When the Nets field their entry in the Orlando Summer League, two 21-year-olds won't need an introduction. Marquis Teague and Adonis Thomas have played together before. They were high school phenoms, among the top 10 scholastic players in the US who also helped Team USA dominate international competition.
Now, they're just trying to make an impact in the NBA having followed different but equally disappointing paths in their young pro careers. For the Nets, they're the kind of assets the team needs to develop -- to make up for the loss of so many first and second round picks. It's mutually appealing.
The most impressive part of their resume growing up was their time with Team USA. Teague, a 6'3" point guard, and Thomas, a 6'7" small forward, played for Team USA in 2010, winning the U17 (17 and under) FIBA Tournament in Hamburg, Germany. Then, later that same season, they teamed up again at the Nike Hoop Summit, beating the World team. 92-80. They were, in 2010-11, elite.
"It was one of the most talented young teams that USA Basketball has ever put together," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who went to Germany to watch the U17 team, told USA Today recently.
Indeed. In addition to Teague and Thomas, the roster featured four other NBA players: Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Tony Wroten as well as a couple of players likely to be selected in the 2014 NBA Draft: James Michael McAdoo of North Carolina and Johnny O'Bryant of LSU. They hardly broke a sweat on the way to the gold medal, winning all eight games with an average margin of victory of 36 points. A dream team of kids.
Thomas averaged 8.5 points per game, fifth on the team. Teague averaged 6.0 assists, second in the tournament behind Quinn Cook of Duke.
Then, after their high school season was done, Teague and Thomas hooked up again in the Nike Hoop Summit in Portland. Drummond was gone, but he was replaced by Anthony Davis! Joining the core from the FIBA tournament was another NBA player, Austin Rivers. Teague started, Thomas came off the bench, Davis dominated and Team USA beat the World team, 92-80.
Thomas was good enough to be ranked the No. 1 high school prospect in the country by Sporting News, his decision to stay home in Memphis a coup for the Tigers. Overall, he was the consensus No. 9 pick Teague's future was described this way in a DIME magazine feature that November: "based on the body of work, Marquis has a chance to pass his brother (taken at No. 19 that June the first round) for family bragging rights." He was ranked No. 7 consensus.
Then, things started going south.
Teague won an NCAA title with Kentucky before being drafted by the Bulls in the first round two years ago. Since then, the Indianapolis native has been a disappointment, even the subject of ridicule as the NBA's worst player, but he carries a guaranteed $1.1 million contract into the 2014-15 season. He and brother Jeff have worked out this summer and the Nets still hope he'll follow older brother Jeff's arc. It took Jeff two years before he began to emerge as an NBA point guard.
Thomas disappointments started earlier than Teague's. His freshman year was cut short by injuries and his sophomore year was such a regression he wasn't even drafted in 2013. He was signed, then cut by the Hawks last fall, signed by the Nets and cut so he could play at Springfield. He played well enough there to get two 10-day deals from the Magic and one from the 76ers, but no commitment to anything longer term. When Philly decided not to renew his deal, the Nets offered him an invitation to summer league. His season at Springfield was a big plus. He looked like he could still fulfill at least part of the promise. They're aren't a lot of 21-year-olds who who can shoot 40 percent from three and have a vertical leap exceeding 40."
With all the Nets having no picks and no D-League team, Teague and Thomas represent one way for the Nets to recover from losing those development options. Teague would be a junior at Kentucky if he had stayed, Thomas a junior at Memphis. They're three years younger than Mason Plumlee. As noted, two of their teammates on the gold medal U17 team are likely to be drafted next week. That's how young they (still) are. So there's time if they can turn the clock back and be elite again. Not a lot, but the Nets believe they're both worth the risk.