NEW YORK -- The Brooklyn Nets were in desperate need of a culture change following last season’s disheartening loss to the Chicago Bulls in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals.
So GM Billy King went out during the summer and hired first-year coach Jason Kidd to bring accountability and traded for future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce to bring intensity and leadership.
Deron Williams used the word “soft” to describe the 2012-13 Nets. Kidd said their identity was “vanilla.”
While the regular-season opener is three weeks away, it’s safe to say -- at least from the small sample size we’ve seen so far -- that things will be different in 2013-14.
It was only the preseason opener Tuesday in D.C.
But you wouldn’t know it since the Nets’ bench was off its feet, clapping and cheering for every basket made.
The starters. The reserves. Even the third-stringers. Didn’t matter who was playing and who was watching. Everyone was involved.
In the second half, his night already long over, Garnet called over the bench guys who were playing for a huddle following a timeout. He was his usual intense self, looking as though it was the do-or-die game of the NBA Finals.
No wonder Kidd said it took Garnett and Pierce “a tenth of a second” to make their impact felt.
“You root for the next guy as much as he’s rooting for you. So if a guy’s on the ground, we pick him up,” Garnett told reporters after the game. “We’re creating something. We’re going to keep taking care of each other.”
“He’s so intense,” Williams said of KG. “You kind of have a feeling playing against him [of] how intense he is, but you really don’t know until you’re around him.
“It’s not just on the court; it’s everything he does, when he’s telling stories. He’s just an intense guy. He’s been great for this organization, he’s great for me, watching him every day, work hard. The young guys watching him work and be a leader.”
“Kevin’s Kevin. This is who he is," Kidd said. "He knows no other way. It helps his teammates, the coaching staff. It just becomes contagious, and we hope that it spreads throughout the team.”
During Tuesday night’s YES Network broadcast of the Nets-Wizards game, sideline reporter Sarah Kustok told viewers a quick story about how Kidd used poker chips to bring accountability to the team.
Kidd gave every player a stack and told them to bring it to each of the team’s training camp practices at Duke University.
Forget your stake, Kidd said, and that player would have to watch his teammates run as punishment.
“You think it’s something little, but it [does a] lot,” Williams said. “It promotes communication. You got your chips. It brings teams together. It may sound silly, but things like that go a long way.”
Brooklyn’s motto this season? “All in.”
So, of course, it made sense, as ESPNNewYork.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk wrote in this blog a few days ago, that Kidd wanted to make sure each player's goal was winning a championship. So he asked them just that at a team dinner on the eve of the first day of camp.
“Everybody said the right things,” Kidd said. “So now I can hold them accountable because I recorded it. We videotaped it.”
We’ve brought up intensity and accountability. But where would any team aiming for a title be without camaraderie?
Jets coach Rex Ryan makes his players do push-ups for penalties.
D-Will had a bit of a different take on the whole push-up thing. Every time one of his teammates drained a 3-pointer, he decided he’d do three pushups.
He claims he forgot in the first half of the Wizards game before getting his act together in the second half every time Mirza Teletovic drained one from deep. A teammate was quick to hold him accountable, apparently, and three Mirza 3s led to nine D-Will pushups.
“It was just something I kind of came up with,” D-Will said. “Nobody put me up to it. I don’t know why, but I was like 'I’m gonna do three pushups every time somebody hits a 3.'”
Teletovic liked it.
“It was funny. The atmosphere on the team is really good. The team chemistry is unbelievable. Everybody’s just enjoying each other,” he said.
So what’s different about this season’s team as opposed to last season’s team?
“There is more talking. The experienced guys we brought in just bring a different atmosphere. Bring a different way of talking,” Teletovic said. “For me, especially because it’s my second year, having these guys around makes things very easy.”
Game 1 might be a ways away, but it appears the Nets’ culture is already changing for the better.