Spurts of activity this week as Sean Marks continued molding his front office with four new hires --two scouts, two basketball operations staffers-- and a promotion in BB Ops. Juan Pablo Vaulet's road to the NBA hit another bump. Speculation continues about the point guard situation, with indications Trajan Langdon was scouting Euroleague PGs last month.
Based on the latest news from inside, here's the latest on the rebuild...
--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, announced May 5
--Kenny Atkinson, 48, Head Coach, hired from the Hawks April 17.
--Jacque Vaughn, 41, Lead assistant coach, hired from the Spurs. Reported April 30, but not yet officially announced.
--Natalie Jay, 31, cap and contract specialist, hired from the 8th Circuit, U.S. Court of Appeals, announced May 5.
--Shelden Williams, 32, pro scout. Last job with the Tianjin Lions of the CBA, announced May 5.
--Charles Payne, 47, pro and college scout, hired from Stanford University, announced May 5.
Also, Ryan Gisriel, 26, has been promoted from assistant to the General Manager to Director, Basketball Operations, announced on May 5.
Expect more announcements shortly. Unless the Hawks find a miracle cure for LeBron James, the Atkinson press conference should be this week. One would think the Vaughn announcement would tied to that. Atkinson is likely to hire another five assistants. The performance staff --strength and conditioning as well as training-- will likely be updated soon as well.
Should the Nets have waited?
We've started to hear some rumblings from pundits that the Nets moved too quickly in hiring Kenny Atkinson. If they had waited, the argument goes, they could have interviewed Frank Vogel or Dave Joerger, surprise firings in Indiana and Memphis and proven winners. Atkinson is a nice pickup but those guys are proven, the argument continues.
Well, GM's are not fortune tellers (although we'd like them to be) and we're told Atkinson was very high on Marks list from Day One. Ownership also wanted to move quickly. The argument there was that the more key players in place before free agency the better. And Atkinson does have a very, very good reputation among the NBA's players. So there.
The Juan Pablo Vaulet story
Juan Pablo Vaulet gave everyone a scare on Friday, leaving an Argentine playoff game after playing only 38 seconds in the first quarter. Reporters covering the game said the Nets stash had left in "extreme pain," and that the injury appeared to be to his left achilles. By Saturday, it was determined to be nothing more than inflammation of the achilles and he's day-to-day. He could even play Sunday.
But the bottom line is that Vaulet's story is the story of the old regime on a micro level. They got too excited about a prospect who almost certainly would have gone undrafted, trading assets for him almost on a whim.
Vaulet is a 6'7" swingman with the big hands, long arms and stunning athleticism but not much of a shot. How he came to the Nets attention could be termed a Philadelphia story, with all the positives and negatives that connotes.
Pepe Sanchez was one of what Argentina calls its "Golden Generation," the group of players who came out of nowhere to be a world power on the international stage, players like Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Luis Scola, Pablo Prigioni, etc. Sanchez, unlike most to them, went to college in the US, at Temple, where he played well enough to be signed by the 76ers. Their GM? Billy King. Sanchez was always grateful.
After finishing his pro career, Sanchez returned to Argentina and bought control of Bahia Blanca, the legendary Argentine club that produced Ginobili. So, when he thought he had a player good enough for the NBA, he called King. In January 2015, King dispatched his assistant GM, Frank Zanin, who also knows Sanchez, to Bahia Blanca. He did not send the Nets international scouting coordinator, Danko Cvjeticanin, who has a lot more experience in analyzing overseas talent.
According to more than one source, Zanin came back raving. And yes, the term, "the next Manu," was used in conversations both inside and outside the organization.
As Sanchez noted last year, "Brooklyn was here in January, were the first. They heard us when we told them we had a guy who played very well and was very good." He added it was good to "have a connection to the people in Brooklyn."
Vaulet had put his name in the draft, much to everyone's surprise. As Max Kamalsky of Draft Express noted,
Every year in recent memory, 40-some international prospects file paper work with the NBA league office in mid-April declaring for the upcoming draft. Every year, 30 or more of those players subsequently withdraw in mid-June...
When an unheralded player leaves their name in the draft, it raises the collective eyebrow of the NBA and international scouting community. In an age where the vast majority of teams have extensive internal scouting databases and video on nearly every key league in the world is readily available on Synergy Sports Technology, teams aren't often surprised by the names they see on the final eligibility list, as the majority of those players tend to be locks to get drafted.
When one of the lesser known players from the original early entry list still shows up on the final eligibility list, there's typically only two good reasons those players declared: in the hopes of going undrafted, so they can field multiple suitors as an unrestricted free agent if they end up becoming a real prospect, or because some NBA has promised them.
In this case, it may have been both. There were rumors that JPV would like to go undrafted so he could ultimately sign with the Spurs. And he may have known of the Nets interest. Still, JPV was ranked in the 90's by DX, well out of the draft.
When Draft Night game, the Nets surprised everyone by working a trade with Charlotte in the middle of the second round ... after considering whether to take him at No. 29!. The Hornets got two second round picks, in 2018 and 2019, and $880,000 in cash. To be fair, neither of the picks were Nets picks. The 2019 pick was compensation from the Bucks for Jason Kidd. Vaulet said he listened to the draft long after midnight while prepping for the FIBA U19 World Championships in Greece. He said he was surprised when he was selected.
