Rodions Kurucs continued his surprising season at the All-Star Weekend, going for 10 points, five assists and four rebounds in 15 minutes in the Rising Stars Challenge. He was all smiles throughout the game and afterwards.
And why not? The 6’10” wing (officially 6’9 3/4” in sneakers) has found a home in Brooklyn and found respect around the league. The story of how the Nets took a chance on Kurucs, who had played only 44 minutes at F.C. Barcelona, is well-known. Not so well known, as Michael Scotto writes in The Athletic, is that his agent always wanted him in Brooklyn.
Arthurs Kalnitis knew.
“As an agent, you always try to lead the player in a direction that you believe would be beneficial for your client and the work that has been done with different players in the past,” Kalnitis said.
“Considering how important it is for a player from Europe to land in the right spot, Brooklyn was our priority. But as we all know, the NBA draft is unpredictable, so anything could have happened, but it worked out perfectly for us, and I believe Brooklyn is more than happy with their 40th pick.”
Kalnitis, of course, played a big role in setting the stage for the pick. He negotiated Kurucs’ buyout from a reported $5 million down to $750,000.
Once found, drafted and signed (to a four-year $7 million deal), Kurucs started to surprise his coaches and teammates.
“Honestly, before I got here I had no clue who he was,” Ed Davis said. “I remember in training camp and preseason while we were up here working out, I just remember him being super tough and super aggressive, strong and very active.
“I didn’t know that was going to translate to the game. I knew he was a little raw, but he’s the prototypical NBA player right now. He’s 6’8”, length, athletic, can move, can shoot the three. That’s what these GMs, that’s what they get off to right now, guys like him.”
Kenny Atkinson admitted he too was surprised, although his GM and scouts had told him of Kurucs’ potential.
“It was like I don’t think any of us — and you’d have to ask Sean — thought, ‘Oh, he’s going to be NBA ready right now.’ I think it was a development project,” said the head coach. “This has been an incredible surprise that he’s ready from a physical standpoint. He can handle the mental part of the game, and it’s just an unbelievable surprise.”
Not everyone was surprised. Dzanan Musa knew Kurucs from the FIBA Europe circuit, as he noted the day after the Draft.
“Actually, my first game was against this guy with the national team,” the Nets 29th pick said of Kurucs. “He kicked our ass. He scored against us like 20, 30 points. He dunked on us like eight times. So, I remember this guy.”
As Scotto notes, Kurucs has hit a bit of a wall. In the nine games prior to the break, he’s averaged 5.9 points on 29.2 percent shooting overall and 20.7 percent from 3-point range.
The Nets need him, as D’Angelo Russell told The Athletic.
“He’s just a different weapon for us,” Russell, said. “He’s growing every game. I don’t really know what his role is because he can affect the game on the defensive end, but on the offensive end too, you kind of don’t know what to expect from him. He’s shooting it, he’s getting in the lane when he wants, he’s passing it in the pick-and-roll. I don’t know, man. He’s showing me a lot every game, and I’m more than impressed with it.”
So now at the end of the journey from the Latvian city of Cēsis through Barcelona to Brooklyn, Kurucs remains all smiles.
“Thinking about all that has happened in the past, I want to say that the whole situation in Barcelona and the couple of injuries that Rodions had, was a blessing in disguise as it led us to be drafted by the Nets,” his agent, Kalnitis told Scotto. “I know Rodions is finally truly happy with the experience he is having in Brooklyn, and he enjoys every single day that he steps on the basketball court. Brooklyn is home for Rodi.”
- ‘An incredible surprise’: How the Nets found Rodions Kurucs, a second-round steal and Rising Star - Michael Scotto - The Athletic New York