Back from Portugal where I saw two people wearing Nets gear ... and DLo at Newark airport. All good.
Losing Langdon to Detroit?
Everything we read about Trajan Langdon and the Pistons makes us believe that the Nets assistant GM is a leading candidate, if not the leading candidate for the Detroit Pistons GM job.
Langdon, the former “Alaskan Assassin” who was an All-American at Duke then a Euroleague star in Moscow, has a very good reputation and track record, first as a scout with the Spurs, then director of player administration and basketball operations for the Cavaliers. Sean Marks hired him as his No. 2 two years ago and his rep continued to grow as a big part of the Nets development scheme. He’s also general manager of the Long Island Nets.
Ed Stefanski, Rod Thorn’s old No. 2, is leading the search and may wind up as the president of basketball operations, replacing the fired Stan Van Gundy. In one rumored iteration, Langdon would replace Jeff Bower, who’s still with the Pistons, as GM. The Pistons are seeking a young, rising executive to learn the ropes under Stefanski, according to reports out of the Motor City. “They are hoping to unearth the next Danny Ainge, who was in his mid-40s when the Boston Celtics hired him as team president in 2003,” wrote Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press this weekend.
At some point, the rumor goes, the 42-year-old Langdon would move up. Is that enough to get him to move from Brooklyn to Detroit? His title might be more exalted but would his duties be more significant. Of course, the Pistons are closer to contention than the Nets. And the chances of Langdon moving up into the big chair here in Brooklyn are limited. Marks and he are the same age. Stefanski is 64.
So, if the Nets lose Langdon, could they get some compensation? There is a recent precedent: The Magic gave up a second rounder in the 2018 Draft to the Raptors when Jeff Weltman left Toronto to become president of basketball operations in Orlando last year. (The Nets got that pick, the 40th, in the DeMarre Carroll deal.) And of course, the Nets got two second rounders when Jason Kidd left Brooklyn for Milwaukee in 2014.
On the other hand, when the Nets asked Cleveland for Langdon, who was still under contract with the Cavs, they didn’t require compensation from the Nets. Marks noted “I want to thank the Cavs for their cooperation in this effort” in the press release announcing the Langdon hire.
The Pistons don’t have a first rounder this year. They gave it up in the Blake Griffin deal. They do have a second rounder, but that’s their only pick. So they might want to give it up and leave themselves with nothing on June 21. The Pistons’ second rounder is the 42nd pick, which wouldn’t have much value for the Nets who already have the 40th and 45th picks. (Presumably, the Nets and Pistons could swap picks.) Also, Detroit doesn’t have its own second rounder in 2019 or 2020, the Nets still don’t have a second. They have all their second rounders going forward from 2021 on.
The loss of Langdon would be greater than the reward of a second rounder, if that. He’s knowledgeable about young players here and overseas. His main job in the Draft is to scout the top 35 to 40 players ... and that would include the lottery because you never know what could happen now or in the future. He is also Marks’ guy, his chief sounding board in the front office. As a fluent Russian speaker who played for CSKA Moscow when Mikhail Prokhorov owned the team, he also knows the Russian side of ownership very well.
We can expect a decision from Stefanski and Pistons ownership within the week.
Lin perspective ... and bonding follow-up
Jeremy Lin’s “Never Done” campaign is his way of countering the memory of his cries for help — “I’m Done, I’m Done” — after he blew out his knee on Opening Night. It takes varying forms and one is this video of him speaking about a previous injury and how it affected his development as a player and a person. He notes how early successes went to his head back in high school in Palo Alto and how it changed his outlook on life. It’s an aspect of Lin we weren’t familiar with.
Lin keeps saying he’ll be ready for training camp, but admits as well he’s still got a ways to go. Meanwhile, it looks like many, if not most, of the Nets are back in Brooklyn working out and still bonding after their L.A. retreat. Here’s a moment at Lin’s apartment in Gowanus.
In another bit of Lin news, Spencer Dinwiddie reported on his new Weibo account that he’ll be accompanying his fellow point guard on a trip to China at the end of July.