Days later, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture to his right ankle while playing for Team Argentina in the FIBA U19 tournament. He had broken his left ankle two years earlier. He joined the Nets summer league entries in Orlando and Las Vegas, but had to watch in a walking boot while getting some limited shooting instructions from Paul Westphal. After that, it was on to New York, where Dr. Martin O'Malley, the Nets noted foot and ankle surgeon, performed surgery on the right ankle. There was a four-month recovery.
Still, just how good is he? It's hard to tell from watching him in the LNB, which is about on the same level of NCAA Division II. After missing the first 19 games of the season, he was on minutes restrictions. He still does not have a reliable jumper and his free throw shooting is, at best, at the Mason Plumlee level, which for a shooting guard is abominable He IS hyperathletic and he DOES have a great first step. Is he ready for the NBA. No way. How about the D-League. Maybe, but he would have to take a pay cut.
The original plan, under King, was to get him some summer league minutes last July, let him play out his deal in Argentina and bring him up next season, no doubt to a minimal deal. How does the Nets current regime feel about JPV? You can bet Marks is familiar with a player who wanted to play for the Spurs and has been compared with Ginobili.
But here's where the old and new regimes divide. Under King, the Nets were about relationships. Too often, those relationships --like the one King and Zanin had with Sanchez-- overwhelmed good planning, got management and ownership spun up about prospects and possibilities that didn't work out ... or worse. (On the other hand, the Nets did show how well they treat players and prospects in medical need. Vaulet got the best care in the world. The Nets also set up a training regimen with Bahia Blanca, flying their trainer to New York for consultations.)
They traded assets they didn't need to trade. They had the leverage. There was some rumblings that the Spurs would have taken him in the second round, at No. 55, 16 places after where the Nets traded for him. They wanted him badly. So they moved precipitously.
We hope that Vaulet will work out. Maybe Marks likes him and he is young, having turned 20 in March, but we also note that two players taken after him, one right after him, have already worked out. Josh Richardson of the Heat, was taken at No. 40 and Norman Powell, at No. 46, while JPV remains a question mark.
There's been no announcements, but from what we can tell, the Nets are getting ready -- or have already started -- to work out draft prospects. Yes, yes, we know they don't have a pick until No. 55 in the second round, but 1) you never know what happens on Draft Night; 2) they always buy picks and 3) workouts give officials a chance to interview prospects ... and it all goes into the scouting database for future use. Also, those scouting reports could come in handy when the D-League holds its draft in November.
It will be difficult to get top names to work out for a team with so few picks and so low. Who comes --and who doesn't-- could be a good indication of how much the Nets new brain trust is respected around the league. (Or maybe player agents will just want to take a look at the new HSS Training Center. You know, that view!)
In the past, the workouts have been announced with lists of players made available to the media. Some years, reporters were permitted to go to the Nets training facility and get a read from Gregg Polinsky, the director of player developments, after workouts had ended. Media weren't permitted in the workouts themselves.
There are other Draft tryouts in Chicago this week starting Sunday. This weekend, 40 D-Leaguers will gather in Chicago for the D-League Elite Camp. Next weekend, 70 draft prospects will attend the NBA Draft Combine 2016 in Chicago The best prospects get measured, interviewed and worked out. Nets personnel will be at both.
Oh yeah, something is happening in New York on May 17.
Who had the best workout ever for the Nets? Bobby Marks who witnessed 20 years worth said recently there was no competition. Kobe Bryant blew everyone away in East Rutherford in 1996. We are not going to reprise THAT story again!
Draft Sleeper of the Week
Oh, this is a tough one for us, well for one of us, the one with the degree from Seton Hall.
Right now, Isaiah Whitehead is on the cusp about leaving South Orange. He's declared for the draft but has not hired an agent. He has until June 13 to withdraw, but if he hires an agent before then, he's gone after two years as a Pirate.
Whitehead has a pro body for a point guard and the Nets need all the help they can get at the point. He proved his big game chops in the Big East championship game, handing eventual national champion Villanova its last loss of the season and giving the Hall its biggest win in 23 years. He had finally redeemed himself after a horrible freshman year marked by poor play, a broken foot and chemistry issues galore. His dreams of a one-and-done career at Seton Hall vanished.
As everyone notes, Whitehead is a gifted scorer because of his ability to attack off the dribble and also make big shots from the perimeter or in the paint, as he did vs. Villanova. He also showed he can be a leader.
Will he declare? He recently turned 21, which is older for a college sophomore. So the clock is ticking. And he was invited to the NBA Draft Combine. On the other hand, as of now, draftniks think it's a risk for him to declare. Draft Express has him rated the No. 65 and out of the Draft. They have him penciled in at No. 35 in their 2017 mock draft. NBADraft.net doesn't have him on its 2016 mock or their 2017 mock.
Oh yeah, one other thing. HE'S FROM BROOKLYN! The Brooklyn Nets have never had a Brooklyn player. Chris McCullough from the Bronx is the closest thing to a Brooklyn guy. The Coney Island native would be a first. Could that matter, say at No. 55 if Whitehead hires an agent? Duh.
You'd have to think that the Draft Combine will be a big determinant in his decision-making. We hope he makes the right one. He's being advised by Lance Stephenson. That's a story for another day.
There's no YouTube video from Draft Express on Whitehead, but there is this highlight package from the Big East championship game. We could watch it over and over and over. March Madness indeed.
Lots of stuff happening this week. Nets staffers will be dispatched to Chicago for the D-League and Draft combines.as well as the Euroleague Final Four next weekend. There will be draft workouts in Brooklyn. We could have the Kenny Atkinson press conference and more coaching staff announced. .So, stay tuned.