Just when were about to write that there was little news this week, Woj reports that Jacque Vaughn, the former Magic head coach and Spurs assistant, has been hired as Kenny Atkinson's lead assistant. It's news for a number of reasons. Vaughn is the latest hire in Sean Marks rebuild and the latest hire from the "Spurs Tree." He's yet another young hire as well.
As far as we know --and that knowledge might be limited, here's where the rebuild stands.
Sean Marks, 40, General Manager, hired from the Spurs, February 18.
Trajan Langdon, 39, Assistant General Manager, hired from the Cavaliers --after three years with the Spurs, March 8.
Andrew Baker, 26, Coordinator, Strategic Planning, hired from the Spurs in March
Ronald Nored, 26, Head Coach, Long Island Nets, hired from Northern Kentucky --after two years with Celtics, April 15.
Kenny Atkinson, 48, Head Coach, hired from the Hawks April 17.
Jacque Vaughn, 41, Assistant Coach, hired from the Spurs --after three years with the Magic. April 30.
Expect more, a lot more and soon. Marks has said he wants players and their agents to notice that something is happening in Brooklyn when free agency begins. That's July 1.
The Nets' old regime was not much into development, but rather building a championship contender from scratch without those nasty intermediate steps. In fact, it's hard to even discuss the Nets development "strategy" when 1) you've traded all your picks for veterans; 2) let your relationship with the D-League expire ... which only one other NBA team had ever done; 3) failed to put any emphasis on analytics until this season; and 4) never seemed to put a premium on hiring a high profile development coach.
Anyone who's followed the Nets finds it hard to recall many players who've developed while the team has been in Brooklyn, under Mikhail Prokhorov, Dmitry Razumov and Billy King. There have been some notable regressions, though.
Now, the Nets have a chance to, uh, develop a development strategy. There are some positive signs, starting with Sean Marks repeated statements on the need for it. Both Kenny Atkinson and Jacque Vaughn, have solid reputations as player development experts, with Atkinson responsible for some of the most celebrated projects in recent years, players like Jeremy Lin and Jeff Teague. Although Vaughn had a poor won-loss record in Orlando, he was credited with creating an environment of player development and hard work, as Adrian Wojnarowski wrote when he was fired. (Vaughn's big problem in Orlando, other than a lack of talent, was a stodgy offense.)
Also important is the Long Island Nets, which cost ownership $6 million. For the first time since they ended their relationship with Springfield Armor three seasons ago, the Nets will have a D-League affiliate where the team can develop its own players (and draft picks), find diamonds in the rough and help injured players rehab on the court. That's a big improvement. Also, what's underrated about the arrangement is that for the first season, the L.I. Nets and Brooklyn Nets will practice (if not together) on the same practice facility courts. Long Island and Brooklyn staff will have offices on the same floor. Marks and his coaches can watch the kids play. That's a unique arrangement.
Marks surprised people in the league by hiring 26-year-old Ronald Nored as D-League coach. Nored is not from the "Spurs Tree," like so many of Marks' hires, but he is from the "Celtics Tree," or more precisely the "Brad Stevens Tree." Nored played under Stevens (and with Gordon Hayward) at Butler. That's a big change. A few months before he left, Billy King hired two "scouts" -- Randy Ayers and Rob Bender -- who many believed were destined for jobs as coach and GM of the D-League team. Both were qualified, both were King loyalists and both are in their 60's.
But the strategy has to go beyond that. The Brooklyn Nets assistant coach for player development has to be a higher priority than it has been, has to be integrated within a system. We expect Marks and Atkinson to come up with a top-flight development specialist to work with players, other coaches and Nored and whoever he hires as his lead assistant. Scouting has to be better. The Nets have to find players in the U.S. and overseas who are worth the development effort. And when, they do find that diamond in the rough, there has to be a willingness to figure out a way to keep them. The Performance teams --strength and conditioning, training, and medical -- all have to be better integrated into player development.
