Only a few of these left. Once camp opens sometime late in September, the NBA turns from off-season to pre-season. The roster will be filled out (we think) by then and the scene at HSS Training Center will turn from scrimmages and individual work to practices and team work.
The off-season has indeed been thrilling for NBA and Nets fans, with lots of surprises. As we’ve said repeatedly, virtually everything we thought we knew to be true back in June turned out to be wrong by July. Who could have thought that by late August the Nets wouldn’t have signed a free agent, other than a few camp invites? And that is likely to be true on Media Day, the official opening of camp next month.
Anthony Puccio’s interview with D’Angelo Russell this week was very un-Nets-like. Aside from the big news, “I want teams to hate us,” DLo’s other comments were just as newsworthy, just as swaggy. They were more subtle than “hate us,” but they were just as revelatory about Russell’s character and the way the Nets are likely to play this season.
Lets take a look. Our own psycholinguistic analysis.
“I want teams to hate us.”
On one level, it speaks for itself but it’s more than that. There’s a singular bravado here. Other than Jason Kidd, Kenyon Martin, Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce, can a Nets fan seriously think of a Nets player who would that ... and have it be credible?
Yeah, yeah, he needs to prove it, but it takes a certain swag to say that publicly, believing it will be taken seriously. That’s saying something.
“We’ve struggled over the last few years in Brooklyn...”
WE?! An interesting choice of words. Russell could have noted what Nets teams have done in the past, before he arrived, how bad they were. Nope. He wants to own it all.
“Teams are used to coming in and taking nights off. I just want to rebuild that and make it a place where people come and say, ‘alright we got the crowd against us. It’s New York.’”
How many ways is THIS interesting?
He doesn’t sugar-coat the Nets’ situation. “Teams are used to coming in and taking nights off.” Yes, the Nets worked their asses off last season,. Yes, they were in a lot of close games but in the end, they lost a lot of games, 123 to be exact over the last two years. (And yes, so did the Lakers with Russell.)
There’s also the implied desire to lead the rebuild. “I just want to rebuild that.” “I” He seems to be saying, “It’s on me.” He may have said later in the same interview that he doesn’t care about being the face of the franchise. Yes, he does. We’ll get to that.
And then, there’s the big city embrace. He wants to make Barclays “a place where people come and say, ‘alright we got the crowd against us. It’s New York.’” Russell understands the big city. Los Angeles is not New York, but it was a good proving ground for him, in a lot of ways in a lot of ways. He wasn’t just visiting venues when, as Billy Reinhardt reported, he hit Barclays Center, Dyckman Park, Madison Square Garden and Yankee Stadium the last few weeks. He was checking out New York fandom.
“I feel like everyone’s confident around here. Individually speaking I know I’m coming in with an edge. Allen Crabbe – I know he’s coming in with an edge. DeMarre Carroll’s coming in with an edge. I feel like we’re a confident team and we’re looking forward to doing what we do best.”
No, he wouldn’t say the “P” word, although he did mention it at his press conference. What he did say was a continuation of his earlier comments about finding a new “edge,” something different from what he saw last season when he played the Nets. Again, it’s subtle. The line, “I feel like we’re a confident team,” suggests a level of bonding has already taken place, even though training camp is a month away.
And he wants you to know he’s taking the lead...
“I would say hanging out with somebody different all the time. Rondae [Hollis-Jefferson] I try to see what he’s doing after practice. Same with Caris [LeVert], Isaiah [Whitehead]. I try to sprinkle in and spend time with everybody after practice and find something to do.”
From the time Pooch first caught up with him, Hollis-Jefferson, Whitehead, LeVert and the now departed Archie Goodwin at the Big3 debut days after the trade became official, Russell has been seen with his teammates, hanging out, working hard, winning their trust. Being a leader.
What did Joe Harris say this week? “Working out with him, even off the court a bit, he’s a great dude. He’s got a bad rap in the other part of his career. He’s a hard working dude, really low key. He’s a lot of fun to be around. He’s a really nice guy.”
And what did Sean Marks tell Sirius XM this week? “I don’t know where his sort of ceiling is. We like his size. We like his passing ability. And the more I get to know D'Angelo, the more I like the person. We've spent a lot of time together and I think he fits with how we want to play. So we're excited there.”
He won’t commit to being the face of the franchise, a designation left open with the trade of Brook Lopez, but then again, he doesn’t shy away from the idea either.
“It goes back to the chip on my shoulder. I wouldn’t say, ‘it’s D’Angelo’s team’ or anything like that, but I feel like it’s up for everybody to make their imprint as a team. Me coming in with a chip on my shoulder, A.C. [Allen Crabbe] coming in with a chip on his shoulder, I feel like we’re going to blend together and we’re going to be a great team. As long as we’re making strides that’s all I could really ask for.”
