The Olympics are over tonight. Other than the D-League expansion draft next week, there's not a lot on the horizon. And the expansion draft is highly unlikely to yield anything. Moreover, this is that time of the summer that everyone takes some time off. So not a lot going on. But we try.
it's far, far too early to make any predictions on what the Nets will look like on the court this year or how many games they will win. But it's probably not too early to look at the storylines for the season, or at least the early part of it. We asked around and came up with a list. Not necessarily in any order.
Brook-Lin: Can Jeremy Lin establish himself as a starting point guard with the Nets, that is can Kenny Atkinson bring out the best in him four years after Lin-Sanity. And how well will Lin and Lopez work together. Lin's forte has always been more scoring than distributing, but he's still a lot better than what the Nets had last year. One of the more fascinating storylines in the league.
Bojan's opportunity: Bojan Bogdanovic played as well as could be expected in the Olympics (see below). The Nets liked what they saw both in the Olympics and the long lead-up, with friendly tournaments in Italy and Argentina. His low game in Rio was 18. Every other game he scored better than 20. Bogdanovic is in a contract year and a big season could bring him untold riches come next July. Moreover, the Nets know just how important he is to their plans. They dispatched Chris Fleming, their second assistant coach, to Zagreb in June to talk with him about what they expect.
Hyphen power: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson missed 50 games last year with a broken foot, but as Kevin Pelton and Chad Ford pointed out this week, NBA types saw enough to excite them ... in his defense, in his rebounding, in his moves. Can he develop enough confidence in his shot to make him an all-around star in the league? Will he become a leader? The Nets would like him to.
How good, how soon the kids: The Nets have four players who are 21 years old: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and the two rookies: Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead. Anthony Bennett is 23; Joe Harris is 24 and Sean Kilpatrick is 26. A lot of attention has been focused on the acquisition of Jeremy Lin and the return of Brook Lopez (27 and 28) but the development pace of the young guys --half the roster-- is going to be a good measure of how good the Nets rotation and bench can be. It's also where the team's athleticism can be found.
Big guys: The Nets traded Thaddeus Young for the draft rights to Caris LeVert and $12 million more in cap space. It would appear that Trevor Booker (or maybe Luis Scola) is penciled in at the starting power forward job, but the Nets have invested as well in Chris McCullough, Anthony Bennett, and Justin Hamilton, who is only 26 (younger than Sean Kilpatrick). Who gets those minutes? And what about Brook Lopez's back-up? Hamilton would appear to be the sole back-up, but Marks has said Bennett could play the 5 in a small ball line-up.
Little guys: As we pointed out Saturday, there's no guarantee that Greivis Vasquez will be ready for training camp, although he is rehabbing at the HSS Training Center. That would leave the Nets with Randy Foye and a couple of rookies, Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert, as back-ups ... unless Yogi Ferrell can make the club. If Vasquez is healthy, no problem. Kenny Atkinson can use him and Lin together. But Vasquez tweeted out, in Spanish, this week that he's been troubled by his injury --bone spurs-- for 18 months now.
Feets don't fail me now: Four Nets -- Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Harris, Greivis Vasquez and Caris LeVert -- all had foot surgery last season ... all but Harris under Dr. Martin O'Malley's knife at the Hospital for Special Surgery. (O 'Malley is monitoring Harris' rehab as the Nets' foot/ankle specialist.) Of course, Lopez is only two years and a half years removed from his own embrace of Dr. O'Malley's scapel. As Sean Marks has said, sports medicine has dramatically improved. Hope so.
D-Fense: On taking over a team, every new GM and coach talk about building a defense first. That could be tough for this roster. Other than Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Trevor Booker, there's not a player with a defensive rep, unless you count rookie Caris LeVert. Several players have been seen as a defensive liabilities. A huge challenge.
Hanging together: The Nets could lose a lot of games, probably will. The players, front office and coaching staff all talk about the system, culture, etc. and optimism abounds. But if the losses mount, or if there's a spate of injuries, keeping things together will be a real challenge for everyone.
Brook Lopez as trade bait? Well, this one is a perennial. Let's leave it at that.
