The Nets are taking a proactive approach to this off-season. Despite having no picks and not much wiggle room to land a marquee free agent, the team is conducting a mini-camp to see if they can find a hidden gem and to flag some young prospects for the future.
Few players in East Rutherford Wednesday morning have NBA experience, most coming from the D-League and European circuit --or both-- after playing in college on American soil. However, it was a highly touted Lithuanian, Mantas Kalnietis, who's never played in the US, who stole the show.
There were no stats to show how well Kalnietis played, but it was clear the big and very athletic point guard stood above the rest.
Kalnietis did most of his work on the ball, running pick-and-rolls with his teammates and pushing the ball hard up court, but he may have the size, at 6'5" 185, to play off the ball. The Lithuanian Player of the Year didn't take any shots from beyond the arc during the scrimmages, but he's proven to be a capable three-point shooter. He shot 34% last season for his Russian club. Kalnietis also made several beautiful passes down the floor to get his team some easy buckets while threading the needle several times on drives.
One play that stood out the most was a transition 3-on-2 where Kalnietis received the ball slashing towards the basket, then went up for what initially looked like a layup before he pulled it back behind his right ear for a pass to a trailing teammate who had an easy finish at the rim.
Kalnietis' team president, Andrei Vedischev said earlier today that he would listen to offers to buy Kalnietis out of his contract with Lokomotiv-Kuban. The Nets can pay $530,000 towards the buyout, but the rest must be paid by the player. Of course, the Nets haven't given any public signs that they want to sign Kalnietis, but it's something to keep in mind heading deeper into the off-season.
DaJuan Summer, 26 with 83 games of NBA experience, also impressed at Wednesday's workout. The former Georgetown standout played in the Ukraine this past season, averaged over 15 points and seven rebounds while shooting 56% from the floor. Summers is a bit of a tweener standing at 6'8", but showed he's able to play both inside and out.
Summers had a stretch of four straight finishes at the rim, three of which came in transition off of turnovers he forced. Summers said after the workout that playing hard on the defensive end is what gets players playing time.
"You just have to be aggressive, be aggressive defensively," Summers said. "Go after rebounds, be in the right position defensively, talking, those things get you in the game more than getting the shot."
Summers said he learned from his time in the Ukraine, where he was in the middle of violent political protests, that he needs to control what he can ... and that his game will come to him.
Summers has also realized that he isn't going to be asked to be a major offensive contributor in the NBA, but rather a role player who will score when the opportunity is presented. "If I get on the roster this season," Summers said, "they're not going to need me to drop 20 points a game, I just understand my role a lot better, you know more mature."
Summers can be an interesting piece for the Nets going forward. If he were to find himself on the roster come next season, he could fit in with the Nets and their small ball lineup. Summers is kind of stuck between a small forward and a power forward, but in a small-ball system, players like that thrive. With Summers' motor and ability to spread the floor while also finishing around the rim, he could find his niche with Brooklyn. He has workouts set up with San Antonio as well as possibly Cleveland in the next few weeks.
Guards playing in Kalnietis' shadow might rue their day at the Nets practice facility as the Lithuanian tore it up, but Scott Machado, a local product from Iona, also played well, getting out in transition and setting up his teammates. DeAndre Liggins spoke privately with Billy King at the conclusion of the workout, the only player seen doing that, but he didn't make a huge impact during the scrimmages. Kenny Boynton, who played very well in Israel this past season, was also a no-show on Wednesday, failing to make a huge impact on the floor despite his superior athletic abilities. He seemed disinterested throughout the whole day.
One point guard that surprised today was Saint Mary's product Mickey McConnell. He seems like a J.J Barea-type player. Undersized, but plays with a lot of energy. He has the ability to facilitate while also being a threat to score. McConnell was a successful point guard at Saint Mary's before going undrafted and playing in the Summer League for the Clippers. He found himself on the preseason roster with the Mavericks last fall, but didn't make the final roster. He did play exceptionally well with the Texas Legends for 50 games, posting 10 points and six assists per game.
McConnell is undersized at a listed and possibly generous 6',0" 175 pounds, but he played tough against Machado and repeatedly got into the teeth of the opposing team's defense. McConnell will find himself on some Summer League roster; possibly Brooklyn's. He's a capable three-point threat at point guard like Barea, Kidd's running mate in Dallas.
Lastly, Edwin Jackson spoke highly of the Nets organization, and the direction the franchise is going. "I think they are building and can see how it is taking shape and I was very excited to come to this team," Jackson said, seemingly lobbying throughout the day for an opportunity. Reports out of France suggest that he wants a summer league invitation, but knowledgeable sources say his buyout carries a serious number.
Jackson is super athletic and played hard during his minutes on the floor, fighting for rebounds and loose balls. He is a jump shooter off the dribble and has great court vision, which is similar to his role model, Tony Parker. The two went to the same high school, plus he plays for the team that Parker co-owns.
After the camp was over, the apparently lobbying continued. Jackson tweeted out his appreciation ... in French.
Merci beaucoup aux @BrooklynNets pour m'avoir donne l'opportunité de participer a leur mini-camp j'ai prid énormément de plasir— edwin jackson (@edjacks) June 4, 2014
The lobbying may be paying off. Lenn Robbins, the Nets in-house beat writer, reported that Jackson had "caught the eye of people here. He could be one of the players wearing the black-and-white of Brooklyn next season."
Later Wednesday afternoon, HoopsHype reported that Nick Minnerath, a lanky big from Detroit Mercy who played in Spain and France this past season, will be joining the Nets summer league team.
Forward Nick Minnerath will play summer league with the Brooklyn Nets, we're told.— HoopsHype (@hoopshype) June 4, 2014
Minnerath, a 6'9" small forward, didn't show much during the scrimmages, but he does have some versatility and shot better than 40 percent from deep in the French league. His tattoos impressed as well.
Overall, it was an interesting day for many prospects in East Rutherford, as some took advantage of their court time while others failed to make a substantial impact on the floor. We won't know if the Nets will pursue any of these prospects in the near-future, but around draft time we will see if the team takes some of the attendees to the Orlando Summer League with them.
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