Both Juan Pablo Vaulet, taken in the 2015 Draft, and Aleksandar Vezenkov, taken last year, are finished playing for the year. JPV’s Bahia Blanca lost in the first round of the Argentine national league playoffs and Vezenkov was unceremoniously dumped from F.C. Barcelona’s playoff roster in Spain. Neither had particularly good years.
Vaulet, just turned 22 in March, recovered from his latest ankle surgery and had some highlights, but his numbers for an NBA prospect were not very good. He played in all 38 of Bahia’s games, a great sign for someone who’s had three ankle procedures since the Nets drafted him, but for a swingman, his shooting remains questionable, even for a poor international league. He averaged 9.7 points per game, shooting 57.7 percent from two-point range, 28.6 percent from three (taking only 35 shots in 38 games) and 67.4 percent from the line, an improvement from previous years when his free throw shooting had never topped 58 percent..
What happens next? He’ll play in the FIBA Americas World Cup qualifying tournament at the end of June. Bahia Blanca’s president Pepe Sanchez, who first recommended JPV to Billy King, has lobbied the Nets to bring him to Long Island. The Nets had him in Brooklyn for a week a year and a half ago, but wouldn’t even acknowledge it publicly.
Vezenkov had a tough, tough year. He was healthy throughout but for reasons never fully explained, two F.C. Barcelona coaches decided not to play him despite a solid year in 2016-17. An elite shooter who Barca had playing power forward, where he shot 47.9 percent in 30 Euroleague games and averaged 7.5 rebounds. The Nets, seeing him as an NBA-level shooter, drafted him at 57th, using the Celtics pick they got in the Celtics trade.
Then, his —and Barcelona’s troubles— began. He played in the first five games of the season and Barca’s when coach Sito Alonso benched him for TWO MONTHS. He sat inactive from the end of October till New Year’s Eve, when he got a slight reprieve, then it was back to the bench. In early February, as Barcelona sank to a 7-15 record, Alonso was fired and Svetislav Pesic, a veteran European coach, replaced him. Vezenkov played a bit, but only twice getting more than 10 minutes to show his stuff.
Finally, three days ago, Pesic announced his playoff roster for the ACB Spanish League playoffs and Vezenkov wasn’t on it. At the same time, he hinted that the decision to keep Vezenkov on the bench for most of the season had to do with his and F.C. Barcelona’s belief that the NBA has too much influence on his players and cited examples where young European stars saw their home country teams as mere stepping stones to the NBA.
And it wasn’t just Vezenkov. Barcelona didn’t play Rodions Kurucs, their 20-year-old NBA prospect, this year either, consciously limiting his playing time to their development team. The NBA “invasion,” he told a Spanish newspaper overshadows everything else in European basketball, especially in the case of young players.
“Barcelona basketball is a section of FC Barcelona, but not a section of the NBA’,” he said, recounting a conversation he had with the head of Barca basketball. “For example, you put your chips on Mario Hezonja, but everyone knew that Hezonja was going to use Barça to go to the NBA.”
No one has suggested that Vezenkov was a “problem.” Alonso called him a total professional despite the benching. There were rumors of dissatisfaction with Vezenkov’s defense but it now appears this was a corporate decision by Barcelona.
For the season, Vezenkov played 13 minutes a game in 34 games, missing 30 completely. He still shot 40 percent from three. What’s next for him? He’s still under contract for next season and has a reported $1 million buyout, of which the Nets can pay $675,000. If Barca wants rid of him, the buyout can be negotiated down. If they don’t have room —or don’t want him — on the NBA roster, they can sign him to a G-League deal as a second rounder. No word on their plans.
One additional possibility is that he hooks up with another European team. On Monday, there was word that Efes, the Turkish powerhouse, could be interested in signing him for next year ... if Barca permits.
In the meantime, he too will be playing at the end of June in the FIBA Europe World Cup qualifiers for Bulgaria. Like Vaulet and Timofey Mozgov, he’ll play two games.
Expect us to be following at least one other Nets stash after June 21. There’s plenty of evidence that the Nets are interested in stashing an overseas player, starting with chief scout Gregg Polinsky’s comments last month.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
As we all expected, a white guy from Delaware dominated the Draft Combine’s measurements challenge. Donte DiVincenzo’s year just keeps getting better and better ... and more than one mock draft has him going to Brooklyn.
