The Armor open camp Friday with a cast of D-League veterans, many with NBA experience; a few young players who could turn into Nets prospects, and others best described as hopeful. That's not much different from most years or most D-League teams, but this season, the Nets are spending a lot of money on the Armor. League sources say the D-League affiliate is going to play a much bigger part of the team's development strategy.
The strategy works like something this:
--Bring Springfield a championship contender, whether by bringing back veterans or sending down young prospects. The Armor have signed a number of vets who've played together before. Chemistry plays a bigger role in the NBA's minor league than in the big league because most teams are a hodge-podge. Teams whose players know each other have an automatic advantage. There are other reasons as well. The Nets see winning --and experience in big games, even on a small stage-- as part of development.
--Develop players both from their own roster and from their scouting database who they think stand a chance of playing in the NBA. The roster in Brooklyn is full now, but in the event the Nets make a lop-sided trade that opens up a roster spot or possibly for training camp in 2014, they want ready reserves who know the Nets system.
--Hire coaches with strong ties to the parent club. The Nets moved Doug Overton, for four years their development coach, to Springfield. They also retained Chris Carrawell, a Dukie originally recommended by Coach Mike Krzyzewski for his development skills. They've quietly added scouts, despite the lack of draft picks.
--Stockpile D-League draft picks. This isn't a one-year strategy. The Armor added three picks in the 2014 draft over the last few days, including a first rounder from the Delaware 87ers, an expansion franchise whose pick could be the overall #1 next season. The Armor felt comfortable doing this because they brought so many vets back and didn't need picks in this year's draft to fill out the roster. Like last June's NBA draft, the 2013 D-League pool was viewed as weak. Similarly, the 2014 D-League draft is likely to be stronger.
As we've noted before, it's part of the Nets overall development strategy to compensate for their loss of draft picks. Find a diamond in the rough, polish it in Springfield and you might get a player whose talent is as good as a second rounder or maybe, if you get lucky., a low first-rounder.
Now that the smoke has cleared from a week of transactions, including this year's D-League Draft last Friday night, here's what Lee, Overton, etc. have to work with, starting Friday.
Seventeen players, ranging in age from 20 to 28, will be on hand for camp, where they'll fight for 12 jobs. Of them, seven are players who've played in Springfield before, most with NBA experience. Two of them, Dennis Horner, a 6'9" power forward, and JamesOn Curry, a 6'4" shooting guard, wore the Nets uniform when they were in New Jersey. Horner had two stints in 2011-12 and Curry was a training camp invite in 2012.
Horner, Curry, L.D. Williams, Lance Hurdle and Jeff Foote, all starred for the Armor's Eastern Conference champions in 2012. Milton Lee, the Nets GM for minor league operations, was also able to bring back two other players from last year's club: Willie Reed, the 6'11" center/power forward called up by Memphis last April; and Justin Johnson, a 6'2" combo guard.
Lee calls his ability to attract returning players, "Some luck, some probabilities and players know we treat guys well both on and off the court. I think last year when we had only one guy back was the aberration."
Two of this year's Nets training camp invites, Gary Forbes and Adonis Thomas, are also on the Armor camp roster. Both are "affiliate selections," players whose D-League rights were transferred to the Armor after the Nets cut them. Both are 6'7" swingmen. Thomas, 20, was signed specifcally so the Armor could get his D-League rights. The Nets had looked into him before the June draft. He went undrafted, was signed by the Hawks, cut, then signed by the Nets. Forbes, 28, is hopeful he can get back in the NBA. He's played for the Nuggets and Raptors.
The Armor made two trades since last Thursday, sending 2013 picks to Texas and Iowa for TyShwan Edmondson, a 6'2" shooting guard from Austin Peay, and Lorenzo Brown, a 6'5" point guard out of North Carolina State. In addition, the Armor picked up three picks in next year's D-League Draft. The six players the Armor did pick in later rounds Friday will have to fight for roster spots.
Then, there's the issue of who the Nets will be sending north to Springfield. NBA players sent down don't count against the 10-man roster limit. Billy King has said Mason Plumlee will spend a lot of time with the Armor, although the 7-footer has been active all three games so far. Tyshawn Taylor told our Reed Wallach last week that he'd be willing to play again in Springfield and Toko Shengelia, finally recovered from off-season knee surgery, could use a rehab tour. Taylor and Shengelia dominated the league last year. Having the three of them practice against other players with NBA experience doesn't hurt either.
So are there NBA prospects other than Plumlee, Taylor and Shengelia on the Armor roster? Whose progress should fans be watching? Reed, Thomas and Brown seem the best bets. All three are young. Brown and Reed are 23 while Thomas, a top 10 high school recruit only two years ago, is 20. It's not a stretch to think Brown and Thomas would have been considered in the second round if the Nets had bought picks on Draft Night. Brown, in fact, was taken by the Timberwolves with a Nets pick they acquired in 2011 in the trade for Bojan Bogdanovic. Forbes has a chance as well. His career, with foreign clubs and NBA teams, somewhat mimics Alan Anderson's. There is a downside risk. Any of them could get called up by a team other than the Nets if they play well, as Reed was last season.
There's a business benefit to all this as well. The Nets' agreement with the Armor runs out after this season and will have to be renewed. Stocking the team should keep Armor ownership happy. The Nets don't own the team, but have a "hybrid" relationship, where the parent club pays the costs of basketball operations and the owners reap whatever profits the team makes. Winning works for both sides. The season opens November 22 in Portland, Maine.