“Over? Did you say over? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the German’s bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! And it ain’t over now! Cause when the going gets tough.. The tough get goin’. Who’s with me?” - Bluto in Animal House
Over to you, Kenny ...
It’s too early to start doing pre-season previews or power rankings. But it appears Sean Marks and his merry band (sly reference to Robin Hood, who stole from the rich ... you get it) have completed their annual re-shaping of the Nets roster. There might be a tweak here or there, but the Nets now have 15 players with guaranteed contracts.
Timofey Mozgov, Jeremy Lin and Isaiah Whitehead —who played all of 605 minutes in 48 games — are gone, traded away to Charlotte, Atlanta and Denver. Nik Stauskas has signed with Portland, Dante Cunningham with San Antonio. Quincy Acy and Jahlil Okafor have yet to find homes. Milton Doyle and James Webb III have had their rights renounced as well and won’t be back in Brooklyn or Long Island.
Welcome the kids, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs; the free agents, Ed Davis, Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham; and those acquired in trades, Kenneth Faried and Jared Dudley. No word yet on two-ways, although there are reports that two undrafted college stars, UNC’s Theo Pinson and Texas A&M’s Tyler Davis have been invited to camp.
They’re probably slightly younger ... we haven’t done the math ... but Musa is barely 19 and Kurucs is barely 20. There are only two 30-somethings on the roster, 33-year-old Dudley and soon-to-be 32-year-old DeMarre Carroll. After that, it’s 29-year-old Davis, 28-year-old Faried and 27-year-old Napier.
Have they lost some shooting? Maybe. Acy and Cunningham are accomplished 3-point shooters. Faried and Davis have made two 3-pointers combined in their careers, both by Faried. Dudley on the other hand is one of the best deep shooters in the game, hitting 39.55 percent of his shots, ranking him 15th among NBA active players, just behind No. 14, Allen Crabbe at 39.66, and No. 13, Joe Harris, at 40.03. Stauskas may be a better natural shooter than Napier, but the UConn product can do more with the ball. Graham hasn’t played much but he’s got the best career number on the team, 43.8 percent.
The big improvement is in defense and rebounding. Adding Faried and Davis, in particular, gives Brooklyn not just numbers but a physical presence they lacked. No more bullying. No more career highs. Graham can also guard multiple positions. That alone should win them some games.
As Ian Eagle told Evan Roberts on WFAN on Friday,
“As anyone like you who watched the games knows, that area, those two areas, had to improve. There were games, winnable games, where they couldn’t compete in those two areas. And you look up and they win 28 games. That could easily have been 35, 36 if, if you could address those two areas and they’ve done that.”
In the locker room, losing Lin will probably hurt, but let’s face it: he spent almost all of last season, from November through April, in another country, 3,000 miles away, rehabbing on his own. On the other hand, Davis, Dudley and Faried were all seen as great locker room presences while in Portland, Phoenix and Denver. More on that later.
At this point, it would again appear that none of the additions will start although Rondae Hollis-Jefferson could face some competition at the 4. The top seven players still look like D’Angelo Russell, Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Crabbe, Carroll and Hollis-Jefferson. Who gets big minutes after that? It will no doubt be situational, but expect Davis and Napier to get a lot of time on the court. Faried could surprise, as could Dudley. Faried’s lack of minutes in Denver was not due to injury or age but the logjam of good front court players. His per-36 minutes were not much changed from his more productive years. Dudley was relegated to a mentoring role on a very young team, by his own admission, and there were concerns that he needed to slim down. He said Friday that he has already lost 10 pounds this summer.
One other point that has been somewhat lost in the shuffle. Virtually everyone on the team, except for the rookies, Allen, LeVert and Harris are playing for their next contract this season. DLo and RHJ will be looking for their first big post-rookie contract deals. Dinwiddie’s contract can be extended as early as December 8. All the newcomers are either on expiring deals (Faried and Dudley), one-year deals (Davis) or have team options after this year (Napier and Graham). Even Crabbe has a player option next July 1. That’s a LOT of motivation.
And going into the season, they should be healthy. The two Nets who were rehabbing injuries, Lin (knee) and Whitehead (wrist), are gone and by all accounts, the newcomers are healthy. That’s never happened in the Markinson Era. Brook Lopez’s foot, Greivis Vasquez’s ankle, Caris LeVert’s foot, Allen Crabbe’s ankle were all issues the last two camps.
Overall, are they improved? They certainly should be, assuming good health. Again, Ian Eagle to Evan Roberts...
