The sky was gray and the atmosphere was light at basketball practice on a Brooklyn pier jutting over the East River, across from towering buildings in the lower Manhattan skyline.
The Nets held their second annual “Practice in the Park” Saturday at this Brooklyn Bridge Park site that could serve as a picture on a postcard. They tossed up shots, gave out shirts, signed autographs, posed for pictures and even conducted a rookie dance-off in front of their fans, who were perched around two outdoor courts.
“We’re in Brooklyn and while we’re here, we’re going to make the most of it,” said Joe Harris, who re-signed over the summer for two years and $16 million. “We’re going to be ingrained in the community. We’re going to try and be positive role models. And we’re going to try to get everybody actively involved and to see and feel what the culture is like of our organization.
“I think you kind of form a better bond that way when you have a better understanding of who you’re rooting for.”
The sharpshooting 6-6 swingman believes the fans will be rooting for an improved version over the team, thanks to some additions and the progress of returnees. The Nets jumped from 20 wins to 28 in year two of the Sean Marks/Kenny Atkinson rebuilding project.
“Each year, we’ve made improvement,” said Harris, a good example after averaging 10.8 points, 41.9 percent on three-pointers and an NBA-leading 62.7 percent on converting drives to the rim. “I think you can kind of see it. Our younger guys are starting to come into their own. We’re expecting guys to take some pretty big leaps this season individually. I think that will help us out collectively.
“I think we have a lot of reason to be optimistic about this season and kind of where we’re at right now.”
But the exhibition opener against the Knicks Wednesday night showed there’s still room for more improvement.
The three-point-heavy offense was just 8-for-41 from distance. The defense let undrafted rookie guard Allonzo Trier go off for 25 points. Jarrett Allen and others also couldn’t keep the opposing center off the boards. Enes Kanter grabbed 20 rebounds to go with 22 points in the Knicks’ 107-102 win.
One excuse: Kenneth Faried, Alan Williams and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson might have helped inside, but they sat out due to injuries.
The team will have three more preseason games to try and polish its act, starting Monday night at Detroit.
“There were definitely some good points when we looked at the film,” Harris said. “… I think offensively, we’re not too worried about the shots. We know that … will come. We have a lot of really talented offensive players. And then the focus has really been on the defensive end, trying to improve in that area. I thought overall obviously there were some hiccups in the first exhibition game, but obviously you’re trying to improve and kind of go up from there.”
Nets alums Kerry Kittles and Albert King were on hand for this open “practice.” Kittles is enthused about Caris LeVert. The 6-7 guard/forward will be tipping off his third season.
“LeVert has a really good approach,” Kittles said. “He’s the first in the gym, he’s the last to leave. It shows you his work ethic and how hard he plays and competes. I like him a lot.”
And the team?
“They’re young,” Kittles said. “I think they’ve got some young talent … I think they’re well coached. They’re working hard. So we’ll see what happens.”