What a time to be alive and a Nets fan! BUT...
Excited? You bet! Optimistic? Certainly!
As one Nets insider noted to us the other day, she looked up at TV at Barclays Center and saw the Nets logo paired with Snoop Doggy Dog on ESPN, stopped what she was doing and said aloud, “What a great time to be alive!”
The week has been filled with daily if not hourly updates on the Nets pursuit of the top free agents in the NBA. Thursday’s trade of Allen Crabbe set the stage for creating enough cap space for two max contracts. The Scola Principle — “Once they win, they will get everyone they want”— seems to have been prophetic.
But, there’s something else we need to discuss and his name is D’Angelo Russell. In virtually any other circumstance, any other team, retaining a 23-year-old All-Star point guard would be the top priority. Here, it’s literally an afterthought!
Take what Woj said Friday on ESPN’s “Get Up.”
“The Nets are still very fond of D’Angelo Russell. They would bring him back in a heartbeat if two free agents don’t come. Russell understands that and he’s apparently willing to wait. But there are multiple teams out there very interested in his services.”
Bottom line, as one insider said, DLo’s return to the Nets “depends on scenarios.” By now, we know what those “scenarios” are. If the Nets can sign Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant (or perhaps some other free agent), Russell is gone. The kid who saved the season. Gone.
Yes, saved the season. Period. With Caris LeVert missing two and a half months and Spencer Dinwiddie missing another month and a half, the Nets rode D’Lo into the playoffs. And he became a star in the process, a fan favorite, capable of doing great things, like putting up 27 points in the fourth quarter in Sacramento, fueling one of the great combacks in NBA history. He missed one game, not because of injury but because his coach wanted to rest him. He changed the way he prepared, for dismissed the notion that he wasn’t coachable, became a leader ... embraced it, in fact.
More importantly, D’Angelo Russell became a symbol of the identity the Nets want to create, want to be known for. They developed him, rebuilt him after his tumultuous two-year stay in L.A. Like LeVert, like Dinwiddie, he represented something new under the sun in the NBA. No longer did a team have to rely on the three cornerstones of creating a contender: the Draft, trades and free agency. Development, the Nets proved, was just as important and he exemplified it, more —in our opinion— than his two teammates.
As Woj said, DLo is apparently willing to see what happens, telling Brian Lewis last week...
“It’s more of just the waiting game as far as chess moves have to be made. There’s a lot of big fish out there that have to find their destinations so I think I’ll [fall in line after that].
“There are a lot of fish out there that need to find destinations. So whenever that time comes then I have decisions to make on my own, I think I’ll be well ready for it.”
Loyalty is indeed one of his strong suits, one rarely mentioned publicly but true nonetheless. He wants to stay in Brooklyn. He understands what Brooklyn did for him.
Yes, there are issues. The permutations of the CBA have always been a bit of a mystery to us and we have faith in Sean Marks ability to manipulate it to the benefit of the Nets present and future. And yes, DLo is a bit of an analytics aberration in an organization that holds analytics in very high regard. He loves the mid-range game, a heresy to the analytics gurus.
There is the maturity issue, too. Yes, he was caught trying to transport some pot on a plane, but the amount was so small that the biggest punishment that can be levied is a fine that is less than what you get for using a cellphone while driving. No, it’s not the best look but it is decidedly not a big deal in the full measure of things. Finally, he may want more money than the Nets think he’s worth, but that’s what negotiations are about.
Marks has always been non-committal about DLo’s return. Here’s what he had to say at the post-season press conference back in April.
“I think D’Angelo knows how we feel about him. As I mentioned before our job is to keep talent on the floor, and to get better talent and to keep developing that talent. So we’ll see where it all ends up.”
There’s something else here though, something very important. Letting Russell go would blunt a lot of the talk about building a team organically, developing our own, not skipping steps, pushing a player-centric culture.
You never, ever heard him throw a teammate under the bus, question a coach, wonder aloud about his future, as other stars have. By all accounts, his teammates love him. (Some have privately talked about how they fear he won’t be around.)
Yeah, it’s a business. Yeah, there may be great opportunities on the horizon, but Russell has proven himself special.
So, it would be, in our opinion, a tragedy if someone else was wearing No. 1 next October and he was starting anew in a place like Utah or Minnesota or dare we say it, Manhattan. It would test our fandom, to be quite frank.
As we said, we don’t fully understand the permutations of the CBA — Certainly, he is a restricted free agent, giving the Nets added advantages. We will wait and see what happens, hope for the best. ‘Nuff said ... for now.