“They’re playing the long game here. They wanted to improve the roster --which they’ve done. You look at the roster that’s currently constituted, compared to the one they ended last season with and they’re better.”
How much better? Some of that will depend on individual development: Can Russell be the team leader? Improved skillsets: Can Hollis-Jefferson show improvement in his 3-point shooting? New attitudes: Can LeVert and Allen be more aggressive? Will the rookies make a contribution (and which one?). And for a team that prided itself on chemistry and bonding, there will be a resorting of roles.
For Kenny Atkinson and his staff, there will be challenges molding this group, keeping people happy, etc. But bottom line, this is the most talented of the three groups the Nets have brought to camp,
Rookie Fun Facts
First of all, Ian Eagle told Evan Roberts what he believes are the proper pronunciations of the two rookies’ names. It’s “Janan Moosa,” the “Dz” sounded like a “J” and “Rodion Ku-rooks,” the “s” being silent and it’s “ooks,” not “ucks”.
Okay, got that out of the way.
Here’s a trivia question to stump your fellow Nets fans ... or at least those who don’t read this report every week. Which Net has the longest GUARANTEED contract? Joe Harris has two years. Dzanan Musa has a four-year rookie deal, with the first two years guaranteed. Does anyone have more than that? If you guessed Rodions Kurucs —and you know you didn’t— you’d be right. According to his agent, Arthurs Kalnitis, the 6’9” Kurucs contract is guaranteed for three years.
Rodions Kurucs has signed a four year agreement with the @BrooklynNets ! Three years guaranteed, fourth year is a team option. Pure happiness, what a journey! The real fun starts now pic.twitter.com/vRdH4QeRBw— Artūrs Kalnītis (@ArtursKalnitis) July 16, 2018
And according to Basketball Insiders’ salary page, Kurucs first year salary under the deal is virtually the same as Musa’s who was taken 11 spots ahead of him. Musa will earn $1,632,240 his first year; Kurucs $1,618,320, says BI. That’s less than $14,000. The disparity will grow over the course of the four-year deals each has, but it all goes to the point that the Nets have long seen these two as a pairing. Marks scouted both personally and it is by no means a stretch to suggest the Nets liked these two at Nos. 29 and 40 when the 2018 Draft got underway a month ago Sunday. (Is it only a month?!?)
And neither of them had even seen NBA action of any kind up close until the Summer League. They’d never been to an NBA game and in fact, Musa had never been to the United States prior to arriving for his workouts at the end of June.
“It was a crazy, crazy experience for me as I sat down,” said Kurucs in an interview with Tom Dowd of the Nets website. “First time I’ve seen it in my life, American basketball, what it’s about. It’s fast, physical. I like that. I’m really excited to play next season.”
Prepared to be wowed come October, boys.
By the way, the Nets worked out dozens of prospects leading up to the Draft, as we chronicled endlessly, but neither Musa nor Kurucs showed their wares to the Nets brass. Both were interviewed in the days before the Draft and the Nets sent a legion of front office types to Kurucs’ “Pro Day” in Los Angeles, but neither was put through the motions of a workout.
The veteran presence
One thing to look for when a player leaves his old team for a new one is what their old teammates say about then, particularly if it’s a veteran player. In the case of the Nets newcomers, the praise was effusive.
Here’s what the two stars of the Trail Blazers said about Ed Davis when the Nets signed him...
And what Suns players said about Jared Dudley...
My brother @JaredDudley619, thank you for all the knowledge you have passed on to me. True representation on how to be a great Vet in this league. I learned a lot from you just from conversation throughout the past couple years. I wish the best for you and your family movin fwrd!— Devin Booker (@DevinBook) July 20, 2018
Thank u @JaredDudley619 for Everthing man! U were a great vet and mentor for me and taught us a lot about this business! No matter wat was ever said about u, u always stayed solid and i respect that! ✊— Marquese Chriss (@quese) July 20, 2018
Bodes well. Another telling thing from social media is that in almost every case, reporters covering the media had kind things to say about the departing players. Jason Quick, the Blazers beat writer for NBC Sports, went on tear about the loss of Davis and Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer had this to say about new Net Treveon Graham on Friday...
BTW, the Nets got a great guy in @TreBall21 He’s smart and worked so hard to show he’s an NBA player. Far too many small forwards on Hornets roster to have justified a qualifying offer, but he belongs in the league.— Rick Bonnell (@rick_bonnell) July 20, 2018
Also, this week, the Nets resident adult, DeMarre Carroll, spoke with Tom Dowd about the responsibility of the role of veteran. Dowd interviewed Carroll on the sidelines of the Summer League in Las Vegas, where he has spent his early July the last three years cheering on younger players.