It’s not “The losing ends here ... follow me,” Jason Kidd’s famous dictate at the team dinner opening training camp in 2001. And no, no, no, we are NOT saying D’Angelo Russell, barely 21, is Kidd, Kidd Redux, Kidd Lite or anything else. We revere what Kidd did. That said, Russell has just a little touch of star-quality like Kidd. He puts it on the line, like Kidd. And do we think that Magic Johnson’s criticism that he’s not a leader still stings? Of course it does.
Then, there’s final, the piece de resistance, when asked if he has the Lakers games circled on his calendar.
“Everybody is circled on my calendar," he said. Everybody.”
In case you missed the points about wanting the rest of the league to hate Brooklyn or the swagger or the growing confidence in his teammates, there’s this coda, one that Brett Yormark and the Marketeeers have already seized upon, quickly creating a graphic combining the quote, the schedule and Russell’s picture.
The comment was in response to a question about whether he was circling his November 3 return to L.A. on his calendar. He could have said, “It’s just another game” or “They’re all the same.” Nope. He chose his words deliberately. No cliches. Swag, baby.
We were excited about the upcoming season before Russell spoke to Pooch, but now it’s irrational. We can deal with all the “prove it on the court” when the season starts. Just let us be now. We’re enjoying a moment.
A New Crabbe?
We sometimes think the acquisition of Allen Crabbe gets short shrift in most recountings of the Nets’ off-season moves. Yes, he will cost them $56.8 million over the next three years (a net cost of $36.9 million once you subtract the $19.9 million in Andrew Nicholson money Sean Marks got Portland to eat.) Yes, he gained a reputation in Portland for being too timid.
But even if you think he can’t expand his game, he is among the best in the NBA at a crucial skill, which is of course, three point shooting. At 44.4 percent from deep, Crabbe ranked second in making three’s. To put that in perspective, Bojan Bogdanovic ranked 85th and Carmelo Anthony 100th in three-point shooting. Only Kyle Korver shot it better, at 45.1 percent and he is Kyle Korver. Crabbe is also only 25 years old. Korver is 36.
In talking to Cory Wright, the Nets in-house beat writer, this week, Crabbe spoke about shooting, but also how his off-season has been taken up with improving his game ... beyond his unique skill.
"Mainly, it's just getting my body stronger, putting on weight," Crabbe said. "Trying to sharpen up on my handling and all that stuff because it's definitely going to be a bigger role for me over here in Brooklyn. I'm going to be able to show a lot more and display a lot of my skill set with my team."
“Bigger role?” “Display a lot more of my skill set?” Sean Marks has used “expanded role” in talking about Crabbe. What does it mean specifically? Not a lot of details, but you’d expect Crabbe to be more willing to shoot when open, pushing the NBA’s fastest pace ... and be more able to set up his own shot. More than 95 percent of Crabbe’s three-point shots last season were assisted. Translation: he was purely a spot-up shooter in Portland. Of course, he was playing with one of the NBA’s most dynamic backcourts and had a role to fill.
He needs to be more consistent, too. He made 51.3 percent of his shots at home last season, 37 percent on the road. He also has a tendency to start slow, then explode at the end of the year. In March and April of last year, he shot 47 percent from deep (but dropped off in the first round playoff loss to Golden State.)
Crabbe spoke to Wright about how he’s preparing for his new role, but also how he retains his shooting edge. In his daily training regimen, making 300 three-pointers is a standard, but he wants to make sure they’re good shots, in the rhythm-of-the-game shots.
“You can get up 300 shots, or 1,000 shots, but if you get game rep shots, that's defeating the purpose of shooting a bunch of standstill 1,000 jumpers. In reality, you're going to shoot game shots, so you have to work out at game speed so it can translate from workouts to the game."
He acknowledges he can’t rely only on his “special gift.”.
"For the most part shooting comes naturally and everybody has a special gift that they have when they play and I feel like shooting is my gift, so I really tend to focus on other weaknesses in my game in the off-season," Crabbe said.
The kid from southern California (one of four on the roster) acknowledges as well that he’s adjusting to New York.
“New York is cool man, I'm glad to be here," Crabbe told Wright. "I'm just getting acclimated with the city, trying to learn my whereabouts and where all the fun stuff is outside of basketball practice and all that."
"It's nerve-wracking coming from a team that you've been with for four years and all of the relationships you've built over there and all of the sudden you have to up and leave it and start new ones over here," Crabbe said.
"It's been cool so far, guys have been cool to work with and be around. It can only get better from here."
Jeremy Lin was in Brooklyn this week, where he was part of the Nets photo shoot, and celebrated his 29th birthday with his family. He also showed up Friday on TV, where he was featured in report on e-sports.
Lin is a big fan of DOTA2, the multi-player online battle arena game, and last year, he reportedly made a deal where he would endorse one of the teams, a joint venture of two Chinese companies.
