NBA @ 2: NJ Nets A Long Way From Contending
DeShawn Stevenson knows what it takes to contend for an NBA championship, having just accomplished that feat as a member of the Dallas Mavericks. His new team, the New Jersey Nets, are hopeful of putting a contending team on the court in the very near future, but Stevenson sees a great deal of work still left to be done.
“I think this Nets team is talented,” Stevenson tells HOOPSWORLD. “We’ve got a great point guard. We got some other key pieces like Humphries and the rookie Brooks is showing some spirit. We’ve got Shawne Williams, a good shooter, myself, just got to put it together.”
Stevenson had the benefit of playing with some great veterans in Dallas, veterans who understood what it took to win. In addition to more talented players, he believes veterans who bring a winning attitude are needed.
“I think talent and experience . . If you get more veteran guys in here, I think we have a lot of talent. We’ve got a great coach and we’ve just gotta believe that we can win. I think some of these guys get caught on a losing team and you forget how to win and know how to win. If you get some guys over here that have been in situations to win I think we can pull some games off.”
Part of the solution is going to be adding players like Stevenson, who have won on the big stage. He understands that he has much to teach his new teammates.
“How to be professional, stay focused,” says Stevenson of what he brings to the table. “Dallas had great veterans on that team who knew how to play basketball, knew how to carry themselves and I think that they need that over here. They’ve got a lot of guys that haven’t been in playoff situations so just to bring that sense over here is a good thing. Going to the Finals and going that deep, I’ve never been that deep in my life. Just going there makes you grow up and understand basketball and understand how every possession counts and you can’t take a possession off, so you learn a lot.”
It hasn’t been an easy adjustment for Stevenson, leaving a championship team and watching them struggle to an 0-3 start from afar. He wanted to be back in Dallas, but the Mavs were focused more on cap space and next summer than keeping their championship team intact.
“It was hard,” Stevenson admits. “I wanted to go back there. I think everybody did, probably except for Chandler. I think he had his mind made up but it’s frustrating. I’ve talked to JJ about it, he wanted to go back and just to see them lose the way they lost on Christmas and losing games it’s tough to watch. Right now I’m in a Nets jersey, so I’ve got to worry about the Nets, but it is hard watching them lose.”
Such is life in the NBA. Being a key member of a championship team wasn’t enough to keep Stevenson in Dallas, though it surely made it easier for him to land another gig. Now he faces the challenge of helping another team reach that championship dream . . .though the Nets clearly have a long way to go.
Ty Lawson Confident In Nuggets, Tarheels
The 2011-12 NBA season is still in its infancy, yet Nuggets point guard Ty Lawson is in midseason form, averaging 22.3 point per game and shooting 61% from the field. He talks with HOOPSWORLD about the addition of Andre Miller, contending in the West, UNC’s prospects and more in this exclusive interview:
This is Arron Afflalo’s big year. Count on that. Having made it through his rookie deal he is now a fully-fledged veteran of the NBA, and with a fresh $43 million contract in hand he’s ready to get back to the business of playing basketball.
“I’m very excited,” Afflalo tells HOOPSWORLD. “I’m looking forward to the season. It was just part of the process for me getting through this off-season both with the lockout situation and my free agency situation. But I’m just ready to get back out there and compete. It’s been a long time.”
Many members of this season’s free agency class have struggled early, the result of a lockout-shortened training camp and limited preseason. Afflalo doesn’t have that problem, being intimately familiar with head coach George Karl’s system.
“Yeah. I missed majority of training camp, but it’s just part of the process. I’m familiar with the system and the coaching staff and my teammates for the most part, so hopefully it won’t be too much of a learning curve.”
Many NBA players participated in charity games during the lockout to stay in shape for the new season. Afflalo couldn’t afford to do that, as the slightest injury might have affected his ability to sign a new contract. He feels he still has some catching up to do.
“I feel fine but these guys have been around for a few weeks, even in the summertime some of the guys were playing in the off-season. My only issue is that I didn’t really get a chance to compete just because I didn’t want to get injured in the off-season. Outside of the fact that I didn’t really get to compete and get that type of in-game conditioning, I feel fine. Hopefully everything continues to kick in as the games go on.”
Now, with a compressed schedule on the board, Afflalo admits it will be increasingly important for players to understand their bodies to stay ready for the challenge ahead.
“I think you have to fit in with your game. Stick to your game routine and on those off days you have to manage your body whether for some players it means getting a little work in to make sure they keep their conditioning up, or for those who are in great shape you make sure to rest your legs.”
There’s a lot more riding on Afflalo this season, and to this point he’s answering the call. His three-pointer isn’t dropping just yet, but he’s averaging better than 13 points per game and shooting 47% overall. He scored 19 points last night in Portland, a sign of things to come as he embraced a bigger role.
“I’ve got a different role on this team. The personnel change has also provided a lot of opportunity for me to continue to grow as a player. I take pride in trying to be a complete player. With that in mind, hopefully I can just do everything that I do that much better.”
No one has more faith in Afflalo than George Karl, who stepped into our interview to remind Afflalo that he owes George $40 million for talking him up over the offseason. There’s a genuine love between coach and player, something neither takes for granted.
“It feels good,” says Afflalo. “There’s definitely an appreciation factor for myself and vice-versa, I definitely appreciate Coach and the opportunity he’s given me for the past two years. It goes hand-in-hand and hopefully I just continue to improve and help this team win.”
Much has been made of George Karl’s statement that you don’t need a superstar to contend, and Afflalo buys into that whole-heartedly.
“What’s your definition of a superstar? We have a deep team, so if a superstar is considered a player who’s going to get you 25-30 a night, we have ten guys who can light it up at some point in time. I guess that’s what he may mean in reference to that. You never know who’ll step up each and every night and I think that’s a positive for us.
Once he gets back into full NBA game shape, there is little doubt that Arron Afflalo will be one of those guys lighting it up on a consistent basis. The Denver Nuggets may not have a “superstar,” but with great young players like Afflalo on board, the sky is the limit for George Karl and his very talented group.
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