Over the next 10 days, Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson will hold their annual preseason press availability, the Nets will open their doors for Media Day and then head to Annapolis, MD, and the US Naval Academy for training camp.
So this is the penultimate (next-to-last) Off-Season Report. Off-Season turns to Pre-Season on Media Day, which is September 25. So, next weekend will be the final one. You can review all of them here and make fun of us for everything we got wrong (as we noted two weeks ago.)
Healthy, wealthy, and wise
The Nets will go into training camp healthy. We already know they’re wealthy or will be. Wise? Think culture, baby!
Health is a big deal, bigger than most fans understand. The Nets were 11th last season in games missed due to injury and illness with Greivis Vasquez going down after three games and requiring surgery, Jeremy Lin missing 46 games to recurring hamstring issues, and Caris LeVert not making his NBA debut until December 7 and missing 25 games overall. Joe Harris missed 30 games. Lin and Brook Lopez were on minutes restrictions every game they played. The entire roster wasn’t healthy until February and then only for a short while. A record 24 players were under contract at one point or another.
Things are different as Nets head into training camp this season. All 19 players are healthy. Only Allen Crabbe is recovering from offseason surgery and he'll be ready for camp. That's unlike last season when at least three of them had had foot surgery in the nine months prior: Vasquez in December 2015, Harris in January 2016, and LeVert in March 2016. Jarrett Allen missed Summer League because of a hip flexor strain, but he’s long since recovered. No illnesses either. As far as we know, they should all be ready when the bell rings on September 26.
In his very most excellent podcast with Bill Simmons, Richard Jefferson pointed out just how much of a role that health played in the New Jersey Nets magical 2001-02 Nets season. The year before, Kerry Kittles had missed the whole season. Keith Van Horn had missed 33 games. Kenyon Martin was still feeling the effects of a fractured leg suffered his senior year at Cincinnati and had disappointed his rookie year. The addition of Jason Kidd was BY FAR the biggest reason for the team’s unprecedented turnaround, but as RJ noted, the Nets were young and healthy.
That team also surprised.
The Nets put a lot of faith in their performance team, with all its sport science, intrusive monitoring, and large staff of diverse talents. Not to mention the team’s medical staff, perhaps the best in the NBA. The Hospital for Special Surgery doesn’t just pay for naming rights at the Nets practice facility. It’s the team’s official hospital.
Injuries can happen at any time, but the Nets hope to limit them with sports science... and some luck. Then again, as Branch Rickey, Brooklyn’s most famous GM said, “Luck is the residue of design.”
Who is the 20th player?
The Nets haven’t yet signed (as far as we know) the 20th player for training camp, but we expect to hear a name in the next 24 to 48 hours. (We need news.) Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson will have their annual press availability on Tuesday and signing a player before then would eliminate one line of questioning.
And yes, we do expect the Nets will sign another player and not leave the spot open. Why would you if you’re in development mode? And no, we have no idea who it might be.
FYI, the Nets as of Friday were still holding on to Randy Foye’s rights. There’s no deadline where they would have to renounce them. And again, it does provide them with some advantages if they want to do a deal. The Nets still have plenty of flexibility. Of the 19 players signed so far, seven are on vets minimum deals (not counting the two-way players who can be traded). They have Trevor Booker’s expiring $9.1 million.
Like we said, the Nets had 24 players under contract last season, a record. We don’t expect that level of shuffling this season, but we do expect some. Like we said, flexibility.
What to expect from Tyler Zeller
The signing of Tyler Zeller to a two-year, vets minimum deal with the second year non-guaranteed was the Nets’ first free agent signing, other than the two two-way deals and two camp invites. On September 11, the 73rd day of free agency. (Balloons). Of course, there were trades.
There was little fan reaction. Some had thought Jared Sullinger was a better player, but obviously he was a bigger risk too. He has had weight and conditioning problems and do the Nets need yet another player who’s undergone anasthesia in Dr. Martin O’Malley’s operating room? Sullinger had foot surgery back in October. Others thought Sean Marks should have stuck with his “talent acquisition” strategy and gone for someone more accomplished than Zeller, even if it would have left the Nets with two bigs.
We know all the negatives about Zeller, but we also know that he fits with the Nets culture, as a serious competitor and smart player. Maybe he can surprise at the two things the Nets like at the 5.
He has no record as great deep shooter. He’s launched six three-pointers in his five year career, four of them in his rookie year. Never made one. Took two in college. Didn’t make them there either. But like Timofey Mozgov, he has shown a range at near three-point range. Plus, we should remember what the Nets development team, led by “shooting specialist” Adam Harrington, did for Brook Lopez, who went from 3-of-31 in his career from deep to becoming the second seven-footer in NBA history to hit more than 125 threes in a single season.
