We don't have high expectations for Anthony Bennett, what with his history, but the way the Nets came to sign the former overall No. 1 pick suggests Brooklyn's front office operates far differently than it has in the past.
The process of scouting him, working him out and finally signing him showed a level of patience and professionalism --not to mention attention to detail-- that is encouraging for the way things can work.
It apparently started a year ago, in the Palacio de los Deportes, the indoor arena in Mexico City that hosted the FIBA Americas tournament. On September 9, Team Canada, Bennett's team, played the Dominican Republic national team, coached by Kenny Atkinson,then an assistant with Atlanta. Canada won, 120-103, and Bennett played well, scoring 14 points on 4-of-5 from deep, while grabbing six rebounds in 17 minutes.
This week, Atkinson said he liked what he saw that night, that he was "intrigued" by Bennett's skillset. But Bennett was the property of the Timberwolves, still on his rookie contract ...and seen as a historic bust. Two weeks after that game, Minnesota bought him out. The Raptors decided to take a chance on the hometown product and signed him to a minimum deal five days after he was waived.
Bennett didn't work out in Toronto either, being released on March 1. The overall No. 1 pick in the 2013 draft had no suitors. Asked back then if the Nets had any interest, a team insider said, "Not really ... no."
Doug Smith, the Raptors beat writer for the Toronto Star, offered this assessment of Bennett after he was cut...
Raptors insiders, and those who closely watched Bennett in his one season in Minnesota, will tell you that as hard as they tried to work him and make him into a professional, the demands were just too great for him to accept.
Privately, NBA people worried about his true love for the game, his dedication to conditioning, his willingness to consistently put in the time necessary.
So, Bennett embarked on a training regimen to get into better shape, lose some weight to prove his critics wrong. That alone spoke to his desire and when the Nets put together a mini-camp in late May for veterans --mostly undrafted young players who had played overseas, Bennett got an invite. Was it Atkinson or Sean Marks or his agent that pushed things? Don't know. In fact, there was no publicity on the invitation.
By all accounts, Bennett played well in the camp, and that, at least publicly, was that. The Knicks worked him out as well. Then he seemingly disappeared. Or did he?
"This summer, we had him in our gym for three weeks, so we got to observe him on a daily basis," Atkinson said. "I think his body has been transformed; we did our intel on him and heard a lot of good things. We’re taking a good risk."
Three weeks?! We had been told "a couple of days!" Basically, Bennett was a Nets secret project, hidden from view. There was no publicity, no expectations. But the coaching staff and Marks had a chance to gauge his work ethic, his attitude, his skillset. Obviously, they liked what they saw but free agency didn't begin until July 1. They couldn't do anything for several weeks.
Adding to the air of mystery was Bennett's surprise appearance at Air Canada Center on the last day of Team Canada's training camp in mid-June. Canadian coach Jay Triano told reporters that Bennett was able "to reach an agreement" that allowed the national team to get insurance for him to play with the team in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament. There was speculation in the Canadian press that the agreement involved an NBA team, and that the team was your Brooklyn Nets.
The big news, though was that the Bennett who had arrived in Toronto in June was far different from the one who had been waived in March. "His body composition has changed," Triano said of the noticeably thinner Bennett. "Last year he couldn’t have practiced like this the whole time, we had to play him in spurts and I thought today he was very good."
Bennett played well, first in "friendly" exhibition games as Team Canada made its way to Manila for the Qualifying Tournament. One of his dunks went viral...
Nets staff was on hand for at least a few of the games. When Team Canada played Team Croatia in late June, Chris Fleming, the Nets new offensive coach, was on hand in Turin, Italy, as Bennett scored 21 points to lead Canada over Bojan Bogdanovic's Croatian squad.
In the Qualifying Tournament, Bennett averaged 6.8 points and 5.0 rebounds while shooting 33 percent from deep. He and Tristan Thompson manned the post and Canada, without some of its top players, including Andrew Wiggins, still got to the final game, losing to France, who will go to Rio next month.
Not long after he returned to North America, Bennett flew to Las Vegas. On Thursday, in a Vegas hotel room, Marks pushed a sheath of papers in his direction and he signed. Reportedly, he will be paid the vets minimum this year, a litle more than a million dollars nd if he does well, the Nets hold an option, also at the vets minimum, in the second year. If he plays well, it's a huge bargain. It not, it's the equivalent of an NBA shoulder shrug ... a million dollar bet in a world of $100 million contracts.
No one is saying how the Nets foresee his role. He's the third power forward signed this month, after Trevor Booker and Luis Scola. Justin Hamilton, Brook Lopez's new back-up , can also stretch the floor and of course, Chris McCullough keeps making progress. Bennett likes his chances.
"I feel like it is a great fit for me," Bennett told reporters in Las Vegas. "Starting fresh, starting young, bringing a lot of people in. I feel like I can be one of those key pieces."
Some may laugh or wonder why the Nets would try to rescue the career of someone like Bennett. It's simple. It's what the Nets have to do to make up for all those lost picks, and taking a chance on an overall No. 1 who's still only 23 certainly qualifies.