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Brooklyn Nets Training Camp: Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs and Camp Notes

Last year's rookies enter year two battling for roles

There are veteran newcomers and established returnees and a rookie that is making head coach Kenny Atkinson think twice.

So where do last season’s draft picks, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs, fit in the mix?

“They have to earn it,” said Atkinson. “They have to earn their spot in the rotation. Of course, I know them a little bit better from last season. It’ll just have to play out. They’ll have to earn their minutes.”

Musa and Kurucs had different experiences last season, but offered promise in their own ways. Kurucs, the second-round pick, surprised by earning first a rotation spot in Brooklyn in early December, then a starting role. He averaged 8.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 20.5 minutes per game while starting in 46 of 63 NBA appearances.

“Progressing. I like that he’s not hesitating to shoot,” said Atkinson. “He’s just…We need him to shoot the ball when he’s open, without forgetting what he’s really good at: Energy, elite cutter, runs the court really well. But really encouraging him to take that open shot. So that’s been a really good sign. He’s willing, not hesitating, letting it fly.”

Musa spent most of his season in the G League with Long Island, averaging 19.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game and helping the squad to the G League Finals. As Musa pursues NBA minutes this season, Atkinson said he profiles primarily at the 2 or the 3 spot, but also as a small ball 4 man. At 6-9, he has the size for that.

“Shooting the ball much better,” said Atkinson. “And progressing defensively, which are two big…you’ve got to be a 3-and-D guy at that 4, 3, 2 position. That’s what we’re helping him out with. So definitely Musa, I’m really pleased with his progress.”

NEW FACES, HIGH PROFILES

While the Nets have established core players returning in Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen, new arrivals Kyrie Irving and — eventually — Kevin Durant are clearly going to play outsized leading roles. Irving, Durant and center DeAndre Jordan all have multiple All-NBA selections on their resumes.

“It’s interesting to see how each player reacts,” said Atkinson. “Yeah, that’s part of this discovery journey we’re on and seeing how they all interact. So far it’s been really good. The fear when you bring in a great player is people are going to defer to much. So, I haven’t seen that. And I think Kyrie’s done a good job of making sure they don’t defer. Does that make sense? Whether it’s sharing it or making the right play or getting off the ball sometimes. I’ve been really pleased with that.”

Harris previously played with Irving in Cleveland.

“We all know his talent level,” said Harris. “Kyrie has consistently been one of the best players in this league, one of the top point guards in this league. You expect a lot out of him, but he brings it every day. He competes hard in practice. He could very easily just kind of coast and do whatever he would like. He’s earned that in this league. But he competes and he’s competed from the moment he signed with us.”

ENGAGING DURANT

For the first few days of training camp, the Nets had two of their newly acquired All-NBA talents as observers. While Kyrie Irving has returned to action, it will be a longer wait for Kevin Durant.

“He’s been rehabbing courtside, and he’s watching what we’re doing and walking around to our stations and encouraging guys and having dialogue,” said Kenny Atkinson. “It’s been a real nice balance. He’s been super-present. It’s been really good so far.”

It’s a unique situation for a player to be acclimating to a new team while rehabbing a long-term injury. But Durant said on media day the only difference in his team involvement is he won’t be able to suit up for games. Atkinson has made sure to engage him throughout practice sessions.

“Just building that relationship. I’ll go over to him in practice and say, ‘What do you think of this. What did you guys do in Golden State? What did you do in Oklahoma City?’ You’re always having those dialogues,” said Atkinson. “He might chime in and say something, but it seems to me he’s a guy who is an observer, an early observer. He’s watching everything, very aware, you can see an awareness. He doesn’t say a lot, but when he says something, you stand at attention because it’s something relevant.”

FIGURING OUT A ROTATION

There are four preseason games and plenty of time for Atkinson to sort out how many players figure into his rotation and which ones they are. Last season the Nets went as deep as 11 players regularly for some stretches. On other occasions, they cut the major minutes to nine players.

But at one point or another last season, 13 of the 15 players on the Brooklyn roster had stints as regular rotation players. Atkinson sees that depth as a key again going forward.

“My experience is depth is vital in this league, especially with our experience last season with the injuries,” said Atkinson. “I think as hard as guys play today, the pace of the game, there’s gonna be injuries. We have -- last year, we relied on all 15. I harped back to that Theo Pinson game against the Knicks. We were down and had a lot of guys out. He came from the G-League and had 20 points and helped us win that game. I think we need that depth, as far as a permanent rotation. Ten was the ideal number, but not gonna promise that. It’ll play out.”

EYE ON TRAVELING

Traveling is a point of emphasis for NBA officials this season, and Kenny Atkinson said the specifics of what referees are looking at has been communicated to teams.

“It’s clear. We had our annual meeting with the referees, head coaches meeting with the referees,” said Atkinson. “They literally brought us on the court and not only showed us on-court examples but also video examples. We had great interaction with them. Like anything, you always have some questions or some doubts but I think for the most part I think it’s great they’re cleaning it up, I think it’s great it’s a point of emphasis this year and that meeting helped me a lot to just understand what they’re looking for.”

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