Nets fans still smart over the loss of Jonathan Simmons last summer. He had had two good years with the Austin Spurs in the D-League, but hadn't gotten the call up. So he signed with the Nets Orlando Summer League team where he exploded. The Spurs took advantage of the Nets good luck, swooping in and signing him to a two-year deal. He then dominated the Las Vegas Summer League for the Spurs and looks like he'll develop into a complementary piece like so many Spurs before him. It's easy to argue that Simmons has developed faster than any of the four players the Nets signed last July: Shane Larkin, Wayne Ellington, Thomas Robinson or Willie Reed. It's the Spurs way.
San Antonio knows about player development. it's at the heart of their system. Between 1997 when Tim Duncan was drafted overall No. 1 and last season, the Spurs had ONE draft pick higher than No. 20. They traded George Hill for the No. 15 pick in 2011, a guy named Kawhi Leonard. All the great players on all those rosters --including Leonard-- got remarkably better. Role players were developed. Low draft picks were exploited for what they could do, not what they couldn't. Castoffs were rehabilitated. Championships were won. It's a good model.
Before Saturday's Spurs-Thunder game, before word broke that his director player personnel was headed to Brooklyn to be Kenny Atkinson's assistant, Gregg Popovich spoke to the San Antonio Express-News about the loss of staff. Already this season, he's lost Sean Marks (Nets GM) and Scott Layden (Timberwolves GM).
While Popovich said the club gets a "big thrill out of seeing guys (move) to another organization," it also creates more work for the off-season.
"Like right now we have a couple of guys we have got to replace," Popovich said. "(GM) R.C. (Buford) and I will think about that at the end of the season. But it does cause some disruption and work to try to get it back."
The Spurs could lose another key staffer soon. Ettore Messina, Popovich's lead assistant, is a candidate for the Kings' head coaching job.
We expect the Nets roster will have more international players next season, maybe a draft pick. We will track them throughout the FIBA competitions this summer. So far, Bojan Bogdanovic and Sergey Karasev have been named to their national teams --Croatia and Russia-- preliminary rosters. Nets stash Juan Pablo Vaulet will have to wait another three weeks to see if he will be invited to Argentina's tryout camp. If he makes the squad, he's the only one guaranteed to make the Olympics. Croatia must make its way through the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. Russia, whose team has fallen on hard times, is out of the Olympics, but trying to qualify for the FIBA Eurobasket tournament in 2017.
The Brooklyn Nets effect
Just as it has around Barclays Center, even beyond the Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, development has begun at Industry City, home of the Nets HSS Training Center. Call it the Nets effect on Brooklyn real estate.
This week, the owners of the giant complex between the Gowanus Expressway and New York Harbor, announced they were improving the building where the HSS Center is housed.
Belvedere Capital and Jamestown will renovate the lower floors of Building 19, a 1.3 million square foot building where the Nets have their practice facility on the eight floor and rooftop, according to various real estate news sites.
The developers will make improvements to some of the building's infrastructure, add new windows and create a new lobby. The plan is to attract high-tech businesses to join the Nets in the building.
"While the city’s innovation economy continues to grow, the sectors leading its resurgence continue to be challenged by the white-hot real estate market," Andrew Kimball, the chief executive officer of Industry City, said thsi week. "Activating this space will help maintain the city’s competitive advantage and ability to capture the job-generating companies looking to expand here."
Industry City's owners originally put a premium on developing the project's "finger buildings" along the expressway, but the Nets, led by Irina Pavlova and Barclays Center board member David Carlock, wanted Building 19, aka 168 39th Street. It's closer to the water ... and thus offers those magnificent views. Now the owners' development focus is on the Nets building, with its distinctive new facade.
Nets players are already working at the practice facility and soon will have access to the open-air players lounge atop Building 19.
As we've noted before, the practice facility is all about the details, from the tile work in the locker room to the rooftop lounge. During the season, the rooftop lounge will be shuttered. Too cold. But by building the rooftop lounge, the organization created a magnet for those players who want to work out during the summer .. and afterwards, enjoy that view.
