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NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 2

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And we’re back, for our 12th big year! Every weekend, we’ll be updating the Nets’ off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, etc. to help take the edge off that first round loss.

Joe Tsai’s Debut

Joe Tsai was in Brooklyn on Thursday for the New York Liberty exhibition game with the Chinese Women’s National Team —an event he had a hand in arranging— and a series of interviews with local media, including NetsDaily.

The interviews were supposed to be mainly about the Liberty who he bought in January and with a little about the Nets, who he brought into last May. He spoke about everything from his love of women’s sports to the Nets upcoming free agency. With ND, he talked about how he’d like to see Chinese players on both his teams as well as his desire to buy into Barclays Center. He currently owns 49 percent of the Nets, but Mikhail Prokhorov owns the arena (or more specifically the leasehold).

There were some other headlines among the reports out of the press availability, including how he plans to take over the team in January 2021, the middle of the 2020-21 season. We had been under the impression that he’d be majority owner at the beginning of the 2021-22 season. It’s possible that the takeover date will be moved up as the New York Post reported at the end of March, but as Tsai told Brian Lewis of the current plan, “Look, it’s only like 18 months away,”

Tsai spoke about culture when Michael Scotto of The Athletic asked about what the Nets have to offer free agents.

“What I think –is important is, as the owner, is to encourage and allow the positive culture – a sustainable winning culture – to develop within the organization.

“What does that mean? That means bringing in the right people in terms of the front office, coaching staff and performance staff so your players can be taken care of. That they feel like when they join the team that their entire life, both on and off the court, can be taken care of...

“The veterans are teaching the young players on how to conduct themselves as professionals on and off the court, and also encouraging young players to improve, take care of their own bodies, and improve every day. You’ve got to go to practice you’ve got to be disciplined both during the season and in the off-season. Off-season discipline is very important too. These are all the elements that kind of come together from a winning culture.

In an interview with Kevin Wang of ESPN, Tsai said once he bought the Nets, buying the Liberty, which James Dolan had been trying to sell for 17 months, was a no-brainer. And he noted as well that he’s the father of a daughter who’s embraced sports,

“Well, once you are involved in the men’s team (the Brooklyn Nets), it’s pretty natural to think about, ‘Well, should we get involved with the New York team on the women’s side of things?’ Fortunately, the Liberty were available for sale and we sort of jumped at the opportunity.

“For me, it’s kind of personal. I have a daughter that plays sports throughout high school. She’s playing varsity lacrosse in college. So any father that have daughters can understand this. I really want to support women’s sports because I think young girls need role models to look up to.”

Tsai also gave Wang his scouting report on Han Xu, the 6’9” center who scored 19 points Thursday in the Liberty’s big win.

“As you can see, she is a tall player (6-foot-9). But she could also really dominate underneath the basket. She is not afraid of physicality and can also shoot. She’s a very versatile player. So just her pure skill sets. She’s going to catch a lot of attention and hopefully delight the fans, so I’m very excited to actually watch her play.”

Howard Megdal of High Post Hoops, writing for Forbes, highlighted an issue that will resonate with fans of both teams, how his first job is, as the Yankees’ George Steinbrenner once remarked, putting fannies in the seats. It’s about business as well as basketball.

“As an owner, the most important thing for me, what I can do for the New York Liberty is to build up the fan base. That’s the foundation of everything. If you have more fans, then your media value and your sponsorship rights value increase. That will bring more value to the whole team, and only then, when those values are increased, just like we’ve seen in the NBA.

“The NBA today gets more revenues from national TV and sponsorships and things like that, instead of just selling tickets. When those values increase, then everybody benefits because then there would be more economics to spread around that will benefit the players as well.”

And will those fannies be seated at Barclays Center after this season when contractual obligations will require them to play at Westchester County Center? He told Brian Lewis that Barclays is indeed the ideal location.

“I don’t know [if that will happen]. But I would say this: If you talk to all the NBA owners, they all say it makes a lot of sense to combine the ownership of a team and the arena.

“There’s a lot of synergy. The fans do come into the building to watch the team play, so from a business standpoint it makes a lot of sense. I hope that I would have an opportunity. But it’s up to Mikhail Prokhorov, who owns the arena, to figure out what they want to do.”

He told Lewis as well that Prokhorov deserves a lot of credit for putting the Nets in the best position, praising Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson as well.

