This weekend, we look at a lot of different things: Jeremy Lin’s continued popularity in Asia, a couple of free agent hook-ups, one real, one rumored; Trevor Booker’s business acumen and D’Angelo Russell’s admission that when he steps on the court at Staples next season, it will not be a normal game.
LinSanity lives on in Asia
In New York, LinSanity is by now a distant memory. It’s been five years since Jeremy Lin exploded on the scene, going from a teammate’s couch to worldwide fame, the unlikeliest of heroes, changing perceptions of Asian-Americans, both within and without that community while thrilling all of New York.
Lin has had an up-and-down career since, with the biggest down last season when he missed 46 games to recurring hamstring injuries. There was little LinSanity in Brooklyn. It was mostly frustration.
But as this year’s trip to Taiwan and China —now at its midway point— shows, Lin can still evoke a less-than-sane response in his fans. The trip is an annual event, this year with visits to Taipei and Taichung in Taiwan as well as Guangzhou, Shenzen, Shanghai and Beijing in China. Taiwan and the People’s Republic may have serious political issues separating them, but their peoples are united in admiration for the Nets point guard.
The trip is part basketball clinic, part celebrity games, part personal testimony, part marketing, but it’s all crazy, LinSane, you might say. And this year, it’s more Nets-centric. Caris LeVert joined Lin on the Taiwan leg of the trip and judging by their reaction, Lin fans embraced both him and the Nets. Cameras even caught Lin giving his teammate some tips along the sidelines of one youth basketball clinic.
In fact, the 22-year-old LeVert at times appeared overwhelmed by the love shown Lin, as in this video where fans didn’t want the two to leave a training camp.
It wasn’t just the presence of LeVert either. There was a more black-and-white feel to the trip this year. Last July, Lin had only just signed with Brooklyn. Despite his tough time on the court last season, plenty of his fans embraced the Nets, bought his gear, and showed it off ... like at this event in Taichung, where Lin spoke for 45 minutes on faith and dreams to a crowd of 3,000 Christians.
...Or on Sunday at the international airport in Guangzhou. Fans figured out what flight he was arriving on, what gate, too. They tweeted it out, permitting hundreds of them, many dressed in Nets gear, to get a look at him, get an autograph ...
...Maybe a selfie.
Putting aside the Nets connection, the basketball camps, the personal testimony, Lin has smartly played the marketing game, parlaying his fame in Asia into business and charitable opportunities ... sometimes combining them.
Overnight, New York time, Lin introduced a line of fragrances, “for him, for her” ... unique in the NBA, he noted. Royalties, he said, will be used to help disadvantaged children.
Now, Lin will move on to China’s mega-cities. He’ll run two NBA China basketball clinics on Tuesday (Shenzen) and Saturday (Shanghai). There will be more press conferences, more craziness, more news. He’s already made some. No, he doesn’t have a girlfriend. No, he has no interest in joining a super team to chase a ring. And yes, he thinks the Nets will make the playoffs.
Now imagine if that happens, and he and D’Angelo Russell work some magic in Brooklyn. Lin-Sanity might return to North America.
Ouatarra and Sullinger
The Nets officially signed their first free agent of the off-season on Friday, if you count two way deals. Yakuba “Billy” Ouatarra, a 25-year-old shooting guard from Ghana and France, got the first of the Nets two-way deals. Two-way deals are complicated, but basically, Ouatarra will spend most of his time with the Long Island Nets. He can spend up to 44 days with Brooklyn before he’ll get paid like an NBA player.
The signing was a surprise. The Nets could have gone with Jacob Wiley, Milton Doyle or Jeremy Senglin, all four-year college players who played in the summer league. They still could of course. There are two two-way deals out there. And contracts can be amended.
So why Ouatarra? A big reason, we assume, is that he’s a seasoned pro. He’s played for three French League teams and for the French national team. The Nets also have a lot familiarity with the French league, as one of our posters points out. Travon Bryant, the new big man coach, played for three French teams; Adam Harrington, player development director, played for one French team, and Kenny Atkinson played for six French teams and coached one! No language barrier there.
Ouattara also was at a Nets free agent camp in June. He also had workouts with Dallas and OKC, who David Pick reported offered him a summer league invite. Quattara wanted to work out with the French national team so decided to postpone his decision.
The 6’4” guard can play the 2 or 3 and has a similar game to that Isaiah Whitehead in that both are big strong swingmen. Ouatarra is more athletic -- his nicknames include “The Dunkmaster” and “Wow-Terra”-- but Whitehead is the far better playmaker. Ouatarra can shoot, hitting 40 percent from three (40-for-100) in France.
Will we see him in Brooklyn? Hardly, barring a surprise. You’ll have to go to Nassau Coliseum. The Nets see two-way players as G-League development projets, not 16th or 17th men on the big club. Will he and the other two-way player get a taste. At some point, probably. But not much. Is 25 too old to develop an NBA player? Apparently not in the minds of the Nets front office.
