- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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Lionel Hollins is set to become the first coach in Brooklyn Nets history to be with the team for more than one season when the 2015-16 campaign gets underway in a few months. For now, Hollins is in Africa for Basketball Without Borders, touring the area while using the opportunity to teach kids about the game.
On Saturday, he will coach Team World in an exhibition game in South Africa as part of the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program. In addition to talking about that experience, Hollins also addressed another active summer for the Nets.
How do you feel like the offseason went?
The plan going in was to try to get younger, and we did that through the draft when we selected Chris McCullough and acquired Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. We changed up our team quite a bit. Guys left. We added Thomas Robinson, Wayne Ellington, Andrea Bargnani and Shane Larkin. On paper, in the summertime, everything looks great. And I think every team in the NBA will tell you that, ‘Hey, we had a great summer.’ Now we just gotta go to work and take it from the paper to the court.
With the youth and athleticism you brought in, do you feel like your team is more versatile?
I think we have more versatility, but I think re-signing our core players Thad (Thaddeus Young) and Brook (Lopez) was important. Joe (Johnson) is still here. All those things are important to our potential success.
Playing small and all that, I think we’ll be able to match up a little bit better. But I think with our core last year, I thought that when we added Thaddeus he gave us a more versatile 4. We played much better, and I think we’re able to go small based on how well our small people play together and how effective we can be.
Why are the Nets better off without Deron Williams?
You’d have to ask [general manager] Billy King about that. The only thing I can say is this: Deron had not played as well as he would’ve liked to, and as well as we would’ve liked him to -- the expectations that were on him, the burden of being in New York as a franchise player and all that. I wish him the best in Dallas, and I’m sure that he’s going to bounce back and going to be very good for them, and I have nothing but best wishes for that to happen for him.
Is Jarrett Jack a guy who can handle the starting point guard role for this team?
Why can’t he? He’s done it last year, he’s done it in Portland, he’s done it in Golden State -- wherever he’s been, he’s had moments where he’s had to start. And I think if a player is not starting [all the time], he gets a bad rap that he can’t be a starter. Well, that’s not the case. He’s been on teams with a lot of good starting point guards, and he’s done a great job of adding that depth that they have at point guard.
He did the same thing for us last year, but also starting a number of games and he played extremely well. I read a stat where we were 11-16 when he started, but only 4-10 when Deron didn’t play. But you can’t put how well we played on one player. It was a group effort when we lost and it was a group effort when we won. [Jack is] in great shape. I’m excited, he’s excited and going forward decisions are made, moves are made and me as a coach, I go out and try to do the best I can with what we have. And I’m excited about what we have and I look forward to coming to work and coming to training camp and putting it all together on the court.
What do you need to see from Brook Lopez?
Brook has made great strides in becoming a more versatile player. That’s all I ask for him to be -- more committed to be being an all-around player, to being a better rebounder and not just being happy with 16-17 points, but going out there and rebounding the ball, blocking shots, helping on defense, all of the things that it takes to win. Diving on the floor for a loose ball.
A lot of people are pigeon-holed into roles when they’re young, and they get comfortable in those roles. But he came out, and if you look at the stretch that he had when we were really playing well, I mean, he averaged like 28 points a game, 12 rebounds a game, a couple blocked shots a game -- that’s pretty good.
And I just want him to build on what he started, laying the foundation last year and build on the way we came down the stretch to make the playoffs and go from there and become a legitimate contender.
What do you envision Joe Johnson’s role being?
I doubt Joe will be coming off the bench this year. I don’t think we have anybody to put Joe in a position where he’ll have to come off the bench. But if that should happen, we’ll talk about it and deal with it, but I envision him being a starter.
I don’t see those young guys [Markel Brown and Hollis-Jefferson] being the guys that jump over the core players that are starters. They’re going to be the depth, but that’s my thought process here at the end of July and the first of August.
When we get out there and start performing it’s about what we do on the court, how well groups mesh together and what we need. If we need somebody to be on the bench that can give us a little better balance then we’ll consider that, but that’s not something I’m thinking about right now.
Andrea Bargani, Shane Larkin, Thomas Robinson and Wayne Ellington have all played for multiple teams. Are you excited to see how much these guys have left in the tank? It seems like they all have a lot to prove.
Well, everybody has a lot to prove. Everybody on the team has a lot to prove. We as a group have a lot to prove. It’s not just individuals. Players play on different teams nowadays. There’s so much movement with free agency, salary-cap moves and all of that, so I don’t look at it like they have a lot to prove from that perspective or do they have a lot to prove because, ‘Do they have anything left?’ when you’re certainly talking about Bargnani.
My thing is we’re the Brooklyn Nets. We go to training camp and try to lay a foundation for the team to be successful. That’s my only thought process. It’s not about you have to prove this or you have to prove that. That’s for you guys in the media to debate. My expectation is we’re going to go out there and we’re going to be a very good team.
What are your expectations for your team defensively?
We certainly wanna be better defensively all-around. We have some potential for individuals to help contribute to that, and we want to be more in-tuned as a team from a health perspective and take more onus to just do a better job of guarding our own man. The league has changed, it’s very wide-open and we want to be able to score, we want to be able to come back at people as well as improve our defense.
4dSteve Ilardi and Jeremias Engelmann