Not much news this week other than in Zach Lowe’s opus magnus on the Nets rebuild, a positive yet skeptical review of where the Nets currently stand ... and the difficulties they still face in becoming even a respectable franchise.
It was both revealing and refreshing, like a splash of cold water in the morning. There’s a lot more to be done, a long way to go.
As one Nets fan said after reading the Zach Lowe feature, “This piece has so much I had to read it twice. Might have to read a third time.” Indeed it does. We thought we’d take a deeper dive into the news aspects of what Lowe wrote, offer some of our own context. Some of the news in it qualifies as Nets history, starting with more details, as if we needed more, on the Boston trade. (cue Chopin’s “Funeral March”)
Lowe talked to Dmitry Razumov, the Nets chairman who’s not often quoted. Razumov revealed the swap of picks in this year’s draft was somewhat of an after-thought, thrown in at the end of the trade talks on that fateful Draft Day.
Razumov has only one regret about the infamous deal: giving the Celtics a last-minute concession to swap picks with Brooklyn in 2017 -- the draft between two others in which Boston would own Brooklyn's pick outright. "We miscalculated in the heat of the moment," Razumov said. "But we were all excited. [Former GM Billy King] may have had doubts, but they were not spoken."
That’s significant on a number of levels. Razumov’s reference to “the heat of the moment” is a seeming affirmation of Stefan Bondy’s story on the trade in which he quoted a rival GM on Billy King’s psychology.
“Billy’s literally like an addicted gambler when he’s close to doing those trades,” said an opposing executive. “He’ll do anything when it reaches a certain point.
The quote about King’s lack of doubts is also interesting. It’s the first time Razumov, who played a key role in the trade, has ever criticized his former GM in an even passing manner. Of course, as Bondy noted in his story...
Razumov wanted the deal for Garnett and Pierce. He wanted it the same way he wanted to trade those same draft picks for Carmelo Anthony and Dwight Howard. “Dmitry’s a star chaser,” said a former Nets executive.
Lowe quoted Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson as saying they don’t discuss the trade, that it is, as both have said repeatedly, “a sunk cost.” But the NBA’s competition committee thinks the trade has been so bad for competition, changes might be needed.
The league has since discussed banning pick swaps between drafts in which a team already owes its pick to other teams; the tweak has been on the competition committee agenda, but has not been debated yet at length, sources say.
Lowe also spoke with D’Angelo Russell, the player who the Nets are building around (whether you care to admit it or not). In one quote, Russell said “I wanted to play defense in L.A., but I felt like I had to score every chance I got for us to be relevant."
That unleashed a storm of criticism online from Lakers fans. As one of the kinder comments went, “I pray this is poor wording. Or else it's not a good look.”
Still, as Lowe noted,
Betting on Russell was a no-brainer. He has a chance to be a star on offense. He should be able to hit 3-pointers off the dribble, crucial for drawing double-teams on the pick-and-roll that unlock everything else, and he reads the floor well. He has good size and insists he will defend better.
One other point about the Lakers trade. Lowe wrote, “the Lakers were desperate to open cap space, with Brooklyn among the only suitors willing to swallow dead money.” He describes the loss of the 27th pick, which became Kyle Kuzma, “a mild disappointment.” It should be noted that the addition of the pick was a last minute decision, too.
On the Nets near-obsession with sports science, Lowe famously quoted Joe Harris as saying "They even track the color of your piss.” (It’s a measure of hydration.) But he also provided new details on the personalized nature of the program and how it affected on-court production.
The Nets provide the VIP sports science treatment to every roster player. They invested heavily in reliable technology, from Delos wobble boards that measure balance and power to lower-body exercise machines that highlight muscle fatigue that may require rest.
Every player does individual skill work before and after practices -- "vitamins," in Brooklyn's adopted Spurs parlance. Chefs prepare customized meals. The Nets will experiment with game-day Amtraks from Brooklyn to nearby cities instead of arriving late the night before. Players fill out daily questionnaires about sleep, soreness and diet.
Atkinson and Marks put almost everyone on a minutes restriction. Players found the quick hooks frustrating at first, especially when they were hot, but eventually they got used to it because Atkinson was transparent about what was coming. Older players felt fresher.
There weren’t a lot of quotes from Marks, Atkinson or Razumov on individual players, but we found one quote from Lowe on a bench player a bit intriguing.
