Can a team build a winning culture while losing games?
How long can Nets coach Kenny Atkinson keep giving maximum effort when the team keeps getting minimal returns? At what point do defeats stunt development?
The Nets may soon find out.
“Obviously, we’re all frustrated right now. It’s a tough time. This is a tough stretch we’re going through,” said Atkinson, whose Nets have lost six straight games, with just Wednesday’s home match against the Pacers left before the All-Star break.
“I told the guys, ‘Let’s put our energy into getting one against Indiana. A good Indiana team, but we’re at home.’ It would be a good thing for our morale to get one before the All-Star break so we go in with some positive feelings.”
One could hardly blame the Nets if their morale has taken a beating. They haven’t won in the month of February, and are tied for the second-longest current losing streak in the NBA. So far Atkinson has managed to keep his Nets playing the right way despite the losing, something Clippers coach Doc Rivers found amazing.
“His team executes, they play hard, they play together. I don’t think people appreciate how hard that is when your team isn’t winning, to get guys to play together,” Rivers said Monday after his team beat the Nets at Barclays Center. “Most guys start looking at contracts, they get selfish and it’s all about numbers. Somehow Kenny has figured it out. They still play together and that’s pretty impressive.”
But how long can a team — especially a young one trying to develop — stay dogged in the face of nothing but defeats?
“It’s definitely difficult right now,” Joe Harris said. “Nobody in here likes to lose, especially in the fashion that we have been here lately. … We’ve been digging ourselves holes, and you can’t beat teams in the NBA when you’re trying to overcome 20-point deficits.
“It’s getting repetitive at this point. But at this point our mindset needs to shift on Indiana. We need to focus in and try and get one before the break so we can have some momentum.”
The Nets have lost all three meetings against the Pacers heading into the break. Atkinson said he hopes his team hasn’t tuned out the game at hand while looking forward to that break.
“I trust our guys. I think they’re very professional,” Atkinson said. “We’ve had to play some guys big minutes and we’re a little fatigued. But somehow we have to find the energy, get our juices for Indiana.”
But frankly, the Nets’ woes go far deeper than just against the Pacers.
On Jan. 22, they had won back-to-back games, were almost as close to the eighth playoff seed (six games back) as they were to the NBA cellar (4 ½ games) and were making measured progress. Since then, however, they are a league-worst 1-10, their defense has imploded, and they have fallen 12 games off the playoff pace. They also are just 1 ½ out of the basement, and fading fast.
Granted, much of that is because of injuries to top defenders Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. The Nets are just 2-11 without Hollis-Jefferson. But it bears watching how much damage losing can do to a young team, especially one trying not to lose, like former 76ers general manager Sam Hinkie did with his team in recent years. The Nets’ vision is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Hinkie’s “Process.”
Nets GM Sean Marks hates using the term “assets” for players because he said, “That sort of dehumanizes the whole thing. Our guys are part of the Nets family.”
Both DeMarre Carroll and his agent, Mark Bartelstein, told The Post the front office has been transparent, open and supportive. And while the rest of this season is largely evaluation, there have to be victories, too.
“Just the fact we’re there, so close. Sometimes we’re playing great basketball, but we can’t put it together for four quarters. That’s the frustrating thing,” Carroll said. “We just have to keep competing. At the end of the day, hopefully we can break through.”
Former Knick Pablo Prigioni, who recently resigned from his coaching job in Spain, has been one of several visitors around the Nets recently. Prigioni has known Atkinson since they were both in Europe.
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