“The thing that brings everything together is — credit to Mikhail — their organization brought in Sean Marks, and Sean Marks brought in Kenny Atkinson. Those are incredibly far-sighted decisions. They learned from their experience first coming into the Nets how hard it is to build a good team.”

At his press conference, he spoke as well about how he hopes his ownership of the two teams will help the development of mutual understanding between the U.S. and China, as AP’s Doug Feinberg noted...

“I’m steeped in this discussion and find myself having to explain China to Americans a lot,” This game, by bringing the national women’s team from China, is that it’s a platform for the two cultures to see how each other compete. You learn a little more about each other’s cultures. This is absolutely important. If there were more opportunities for me to support these kinds of changes, I’d do more of that.”

Of course, he’ll another and much bigger stage to talk about the relationship —and the role of sports— the next time the Nets take the court. On October 10, they play the Lakers in Shanghai, part of the two-game NBA China exhibition series in the People’s Republic. The other game is in Shenzhen two days later.

Hello, Jason.

Finally, at the end of his interview with us, Tsai described NetsDaily as a “social media sensation.” Maybe we should put that on the masthead.

General impressions of the Nets next owner, one who expects to be around for the long, long time? He’s knowledgeable about the team and the sport, with a clear understanding of how global marketing can help the team. He and his group understand that not only does the NBA has resonance worldwide, so does Brooklyn as an image, a condition.

Of course, getting it all to work is the challenge. Prokhorov thought he, too, could make the Nets a global force, but learned the hard way that it takes time and short cuts like the Boston trade can have devastating long-term effects. Until this season, the Nets were barely a local force as a result. Tsai no doubt is familiar with that lesson, but there will be other lessons to learn.

One thing that we didn’t ask —and should have— is just how ambitious is Tsai? Once he assumes the mantle of ownership, Tsai will be one of a handful of owners with an NBA team, a WNBA team, a G League team and an NBA2K team ... in the biggest market. Not to mention that Tsai is a member of the board of directors of NBA China. That combination can be powerful within the Board of Governors.

Chinese Prospects?

Tsai, in his interview with us, was quite firm in saying he’d like to see a Chinese player on the team.

“On the men’s side of things, I think the (Chinese) players are more known to everybody. It’s fairly transparent. So, it’s not like we can go out and find some diamond-in-the-rough situation, but we’re looking. I would be very pleased if we had someone from China. China is a large country with a large population, a strong passion for basketball, and also with the authorities very focused on developing sports. I think it’s just a matter of time.”

So are there Chinese players out there who the Nets might be interested in? As a summer league invite? A training camp tryout? A two-way contract? In fact, there are ... and one of them trained with the Nets at HSS Center last summer.

Ding Yanyuhang, generally seen as the best NBA prospect in China, was scheduled to play with the Nets in summer league but there was a health issue —knee soreness— as well as a political one — China wanted him back home to get ready for FIBA commitments.

The 6’8” shooting guard ultimately begged out of the Summer League and after his friend, Jeremy Lin was traded on July 12, he moved on, signing with the Mavericks. He was cut, sent to the G League but didn’t play at all last season in either the G League or the Chinese Basketball Association. He underwent knee surgery in December, but last week, the China National Team listed the 25-year-old on its preliminary roster for the 2019 FIBA World Cup. China’s coach said Ding had rehabbed in the US and would be in China at the end of May.

Also on the Chinese NT roster and also hoping for an NBA shot is Zhou Qi, a 7’2” (7’8” wingspan) center prospect. After being cut in December by the Rockets, who had taken him in the second round of the 2016 NBA Draft, he stayed in the U.S. to rehab from an ankle injury and train. Nets fans may remember him from a summer league game last July when Jarrett Allen posterized him.

Jarrett Allen with a dunk over Zhou Qi.

Jarrett Allen with a huge slam over Zhou Qi

Posted by NBA on ESPN on Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Still, Zhou is still only 23 and the Nets know how to deal with ankle injuries.

Perhaps the most promising or at least intriguing Chinese prospect is 6’8” stretch-4, Abudushalamu Abudurexiti. (If Ian or Sarah is reading this, you can learn how to pronounce it here) “Slam” is seen as the best young (22) player in China. He was Most Improved Player, a contender for MVP, an All-Star and led his team, the Xingjiang Flying Tigers, to the CBA Finals. He averaged 18.7 points, 7.5 rebounds and shot 62.2 percent from two, 40.4 from three and showed some physical strength.