Lowe doesn’t suggest that Marks pointed him in the direction of Dinwiddie, but the comparison to one of Marks favorite Spurs does make one wonder. The Nets have been increasingly happy with the 6’6” point guard who they brought up from the D-League after cutting Yogi Ferrell. He doesn’t even have a guaranteed deal yet, but this may be case of “watch this space.”
There’s a lot more in there, as our fan noted, and as we noted, not all of it is positive. Lowe has a number of doubts in particular about the decision to trade for Allen Crabbe and give up all that cap space before off-season is done-done. He wonders if the Nets wouldn’t have been smarter signing Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to a one-year deal, making it seem like they could have done so.
One positive thing he does note is how two solid NBA veterans, Randy Foye and Luis Scola, are big fans of what the Nets are doing. As Scola says, once they start winning, “they will get everyone they want, but all those other things don't matter until you have a good team."
However, reading the story you get the sense that could be a while.
From Russia to China?
The New York Post on Sunday reports that the vice-chairman of Alibaba, the big Chinese e-commerce company, might be interested in buying a majority stake in the Nets.
Here’s what Josh Kosman of the Post’s “On the Money” reported...
The basketball team owned by billionaire Russian Mikhail Prokhorov hoped to fetch around $2 billion, but we hear one interested party has been trying to box out others in the sale process.
A source told On the Money that Alibaba Executive Vice Chairman Joe Tsai has expressed an interest in the team, though reps for his family office, Blue Pool, deny it. (Emphasis added)
Kosman does say “there’s no official sale book bouncing around yet when it comes to the Brooklyn Nets,” meaning no prospectus for a majority stake. Also, we are told that Prokhorov is still only willing to sell up to 49 percent. That is admittedly a tough sale unless that minority stake comes with an option to buy the rest of the team at a future date.
As it did a couple of weeks ago, the Post says the Nets would like to find a Chinese backer (although Prokhorov has said publicly that he prefers to sell to “local” investors.) Kosman thinks that Chinese investors are more likely to be drawn to the Rockets who are definitely for sale, but those who lose out on Houston could turn to the Nets.
In the past, there has been speculation, mostly by Kosman, that everyone from Steve Jobs widow, Lorraine Jobs, one of the world’s richest women, to the Qatari sovereign wealth fund, which owns Paris St. Germain soccer club, could be interested.
We think we’ll wait to see what happens. We don’t think Prokhorov is in any rush. Forbes Russia estimated this week that he has more than $5 billion in cash after selling a number of his Russian assets.
Officially, a spokesman for Prokhorov declined to comment.
Marketing a rebuild
Back in 2013, after the Boston trade —a touchstone for the franchise on so many levels— Brett Yormark and his marketeers came up with a slogan that both played off their successful first year in Brooklyn and the anticipation of what was to come ... a championship run. “Hello Brooklyn,” the billboards and paraphernalia read. “Are you ready?”
Well, we were, but they weren’t.
Now, the new marketing slogans are leaking out. The front page of the Nets website is emblazoned with “Effort means Everything” and “We go hard.” It’s all about work ethic rather than wins.
But this week, there was an interesting addition, in a tweeted video, entitled “Brooklyn Nets - The Defiant Ones.”
Brooklyn Nets x The Defiant Ones pic.twitter.com/fHZwfgfNcM— Brooklyn Nets (@BrooklynNets) August 4, 2017
The video included a clip of Biggie Smalls who’s often now used as a symbol of the team’s connection to gritty, hip-hop Brooklyn. “Is Brooklyn in the house?” he shouts.
There’s also a clip, unattributed, from Jimmy Iovine who’s also from Brooklyn. "If you can figure out a way to wrestle fear to push you from behind rather than to stand in front of you, that's very powerful."
The inspiration appears to be (and we’re just guessing here) Jeremy Lin’s multiple promises of an improbable playoff run. Lin has indeed been defiant in his comments, all recorded on video.
At the very beginning of his Asia trip, he said...
“We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else tells me,” he said, in a video message to his fans on arrival in Taipei, Taiwan.
And in case fans thought he might be jet-lagged and perhaps delusional in the first video, Lin repeated his claim on a popular Chinese interview program in Shanghai a week later.
“I still feel like we can make the playoffs. I know everyone will laugh, but that’s no problem. If I believe we can make the playoffs, this is most important .... Hopefully we can perform exceptionally well. Everyone thinks we’ll suck, so I feel like we don’t have a lot of pressure.”