“I remember these days when you come here and practice and do basically training camp before doing training camp,” said Carroll. “A lot of these guys, they get an opportunity. They might have been cast-offs in the league. At one point I was like them. So me, personally, I always come back here. Doesn’t matter what team I’m with. I’m going to come back and show my support. Just to see an NBA guy who’s been through the trenches and been through the way on the sideline, I think it gives them a little bit more motivation. To me, I’m just always trying to give back. This game wasn’t promised to me and I’ve got nine successful years in the NBA. I just want to continue to keep trying to give back.”
Carroll also spoke about what D’Angelo Russell called, “the joint in Cali,” the Nets player-organized gathering in Los Angeles attended by 13 of the team’s then 15 players (six of whom are no longer on the team).
“We did the hike and then we did the mountain,” said Carroll. “We charged it a little bit so we were getting cardio, but it was also the team helping other guys when they try to slow down, pushing them. It was good. It was great. We had a lot of fun. I’m always trying to orchestrate things like that.”
Veteran leadership of course is not limited to the team’s greybeards. As we’ve reported, Russell has taken Dzanan Musa under his wing, inviting him to his home to play video games, talk hoops and New York. They’ve seen working out together as well.
We’ll be following the Nets stashes a little more closely this season, particularly Aleksandar Vezenkov, who went from being inactive with F.C. Barcelona in Spain to part of what’s being a dubbed a superteam in Greece with Olympiacos.
As we noted, Vezenkov (and Kurucs!) were not seen as part of Barca’s future because of their NBA ambitions and so were relegated to minor roles or no roles at all. Now, under Olympiacos new coach, David Blatt, Vezenkov will join two of Europe’s top stars, Kosta Papanikolau and Vassilis Spanoulis, both of who have been re-signed by the Greeks, along with Latvian star Janis Timma; Gonzaga product Nigel Williams-Goss; Virginia Tech product Zach LeDay; former NBAer Axel Toupane and Spurs stash Nikola Milutinov.
Vezenkov’s contract is for two years, plus a team option, presumably with an NBA “out” after each year.
The other stash we’ll be following is new guy Isaia Cordinier, the 6’5” French guard sent to the Nets in the Jeremy Lin deal. He missed all of last season and underwent double knee surgery to correct recurring tendinitis issues. He’s been re-signed by his French team, Antibes Sharks, who believes he can return to for. He’s been rehabbing all spring and summer.
He is expected to be ready for Antibes training camp in September.
As we wrote at the time of the trade, he’s a risk, but the Nets did like him enough in 2016 to work him out and asked that he be included in the trade. He was taken No. 44 that year by the Hawks, and played for their Summer League team. He’s still only 21.
Meanwhile, the Nets other stash, Juan Pablo Vaulet, remains in limbo. After being invited to Summer League, despite recurring ankle issues, JPV couldn’t play because of the pain. His situation with the Nets remains uncertain at best.
We are going to try to stay away from Super Team speculation — it’s so early, but we will note what Ian Eagle said to Evan Roberts about having all that cap space ... and a rising reputation in the NBA.
“It’s not just about signing two max players. It’s about the ability to make some deals similar to what Toronto just did with Kawhi Leonard, maybe even take a chance on the big one, if possible. I think they’ve put themselves in a really good position. And they’ve done it their way. “
Eagle wasn’t more specific about “The Big One.” And we are not going there. Nope. Just keep refreshing.
But he’s not the only one who’s talking about the Nets at least getting a look-see from solid NBA players. The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor said Friday that the Nets —and the Knicks— are likely to become free agent “destinations.”
“You look at the Nets. They have some nice young players, too. They just drafted Musa —and Kurucs in the second round. They have D’Angelo Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Jarrett Allen. They have a good coach, a good front office AND the Nets can potentially create up to two max slots for next summer or have those for the 2020 summer when there may be fewer teams with cap space to create two max slots. That becomes appealing when you look at the big market and the infrastructure they have and that front office. “
There are skeptics, of course —they are called Knicks fans— but increasingly the punditry suggests players on other teams are thinking of the Nets as a destination. Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders quotes players in a tweet Saturday...
Love it - the talk of future free agents considering Brooklyn next year is real. I have heard that directly from players. https://t.co/KnxoRrTk0n— Steve Kyler (@stevekylerNBA) July 21, 2018
We still believe the Nets will have to WIN for any serious free agent to consider setting down roots in Brooklyn, but other than that (and that’s a big that), the Nets do seem positioned, as O’Connor told Roberts, to take the next step. As we’ve said in the past...