NO, we don’t expect Zeller or Mozgov (or Jarrett Allen, for that matter) to suddenly turn into Brook Lopez or Dirk Nowitzki, but Harrington and the development team do have a track record. It will be interesting to watch.
And Zeller’s athleticism is a bit underrated. He’s not his brother Cody, but he did register a 34” max vertical at the Draft Combine in 2012. That’s one and half inches less than what Allen put up.
Make no mistake. Zeller is a journeyman addition. He will battle Mozgov for minutes as a big, play a little at the 4 and 5, play tough, do some dirty work. And if he succeeds, he’s only 27 and the Nets can bring him back at vets minimum next season.
“New Season, New Mindset”
Nets quietly posted a new promotional video on YouTube and other social media this week. It’s entitled, “A Brooklyn Gem, Ready to Shine.”
It’s pretty standard fare, compared to other new season videos the Nets have produced the last few years: black-and-white footage interspersing Brooklyn landmarks from the Biggie mural to the Brooklyn Bridge with highlights from the previous season. And throughout, there’s hip-hop style music.
Take a look...
Bottom line: just like last year, the video mostly features the borough rather than the team, relying on Brooklyn’s gritty rep and Jay-Z’s “Brooklyn, we go hard“ ethos. It’s marketing effort, as the new two-line slogan featured at video’s end suggests, “We go hard. New season. New mindset.” No details on what the new mindset entails, how it differs from last year. We’ll have to wait.
“Big Jay” everywhere
As Pooch reported Saturday, Jarrett Allen is the Nets’ “mystery man,” the unknown quantity. But the Nets are pushing him out there of late. They arranged publicity for his community event at Levels Barber Shop where he paid for haircuts and provided school supplies to neighborhood kids.
A gamer himself, Allen also helped promote the ESL Counter-Strike at Barclays Center on Friday...
Looking forward to @ESL One NY on Sunday at @Barclayscenter pic.twitter.com/6mrC8V8QCy— Jarrett Allen (@_bigjayy_) September 15, 2017
Then, on Sunday, Barclays Center tweeted out images of him at the event...
Spotted at @ESLCS @BrooklynNets @_bigjayy_ #ESLOne pic.twitter.com/ytRetE0hA8— Barclays Center (@barclayscenter) September 17, 2017
Allen has also changed his Twitter handle to @_bigjayy_ from @jarrettallen55. So “Big Jay” it is. We’re always careful to note that marketing and basketball operations are two distinct parts of the organization, but this would seem to signal that the Nets are content in promoting the rookie. And as he says, no one has talked to him yet about playing for Long Island.
Neither the ACB, the Spanish national league, nor the Liga Nacional, Argentina’s, has started yet, but we have tidbits about the Nets’ two 22-year-old draft stashes, Aleksandar Vezenkov of F.C. Barcelona and Juan Pablo Vaulet of Bahia Blanca.
Both tidbits have an Argentine flair.
On Saturday, Barcelona lost an exhibition game to last year’s Argentine champs, San Lorenzo, in Balaguer, Spain, but Venezkov played well. He had 12 points and four rebounds, playing big minutes. Increasingly, he looks like he will have a bigger role in the Barcelona offense. He has two more years on his Barcelona contract which pays him a little more than $300,000.
On Sunday, Bahia Blanca released a video of Vaulet, who’s still not practicing, leading a youth camp. JPV, the clean shaven player in the video, is recovering from what we think is his fourth ankle surgery (both ankles), his third since the Nets gave up two second round picks and $880,000 to take him in 2015.
⚡Ayer por la tarde vivimos una tarde diferente junto a los niños que asistieron al Festival Ciudad del Puerto 2017https://t.co/Mvi7zHGfl3— Bahía Basket (@bahiabasket) September 17, 2017
It’s hard to tell when Vaulet might return to action. His coach, Manu Ginobili’s brother, Seb, won’t put a date on it yet. Bahia Blanca’s owner and Billy King’s friend, Pepe Sanchez, had said he thought the Nets should bring him up to Long Island this year. And the Nets did have him up for a week last January. But he got hurt (again) and that plan went away.
We found it difficult to watch the Eurobasket Finals Sunday. Timofey Mozgov was out of it and then there was Luka Doncic, the 18-year-old wunderkind from Slovenia. Another player the Nets have NO chance of getting in next year’s draft, no matter how good they play. The Nets pick, as we all know, goes to Cleveland, traded there by the Celtics in the Kyrie Irving deal.
Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson are right to think and say they can’t think about the consequences of the disastrous 2013 Celtics trade, but as fans, it’s more difficult. The college season is going to be tough as well, with some franchise-changing prospects like Michael Porter Jr., Marvin Bagley III, and Mo Bamba out there.
The best we can hope for is that the Nets play hard and deny the Cavaliers a top five pick. We will root for that.