Trajan Langdon, the Nets assistant GM, is spending a lot of time in Europe scouting of late, and when he stopped in Istanbul this week, he talked with Turkish basketball writer Ismail Senol of BeIN Sports.
In a 42-minute interview, Langdon spoke extensively about his superstar career in European basketball —two Euroleague championships, a Final Four MVP— and a bit about his job and current goals.
There was no mention of who’s he looking at, but he spoke in-depth about what the Nets look most for in a player, character. He talked as well the lengths to which the Nets will go to get at that character, from tracing his roots to asking as many as 100 questions of a prospect, draft or free agent.
Scouting, as it turns out, is not just about watching games. There’s quite a bit of detective work behind the scenes that is as important, if not more so than just skills.
“I think very important is character. I think a lot of times when you look at a player you just see them as a basketball player. They might play hard, have certain qualities: a good ball handler, a good passer, a good shooter, good defender, good rebounder, do they run fast run, do they jump high.
“But in the end what kind of character, what kind of person are they? Are they willing to commit to a team, what kind of team player are they? Are they a team-first player? Are they unselfish? Are they a hard worker? Are they coachable?... I think these qualities as a player are just as important as their qualities as an actual basketball player, their skillsets. So to get those things ... you do have to get some ‘intel’ to understand who that person is, where do they come from, where they raised, who are their parents, who are their friends ... It is not always easy to understand, easy to get.”
Langdon describes how NBA and European teams will often try to hide a player’s personality defects...
“Those kind of things are protected by their own team and it’s difficult to find those things out. Sometimes those things are hard to find out in Europe as well. There’s a protection, a distance, from us and obviously every team has their own circle and they’re developing at a certain rate and their coaches and the organization want to protect that so they can be successful as well. It’s definitely an important part of information gathering. It’s more difficult than people give credit to.
And he says, sometimes no matter how many questions you ask a player —and the Nets can ask a hundred, the player will often erect a facade the team will have to break down.
“But more important than that, you can not always trust their answers because. they’re going to know what you are asking for and they’re going to know how to answer ... So you have to ask these things from people around them, teammates, coaches or friends ... And sometimes, this information isn’t easy to gather.”
It’s not that the Nets want the same kind of players, he emphasized. They do want a certain diversity. He spoke as well about team goals.
“I've grown to be passionate about it, kind of exploring the idea of putting different personalities, guys with different skills together to put together I wouldn’t say a championship contender but a competitive team.
“Now, we have the challenge of growing an organization here in Brooklyn. with Sean Marks and our coaching staff, our front office. It's a big challenge
Like Marks, he spoke about how the Nets are sticking to their plan, emphasizing modest short-term goals and patience, patience, patience...
“I’m very happy to be part of this organization. It's a great challenge for me, for us to grow this team and this organization to be, I wouldn’t say a contender, but to be ... I wouldn’t say a contender, but to be a team that competes for a playoff position and then take it from there. But for now, it’s the challenge of growing a culture. Bringing in the right guys to help grow it, take us from being the worst team in NBA to being a playoff team.
“I do not know how long it will take. I know it's a process, something will take time, something to be patient with, but also being able to make the right decisions along the way. I think we made the right initial decision by hiring Kenny Atkinson as our head coach. He showed this year that he built a culture of hard work, of commitment, of unselfishness that showed off the last month and a half when we played well. Now, hopefully we can take it, add some pieces and get better. Right now, that’s what I’m enjoying doing. We’ll see what goes...
Langdon also noted that team ownership has to buy in to the rebuild ... and stay bought in even if things don’t go well...
“It can be tricky, but I think you have to understand, you to have a good relationship with your owner as a GM or people in the front office. You have to be on the same page. You have to have clear goals, a clear vision, and stick to that. A lot of things can influence that along the way. If you have a vision, if you have an idea and all of a sudden, it’s going down a different path and you’re not being successful, maybe some people want to change it.
“You have to stay on track, you have to stay strong in your commitment and your vision. I think you have to have owner with that same commitment as well. But it can be tricky especially in the situation where we are, it’s going to be a long path and it’s going to be bumpy. But hopefully we can take steps every year and get better and I think we took steps this year. In the first five months we struggled, but in the last month and a half, we took a step and we were competitive. I think this is a good sign going forward. We build a culture. We had some guys that stuck through it, kept playing, kept competing. to the very last game of the year.”
Langdon didn’t say who he was looking at —and Senol didn’t ask, at least on camera, but he hinted that he’s got more scouting to do in Europe, noting the Euroleague Final Four is coming up starting May 15 ... in Istanbul.