We’re reached the dog days of August, traditionally the slowest weeks of the NBA off-season. With this week’s signings of Jeremy Senglin and Milton Doyle to partially guaranteed deals, the Nets are now at 17 players, 13 guaranteed. Jacob Wiley, the 6’7” undrafted power forward, is expected to get his deal done soon, which may be a two-way. The Nets can bring 20 players into camp including the two two-ways.
Will they make a final trade? They may be waiting to see what they can get as a third team in a mega-deal involving Carmelo Anthony or Kyrie Irving, but neither of those deals look imminent. Woj hinted Friday that both Melo and Irving could still be with their current teams come training camp.
The Nets could also add two bigs on partials and let them fight it out ... or just one. One thing we have learned this summer: expect the unexpected.
The NBA rolled out three sets of games last week, the Global Games, of which the Nets are a part as well as the opening week of nationally televised games and the Christmas Day schedule. The Nets weren’t part of either of those two.
The remainder of the Nets schedule should be out this week, including the two Nets games vs the Lakers and the dates for the four Knick contests.
So far we know five dates from a variety of sources...
—December 7 - Nets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder in Mexico City
—December 9 - Nets vs. Miami Heat in Mexico City
—December 28 - Nets vs. Miami Heat in Miami
—January 19 - Nets vs. Miami Heat in Brooklyn
—March 4 - Nets vs. Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles (an afternoon game)
We still don’t know who the Nets will open against or where. So we await the dates for the other 77 games.
In one of many videos from D’Angelo Russell’s heroics at Dyckman Park the other night, a young voice can heard just before D-Lo let go with his buzzer beater.
“C’mon, D! C’mon, D! C’mon, D!”
The voice sounded like it belonged to a youngster, someone in his mid-teens. Maybe he was one of those fans who were calling him, “Snitch” an hour or so before. Maybe not. Didn’t matter.
Then, as the ball casually dropped through the nets, the crowd went wild. Russell pointed to the ice in his veins for a millisecond before he was swarmed by screaming fans. All the videos show the same thing: the fans hanging off him were young, 13 to 18-year-olds.
The Nets have had trouble attracting kids to the black-and-white: Brooklyn kids, Manhattan kids, Queens kids. Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were great players, but their appeal was to an older fanbase. Call them classic fans. Jeremy Lin has an international fanbase, one of the biggest and most passionate in the NBA. Ask Caris LeVert who traveled to Taiwan with his teammate. “Never seen anything like it.”
Russell is different. So is his fanbase. He’s young for starters, but as our Anthony Puccio has written, it’s more than that. He has “the flashy looks – the hair, the outfits, the reflective sunglasses.” There’s even a webpage where you can track his fashions ... and where to buy the gear he wears.
Of course, there’s that swagger, too. We don’t know how it will play out on the New York stage when it’s a nightly performance rather than a limited run. And as anyone who’s been on Page Six can tell you, there’s a downside to all this. So we’ll see. In fact, we are anxious to see how it plays out.
The origin of “Ice in my veins”
Speaking of D-Lo swagger, here’s an irony: His signature “ice in my veins” started back in March 2016 in a game vs. the Nets at Staples Center. He exploded for 39 points, hitting 8-of-12 from three and putting the game away late.
Here’s his highlight package from that game.
When he finally put the game away with a late three-point dagger, Russell pointed to his veins repeatedly, looking directly into the camera as he shouts, “Ice in my veins.”
FYI, Russell has hit five or more three-pointers six times in his career. Two of them have come against the Nets.
One of the least appreciated developments (in our opinion) this summer has been the development of Isaiah Whitehead. He dropped 33 points in that Dyckman game. Yes, we know streetball is streetball and the NBA is the NBA, but the Seton Hall (plug) product played well in the summer league after he had finished the regular season well.
In Las Vegas, he averaged 13.2 points on 44 percent shooting grabbed 4.6 rebounds, and handed out three assists in five games. He was also consistent, hitting double figures in all five.
He just looks more confident and bigger. He keeps refining the Cyclone, his Ian Eagle-patented move. He showed a version to Ivica Zubac of the Lakers.
In his annual Coney Island Give Back, Whitehead was very much understated about his role this season and how well the team will do.
“Whatever Kenny says goes,” Whitehead told our Bryan Fonseca when asked about Atkinson’s comment that he could be a Marcus Smart-type wing. “If that’s what he thinks I can be, then that’s what I’ll do.”
And what about the team?
“The team has definitely gotten better,” Whitehead said confidently. “We have a tremendous amount of talent, and I think we should win more games.”
As for Jeremy Lin’s prediction of the playoffs — “We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else says” — Whitehead was his low-key self.
“That’s Jeremy just being Jeremy,” he said with a smile. “In the NBA, you never know.”
The Nets backcourt is crowded. It appears that Whitehead is no longer seen as a 1/2, but more a 2/3 giving him more possibilities, more minutes.
Bigs? Still a lot of them out there
The Nets would like to add a big man. So we figured we’d take a look at what’s out there, starting with the restricted free agents.
