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The Rockets were willing to get uncomfortable in holding onto James Harden. Looks like the Nets are going to have to learn to deal with another kind of discomfort: That of early-season disappointment and on-court disconnect.
Brooklyn came into the season as an NBA Finals contender but — after dropping four of its last five games — started the week on the outside of the playoff picture looking in, just 3-4 coming into Tuesday’s tilt vs. Utah.
“Plenty to clean up,” Steve Nash said. “It’s early. We can’t lose our minds over it, and we can’t get overly frustrated. We can’t feel too much tension. There [are] a lot of really good teams that are trying to find themselves. And we’re new, we’ve got a first-time head coach, we’ve got a new staff, and we’ve got a bunch of guys that haven’t played together, with a short training camp that made it difficult.
“And here we are in a little struggle. And you know what? It’s good for us. It’s good to get a little tension. We’ve got to get comfortable being uncomfortable, so here we are. We’re a little uncomfortable, and it can help us grow.”
It’s not where they expected to be. But Kyrie Irving cautioned that managing expectations will be vital, as well as not letting frustration sink in and stunt their progress.
“We just have to manage realistic expectations of what we want out of this group right now,” said Irving. “Every single day, week-to-week and month-to-month, and we put together a few great months of consistent work and consistent progress. We’ll be OK.
“We’re committed to it. I know the guys in the locker room, everyone in the organization [is] committed to that. We want to change this whole thing, and that’s not an overnight process. I didn’t commit here just for two or three years. … So I’m excited for the journey ahead to continue to get better. It is as simple as basketball, but the team effort takes a while to get together.”
There are teaching moments for not just players but also Nash, whose decision to have Jarrett Allen off the floor late likely contributed to the game-winning offensive rebound for Washington on Sunday.
These tough lessons will require patience and not letting a slow start fray their nerves or fracture their chemistry. Irving knows this well.
Sure, some superteams come together in a flash, like Kevin Garnett’s Celtics in 2007-08. Others stumble out of the gate and take a while to get up to speed.
The Heat started out 9-8 in LeBron James’ first season before reaching the 2011 NBA Finals, then winning the following year. And Irving had firsthand experience when his Cavaliers opened 1-3 in James’ return and just 5-7 before reeling off eight straight en route to the 2015 Finals. Irving hit the iconic winner the next year to deliver a title.
Irving and Kevin Durant have talked about playing the long game, which is a learned mindset — and one the Nets haven’t experienced.
“That definitely is a mindset you have to learn,” said Allen. “I never made it past the first round of the playoffs, personally, and [Irving] has been all the way and was able to hold the trophy above his head. He has more experience in that regard, so I’m trusting what he’s saying. I know it’s going to be a long road for all of us, and to have leaders like that, we’re going to be fine.”
Of course, Nash has seen supposed superteams that didn’t turn out fine. His 2012-13 Lakers that featured Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard never did shore up their defense and ended up swept in the first round. Now in the coach’s seat, Nash is well aware his Nets will need to fix their defense and rebounding to even approach their goals.
“Just simple mistakes defensively, talking, recognizing scenarios and situations. Then the offensive rebounding, the turnovers, those are problems for us. The rebounding is a problem,” said Nash. “Those are the three areas: simple defensive lapses, offensive rebounding and turnovers.”