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Nets Hinting at Larger Role for Hayes

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The Nets keep saying nice things about Jarvis Hayes, singling him out for praise. It's growing increasingly evident that the team expects a lot more from the 6'8" small forward this season and not just on court.

While Hayes has been quiet this summer--taking finance courses towards his degree at the University of Georgia, working with his foundation and showing off his Rolls Royce Phantom, the Nets have been pushing the idea of Hayes as member of its core, as a team leader and probably as the starting small forward.

First, it was Rod Thorn at the end of June when the Nets decided to exercise a team option and keep him another year, at the bargain price of $2.06 million.

"Jarvis was a key member of our rotation last season, providing instant scoring and the ability to stretch the defense. We are pleased to have him continue as a member of our roster, and look forward to a similar contribution this season."

That was to be expected. Thorn always has a quote when announcing a personnel move.

But then, in an interview with the Nets' Ben Couch, Kiki Vandeweghe lumped Hayes in with the other young Nets and gave him some lavish praise. His point was that like the Nets' youngsters, Hayes isn't a finished product, that he still has room to develop his game. Hayes is 27 and will turn 28 next weekend. That's not as young as Lopez and Yi (21); Terrence Williams, Sean Williams--if he stays, or Chris Douglas-Roberts (all 22); Courtney Lee (23); or Josh Boone (24). But he's played 177 fewer minutes over the course of his career than Harris even though he's two years older.

Here's what Vandeweghe explained it to Couch.

He’s a young player; he’s 27-years-old and he was hurt for basically a year-and-a-half of his tenure, so he’s basically a fourth-year player at the moment. He’s still young and can still improve. Tremendously talented, and I thought he started to really make strides last year and pick up where he left off his rookie season. I thought we were very lucky to get him, especially at the price we got him. He’s been a great addition. Picking up the second-year option, that was a no-brainer with him.

Devin Harris also singled out Hayes in his blog, more so than any other teammate, focusing less on his play than his leadership potential. Harris noted the he called Hayes and talked about "getting the guys" together before training camp...just as Vince Carter had last summer.

I saw Kiki said he saw Jarvis as part of our young core. People know Jarvis is a guy who can come off screens, and he can definitely be a knock-down shooter. Defensively, in the right setting, he can be better and I think will be better. Toward the end of the year, he started to take more of a leadership role. We’ve talked a lot this summer about getting the guys in together and making sure everyone is comfortable with one another before the season starts. More than anything, you’ll start to see his leadership a lot more.

Nets players and coaches praised Hayes last season for his work ethic, his ability to play through pain...even his athleticism. Although he only showed his hops on occasion in games, players said he had a lot of fun with it in practice, that his soaring exploits matched those of Carter's.

The Nets do not expect Hayes to replace Carter...at least on the court. That's not happening, but they do expect him to be that link between the young players and vets, between the young players and the coaching staff. They also expect more production on the court.

Last year, he played better than expected, averaging 8.7 ppg with career highs in shooting percentage (44.5%), and three point shooting (94 three's on 38.5%). Plus at $1.6 million last year and $2.1 million this year, he was a bargain basement signing. Overall, it was his best season since a promising rookie season. But he only started one game out of 74. Lawrence Frank liked his energy coming off the bench. How much more can he bring? No one is saying but based on what's being said, a starting role and double digit scoring--plus the aforementioned defense and leadership--is what they want. There'll be competition, from last year's starter, Bobby Simmons, as well as from CDR and TWill, who can play some 3 as well as the 2. While no one has anointed Hayes as a starter, praise like he's received from Thorn, Vandeweghe and Harris is usually not reserved for, well, a reserve.

As Thorn said at one point last season, there's a reason Hayes was selected at #10 in the draft.