Pooch introduced the newest Net, Taurean Prince, on Friday and we hope to have a film study by Reed Wallach in the near future. Prince may appear to be a throw-in to a trade whose main purpose was to create cap space but he’s a proven NBA player who can move between 3-and-D and stretch-4, much like DeMarre Carroll. But he’s nearly eight years younger than DMC.
“They like Taurean Prince a lot, They really do,” former Nets GM Bobby Marks told Ryen Russillo on an ESPN podcast. “I think he’ll fit probably at the 4 for Kenny Atkinson. He can replace DeMarre Carroll there.”
We don’t know the role new assistant GM Jeff Peterson played in the negotiations (although we would sure like to know) but we assume he blessed the deal, believing that the 6’8” 25-year-old would prove a solid addition. Peterson, after all, was assistant GM in Atlanta the last three years and a scout before that. Prince was taken in the 2016 Draft so the Nets new assistant GM has a good understanding of Prince’s potential and personality.
One thing that struck us in our research is that Prince has gone from being homeless and living in a Salvation Army shelter —or sleeping on the street— to the NBA. In May of last year, he wrote of his journey in a Players’ Tribune story, entitled “The Pursuit Never Ends.” It is a moving tribute to what a lot of NBA players, a lot of African-Americans go through.
Here’s how described his situation when after moving in with his father following his parents’ divorce, he and his dad were evicted from their home. He was 12.
When we walked into The Salvation Army that first day, I thought it was a cafeteria.
My dad signed some papers at the front desk and they showed us our room. The room had four concrete walls with two beds — no carpet, no TV, no furniture. It was just a place to sleep. My dad looked at me and said, “We’re lucky we got this room.” I was like, Lucky?? How? And he said, “Some rooms have four or six beds, but we got a room to ourselves.” My dad, man. Even in a homeless shelter with his son, he was trying to find the upside...
We stayed at The Salvation Army for the next 30 days, except for a few nights when we got there too late and they were full. They had this rule that you had to check out every morning and then check back in every evening. So there were a couple times we were out of luck and my dad would have to call a friend to ask if we could crash on a couch. On two nights, when nobody answered his calls and the rooms were full at the Salvation Army, we had to sleep outside. And once I got older, I realized how embarrassing it probably was for him, a grown man with his son asking people for shelter and admitting that we were homeless. To me, though, at that time, I never saw him show it. He made me feel like we were a team, like we were just on an adventure.
There’s a LOT more to the story, the adventure: how the kindness of a friend, the foresight of a coach and a change of fortune all helped him survive and thrive. Keep some tissues nearby.
A Little Update on Stashes
Rodions Kurucs and soon-to-be-departing assistant coach Pablo Prigioni were in Madrid last week for a gathering of those players and coaches who are headed to Riga, Latvia, for Basketball Without Borders Europe. Kristaps Porzingis is also an invitee to the NBA-sponsored event which starts Sunday, the first BWB in Latvia which is becoming a basketball hotbed.
Kurucs took some video of some other players on hand at the Real Madrid Training Center and posted it on Instagram. At least two of the Nets three stashes —Isaia Cordinier, the 6’5” French shooting guard, and Aleksandr Vezenkov, the 6’9” Bulgarian forward— were shown in practice gear. Here’s a still. That’s Vezenkov in the background, Cordinier in the foreground.
The Nets aren’t saying what was going on but it appeared that Brooklyn was checking out the two 23-year-olds, perhaps for summer league invitations? Summer League, after all, is less than a month away, starting July 5 in Las Vegas.
The next day, Cordinier signed a two-year deal with Nanterre of the French A league but French reports suggested that as part of his deal, he’ll be permitted to show his skills to the Nets this summer. Cordinier was the Hawks second round pick in the 2016 Draft and included in the Jeremy Lin trade last July. Missing the 2017-18 season following double knee surgery to cure tendinitis, he had a solid season with Antibes, where Nets scouts watched him and a Nets trainer worked with him on a customized regimen.
Vezenkov is still under contract with Olympiacos in the Greek League and reports out of Bulgaria indicate that his coach, David Blatt, plans on using him more next season. He had an up-and-down season this year.
Madrid was also the scene of the UEFA Champions League last weekend. As we noted in last week’s report, D’Angelo Russell and Joe Harris were at the game, part of an NBA promotion. Harris stayed on and was seen working with Kurucs.
On Monday night, in Toronto, history could very well be made. A Canadian team, the Raptors, are one win away from becoming the first NBA team from outside the U.S. to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy. One former Nets player, Jeremy Lin, is on the Raptors roster, although in a deep back-up role. He’s played only a minute in The Finals, in Game 3 on Wednesday night. No matter if he plays another minute, if Toronto wins, he’ll be the first Asian-American to win a ring, the first Harvard grad, too. Good for him!
