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For the Nets, chasing veterans is about character

While many Nets fans may want the team to focus on young player development, the influence of high-character veterans shouldn’t be discounted in Sean Marks’ plan.

Charlotte Hornets v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

In the midst of a multi-season rebuild, the Nets aren’t just interested in kids, “babies,” as Kenny Atkinson called them at one point late in the season. There is a veteran component in the mix.

Last summer, the Nets were reportedly interested in signing veterans Marvin Williams and Jared Dudley. Both players have reputations as solid locker room leaders. After his 2015-2016 season in Charlotte, Jeremy Lin called Williams “tied with Jared Jeffries for the best teammate I ever had.” Unfortunately, neither player committed to Brooklyn, who would have fit the Nets’ high character demand in the locker room and added some solid minutes on the court.

Trevor Booker, then 29, was signed to fill that high-character contributor role, as were Randy Foye (32), Greivis Vasquez (29) and Luis Scola (36), the latter two after the Nets Plan “A”, tendering off sheets to Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe, failed.

Like the others, Booker was recognized as an ideal teammate. He was voted “Teammate of the Year” by his Utah Jazz teammates in the 2015-2016 campaign. Along with his hustle, Booker’s reputation could have played a factor in the Nets’ interest in the veteran forward.

Recently, Trevor Booker spoke with HoopsHype’s Alex Kennedy, shedding light on his role for the Nets. On the Nets’ tough season, Booker said, “When we were going through adversity, I’d show them and tell them that you have to keep working. The team is in a rebuilding process so it was definitely going to be a tough season, but I wanted them to know that as long as they kept working, everything was going to be alright.”

Trevor Booker exemplifies the Sean Marks blueprint for veterans. Along with his character, he provided solid minutes for the Nets, averaging career highs in several statistical categories.

In training camp, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson called Scola, the oldest player on the team, “an animal,” due to the Olympic Gold Medalist’s work ethic. While Scola hardly looked impressive in his 36 games with the Nets, his competitiveness was a model for many. Even Vasquez, a Net for only 3 games, “changed the culture of the team,” according to Kenny Atkinson in a Venezuelan news report. Isaiah Whitehead noticed

That exemplified Marks’ rationale in the veteran signings. Foye remained with the Nets all season, becoming the team’s elder statesman after Scola’s departure and exemplifying the mentor role.

Earlier in the year, he was seen instructing Whitehead. Throughout the second half of the season, Foye was often seen alongside K.J. McDaniels and Archie Goodwin on the bench, guiding the new Nets through the team’s schemes. His veteran leadership was invaluable for the Nets’ youngsters. And he hit that buzzer-beater against the Clippers, too!

Last summer’s signings established a blueprint for this season. Again, the Nets will be looking for character – but also players that can contribute consistent minutes. Here are a few veterans the Nets could target, that fit both Marks’ vision and Atkinson’s on-court identity. We chose players who like last year’s vets are mid- to late career guys rather than rehab projects.

J.J. Redick, 6’4” shooting guard, 32 years old

The Los Angeles Clippers are a team full of questions. After their first round playoff loss to Joe Jesus and the Utah Jazz, questions abound on the Clippers’ direction. Should Doc Rivers stay? Where will Blake Griffin go? Would Chris Paul turn down a monster contract to sign with another contender? Was Kristaps Porzingis really hacked when he tweeted out “LA Clippers” last weekend?

One question the Clippers face this summer is J.J. Redick’s future. The Duke product will be a free agent heading into his eleventh NBA season. His ownership of a DUMBO penthouse is well known, stirring the rumors of an East Coast move. Redick will likely be a highly coveted commodity this offseason, a 40% three-point shooter –with few signs of slowing down. His IQ, shooting and consistency would fit with any of the NBA’s 30 teams. As Jared Dubin said in 2014, everybody loves J.J. Redick.

Redick will turn 33 in June, and could be seeking his last long-term, big money deal. He could also be looking to win, coming off of years of heart-crushing playoff losses. Despite that, Redick’s dedication to conditioning and obsessive work ethic could be a model for the young Nets. But he could be too expensive for a rebuilding Brooklyn.

