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NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 12

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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 fans get ready for the giddiness of next season.

Marc Berman/NY York Post

Jerseys are everywhere

We’re gonna leave this right here...

Consider for a second the author, the location and the message ... “Still stunning” ... as you contemplate what just happened and realize again the transformational nature of this month.

Things that were wrong

For those of us who had an idea what the Nets were planning —and how they were going about it, the “Clean Sweep,” as Woj called it, was not really a surprise. It was a shock, of course, and we didn’t know until the last minute, like everyone else.

HOWEVER...

By early April, we at NetsDaily had sources intimating that Brooklyn would come away with at least one of the big free agents. There was an optimism among players, coaches, the front office, ownership that was palpable. No one mentioned names, just that it was going to be “an exciting summer,” as one executive told us with a telling smile on April 10. Pooch wrote it up. Other reporters, like Stefan Bondy and Brian Lewis, started to get hints as well around that time.

By mid-May at the Draft Combine, Kenny Atkinson had to control himself when talking about how the Nets believed they had a shot at who he called “Option A,” obviously Kevin Durant.

To refresh your memory, here’s what he said to Woj on May 16!

“[I]t’s a real fantastic opportunity. We’re going to have options. A, I think we all know what A is. There’s some great players out there. But we also feel comfortable with B, C and D that if it doesn’t go our way in free agency.”

And we know as well from Spencer Dinwiddie’s conversation with Shams Charania this week, that was also around the time that Dinwiddie was getting a sense from Irving that “alright, this shit’s gonna happen,”

But for the most part, that was all ignored. Throughout the league, pundits were still giving Knick fans false hope that New York could come away with an instant Big 3 of Zion Williamson, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Marc Berman, the Post’s Knick beat writer, wrote about the Knicks impending “summer of grandeur.” (Really. He wrote that.)

The memes were everywhere. Here’s ESPN’s.

Two of the most famous —and in retrospect most embarrassing — assessments of the Knick situation came in the days before Atkinson’s comments. On May 10, Skip Bayless and Chris Broussard talked about how KD and Kyrie would be a perfect fit on the Knicks. Then, the next day, Stephen A. Smith went on Twitter to offer this...

Smith later figured out he was wrong and backtracked, warning Knick fans that the Nets were coming on strong. Too late.

What we now know is that this trope about the Knicks attraction was never true. Never true. People got fooled. The Knicks couldn’t even get a meeting with ANY of the big free agents. “I don’t play for the Knicks. I don’t care about the Knicks. I’m not going to waste my energy,” Tobias Harris said this week when asked about his interest in the Knicks.

The first hint that the Nets had a shot should have come in February when in a discussion of the Knicks future on NBA TV, former Cavs GM David Griffin politely dismissed New York’s chances at Irving. Here’s that exchange, from February 7.

“I think Brooklyn is the fit that’s better for him in terms of his mindset,” Griffin said of Irving.

When asked why, Griffin replied it’s about the Nets’ culture.

“I think he likes what they’ve done there, culturally. I think that’s why Boston spoke to him as well,” he said.

Despite his being close to Irving, Griffin’s comments were dismissed by the pundit class. Did Griffin know something? Our analysis? DUH!

Instead, the basketball media focused on a hallway conversation at the All-Star Game two weeks later.

In retrospect, was there anything dumber than trying to lip read a 25-second conversation ... then trying to divine the future of the NBA from it?!?

Irving quickly took issue with the speculation that he was recruiting KD to the Knicks. The next day, he went off, in one of his rants at the Boston media.

“This is the stuff that doesn’t make the league fun. It does’t make the league fun. It’s my life, right? It’s two people talking, having a conversation. If this was the real world would it be anybody else’s business. But it’s a video of somebody assuming what we’re talking about. Making an opinion about it. So why would I care about it? What I do with my life is my business. So it’s none of yours, its none of anybody’s. It’s not anybody else’s business. Everybody wants to hear me talk like this. Everybody wants every athlete to talk about (bleep) like this. It just makes no sense.”

In fact, by early March, at least Irving was thinking seriously about the Nets, not Knicks, as Dinwiddie intimated.