But as Steve Popper wrote on Saturday, there’s another former Net, an assistant coach, who could wind up in the mosh pit Monday: Jimmy Sann, who you may remember collapsed and nearly died from a heart attack four years ago while working with Deron Williams at a Nets practice in East Rutherford. This is his third year with Toronto and he recalled both the events of that day and the gratitude he has.
“I was having such a good workout,” Sann told Popper. “I thought it was just something I ate, heartburn. So I ran back and got a Zantac. I never slowed down. I ran to the locker room, popped it and ran back. So my heart was racing and I ran back out. I never stopped.”
When he got down in a defensive stance, he felt a stabbing pain and collapsed. As Tim Bontemps reported at the time, it was a close call,
Matt Horton, a team staff member who was working out with Sann at the time of the attack, alerted Walsh, assistant trainers Lloyd Beckett and Alessandro Oliveira and team massage therapist John Rink “who sprang into action, with Walsh performing CPR while the others got out a defibrillator and, eventually, brought Sann back.”
Sann, who was widowed and the father of two small children, recalled that the first thing he heard when he came to was Kevin Garnett screaming at him that he can’t die. Sann got caught in the shuffle when Kenny Atkinson replaced Lionel Hollins (who famously or infamously continued the practice after an ambulance took Sann to the hospital.)
Now, he’s happily remarried and on the verge of every NBA player and coach’s dream, a chip.
“The bigger picture for me, especially being in the Finals right now, this is not wasted on me. I’m taking every day as it’s a lot of work and we’re really grinding it out. I’ve gotten myself in a great situation here with Masai [Ujiri, the Raptors’ general manager] and Nick [Nurse, the Raptors head coach]. But this is not wasted on me.
“There’s so many coaches out there that do this for years and years, good coaches, and never get a chance. So I am thankful that I was able to come through that. Not just my heart attack, the family tragedy, the kids’ tragedy. Now I’m remarried and built my life with her. The kids are 13 and 11. So this is really a big thing for me. It really is.”
Draft Sleeper of the Week
Ah yes, the Draft, now 11 days away. You remember the Draft, right? It’s right before the beginning of Free Agency. To be fair, whatever interest you might have had in the Draft may have dissipated when Sean Marks traded the Nets first rounder to Atlanta in the cap-clearing Allen Crabbe trade. Still, at least for now, the Nets have two picks, No. 27 in the first round and No. 31 at the top of the second. Under the CBA, the Nets will have to pay whoever they take with the No. 27 pick nearly $2 million unless of course they use it on a stash (or trade it in a cap-saving move.)
We were going to feature Kevin Porter Jr. in this week’s feature, but alas, he’ll be gone by No. 27. So how about Chuma Okeke? The 6’8” power forward from Auburn is a bit of a risk. He tore his ACL in the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet Sixteen and may not be able to play much next season. That, as Caris LeVert can tell you, hasn’t deterred the Nets in the past. The good doctors at Hospital for Special Surgery will no doubt take a look at the medical reports and make a determination, which will be passed on to the front office, just as it would be with any prospect.
Okeke is a traditional big man, 6’8” and 235 pounds, but he also has a decent three-point shot, hitting 38.7 percent his shots from deep this past season and 39 percent the year before. Seen as a decent prospect before the NCAA tournament, he was moving up boards as he led Auburn to that Sweet 16 game win over North Carolina where he got injured. He had 20 points and 11 rebounds before going down with 8:08 remaining in the Tigers’ upset. People were starting to think of him as a late lottery pick.
“Now that he’s injured, he’s still projected to go some place either late-first round or early in the second round, but because of his injury, he’s not going to have an opportunity to play his way higher,” his coach, Bruce Pearl said last month, talking about the NBA Draft Combine.
In fact, most mocks have him right around where the Nets pick and two mocks this week had him going to Brooklyn — Tankathon and Bleacher Report.
Here’s some highlights from this season. As you can see, he knows his way around the basket and the arc.
He is a bit of a risk, as we said, but then again, he might have been considered at No. 17 if it wasn’t for the injury.
Good for Pooch! As we noted this week, ESPN, who is decidedly not in the habit of crediting other journalists, went out of its way to credit Anthony Puccio (and ND) for his exclusive reporting on how the Nets and Kyrie Irving had “mutual interest.” That’s the very same phrase Adrian Wojnarowski used when he did his story a few days after Pooch.
As for Gio of Boomer & Gio who trashed him for some earlier reporting, which is again proving to be accurate, we note that said show is having its worst ratings in 20 years with Gio in the chair. It’s called karma and we love it.
Oh yeah, HIRE THIS MAN!