Brook Lopez and the Changing Culture of the Nets

By Cory Wright

Brook Lopez has been the most constant thing about the Brooklyn Nets over the past eight years.

Three arenas, three general managers and nine coaches have come and gone since Lopez was drafted in 2008. None of it has fazed Lopez, who is the embodiment of steady – scoring around 20 points per night – and devotion, staying loyal to the only NBA team he’s ever known.

Lopez has seen a lot of new beginnings over his eight years, but now with a full overhaul of coaching and management, he sees something different in Brooklyn.

“It’s definitely a different culture, mindset and energy,” Lopez said after a midsummer workout. “I kind of noticed it right when our new top guys stepped in the door. It absolutely feels as if we’ve gotten past those changes and past the turnover and we’re building that base and moving in the right direction.”

No quick fixes this time, just a systematic build starting with a strong foundation. Lopez talked at length about the new culture surrounding the Nets this summer and really since Sean Marks took over as general manager in February.

Culture gets thrown around a lot in sports, but what does it really mean? What does it mean for the Nets?

“Everyone in here together working towards the goal,” Lopez said. “No more being late, be on time in the training room getting your treatment, getting your weights in; be on the court at the same time. It’s a much more togetherness, much more camaraderie. We hold each other accountable and we have high expectations of each other.”

Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson placed a premium on character when putting together the current Nets roster. They want players that embrace the culture they’re trying to build and in the eyes of the longest-tenured Net, those are the guys that are in the gym with him this summer: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough, Sean Kilpatrick and the draft picks. Lopez said this is the summer he’s seen the most teammates stay in town to work out together.

“We’ve routinely had people in since two weeks after the season getting work in, preparing for this upcoming season,” Lopez said. “We don’t have all of the advantages other guys do, other teams have, so we’re creating those advantages.”

He called this summer’s workouts more regimented. That’s Atkinson’s influence on this new culture – the early-rising, intense and energetic coach whose practices mirror his personality.

“It’s so easy to be a part of something like that,” Lopez said of the up-tempo summer workouts. “You wake up and you want to be doing it when you see your best players, vets and head coach out there working with you, getting shots up, moving around, running, it’s absolutely addictive situation to be in.”

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The challenge became conveying that to other players around the league, so Lopez set out with Marks and Atkinson to recruit free agents. He was personally selling free agents on the culture change, the vision for the future, the young talent, himself and all the amenities the Nets have.

“We’ve got the right kind of people from the players on the court to the assistant coaches, the coaching staff, management and even in the training room,” Lopez said from the sparkling HSS Training Center, with Brooklyn and Manhattan in full view. “The training group we have is the best in the world, the best strength and conditioning guy, best TP (Training and Performance) people, and they are just in there helping us find how we can work, how we can recover better, how we each individually move and tailor-making programs and workouts and rehab situations to help us become better, stronger players.”

Their target was Jeremy Lin and they went out and got him, so some of what Lopez was selling resonated. Lin said he compared the Nets to a startup company, so he sees what Lopez sees.

“The way I was looking at free agency is kind of like investing in a startup company,” Lin said at his introductory press conference. “You don’t necessarily look at the product right then and there at that moment, but you’re betting on the founder a lot of times, on what that person is capable of doing because sometimes as you go through the process the final product is going to change a little. That’s very common in startups. That’s how I saw this. I’m betting on certain people. I’m betting on Kenny, I’m betting on Sean, I’m betting on myself, I’m betting on Brook Lopez. If I didn’t feel like this organization had a chance to go where I want to go, then I wouldn’t have signed up for it.

“It’s a process, it’s a challenge and the biggest thing I’d say is that I believe in this, I believe in what we’re capable of becoming.”  

Lopez is excited to have Lin as the Nets’ starting point guard this season. He sees him as the type of player essential to building and maintaining the new way in Brooklyn.

“I’ve watched him along his career and really tremendously enjoyed the way he plays,” Lopez said. “He has such a high basketball IQ and he’s one of those character guys that we’re looking for to be a part of this team and help lead this team, especially this group of young guys.”

The season is roughly three months away, but Lopez is likely going to be a fixture in the gym at the HSS Training Center until then. He has a view of the city to practice to, which is itself a change from the windowless gym the Nets used to have in New Jersey. And for all the changes he’s seen in his eight years with the Nets, what he’s now seeing in the gym and in the organization is reason for optimism.

“Being around different situations, we’ve had winning teams, we’ve struggled in the past as well, but I’ve honestly never seen anything like this situation before,” Lopez said. “It has a different feel, a different vibe around it. To see the kind of people we have buying in and wanting to join up speaks volumes for the situation we have in front of us right now.”

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