And now we know as well that by late March, Danny Ainge was beginning to get a sense that keeping Irving would be a hard sell. “I had a pretty good idea in March or April. Not for sure, though. But I was obviously thinking of moving in a different direction at that point, thinking about different options,” Ainge said this week.

“He did express to me on a couple of occasions between March and the end of (the year) that he really wanted to go home,” Ainge added. “I got the impression at that point that he wanted to play in Brooklyn more than he wanted to play in New York.”

As for the pairing, Marc Stein quoted a “former NBA All-Star” earlier this month saying that the two players had discussed “the Nets’ attractiveness as a free-agent alternative to the Knicks before the end of the regular season.”

How much did the Nets know about this change of heart? Dinwiddie didn’t mention it in talking to Shams, but Marc Stein wrote about it, saying it was “Dinwiddie’s job.” (Dinwiddie also liked the idea that “no one knew we were cool.” No one outside the team anyway.)

Caris LeVert, in general not as open as his teammate, admitted he spoke with Durant, but said it was low-key.

“We have a good friendship, but I never really pressured him about it or that type of stuff. When he got hurt I reached out, kind of made sure he was OK and everything like that. But obviously he knows that he’s a great player, he knows that I would love to play with him. But I kind of left him alone with that stuff.”

By the end of May, Pooch was writing his SNY piece on the growing “mutual interest” between Irving and Brooklyn, for which he was pilloried by Knicks aficionado Gio something-or-another on a radio program.

Then, came June. It didn’t hurt the pairing aspect of the plan that on June 6, the Nets traded for a F.O.K. (Friend of Kevin) Taurean Prince. In that same deal, the Nets picked up a ton of cap space by dumping Allen Crabbe’s contract.

By mid-June, things finally started to dawn on the pundits they had been oh so wrong. One big indicator was word from Woj that Irving was switching agents, joining Roc Nation Sports with all its Brooklyn connections. That came on June 18. It began to leak that Irving was, in the words of more than one insider, a “done deal.” In fact, Dinwiddie said that by June, he believed Irving was “99 percent done.”

By June 21, Brian Windhorst was reporting the Nets were “gaining confidence” that they’ll sign Durant and Kendrick Perkins, KD’s former teammate, changed his mind and said Brooklyn, not New York, were the “front-runners” to land KD.

Then, three days later came word from Stein that still another F.O.K., DeAndre Jordan, was nearing a deal with the Nets. The die was cast. On the evening of June 30, there was weeping on both sides of the East River.

So how did so many get so much wrong? Here’s one possibility: the pundits didn’t talk to players. (Pooch does) Bobby Portis, who was signed with Knick money originally earmarked for the two superstars, said players knew as early as February.

“I knew what was gonna happen in February,” Portis said on signing with the Knicks. “We all knew that (Durant and Kyrie Irving would go to Brooklyn). Everybody knew that. I just don’t think the media knew that. Us basketball players, we all knew that.”

This week, Tobias Harris said virtually the same thing.

“You heard a lot of rumblings before about it. I didn’t know for 100%, but if I had to make my guess, I would’ve said Kyrie and Kevin were going to the Nets. Kind of all season long you heard different rumblings. That would’ve been my educated guess.”

In talking to Chris Mannix after the signings, Sean Marks alluded to the role of his players in team planning.

“We use [the players] in a lot of our decision-making,” said Marks. “Whether it’s a trade call or whether it’s free agency or what not, the players know these guys. They know them well. It’s about bringing these guys into our culture, bringing them into locker room, into our environment, and bid on all the people we have bid on now for three years.”

There were other things that pundits, etc. got wrong about the Nets pursuit of free agency like how they underestimated the Nets ability to innovate within the strictures of the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The narrative just before June 30 went something like this: They didn’t quite have enough cap space for Durant and Irving. They were short a few hundred thousand dollars so they’d probably have to trade Dzanan Musa and/or Rodions Kurucs to get enough space. They would only be able to give Nic Claxton, their promising second round pick, a minimum two-year deal. Capologists were also scratching their heads about how the heck could the Nets add Jordan to the mix.