He was in Seattle earlier this month for “The International” the Super Bowl of e-sports. His visit was part of a new TV series on TBS called ELEAGUE Road To The International Dota 2 Championships. It aired Friday night.
Lin talked about the enthusiasm of the fans, comparing it favorably with other sporting events.
“When I attended my first TI three years ago I was absolutely blown away with just how hyped the crowd was and the cheering and everything around it,” Lin said. “It literally feels like an athletic event when you’re watching the game.”
He also spoke about how the team aspect of e-sports attracted him.
“I don’t like individual sports and I don’t like individual games,” Lin said. “I like when you have to work with your teammates, and DOTA puts you in that position where all five of your teammates have to be clicking together in order to win.”
Mozgov on European stage
FIBA Eurobasket, the continental basketball tournament, begins Thursday, one of FIBA’s big international tournaments along with FIBA Americas, FIBA Africa and FIBA Asia. For Nets fans, it will be an opportunity to watch Timofey Mozgov show off his skills as Team Russia’s big man. Chris Fleming, the Nets assistant, will coach Team Germany for the last time. The games will be shown on Live Basketball, but it will cost you.
Team Russia’s first game is set for Friday, when Mozgov et al will play host Turkey in Istanbul. The game will start at 2 p.m. ET. It should be competitive.
For the Nets new center, it will be his 10th game of the off-season. He participated in nine “friendly” contests starting last month. In those games, Mozgov played the traditional 5 role. In 23 minutes per game, he averaged 13.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, one assist. He shot 70 percent from the floor (42-of-60) and 76.6 percent from line, getting there better than five times a game. He’s also been a team leader.
And no, he didn’t take a three-pointer. He’s been practicing them, but his Russian coach doesn’t seem to be enamored of him as a stretch 5. Not like Kenny Atkinson.
However, he did have some defensive issues with more athletic seven-footers. Finland’s Lauri Markkanen, the Bulls rookie, went for 26 points in 23 minutes vs. Mozgov Friday night, getting around and over him. Here’s some highlights of Markkanen, low lights of Mozgov.
26 PTS in 23 MIN for Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen vs Russia. Has a long history of FIBA success. Should be a contributor from day one in CHI pic.twitter.com/Fp2e2lMxnm— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) August 26, 2017
In the end, Mozgov got so frustrated he was called for a flagrant on the 20-year-old Arizona product.
Tim Mozgov's unsportsmanlike foul on Lauri Markkanen pic.twitter.com/W6MDfxp0L5— Alexander Chernykh (@chernykh) August 25, 2017
That has to be somewhat of a concern. Now FIBA ball isn’t NBA ball and Eurobasket “friendlies” aren’t tournament games, but as the 31-year-old Mozgov ages over the next three years, will he become a liability defensively ... while cashing $16+ million paychecks? Not a pleasant thought.
Which brings us to Jarrett Allen ... again
Of course, if Jarrett Allen makes advances, the curse of the Mozgov contract will be mitigated. During the next three years, the two centers —the only players currently taller than 6’9” on the roster— will earn between $17 million and $19 million combined, Allen’s rookie contract hopefully offseting Mozgov’s gargantuan deal. In a rebuild that uses salary dumps, it’s the way we have to think.
In 2019-20, the last year of his deal, Mozgov will be 33 and making $16.7 million; Allen 21 and $2.38 million.
As we’ve noted repeatedly, the Nets are very high on Allen and one reason is how very high he can touch on a backboard. Maximum reach is a function of a player’s length (and hand-size) plus athleticism. It’s measured at the Draft Combine. Allen’s maximum reach is 12’1”. Compare that to Rudy Gobert’s 12’3” and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s 12’2”. Before he hurt his knee, Ben Simmons measured out at 12’6” (not a typo.)
Those are elite shot-blocking numbers. Also, as Allen progresses, you’d like to think other bigs won’t have such an easy time getting around him.
At this year’s combine, Allen ran the 3⁄4 court sprint in 3.21 seconds, which for a big man is extraordinary. Gobert clocked a 3.57 second run, for example. Most of the bigs taken before him in the draft couldn’t match that number, either. Among this teammates, that 3.21 seconds is pretty good, no matter the teammate’s height. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson ran the 3⁄4 sprint in 3.12 seconds in 2015, less than a tenth of a second faster than Allen. Isaiah Whitehead came in at 3.34 in 2016.
We have no inside info about how Allen is progressing (he did retweet the numbers we posted on his max reach). Is he physically stronger, is he shooting better, how’s his confidence? Don’t know. He’s so young ... Maybe he’s still growing!
The current contretemps between the Cavs and Celtics over Isaiah Thomas’ health is yet another indicator of why the Nets are still hanging on to assets, like their remaining $5+ million in cap space, Randy Foye’s rights and two roster spots. This off-season isn’t over yet. That trade has to be resolved and although there are continuing indications that Carmelo Anthony will still be a Knick when camp opens, things can change.