DiVincenzo of course won the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Final Four, scoring 31 points in the championship game to lead Villanova to its second title in three years. Then at the combine, he surprised a lot of people. As the Big Lead reported...
During athletic testing, the man known as “The Big Ragu,” busted out a combine-best standing vertical leap of 34.5 inches, and tied for the best max vertical leap at 42 inches. Those are huge numbers for DiVincenzo and much better than expected. He also finished fifth in the lane agility drill (10.72 seconds), was 11th in the shuttle run (3.11 seconds) and ninth in the three-quarter sprint (3.11 seconds).
Those are world-class athlete numbers. Also, he was a great shape, his five percent body fat one of the lowest among the 60 participants in the Combine.
What’s not to like about DiVincenzo? He is undersized at about 6’5” in sneakers. He is unproven as a starter having come off the bench his entire career with the Wildcats (winning Big East Sixth Man of the Year). Also, he’s streaky as a shooter and you’d expect his foul-shooting to be a bit better than 71 percent. He could surprise and go high ... or go low.
But one this is certain. He is a winner. In high school, he won two straight Delaware state titles and if he decides to leave Villanova, he’ll be one of the few players to win two NCAA titles in college.
In case you’ve forgotten his NCAA Final performance, here are the highlights. He didn’t just score. He passed. He blocked and again, he won...
The other advantage of taking DiVicenzo is that he would join another Villanova Dante, Cunningham, on the Nets roster.
This may become a continuing feature of the Off-Season Report, a summary of political controversies surrounding the Nets two owners, Mikhail Prokhorov of Russia and Joe Tsai of Taiwan, Canada and Hong Kong.
Prokhorov filed a suit against Russian blogger and activist Alexey Navalny in Moscow Lyublin Court to protect his “honor and dignity.” Prokhorov is seeking one ruble, a little less than two cents but also a retraction.
At issue is Navalny’s claim that an offshore company associated with Prokhorov gave former Russian vice-premier Alexander Khloponin a villa in Forte dei Marmi in Italy valued at €35.5 million, about $43 million. Navalny called it a bribe. The BBC reported Khloponin sold the villa.
Prokhorov has known Khloponin and his wife since the three were students at the Moscow Finance Institute and that before entering government Khloponin chairman of the board of the Norilsk Nickel company which Prokhorov controlled. Those close to Prokhorov didn’t see it as a bribe, but more of a gift to an old friend and colleague. (Prokhorov sold pieces of two big assets this year, 49 percent of the Nets and six percent of Rusal, the big Russian aluminum company, his last mining stocks. So he’s flush with cash.)
Meanwhile, in Washington, in an op-ed piece in the Post, a Chinese expert, Isaac Stone Fish, criticized a deal that U.S.-based sitePolitico made with Hong Kong’s leading newspaper, the South China Morning Post. SCMP is owned by Alibaba, Tsai’s company. Tsai engineered the purchase of the newspaper in late 2015.
Fish wrote that it’s likely that Alibaba “bought the paper as part of Beijing’s strategy to increase positive coverage and decrease negative coverage of China and the Party. Alibaba needs the goodwill of the Party to succeed.”
Fish noted that the paper’s coverage of China, the Party and Alibaba have all been increasingly positive since the Alibaba acquisition, despite Tsai’s contention at the time of the purchase that “In reporting the news, the SCMP will be objective, accurate and fair.”
The Nets are unique in the NBA in terms of their international ownership and with that comes controversy. We will try to keep up with that aspect of the team as well. By the way, Tsai has now vaulted ahead of Prokhorov in the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, based on the increasing value of Tsai’s stake in Alibaba, up $1.5 billion this year. Tsai is now the 107th richest person in the world, says Bloomberg, at $12.3 billion; Prokhorov the 118th at $11.7 billion.
We chose the picture of Paul McCartney in the stands for a Nets game for a reason. It was 2015 and he was playing Barclays Center. So he decided to take in a game. So by that measure, the Beatle is like all of us, fans. Sometimes, it can be tough being a fan during the playoffs when your team isn’t sharing the excitement and instead are busy debating draft picks. But hold true. There are a lot of us and better times are coming.