It didn’t take long to hear Kevin Garnett’s voice.
Brooklyn Nets (& Duke) media walked into the Michael W. Krzyzewski Center, the week-long home of the new-look Brooklyn Nets, and Garnett was already getting on his teammates. “Oh, you’re cheating the drill!” Garnett yelled as he got back into line. “You cheat the drill, you cheat yourself!”
Last season seems like a distant memory. “I don’t want to say night and day from last year, but it’s just a different feeling,” Nets point guard Deron Williams said of the first official Brooklyn Nets training camp, replete with seven new guaranteed players and an overhauled coaching staff. “Starting with defense, and working our way from there.”
Defense was the word of the day from everyone at camp, as the Nets spent the majority of their first practice time instilling a new defensive philosophy. “Lot of defense, yeah yeah yeah yeah, definitely,” Brook Lopez said. “Installing our new defensive philosophy bit-by-bit. Obviously we’re not all there yet, but getting the framework and basis down.”
“Defense wins championships,” Williams added. “It’s not a secret. … We have to be able to limit teams to, KG said, under 80 points. That’s definitely tough to do, but that’s what you want to strive for.”
Williams knows all about that. The Nets ranked in the top-ten in offensive efficiency last year, but just 18th in the NBA on the defensive end. They lost in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs to the fifth-seeded Chicago Bulls, the team’s fifth-best defense. The Bulls ended up losing to the eventual NBA Champion Miami Heat, the league’s seventh-best defense. (The Heat also had the league’s best offense.)
“We were at the bottom of the barrel in transition defense,” Nets guard Joe Johnson admitted after practice. The Nets allowed 13.9 fast-break points per game, in the bottom third of the NBA, and transition defense was a major priority in the inaugural practice. “Our transition defense last year wasn’t great. So that was one of the main things that we harped on and worked on here today. We just want to be one of the elite teams defensively in the league.”
New Nets coach Jason Kidd took bits and pieces from schemes all over the NBA, showing the team different defensive strategies from Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, and (no surprise) former New Jersey Nets head coach and current Nets assistant Lawrence Frank’s designs in New Jersey. (Frank was also a lead defensive assistant in Boston under Doc Rivers.)
A “gumbo,” Jason Terry called it.
Defense in the NBA is a team system, built on communication, trust, and awareness. It requires all five players on the floor to be in tune with one another and the implemented scheme. That’s true for these Nets, but the unquestioned defensive leader is Garnett, one of the best defensive players in the league’s history. Garnett didn’t speak after practice, but the rest of the team didn’t hesitate to show their appreciation.
“He’s one of our leaders on this team,” Terry said. “It’s about defense. It’s not about you. Take ‘you’ out of the equation. It’s about the team and how we can get better as a group collectively.”
“For me personally, it’s just so cool to hear (Garnett speak),” Lopez glowed. “I was geeking out a little bit. One of the first things he said was ‘I’m just here to have your back and help you out with anything, I’m going to be there for you.'”