie season for me, in that role, and I felt I played well. Going over (to Israel) this summer really helped me out as well, playing 30 minutes a game for a team that was at the top of the Euroleague and in the championship the year before. Everything was high stakes, and I was the guy there. I was the go-to guy, I ran the team and we were in first place in every league we played in. Just those few experiences of playing with the Nets last year and then continuing on in the Euroleague made me a better player.”

Gaines, meanwhile, had finally earned a guaranteed contract after three years “playing on the edge” of the NBA, signing a two-year deal with the Nets on March 19. Good thing, too, because he fractured his hip in a freak accident during a game four days later.

With his rehab and recovery plans altered once the work stoppage prevented contact between players and teams, Gaines felt he needed a goal to work toward – as well as a good test for his now-healed hip – and looked toward Europe for an opportunity. He found it in the Republic of Georgia, where he suited up for BC Armia Tbilsi and regained the confidence that has carried him to his first training camp on a guaranteed NBA contract.

“For me, the big thing was knowing the team’s system, as far as the offense and the defense, so instead of being a little hesitant, I can just react to the flow of the game,” Gaines said. “Me being in phenomenal shape is enough as it is. Everything else in my game is going to come little by little, and people are going to see me evolve during the season.”

Coach Avery Johnson believes Gaines entered camp with increased confidence, and that Farmar improved last year, particularly as a passer. This season, he’s expecting both to be on the same page he’s reading from, especially coming in with knowledge of the system.

“Everybody’s involved,” Johnson said. “Gaines and Deron and Jordan and Jerry Smith, from our D-League team, it’s a battle with those four guys, and it’s fun to watch.”

—Friday, December 9—

Camp Opens, Nets Meet the Media
The Nets opened training camp amidst swirling roster rumors for a second straight season, but with elite point guard Deron Williams ready for his first (sort of) full season, optimism and enthusiasm reigned supreme.

“We’re just focused on basketball,” said head coach Avery Johnson. “We’re focusing on the things we can control on the court; hopefully whatever is being talked about will get resolved at some point. For me as the coach, I’m just getting my guys ready to play for our first preseason game on the 17th – whomever shows up in camp, whatever day they show up. Obviously, we’re not finished with our roster. But in the meantime, we’re getting guys ready to play.”

Despite the looming presence of a shortened 66-game season, Johnson’s preaching a “no excuses” mantra, with a focus on all the positives surrounding the team. Buoyed by a deepening point guard-coach relationship with Williams, Johnson believes the Nets are positioned to progress, utilizing a more uptempo offense.

“We’re going to get out and push it a little more,” Williams acknowledged. “I think with our personnel last year (and) how late I got there, there were points I’m used to pushing the ball, and Coach was like, ‘Slow it down a little bit with these guys.’ I think this year, with a full training camp to put stuff in, we’ll play a little bit faster.”

Williams, who spent the offseason playing for Besiktas in Turkey, regained confidence in his shot (50-point games will do that) and enjoyed an experience that culminated in his No. 8 jersey being retired after 15 games. But Williams’ passing remains the key to a successful Net offense, and the main target will again be 7-foot big man Brook Lopez.

In his fourth year with the Nets, Lopez – after averaging 20.4 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.4 blocks last season – was “fired up” for the first day, fully healthy after offseason surgery to remove a calcium deposit in his right bicep. Though he’s spent three years at center, Lopez could move to power forward to accommodate a new 5.

“It’s a transition I’m definitely comfortable with making – if it comes to that,” Lopez said. “If I’m needed to do that, I’ll definitely cooperate. I’ve played 4 my whole life, until I played in the NBA, so it’s definitely something I’ll work towards, if that’s what they want me to do and they need me to do, I’ll do it.”


First Day for 2 New Careers
Avery Johnson went out of his way to praise rookie guard MarShon Brooks for his offensive proficiency and strong conditioning, noting the latter was particularly impressive for a first-year player – especially during an offseason when he controlled his own workout due to the work stoppage. Brooks, the rare NBA player to appear every inch his listed height (6-foot-5), said the second team “beat up” on the starters, only half-joking that he “really doesn’t lack confidence.”

The 6-foot-5 guard, drafted No. 25 overall by Boston, was acquired in exchange for the rights to No. 27 pick JuJuan Johnson and the Nets’ 2014 second-round pick. During his senior year at Providence, Brooks earned Third Team AP All-America recognition (First Team All-Big East) after averaging 24.6 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.2 blocks, notably dropping 52 points on then No. 9-ranked Notre Dame, making 20 of 28 field-goal attempts.

“I can score the ball,” Brooks said. “That’s the reason I’m here: just (prove) that I can score the ball at this level and try to give Avery Johnson some confidence to put the ball in my hands.”

Fellow rookie Jordan Williams, who’s still rounding into shape (though he kept off much of the weight he lost during pre-draft workouts), will need to show off the rebounding prowess he wielded at Maryland, where he led the ACC in rebounding (11.8 RPG) as a sophomore, earning First Team All-ACC recognition. He knows work remains to be done, and the (not-quite) 6-foot-10 forward is willing to make the extra effort.

“It was a tough practice for me, I was tired,” Williams admitted. “The speed of the game was different for me; I’m still trying to get used to it. But by the time the season starts, by the time we start playing some preseason games, I’ll be ready to go.”


Outlaw's Injury a Mystery
Travis Outlaw is embarrassed. Though he’s about 10 days away from resuming contact following offseason surgery to reinforce a broken hand, Outlaw refused to admit the cause, only allowing that it took place during a boxing workout. “I’m just not gon’ to want to say nothing because it’s kind of embarrassing, how it happened,” he said. “So I just want to keep that to myself and let it blow over.”

Travis, you realize that means people will make up stuff, right?

“I’ll let them make it up then, before I ever tell them what happened.”

Intriguing.

Outlaw ran through non-contact practice and drills, and has been focusing on footwork, agility and explosiveness with the team’s new strength and conditioning coach, Dr. Jeremy Bettle. He was doing a lot of offseason ballhandling drills before the injury … which forced him to work his left (non-shooting) hand.

All the effort was with improvement in mind – he’s ready to redeem last season’s underwhelming campaign, when he admittedly got too far inside his own head, losing confidence in his game.

“I’m definitely excited to get back out here on the court and be what you paid for. I don’t want to be known as a player that got a check and then disappeared out the league.”

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