It’s odd that five young NBA big men, all restricted free agents, still haven’t signed a multi-year contract with their own club, an offer sheet with another club or a one-year qualifying offer either.
The five are: Nerlens Noel of the Mavericks, JaMychal Green of the Grizzlies, Alex Len of the Suns, Nikola Mirotic of the Bulls and Mason Plumlee of the Nuggets. Increasingly, it looks like one or more of them will go the qualifying offer route. They’ll be paid a decent amount for one year —Noel would get $4.2 million, for example and Plumlee $4.6 million— and have the right to veto any trade this season. Then next July, they’d be unrestricted free agents.
Perhaps a trade could be worked out. But there are few avenues open for such deals. There’s little cap space left and in the Nets case, few real assets to satisfy a team like Dallas or Phoenix or Chicago. Any of those players’ teams would want at least a draft pick as compensation. It’s hard to imagine the Nets giving up any pick. They want picks.
So assuming those five are off the table, who are the unrestricted free agent bigs who have yet to be plucked off the market.
Here are some names...
—Jared Sullinger, 6’9” C-PF, 25 years old. Sullinger looked good in the TBT and the Nets scouted him when he played for Scartlett and Grey, but he’s coming off a foot injury that led to his being cut in February by the Raptors. Then, there’s the weight issue. He admits he got as high as 320 pounds in 2016. Although he now says he’s a vegan, he’s without a team. There was a report that the Nets offered him a deal, but as of Saturday, he was telling people he’s waiting on an NBA offer. What about a rumored offer from China? That story seems at best premature at best.
—Tyler Zeller, 7’0” C. 27 years old. Another former Celtics big, Zeller was cut by Boston to make room for Gordon Hayward. A traditional center, he’s not a deep shooter, never taken a three in his career. He had his best year in 2014-15, when he averaged 10.2 points and 5.7 rebounds in 21 minutes per game. Since then, the Celtics got more talented and Zeller got fewer minutes, playing in only 51 games last season. He can run the floor well and although not quick, he is a decent rim protector. Not likely to get many minutes in most NBA offenses.
—Jordan Mickey, 6’9”, PF-C. 23 years old. Like Zeller, Mickey was cut by Boston as a preliminary move to the Hayward signing. Intriguing not because of what he has done so far on the NBA stage, but on his D-League record. In 35 games (34 starts) for the Maine Red Claws over the last two seasons, he produced 18.6 points (52.5 percent overall, 40.4 percent from three, 74.8 percent from the line), 9.7 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 3.83 blocked shots in 33.1 minutes. The two numbers that stand out are 40.4 percent from three and nearly four blocks a game, a product of his 7’3” wingspan and 37.5” max vertical. Why hasn’t someone signed him?
—Adreian Payne, 6’10” PF-C, 26. A rebounder who’s had an odd career. He began with a flourish in his rookie year in 2014-15, starting 22 games for Minnesota after being traded from Atlanta. He’s a good defender, but he’s never gotten big minutes since 2015 and now has career averages of 4.0 and 3.0 in 13.5 minutes a game. He’s made 13 -of-56 three point shots in his career.
—Andrew Bogut, 7’0” C, PF-C, 32. A former No. 1 overall pick, he’s coming off a foot injury that cost him 81 games this past year. A key piece in the Golden State Warriors championship season in 2015 and its 73-win season in 2016. One of the best post passers in the NBA now or ever. An Australian of Croatian descent, he was a fan of Drazen Petrovic’s Nets as a child. Three three-pointers in 13 years.
—David Lee, 6’10” PF, 34. He declined his player option with the Spurs hoping for a better return than the $2.3 million he would have made. He averaged 7.3 points and 5.6 rebounds in 79 games. A great locker room presence, he was popular when a Knick. He could still return to San Antonio, but not likely after the Spurs signed Joffrey Lauvergne. It’s doubtful he’ll make what he gave up.
—Kris Humphries, 6’9” PF, 32. Been there done that and all we got was a Kim Kardashian appearance at The Rock. His minutes dropped last season to 12.3 but he played 56 games, averaging 4.6 points and 3.7 rebounds. The Hawks renounced their rights to Humphries three weeks ago. He’s improved his three-point shooting over the years, hitting 35.2 percent last season.
—Lavoy Allen, 6’9” C-PF 28. A classic journeyman, he’s played for the 76ers and Pacers. His career numbers are 4.8 points and 4.8 rebounds in 18 minutes. He wouldn’t be a long-term investment. Last season, he He’s taken a mere 14 three point shots in seven year, making two.
And don’t laugh, Emeka Okafor is hoping for a comeback. He’s 34, hasn’t played in four years. His career was cut short by a herniated disk in his neck but he’s been cleared to return to action. In May, he told people he was planning workouts. He lives in New York.
The value of being professional
Some fans pooh-pooh all the talk of culture coming out of HSS Training Center, but basically it’s about being professional, being committed to a goal, working hard, etc. It may not seem a big deal but it is. One reason: it’s not replicated everywhere.