Which brings us to Jared Sullinger. He’s 25, too, and the subject of a mini-rumor linking him to the Nets. Sully had played five years in the NBA when he was cut by the Suns following a trade deadline deal with the Raptors. After surgery to insert a screw in his left foot, performed by Nets foot/ankle specialist Dr. Martin O’Malley (who else?), back in October, Sullinger looked done.
Nine days ago, he joined the Scarlet and Gray team in the TBT Tournament whose preliminary rounds were held at the LIU gym in Brooklyn. It was a cause for rejoicing.
Literally wanted to cry today. Thought i was never playing basketball again!!! THANK YOU LORD!!!— Jared M.X. Sullinger (@Jared_Sully0) July 15, 2017
Sullinger’s weight has always been an issue. He’s 285 now, he says, down from 320 his last year in Boston when despite all that poundage, he averaged 10.3 points and 8.3 rebounds in 81 games ... and was able to land a one-year, $6 million deal with the Suns.
He’s looked good in the TBT, scoring 35 points in back-to-back games this weekend. It’s not the NBA, but the competition isn’t bad. Trajan Langdon was at the first game and Fran Fraschilla, broadcasting the games for ESPN, said the Nets were scouting Sullinger.
Is he worth a shot? Would seem to be. He appears to have learned his lesson regarding his weight, telling reporters he’s now a vegan, and he’s a character guy from all reports. Smart guy, too. And oh yeah, the Nets could use a power forward who can rebound. Vets minimum? Partial guarantee? Why not?
In the last few days, both Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe have wondered why Sullinger remains, as he says, “unemployed.” Other teams might make him offers, but this is the kind of deal the Nets are going to have to make at least in the short term.
“Not a normal game”
After a player is traded, and the schedule comes out, everyone looks to see when the player will face his old team. Either then or on the night of the big game, the player is asked how he feels.
Too often, he’ll respond by saying it’s just another game. (Not everyone responds that way. Jason Kidd famously gave the finger to his former coach, Scott Skiles, at the Meadowlands in 2001.)
And to his credit, D’Angelo Russell thinks the first time he faces the Lakers won’t be “normal,” or “just another game.” As he told SLAM last weekend...
So does Russell feel like he was betrayed?
“No, it’s a business, honestly,” he says. “A lot of great players have been traded before me and they’ve made careers out of it, so I would never say that.”
The official schedule for the 2017-18 season hasn’t been released yet, but there’s one game that Russell’s already looking forward to.
“Yeah,” says Russell, on if his return to Staples Center as a member of the Nets is something that he’s anticipating. “Leaving L.A.—this is where I got drafted to—so anytime someone gets traded from where they’ve been drafted… they know it’s not a normal game.”
Of course, we don’t know yet how Brook Lopez feels about his first game back in Brooklyn.
Schedule should be out in the next 10 days.
Sports Science Refresher Course
We have a fondness for ESPN Sports Science. We’ve posted a couple of recent ones as part of other stories. We even posted one on Jarrett Allen here a couple of weeks ago.
We think you might have missed one that was originally released by ESPN two years ago, then re-released recently. It’s on D’Angelo Russell’s passing abilities. It’s quite extraordinary...
And if you’re interested in viewing the Jarrett Allen segment again, here it is...
Trevor Booker on the hunt for business opportunities
Players prepare for their post-career days in different ways. Some finally get their college degrees ... or go for masters degrees. Some talk to coaches seeking tips for future gigs on the bench, maybe keep a journal on what they’ve learned. Some set up businesses while still playing, slowly making the transition.
Trevor Booker has chosen that last path ... with a passion.
In an interview with Business Insider, the 29-year-old Clemson grad, reveals that he already has investments in 18 companies ... that include sports academies, a private high school, a record label, and a venture capital firm.
"To say that I'm an entrepreneur is an understatement," Booker told Business Insider.
Booker gave the interview during a tour of Silicon Valley. He was one of 14 NBA players who were part of a trip organized by the NBPA, the National Basketball Players Association, the players’ union. The players visited two tech giants, IBM and Intel, as well as STRIVR, a company that fit the Nets power forward’s on and off-court interests.
STRIVR, wrote Becky Peterson, is “working on ways to train people using virtual reality headsets. It's focused particularly on training college and professional athletes, giving them a chance to experience scenarios that might come up in games without having to break a sweat.”
Booker put on the VR headset and was impressed.
"I could definitely see myself using it as an athlete," Booker said of STRIVR's virtual reality training device. "They can help you shoot a game in real time and shoot it from your point of view."
No word on whether he’s going to invest. But it’s not hard to imagine him going back to Brooklyn with some ideas on how to integrate it into the Nets aleady extensive training program. That’s what entrepreneurs do. They’re missionaries for ideas.
We are told to be patient. And we are. Do we expect news this week, a free agent signing, another salary dump; another RFA offer sheet? We do! Did we expect it last week? Yeah, we did.
With rumors of complicated deals being considered for Carmelo Anthony and Kyrie Irving, the Nets are in a good place. They are really the only team capable of helping out desperate teams who want in on a superstar.
So we wait. Patience is a Nets fan’s biggest virtue.