In a series of interviews with Russian media this weekend, Timofey Mozgov has made it clear that he is frustrated —or worse— with his situation in Brooklyn and wants to play, either for the Nets “or another NBA team.”
In both a print interview with Izvestia, the big Russian newspaper, and Radio Mayak, a significant Russian radio network, Mozgov also said he doesn’t know why he lost his starting job after only 13 games and that Kenny Atkinson has not fully articulated the rationale for the change. The Nets of course are heavily invested in Jarrett Allen, who ultimately took over the starting center job and Mozgov was averaging only 5.4 points and 4.7 rebounds when he was replaced.
The interviews came as Mozgov and former Knick Alexey Shved prepare for the FIBA Europe World Cup qualifiers later this month. In addition to Team Russia, Mozgov was asked about his time with the Nets. The 31-year-old seven-footer joined the Nets last July in the trade that brought D’Angelo Russell to Brooklyn and sent Brook Lopez to L.A.
While denying his relationship with Atkinson is broken, Mozgov told both Izvestia and Radio Mayak that his benching remains a mystery.
“I have not broken anything. What influenced his decision ... for me, it remains a mystery,” Mozgov told Izvestia, according to a machine translation. “I don’t know any reason why I first lost my place in the starting five and then not playing even a minute. But it’s the head coach’s decision and he is responsible for result.
“I tried to speak to Atkinson but he was not able to give me answer. Anyway I m confident. Just want to play for Brooklyn or any other NBA team”. I tried to talk to him, but I did not succeed in drawing out something intelligible.”
Similarly, in talking with Mayak, he described last season as “terrible” and said that when talking to Atkinson, he said the coach doesn’t give him many details on his, offering only, “Keep it up, you’re doing fine.” So he says, he just stays ready because it’s his job, but it’s been “extremely hard.”
“I know what to do and how to behave,” he told Izvestia. “In addition, you don’t ever forget that you are a professional athlete. It does not matter if I play 48 minutes or I do not play at all, I always have to be in optimal shape to be at any time ready to help the team.”
He added that he has spoken with Sean Marks and Trajan Langdon, who he knows from both Russian basketball and the Cavaliers, but that he didn’t think he should take his complaints up with them, saying he thought that “would only aggravate the situation.”
Mozgov started at center for the Nets, but that ended after 13 games. In one 20-game stretch starting New Years Eve, Mozgov played only eight minutes and 20 seconds in a 34-point blowout loss to the Pistons. He played in a total of 31 games, getting minutes for the most part in blowout wins or losses.
Mozgov didn’t complain during the season and last month, he hosted 13 of his teammates at his home in L.A. as the Nets bonded and worked out in southern California. But he wants a change in his situation.
He agreed with the Izvestia reporter that he’s in “limbo.”
“The decision remains with Brooklyn,” he added. “Whatever they decide, so be it. It would be nice if circumstances developed in such a way that I could play. In Brooklyn or for another NBA team. This is the only thing I need.” He said he had no interest in returning to the Euroleague.
The Nets owe Mozgov $32.7 million over the next two years, $16 million this year. The Nets could, in theory, buy him out and/or stretch him, but he would have to agree to the terms of a buyout. A buyout would give them more cap space, but add more dead money to their salary cap. They’re already paying Deron Williams $5.47 million a year through June of 2020, a deal negotiated by Billy King and team ownership.
As for the team’s issues this season, Mozgov cited the inexperience of both the players and coach as the reason for so many close losses.
“Approximately 60-70% of the losses we suffered the difference was less than four points,” he said, again according to the machine translation. “We made many mistakes in the end, both in defense and on offense. In addition, the team has a young coach, who still has a lot to learn: to make the right substitutions in the end, to correctly manage the time-outs. I think the combination of these two factors led to this result.”
On a positive note, Mozgov said he believes Spencer Dinwiddie deserves the Most Improved Player award.
The Nets declined comment.