The Long Island Nets camp doesn’t open until October 23, although with two-ways and Exhibit 10 contracts, more than half the 10-man roster is probably spoken for. Their opener isn’t until November 3. That’s going to be a G League version of Nets vs. Knicks.
The Nets hired a new coach, too. Will Weaver has served as an assistant to Kenny Atkinson with the Nets and before that to Brett Brown, both with the 76ers and the Australian national team. He’s an academic type, with degrees in philosophy and kinesiology and a strong appreciation of analytics as a development tool.
Sounds pretty much standard G League fare — similar to the first two years of the Nets minor league entry. Not quite. Both in terms of marketing and basketball, there will be tangible differences this season as the Nets try to convert their development team into what amounts to a real farm team, one that’s more flexible and aims at development in a broader sense.
On the marketing side, Long Island already plays in the G League’s biggest venue, Nassau Coliseum, but the Nets will have an even higher profile this season. They’ll have six of their home games broadcast on the YES Network, an arrangement which if it isn’t unique among the G League’s 27 clubs, is quite rare. G League games are played on YouTube, not a regional sports network (the largest regional sports network in the U.S. in fact).
Basketball-wise, the Nets are doing some interesting things, looking to use the G League as a way that they can take advantage of players who already have NBA experience rather than just draft picks and undrafted gems. So expect a lot of movement — real movement — this year between the two clubs. Alan Williams, a 25-year-old who played three years with the Suns, was signed to a two-way deal in September. Then, on Friday, they signed 29-year-old Drew Gordon, Aaron’s older brother who has a few weeks experience in Philly, to an Exhibit 10 contract. After being cut on Saturday, Gordon will likely be converted to a G League deal Monday.
Williams and the team’s other two-way, Theo Pinson, an undrafted 6’7” North Carolina product, will likely get time in Brooklyn ... much more than last year’s two-ways, Milton Doyle and James Webb III, got. Williams in particular has something Doyle and Webb didn’t ... NBA experience, 62 games worth and Pinson played four years at a big Division I program. Under terms of their two-way deals, Williams and Pinson can play up to 45 days with Brooklyn before the Nets have to fish or cut bait, sign them to a vets scale NBA deal or let them go. Expect Brooklyn’s front office to take full advantage of the rule.
Even though Gordon has only an Exhibit 10 deal and not a two-way, don’t be surprised if he sees NBA action as well. He has nine games on his resume’ and Marc J. Spears tweeted Saturday that Gordon expects to get call-ups after turning down money overseas. (Moreover, we suspect the Nets may be whispering to player agents that if Brooklyn completes an unbalanced trade sometime during the season, their clients could pick up the vacant slot.)
The Nets have made other player agents happy as well (not an insignificant part of a rebuild.) By signing two Long Island veterans, Shannon Scott, 25, and Tahjere McCall, 24, to Exhibit 10 deals Friday afternoon, Brooklyn gave the two players 1) an additional year of service on any NBA contract they may sign in the future —even a call-up and 2) a chance to earn a $50,000 bonus. Now that they’re waived, Scott and McCall will go back to Long Island financially more whole than if the Nets hadn’t signed them to NBA contract ... even if only for a little more than 24 hours. McCall and Scott (who played with D’Angelo Russell at Ohio State) can also provide veteran leadership on and off the Long Island court to the Nets development prospects.
Of course, the Nets will also use the G League for development of their two draft picks, 19-year-old Dzanan Musa and 20-year-old Rodions Kurucs. But at least Kurucs looks like he’ll get playing time with the big club. And both Nuni Omot from Baylor and Jordan McLaughlin from USC, training camp invites who were cut Thursday, will likely fight for a roster spot and playing time.
None of the attention the Nets pay to the G League should surprise anyone. They have great faith in the G League as NBA tool. They scouted then signed Spencer Dinwiddie out of Windy City two years ago, and inked Joe Harris to an NBA contract after his stint as a Cavs assignee in Canton. They also got a good season from Sean Kilpatrick after calling him up from Delaware.
Sean Marks thinks there’s a lot more flexibility in the G League as well. Back in April at his end-of-season press conference, Marks spoke of experimentation within the new G League rules. He noted some possibilities that could be emerging.
“The fact that the G League has taken those steps now, where you’ll potentially have draft eligible candidates or players coming into the G League. You’ll have foreign guys coming into the G League early, that’s terrific – I give the NBA a lot of credit for they are trying to develop and tweak how we all use the G League.”
Will the Nets use those new options? We’ll probably start to find out in the coming weeks. They have six picks in the first two rounds of the G League Draft on October 20 and they can sign local tryout players as well. There were reports out of New Jersey last week that Ish Sanogo, a 6’8” Seton Hall product with a defensive mindset, will be in camp and 6’10”
Kendall Gray, who played 44 games with Long Island last season, will reportedly be returning.
The Nets being the Nets, don’t expect any grand pronouncements about new strategies. But there are subtleties, like new coach Will Weaver’s introductory interview in which he indicated the Nets are indeed expanding opportunities.
“Certainly within the Brooklyn environment we look at it as an incredibly important part of what we’re doing moving forward and a chance to expand our universe of players two-fold on a yearly basis and sometimes more with the number of guys you have access to that you can bring in to your roster during the season,” he told the Long Island Nets official website.
“For me to sit at the middle of that intersection and try to help make it as professional and useful to Brooklyn moving forward as we possibly we can, it’s something I’m really excited about.”
Should be interesting.