Sometimes, investments work out in different ways than you expect them to ... and not always in a negative way. That seems to be the case with the Nets' investment in the Springfield Armor, an outlay somewhere between $250,000 and $300,000. It was approved so the Nets could develop both their own young players and diamonds in the rough.
But as Gerald Green points up, there can be other, unexpected returns. By having an affiliation in the development league, the Nets have gotten a better grasp of players beyond Armor's roster. By following the league as a whole, the Nets were able to spot talent, like Green who's so far looked like an great find.
The D-League Showcase is four-day event held in early January and it is what its name implies, a showcase for the D-League's 160 players. Every year, all 16 teams travel to one of the league's hometown cities --this year it was Reno-- to play 16 games in front of representatives from every NBA team and a few from overseas, too. But the nine teams that have D-League affiliates obviously have a better focus and a bigger interest.
The Nets contingent that made it to Reno was indeed larger than in the past, owing to their commitment to the Springfield Armor. It included Armor GM Milton Lee, Nets Scout Jordan Cohn, whose portfolio includes the D-League; and Nets Director of Player Personnel (and chief scout) Gregg Polinsky. The Armor's two coaches, Bob MacKinnon and Chris Carrawell, both Nets employees, were also on hand. As it had been all year, the top priority was finding a small forward. Damion James foot had been acting up and he was sidelined. A couple of weeks later, he would undergo season-ending surgery.
Larry Owens, the 6'7" Tulsa 66ers SF, was ranked highest on the Nets' list. A solid D-Leaguer, he played defense as well as scored. The Reno Big Horns' Andre Emmett, who showed perhaps the most impressive all around game at the Showcase, was also high on their list. Former Celtic, Timberwolf, Rocket, Maverick and Laker Gerald Green had baggage but was rated very highly on all of the Nets execs' lists by the end of the Showcase. He was the top player on the Lakers' affiliate, but his big problem was consistency, just as it had been in his four NBA seasons.
Green's first game in the Showcase was against the Armor, the Nets affiliate, and it was a disaster. He scored four points on 2-for-7 shooting, had no rebounds and two assists. The next game, 48 hours later, was a different story Green followed his worst D-League game with what was then his best, hitting 13-for-17 overall and 4-for-5 from deep. He finished with 34 points. The Nets went in a different direction but had Green on their short list and in their scouting files.
They first called up Owens and then later Emmett to fill the small forward spot but neither made much of an impression. Along the way, both Keith Bogans and Shawne Williams underwent season-ending surgeries. The Nets, seemingly jinxed at SF, needed bodies.
So attention turned to Green as Emmett's 10-day contract came to an end at the All-Star break. He had been on a tear since the Showase, averaging 22.6 points in the 15 games, with four games of 30 or more. The Nets, because of their Armor affiliation, had a more focused perspective on his improvement.
The Nets asked Green and another small forward (who's never been identified) to quietly work out for Avery Johnson in Houston. Johnson lives in Houston in the off-season and had gone home for the All-Star Break. Green, who had been selected for the D-League All-Star Game, stopped off in Houston for the workout before heading on to Orlando for the junior circuit's parallel celebration.
Johnson, who had seen the D-League scouting reports on Green, liked what he saw and heard from Green at the workout. Two days later, Green sealed the deal with a spectacular performance at the D-League All-Star Game, scoring 28 points in 24 minutes and from everywhere on the court. He was MVP of the game and by just about everyone's estimation, the best player in the D-League.
The same Nets D-League personnel who scouted him in Reno were on hand at the Orlando Convention Center. He was signed to a 10-day contract immediately after the break. He's said he was driving with his fiance' when he got the news and couldn't stop screaming.
The Nets would like to see more consistency out of Green, but right now, the Nets are happy with what he's given them, and if Green does fill the small forward slot, it could be argued that the Nets' investment in the Armor has already paid off.