As Olympic mens' basketball winds down Sunday, Croatia will be on the sidelines. But Bojan Bogdanovic should not feel like it's his fault that archrival, Serbia, is in the finals with Team USA. He his best, scoring 28 points in a close game vs. Serbia at the end of last week.
More than that, the 6'8" Nets shooting guard is the Olympics leading scorer. In fact, he is the leading scorer in the Olympics in the past 20 years, since Oscar Schmidt of Brazil posted 27.4 points in the Atlanta Olympics. And as the chart below shows, his 25.3 ppg average is the sixth highest ever.
You can, if you want, note that none of the others on the list played in the NBA ... or you can point out that only Bogdanovic is both an NBA player and high scorer at the games.
As for Schmidt, the Olympics leading scorer of all time, he too holds a place in Nets lure. As we reported in 2013, the year he entered the Hall of Fame, Schmidt was the "one who got away." The Nets drafted him in 1984, but could never convince him to leave Brazil. It wasn't their fault.
Scola's bittersweet moment
When Team USA eliminated Argentina on the same day Serbia eliminated Croatia, it was a bittersweet moment for Luis Scola. It was the last game that country's "Golden Generation" would play together. Manu Ginobili, Andres Nocioni, Carlos Delfino and Scola had brought Argentina to basketball's pinnacle, winning the silver at the FIBA World Cup in 2003 and the gold at the Athens Olympics in 2004. Scola has said he hopes to play in Tokyo in 2020 (when he's 40), but this was the last time around for the others.
He reminisced with Michael Lee of Yahoo! Sports this week about how it started back in 1999 and how the generation's accomplishments far, far exceeded their youthful hopes. In particular, he spoke about the gold medal, the big upset in Athens.
"It was an Olympic gold medal. And you’re talking about Argentina. You’re not talking about the U.S. or Serbia or Lithuania or Russia. It’s Argentina. We don’t have any basketball history. We never thought we were going to be able to say that. Our goal in 1999, we get together in Puerto Rico, our whole goal for our whole career was to get to the Olympics and play there. Not winning. Not making it to the quarterfinals, not make it to the semifinals. Not making the medal. Just be there. That’s all we wanted. And that’s ’99. That was five years before we won the gold medal."
Now, the stone is at the bottom of the hill again and Argentina must find a new Manu, a new Andres, a new Carlos, a new Luis. Speaking about Ginobili, he said...
"Nobody did what he did. The way he competed for us for all of the years. It’s unique. But as much as I love him, probably more than anybody else with the relationship we have, it’s just one player, and nobody is bigger than the whole team and the country. We’ve got to move on. We’ve got to find new players. The same way we did before."
Scola did not mention Nets stash Juan Pablo Vaulet, who was among the final cuts to this year's Olympic team. He will return to Argentina's LNB next season, not the NBA or the Euroleague. He's already begun working out for Bahia Blanca. But he is part of the blue-and-white's future if not the black-and-white.
Slow roll-out for D-League
The Long Island Nets don't start playing until mid-November, but the Nets marketing apparatus is starting a slow rollout of social media under the D-League club's Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts. Here's their YouTube offering on 25-year-old head coach Ronald Nored. Nored, who played for Brad Stevens and with Gordon Hayward at Butler talked about his experience at the Summer League.
No D-League expansion team has ever made the playoffs but no D-League team has practiced with the parent club and played in an NBA venue, like Long Island will this season.
The rebuild so far...
We stopped doing this feature back in June because we thought things were pretty much set. But in the last few days, we've learned the Nets are still hiring. In the last month or so, they have hired at least three new staffers: Sebastien Poirier, an assistant trainer; Logan MacPhail (of the baseball MacPhails) as director of coaching analytics; and Mitch Heckart, who's joined the basketball operations P.R. staff
So here's the updated list, 23 new staffers, and we are told there are more to come in performance and scouting...
--Sean Marks, 40, General Manager, hired from the Spurs, announced February 18.
--Trajan Langdon, 40, Assistant General Manager, hired from the Cavaliers --after three years with the Spurs, announced March 8.
--Alton Byrd, 58, Vice President of Business Operations, Long Island Nets, hired from the Atlanta Dream of the WNBA, announced March 24.