Abudurexiti, an ethnic Uiyghur from northwestern China, went undrafted last year, his last year of eligibility. Michael Scotto reported that Abudurexiti worked out for the Nets prior to the draft. He ultimately played one game in the summer league for the Warriors, scoring five points and grabbing three boards.

Here’s a highlight reel...

Are the Nets interested in any of them or other Chinese players? Not that we know but we know the Nets have a worldwide scouting apparatus. Also, all three are on the Chinese national team, which is hosting the FIBA World Cup in early September.

Everybody wants to be a Net

No, we’re not talking about Kevin, Kawhi, Klay, Kristaps or Kemba. Not that the K-Boys are uninterested. We’ll find that out in July. It’s just that the Nets success is leading to opportunities for Nets staffers. Last month, the Nets lost assistant Will Weaver to the Sydney Kings in Australia’s NBL, where he’ll be head coach. Weaver took the Long Island Nets to the G League Finals, winning Coach of the Year in the process. This week, we learned that Chris Fleming, their “offensive coordinator” will become Jim Boylen’s lead assistant with the Bulls. Lots of kudos for Fleming as he switched jobs.

Trajan Langdon lost out on the Timberwolves president of basketball operations job, finishing second, we’ve heard, to the ultimate winner, Gersson Rosas, who’s worked with Daryl Morey in Houston. He’s still on the short list for the Wizards job.

Now, word out of Milan, Italy, is that Gianluca Pascucci, the Nets director of global scouting, is a candidate for the GM job at Olimpia Milano, which is undergoing its own rebuilding. Pascucci, regarded as one of the best basketball minds in the NBA, was largely responsible for scouting and pushing Rodions Kurucs, Kenny Atkinson has said. Those same reports suggest that the Nets will not give up Pascucci easily with one report suggesting that if Langdon leaves, Pascucci will move into the No. 2 spot.

None of this should be surprising. You can hear owners across the NBA scream out, “Get me the next Sean Marks!” or the next Kenny Atkinson. Luckily, the Nets tied up both them with extensions.

On the other hand, the Nets should have an easier time replacing whoever leaves. Remember, Marks recruited all those guys when he arrived in 2016, as a first time GM of a team that had won 20 games.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

Goga Bitadze has been mocked to the Nets by various basketball sites at one point or another in recent months. Best player available aside, the 6’11” Georgian (Republic of, not the state) would fill some needs for Brooklyn. He’s big and could fill out more, has nice footwork and has a nose for the ball and basket. He can shoot from the outside and finish inside. And he’s 19, turning 20 in July.

However, like last week’s Sleeper, Nassir Little, Bitadze has the look of a late riser, a player that jumps up the Draft at the last minute. So don’t get too excited. He could be gone by 17. (While NBADraft.net has him at No. 20 and ESPN/Draft Express has him at No. 26, The Ringer has him at No. 9!.)

That aside, take a look at what he can do...

Not bad, not bad at all.

Bitadze averaged 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds in 13 Euroleague games for Buducnost shooting only 31.3 percent from deep, but in the ABA, the regional league in the Balkans, he shot better than 40 percent.

What’s the knock that’s kept him so low in the Draft? One reason is that he lacks explosiveness. It’s not that he’s earthbound, just doesn’t have that quick second jump that is so crucial for bigs in the NBA. Yeah, his defense, too. Kevin O’Connor writing for The Ringer says “Moves laterally like he has sandbags around his ankles.”

O’Connor, however, also notes “Bitadze is the best screener in this draft class; excels at the little things that young bigs often struggle with, like dribble handoffs and high-low passes.”

That assessment makes him sound like a Net. And let’s not forget that the last three Nets draft picks were born in Cyprus (Aleksandr Vezenkov); Bosnia (Dzanan Musa) and Latvia (Rodions Kurucs), small European countries. Will Bitadze and Georgia be next?

Final Note

The Nets official site, BrooklynNets.com has some nice retrospectives on last season, including video packages of each player’s five best games. So far, they done DeMarre Carroll, Jarrett Allen, Allen Crabbe, Ed Davis, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. There’s also retrospectives on Big Nights in Brooklyn and Dinwiddie’s Kicks.

The Nets may be better next season with bigger names —and that’s great— but last season remains special. Worth watching ... and listening to the best crew in the NBA.