Nets players haven’t quite repeated Lin’s prediction, but they’ve talked about making strides and being underestimated.
“Being counted out gives you a common bond,“ said Spencer Dinwiddie on Thursday. “The adversity just makes you stronger. Everything you go through continues to mold you and shape you as a man.”
The playoffs are indeed a big sell for a team that won 20 games last season, but for better or worse, a sell it is. Defiant, too.
Joe Harris on D’Angelo Russell
After a G-League autograph signing at the NBA Store Monday, Joe Harris (and Chason Randle of the Knicks) talked with Hollywood Life about the upcoming season. There was a lot about how Harris is taking cues from the coaching staff on how to improve his game and how he’s spending his off season.
He was also asked about D’Angelo Russell and how he thought he could help the Nets. He offered a very enthusiastic appraisal ...
“I think he’s going to be great. The whole time I’ve been around him, I’ve just been impressed at his work ethic and how he is off the court and as a person. I kind of feel like he gets a bad rep sometimes from the media, but I enjoy being around him. He’s a great guy, he works really hard and I think he’s a great fit for the Nets.”
Harris also talked about how he could fit with the Nets culture ... and Jeremy Lin’s role.
“I think him being a part of the culture we’re trying to establish with the Nets is good for him and it’s also good for us. It’s a win-win for both situations. Having him is good because we’re trying to be about the right stuff and I think him having Jeremy Lin around will help him a lot in terms of development on and off the floor.”
It’s all about Russell and his new teammates creating an early bond. It was evident in the joint interview he and Spencer Dinwiddie did this week. During the interview, Russell talked about how his trip to Las Vegas helped the bonding, gave him a sense of how the organization operates. It wasn’t just a cheerleading mission for the Summer League team, either. The six veteran players who flew to Vegas also got in some workouts with the coaching staff, including Kenny Atkinson.
"Just being around the veteran guys I got a feel for the team, for the environment. A lot of the coaches were out there. Bigs were on one side, guards on one side. Doing competitive shooting drills,” Russell noted. “I thought it was impressive for coach to go coach summer league like that.”
And the Nets are integrating D-Lo’s profile into their marketing efforts, like in this video which appeared at the end of the week...
It’s all good.
Happy Birthday, Stash
After his 15/15 game in Saturday’s FIBA World Cup Pre-Qualifiers, a first step for small countries to make the cut for next year’s world championships, Aleksandar Vezenkov took some time to celebrate the win and his 22nd birthday which is Sunday. At the same time, he used the opportunity to talk about his philosophy of basketball.
He told the Bulgarian media (machine translated)...
"I think this victory came a lot easier than the final result shows. We just played well, maybe a little tense, but that's normal. Everyone wants to be useful in front of our audience, so we made many mistakes. We missed a lot of shots, but we finally defeated Belarus and this is the most important thing.
“I do not care if I'm going to score a point or 20. If I have to, one game I will fight, another game I will fight, [but] a third I will sit on the bench and I will clap if I'm not good. This is the most important thing on a team. It is not an individual sport and everything doesn’t depend on one person.
“I am very pleased with my teammates that they show with each passing day that they can play at a very high level. We have the potential, and I hope we will continue this way.”
Sounds like the Nets culture to us, particularly since Vezenkov is the best player to ever put on the Bulgarian green, red and white jersey. Humility is indeed part of leadership.
The Nets two-way hire, Yakuba “Billy” Ouattara, did not play in Team France’s easy “friendly” win over Tunisia on Saturday. It appears he had a bigger role to fill.
ESPN’s Doris Burke may not have revealed a state secret during Saturday’s broadcast of the NBA Africa game, but she did casually note that the NBA schedule is expected out this week. We have heard the same thing, but not from someone as knowledgeable as Burke.
Just to refresh your memory, here are the dates to look for...
—Brook Lopez’s return to Brooklyn;
—D’Angelo Russell’s return to Los Angeles;
—DeMarre Carroll’s return to Toronto (after his departing critique of the Raps ISO culture);
—Allen Crabbe’s return to Portland.
Other dates of interest: first time they play Miami whose fans (and execs) are still steamed about Nets’ decision to rest their top three scorers on the last game of last season. Also, first visit to Barclays by the Wizards and Otto Porter. Will Deron Williams ever return to Brooklyn? He hasn’t yet.