NBA

Why the Nets' playoff run could be a launching point for free agency


Wrapped inside a well-cut suit with slicked-back hair, Brooklyn Nets coach Kenny Atkinson struts around like a Bond villain on the sidelines of the Barclays Center — Pat Riley, circa-1986 with a CrossFit membership.


But at practice one early April afternoon , he looked more like a city dweller taking his dog for a walk in Crown Heights: ruffled hair, gray and white stubble poking out of his jawline, his deep-set eyes on the verge of caving in.


Former Lakers president Magic Johnson — who traded current Nets star D’Angelo Russell and questioned his leadership abilities afterward — implied as much when he resigned from his position two weeks ago.


The Nets didn’t practice hard that afternoon in April after dropping a game to the Milwaukee Bucks, offering a window of hope to the trailing Miami Heat in a paper-thin playoff race.


Russell, for his part, bought in to the rigors of the plan, to a summer spent in the practice facility in Brooklyn and a sea change when it came to pregame routine and diet — and a front-row seat on the bench during crunch time.


After a few weeks of countless high-arcing floaters that hung at the front of the rim before tilting out and passes that flung from one end of the court to the other, Russell weaved it into a seven-game winning streak that sprung Brooklyn into the playoff race and gave the guard his first All-Star berth.






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