Things could all be so simple. After all, basketball is a simple game.
But, for the Brooklyn Nets, armed with a slew of new faces and heading into a still-uncertain future, things are a little more complicated these days.
They are dealing with the departure of their two best players while trying to incorporate four new players. That has meant some uncomfortable conversations for head coach Jacque Vaughn as he tries to guide this group to the finish line.
“I think at times, we’ve shown that we can play with that pace and moving the ball from side to side,” said forward Cameron Johnson via the team’s official YouTube Channel. “The challenges we need to address and tackle and learn from is really just understanding that flow. Understanding something as simple as terminology. It’s recall something and everyone takes that little extra second just trying to figure out what that action is.”
Brooklyn had beaten the Knicks nine straight times in the Kevin Durant–Kyrie Irving era – something Knicks fans were none too upset to see come to an end.
Johnson, who was acquired from the Phoenix Suns along with teammates Mikal Bridges and Jae Crowder as well as a bounty of draft capital for Durant, finished with 14 points on 50% shooting while grabbing four rebounds.
Cameron Johnson’s Future on the Line
The 6-foot-8 forward has scored double-digits in both of his games as a Net, both of which have been Brooklyn losses. But he has yet to get it going from long distance connecting on just two of his six looks from beyond the arc against the Knicks after going just 2-for-8 in the 101-98 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on February 11.
With 25 games to go, the Nets find themselves sitting fifth in the Eastern Conference.
They have just a 1.5-game lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers, are just two games ahead of the Knicks and the Play-In Tournament, and have the sixth-hardest remaining strength of schedule, per Tankathon.com.
“It’s just normal growing pains I feel like,” Johnson said. “I feel an energy from this group. I still feel like we’ve got the players necessary to win games and we’ll take it from there.”
This is an important stretch for Johnson who is set to hit restricted free agency this summer.
That is usually a situation that teams avoid so as to not tie up their cap dollars just for the incumbent team to match in the end. But Johnson, 26, is a talented and ascending two-way player who could draw interest especially if he plays well enough down the stretch.
Nets Adjustment Period
Johnson comes from a system in Phoenix where there was a greater emphasis on ball movement than what the Nets have had to rely on for most of this season. It’s not just an adjustment for him and Bridges, it’s a major change for fellow deadline acquisitions Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith just as it is for the incumbent Nets.
Vaughn is calling for things to happen faster which, to Johnson’s point, will simply take time as they figure out how to counter opposing defenses’ attempts at shutting down their three-point shooting.
The Nets’ changes have forced Vaughn to send both Royce O’Neale and Cam Thomas to the bench in favor of the new additions while also trying to deal with high-priced star-turned-bench player Ben Simmons.
It’s just the latest in what has been a challenging season and job for the Nets’ head coach since he assumed the position.