There have been plenty of articles about how the Nets coaching and training staff are available all hours of the day and night to work with willing players. In the great Jackie MacMullan profile of the Nets, she wrote about interviewing Kenny Atkinson as he rode his stationary bicycle ... at 4:30 in the morning. We know as well about the midnight specials at HSS Training Center where D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead have been known to work out against the dramatic backdrop of the New York skyline.
As Woj told ESPNs’ Ryen Russillo on Friday, it’s not like that across the league. Specifically, he told Russillo about Kristaps Porzingis’ discontent with that team in Manhattan under Phil Jackson. It’s a telling example about how little things mean a lot.
"That thing was so dysfunctional and that organization ... All this kid wants is a professional work environment and they couldn't give it to him last year. Like when he gets to work, comes in early to work out at 8:30 in the morning, is his stuff ready? Are there trainers there to get him taped and ready to go? Is that asking too much for the New York Knicks or any organization?"
Sounds like they sleep in at the MSG Training Center in Greenburgh, N.Y., wher the Knicks practice.
Of course, it wasn’t just that. Porzingis had a lot of reasons to be upset with the Knicks organization. There were the Draft Day trade rumors that Jackson was willing to trade Porzingis to L.A. for the rights to Lonzo Ball, Jackson comments that he isn’t made out to be a franchise player. Oh yeah, the obsession with the triangle.
Beyond what Woj said about Porzingis, there was other suggestions that the Knicks culture was downright weird. Stefan Bondy reported that Phil Jackson (and apparently one or more other Knicks executives) made North Carolina State’s Dennis Smith Jr. eat octopus during a dinner prior to the draft.
“We went out to some restaurant and they had me eat some octopus, like an actual octopus tentacle. First time ever. I wasn’t going to try it, honestly. They kind of put the pressure on me to do it.”
Bondy suggests that maybe it was “a test to gauge the point guard’s willingness to try something new like the triangle?”
We haven’t asked, but we don’t think that’s Sean Marks style.
Numbers, numbers, numbers
The Nets, like all NBA clubs, can spend up to $5.1 million in cash on transactions this season, from July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2018. That’s a big jump from the $3.5 million teams had available last year. It’s part of the new CBA. The money can be used to buy picks as well as sweeten trade packages.
In the past, the Nets have used cash to buy second round picks, either outright or as part of trades. A year ago at the Draft, they used $3 million to move up from No. 55 to No. 42 so they could take Isaiah Whitehead. Over the course of Mikhail Prokhorov’s tenure as owner, the Nets have spent $9.8 million in cash considerations to buy the rights to seven players. Whitehead and before him Bojan Bogdanovic were the only real successes, but it’s about taking risks and it’s only money. The $3 million the Nets spent on Whitehead was the most they ever spent. At the other end of the scale, they paid out $300,000 in 2014 to buy the rights to Cory Jefferson.
This year could be different and here’s why. If things work out as expected, the Nets could have two second round picks in the 30’s: the “least favorable” of the Lakers and Magic second rounders, acquired in the DeMarre Carroll deal, and the Pacers second rounder if, as expected, Indiana doesn’t make the playoffs. No need to buy another second rounder in a draft that’s looking top heavy already.
How else could the Nets use the money? In a lopsided trade, the Nets could add several million to ease the burden on the team acquiring a big contract. Or they could add cash to get something outside their limited assets. It’s all about flexibility.
The Nets also have access to the room exception which this year is $4.32 million. What’s the likelihood they’ll use it? Probably slim, but it’s there. If there’s a free agent who wants more than the vets minimum, they could use part of it to sign him.
Vezenkov’s quick release
After we posted our story about how Nets stash Aleks Vezenkov led Bulgaria to a big win in a FIBA World Cup qualifying event, Bulgarian Basketball posted highlights of the 91-65 win over Portugal.
In the video, you can see why the 6’9” Vezenkov attracted the Nets’ interest when Sean Marks scouted him in Barcelona last March. Take a look. Vezenkov is No. 41 (which has to mean he’s modeling his game after another European sharpshooter.) His release is very, very quick ... and the shot goes in most of the time.
The video is in Bulgarian, but it doesn’t matter. His release transcends language.
Prokhorov building up cash reserves
As we pointed out last week, Mikhail Prokhorov doesn’t need to sell the Nets or Barclays and this week’s news confirms that. Prokhorov agreed to sell seven percent of RUSAL, the world’s largest aluminum producer, for $503 million. He sold the stake in a private transaction with another oligarch. It’s his second sale of RUSAL stock this year. In February, he sold a 3.3 percent stake $240 million,
If the sale goes through, and Forbes recent estimate of his wealth is accurate, the Nets owner would have nearly $6 billion in cash reserves.
The move is the latest in a series of sales of Russian assets, although he and Dmitry Razumov, the Nets chairman and the man who runs his operations worldwide, say they are not going to dump all their investments in their homeland. However, they have moved to add to their U.S. holdings and Bloomberg reports they now have more assets in New York than in Moscow ... but the cash hoard is greater than the value of either.