Despite NBA's worst record, Brooklyn Nets say steps toward the future

Adry Torres | The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Brook Lopez proved he could fit into the new style of play that Kenny Atkinson pushed forward in his first season as coach of the Brooklyn Nets.

Now it’s up to the front office to see how it can improve a team then had an NBA-worst 20-62 record – and has no lottery pick to show for it.

Lopez, the lone holdover from the team that moved across the Hudson River in 2012, again survived the trade rumor mill that’s been a constant since his days in New Jersey.

The 7-footer didn’t seem a natural fit in Atkinson’s complex offensive system but did well, shooting a career-best 34.6 percent behind the 3-point line.

“When you really put it to me I guess it was just transformative in one way,” Lopez said Thursday, a day after the Nets missed the postseason for the second straight year after three consecutive appearances.

“I mean, obviously when you look at the personnel, players, staff, coaches, those were all big changes. Coming out here being out here for a full season; and then you know just on the court the way obviously we came in with a new playbook, we pretty much had to work from the ground up and build a foundation on the floor as well as culture-wise in the locker room.”

Without much top talent in general manager Sean Marks’ first full season, the Nets had point guard Jeremy Lin for only 36 games because of a strained left hamstring. They lost 26 of 27 from late December to February with a roster that featured a bevy of players signed from the D-League and a couple of others on non-guaranteed deals.

Upon the return of Lin, who last summer signed a three-year, $36 million contract, things started to fall into place with the point guard and the franchise center playing off one another.

The Nets went 11-12 after March 1 and meshed well with Lin and Lopez on the court.

“We started to figure out who we were, what was going to be our recipe for success, and what are the principles? We had these principles before, but we weren’t seeing the result,” Lin said. “So, it’s hard to build an identity when you’re not seeing the results, but I felt like in the last stretch we were able to really figure out, `Hey, this is our blueprint. This is the direction we want to go in.”‘

Lin averaged 14.5 points and 5.1 assists.

Things to watch with the Nets this summer:

SLIM PICKINGS: What will be a top-four pick in the draft goes to Boston as continued payment for the Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade, but the Nets still have two first-round picks. They will get the Celtics’ pick and acquired Washington’s first-round selection during a midseason trade.

MONEY TO SPEND: With only eight players signed to guaranteed contracts for next season, the Nets definitely will be players once free agency tips off July 1. Players around the league have approached Lin and are intrigued with becoming a part of the Nets’ future.

“I honestly don’t think it’s going to be that hard of a sell. First of all, it’s Brooklyn, it’s New York,” Lin said. “Second of all, everyone can tell this culture is completely different. You can talk to the players, there’s a freshness, a different vibe, and I think what we did after the All-Star break will help. But also, players just want to be treated the right way, and I know that there’s definitely a lot of interest.”

LEVERT’S SPURT: Caris LeVert, the 20th overall pick in last year’s draft who the Nets acquired in a deal with the Indiana Pacers, averaged 8.2 points after missing the beginning of the season as he rehabbed from a left foot surgery. He credited Atkinson for the growth of his game.

“It was big for me because I didn’t play at the beginning of the season,” LeVert said. “I was in rehab and things like that. So for him to show that amount of confidence and for my teammates to show that amount of confidence in me was huge.”