--Andrew Baker, 26, Coordinator, Strategic Planning, hired from the Spurs in March, announced May 5
--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, Lead assistant coach, hired from the Spurs, reported April 30, announced May 16.
--Natalie Jay, 33, 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, 50, pro and college scout, hired from Stanford University, announced May 5.
--Jordan Ott, 31, assistant coach, hired from Hawks, reported May 13, but not yet officially announced.
--Adam Harrington, 35, assistant coach/director of player development, hired from Thunder, reported May 21, but not yet announced.
--Chris Fleming, 46, assistant coach, hired from Nuggets, reported May 24, but not yet announced.
--Will Weaver, 31, special assistant to the head coach, hired from the 76ers, reported June 7, but not yet announced.
--Zach Weatherford, 45, director of player performance, hired from the Naval Special Warfare Command, announced June 9.
--Dan Meehan, 34, head strength and conditioning coach/sport scientist, hired from the North Melbourne Football Club, announced June 9.
--Aisling Toolan, 31, director of physical therapy, hired from the Hospital for Special Surgery, announced June 9.
--Mike Batiste, 38, assistant coach, player development, hired from the Cleveland Cavaliers where he worked with the D-League Canton Charge, reported June 27, not yet announced.
--Bret Brelmaier, 28, assistant coach, hired from the Cleveland Cavaliers. reported July 3, not yet announced.
--Ryan Gomes, 32, assistant coach, Long Island Nets, retired from NBA and D-League after seven-year pro career, reported July 11, posted July 13, not yet announced.
--Sebastien Poirier, 30, assistant athletic trainer, hired from the Oklahoma City Thunder. reported August 20, not yet announced.
--Mitch Heckart, 30, manager public relations staff, hired from the University of Oklahoma. Before that, he worked for the San Antonio Spurs, reported August 21, not yet announced.
--Logan MacPhail, 29, director of coaching analytics, hired from the San Antonio Spurs. reported August 21, not yet announced.
--William "B.J." Johnson, 35, coordinator of player evaluation, hired from USA Basketball, announced August 22.
--Gianluca Pascucci, 44, director of global scouting, hired from Houston Rockets, announced August 22.
We count at least seven staffers from the "Spurs tree," those who worked with Marks at San Antonio. There are also multiple staffers who worked for the Hawks and Thunder as well as two who were part of the Cavaliers championship season last year. Seven played in the NBA: Marks, Langdon, Vaughn, Williams, Harrington, Batiste and Gomes. Nine staffers have played a combined 60 seasons overseas.
There are at least four with doctorates --three in physical therapy, one in the law-- and multiple master's degrees.
Among internal promotions, Ryan Gisriel, 26, has jumped from assistant to the Billy King to Director, Basketball Administration, announced on May 5, and Lloyd Beckett, 31, has been promoted from assistant trainer to trainer/physical therapist for the Nets. Aaron Harris, who had been No. 2 behind the departed Gary Sussman, has assumed the top P.R. role.
Yi Jianlin is apparently coming back to the NBA, after a four-year absence. The Lakers are close to signing him. The Nets first saw him as a savior, then after three years, dumped him not long after Mikhail Prokhorov bought the team. It was a pure salary dump, aided by a $3 million cash consideration paid the Wizards. He did little in two stints with Washington and Dallas.
Nets fans of a certain age and a certain location laughed off the Lakers decision, but as we've noted, he's probably been the best player in China over the last four years, despite the influx of American players. In the last four years, his team, the Guangdong Southern Tigers have won the Chinese Basketball Association title three times and he's never averaged less than 23.5 points and 9.1 rebounds. He's been MVP of both the regular season and the playoffs.
Will he be any good? As ESPN points out, the NBA game now is more conducive to his skills than it was when he left. Del Harris, who was an assistant coach in New Jersey in 2009-10, noted just how good Yi could be. Harris pointed to Yi's average of nearly 15 points and seven rebounds per game that month.
But Harris added, "I can tell you he plays better when he feels the coach and the team believes in him." He might have added, as Keyon Dooling hinted at the time, that he's better when fans support him as well.
Should L.A. sign him, the Nets-Lakers game on December 14 should be fun. Our guess: it will be sold out. Might be a good night for Chinese Heritage Night.