Ersan Ilyasova: 6’10” power forward, 29 years old

Ilyasova is a stretch 4 that could provide offensive firepower. The Turkish native played 82 games this season, suiting up for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Philadelphia 76ers and Atlanta Hawks. He averaged 13.1 points and 5.9 rebounds, while shooting 43.1% from the field and 35.3% from deep in 2016-2017. Outside of Quincy Acy, the Nets lacked a true deep threat at the power forward spot.

Ilyasova will turn 30 next Monday. Stylistically, Ilyasova could be analogous to Marvin Williams – a solid shooting forward that spaces the floor. His shooting could open up the paint for penetrators Lin, Whitehead, Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.

Ilyasova has been a certified Nets killer throughout his career. Most notable was a 29-point, 25-rebound (not a typo) game at the Prudential Center in 2012. This season, Ilyasova scored 22 points in Philadelphia’s December 18th victory against Brooklyn. If anything, signing Ilyasova could end the misery of watching him torch the Nets…

After being traded to Atlanta, Philadelphia 76ers GM Bryan Colangelo praised Ilyasova. “Ersan is a true professional whose daily examples of hard work, focus and consistency have helped facilitate the ongoing growth of our program and culture.” That fits.

Taj Gibson, 6’9” power forward, 31 years old

Gibson is the definition of a blue-collar power forward. He carved out a niche in Chicago, providing toughness and hustle to the Tom Thibodeau-era Bulls. This season, he was traded to the Oklahoma City Thunder, providing solid playoff minutes against the Houston Rockets. He averaged 10.8 points and 6.2 rebounds in 2016-2017.

Gibson is not afraid to mix it up inside and hustle for points. Billy Donovan and Tom Thibodeau have spoken highly of Gibson’s hustle and (dare I say Brooklyn) grit on-court. He provides sturdy screens, solid defense and strong rebounding. He would be the perfect bench addition for several playoff teams – but his asking price may be high. With the Nets, Gibson could set the tone for Nets’ second units, pushing them to fight constantly. He was voted the Bulls’ teammate of the year in 2015-2016.

One more thing. Gibson is a Brooklyn native. He was born in Brooklyn and attended the High School of Telecommunication Arts and Technology in Bay Ridge as a freshman. He finished his high school career in California before playing his college ball at USC. Should the Nets be hoping for a Gibson homecoming?

Amir Johnson, 6’9” power forward, 30 years old

Despite being 30 years old, Johnson has played in the NBA for an entire Chinese Zodiac-cycle -12 years. The last prep-to-pro draft pick, Johnson has become a solid veteran for the Boston Celtics. While Johnson lost his spot in the Celtics’ rotation this postseason, he started 77 regular season games.

Johnson’s calling card is his defense. He led the Celtics with a defensive box plus minus of 2.5, per Basketball-Reference. He may not be a shot-blocking threat, but Johnson pairs decent quickness on the pick and roll with toughness and length in the paint. Johnson has averaged over 2 offensive boards per game in his career. The Nets ranked 27th in that category in 2016-2017, averaging 8.8 per game.

Like Gibson, Johnson was named “Teammate of the Year” by his Boston teammates last season. Quincy Acy, Trevor Booker and Brook Lopez were as well.

I sense a trend!

Vince Carter, 6’6” shooting guard, 40 years old

One can dream. But not a reunion with the player who remains beloved among the fans who followed the Nets from New Jersey to Brooklyn. He’s proven he can still dunk.

Off-Court Considerations

Other intriguing high-character veteran targets include Shaun Livingston, Thabo Sefolosha, Omri Casspi and Jonas Jerebko. Judging from last offseason, the Nets are willing to spend on veterans – but not break the bank on them.

Veterans like Mike Miller, Jason Terry, Udonis Haslem, Nick Collison and ageless wonder Vince Carter may be past their prime, but they have provided invaluable leadership other young teams late into their careers.

Building a successful franchise needs more than just data crunching and analytics. It’s about character and chemistry as well. Marks saw that last season in his veteran pursuit. In the Nets’ search for consistency and culture, solid veterans provide sturdiness amidst the doldrums of mediocrity, and aid young players weather the storm of basketball purgatory.