High above Barclays Center
So you want to live high above Barclays Center, be able to take the elevator down to the game? And not pay too much in rent. Well, you will have to be lucky. As part of Forest City Ratner's commitment to provide "affordable" housing in the towers around Barclays, there will be lotteries, starting with 461 Dean At Pacific Park, the modular 33-story red and silver tower nearing completion at the eastern edge of the arena.
The cheapest units -- there are only five of them -- will go for $559 a month. There are also 25 studios at $718 a month and another 15 at $1,044. Here's the breakdown of rents, based on household earnings.
You can apply through NYC Housing Connect, as The Brooklyn Game notes. Amenities include a 24-hour doorman, a fitness center, lounge, yoga studio, children’s playroom, and a roof terrace. A middle school is being built down the block.
Project critics have suggested that the apartments are "affortable" only if defined by federal guidelines. By any other definition, they are not.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
Last week, we looked at an Oregon college player who's a bit older than most college seniors but has the great advantage of being the son of an NBA All-Star, Oregon State's Gary Payton II. So we're doing the same thing this week. This time, it's Oregon's Elgin Cook. He's the son of Alvin Robertson. a four-time NBA All-Star with the Spurs and Bucks who won both the NBA Defensive Player of the Year and the Most Improved Player award the same year, 1986.
Cook is a 6'6" small forward, a redshirt senior for the Ducks who turns 24 in January. Over the last three years, he's improved each year and impressed at the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament two weeks ago, helping his stock. Hoops Habit gave this assessment of his performance.
Cook has the ability to defend several positions. He played small forward in Oregon’s smaller lineup, and thus, has the experience in defending larger wing players. He’s a decent playmaker, which gives him another dimension of his game as he works. The one downside is his three-point shooting. In three seasons at Oregon, Cook has attempted just 96 threes. He’ll need to be a better shooter if he wants to stick.
To his credit, Cook upped his three point shooting while at Oregon and his performances at Portsmouth have increased his draft stock. Plus, he has those genes.
It;s the second time since the end of the Ducks' season that Cook has impressed. Here's a video of his highlights during this year's NCAA Tournament. Jim Spanarkel had nice things to say about him.
It appears draft workouts are about to begin. Jalen Moore, a 6'9" small forward from Utah State, said Saturday he hopes to workout for Brooklyn next weekend, when he's out East to show his wares to the Celtics. Although the Nets have that one pick, at No. 55, they expected to buy picks and will be preparing dossiers for the D-League draft in November as well.
So far, so good. Right?
To be sure, none of the new hires have a solid track record. But, and here it comes, only one has held the "big job" and he didn't do so well. The rest have been an assistant this, an assistant that. Sean Marks,Trajan Langdon, Kenny Atkinson, Jacque Vaughn and Ronald Nored do share other positives: they all have a reputation for superior work ethic; all put a priority on player development; all share an appreciation of a winning culture. And they have all played the game at a high level, getting the most out of limited talent.
Marks, Vaughn and Langdon all have rings with the Spurs. Marks has two. Langdon won the Euroleague title twice, the Russian League seven times. Nored twice got to the NCAA Finals with Butler and worked for another franchise with a great NBA culture in Boston. Atkinson can't boast of a ring or playing or coaching with a great culture. But he has worked with Mike Budenholzer for four years. So he's one branch removed from the "Spurs Tree."
Can this work? Can the Nets succeed with a front office, all but one of whom --Vaughn-- have never had the ultimate responsibility, that big job? Sounds like a whole lot of learning curve. Well, you can argue that the Nets got into their current mess by relying on a front office with a lot of experience. It is going to take some time and a lot of patience. Excitement is one thing and it's great. Talent on the court, which the Nets have little of, is quite another.
As one knowledgeable league source recently told us about Atkinson' hire. "Sounds like a similar situation as Brett Brown," he said, comparing Atkinson's situation to that of the 76ers coach, another assistant who took a job with a rebuilding club. "Might be a few years before we really know if he can coach."
Hope not, but it's something to consider.