Then, Albert Nahmad, who’s an amateur “capology enthusiast,” figured it out. The Nets would sequence their free agent signings with a sign-and-trade of KD for D’Angelo Russell, play a little with some bonuses and bang! As Nahmad said, the Nets had created nearly $10 million in cap space ... “effectively creating cap room out of thin air to cover Jordan’s entire first-year salary!!!” All part of a plan. Musa and Kurucs weren’t traded. Claxton signed a three-year deal out of cap space. Jordan got a four-year, $40 million contract that essentially didn’t cost the Nets anything other than his salary.

There’s another lesson here: Conventional wisdom can kill you. The pairing of KD and Kyrie at Madison Square Garden was accepted by (most) pundits and writers as a perfect outcome for the city, for the NBA. The Knicks would rejoin the first rank of NBA franchises, the Garden would again reach for glory. Everybody (but the Nets) win and who cares about them!

Damn the reality that New York have racked up the most losses (920) in the NBA since the dawn of the new century or that they treated their transcendent young star, Kristaps Porzingis, so baldy that he wanted to be traded (players talk) or that their player development program has been been exposed or, the simple fact that their owner is responsible for an endless string of embarrassing comments, missteps, etc. Not to mention the emerging culture in Brooklyn.

Pundits may not have gotten it. Players did.

Nearing the end

... Of free agency, that is.

As of noon Sunday, The Nets still had one two-way contract to fill. On Thursday, they added Henry Ellenson of the Knicks and before that the Pistons as their initial two-way,

Adding the 6’11” big man is, as Brian Lewis put it, an “on brand” signing for Brooklyn, that is he’s a player others have given up on, but has some sneaky potential. He just turned 22 in January.

Ellenson was a first round pick three years ago coming out of Marquette, but the Pistons never developed him. He wound up backing up first Tobias Harris, then Blake Griffin in Detroit and spending time in Grand Rapids before being cut and picked up by the Knicks. The Wisconsin native never impressed that much either. The question is, how the Nets see him and his potential. In 2015, he was taken 18th in the NBA Draft, two spots ahead of Caris LeVert.

Like Nicolas Claxton, the other young big Brooklyn acquired this off-season, Ellenson is not your typical seven-footer. In fact, you could see Claxton and/or Ellenson becoming a stretch-5 in the Nets system. Ellenson is a better shooter than Claxton, hitting 44.1 percent from three with the Knicks at the end of last season. Claxton is more athletic, a better defender. Both have surprising ball-handling talents. They will likely surprise defenses by going end-to-end after a rebound.

Here‘s a Marquette highlight package that focuses on his ball-handling...

With the Knicks this past season, he showed some nice passing form as well.

The Knicks could’ve kept Ellenson, but they renounced their rights to him just before free agency so they could get to that magic number of $70 million in cap space. You know, enough for Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. How’d that work out? See above.

Ellenson’s problem has been defense. He’s been called heavy-footed and his desire on D has been questioned. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. He’s low-risk, high-reward investment.

Rumor has had it that Ron Baker is the Nets choice for the second two-way. Another Knick refugee, the 26-year-old Baker reportedly has a choice: a Nets two-way contract and a more lucrative deal in Russia with CSKA Moscow.

Stash Report Update

The Nets started off the summer with three stashes:

—Juan Pablo Vaulet, 6’7” SF from Argentina, acquired in a 2015 Draft Night trade after being taken by Charlotte with the 39th pick;

Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 6’9” stretch 4 from Cyprus and Bulgaria, taken at No. 57 on Draft Night in 2017 with a pick originally part of the 2013 Boston trade;

Isaia Cordinier, a 6’5” combo guard from France, taken with the the 44th pick in the 2016 Draft by the Hawks and traded to the Nets in the Jeremy Lin trade. He played in the Summer League.

Then, in free agency, the Nets did a sign-and-trade with the Spurs and Wizards that sent DeMarre Carroll to San Antonio and provided the Nets two new stashes:

Aaron White, a 6’9” power forward from Ohio who’s played in four European teams, taken with the 49th pick in the 2015 Draft by the Wizards;

Nemanja Dangubic, a 6’8” shooting guard from Serbia who was taken with the 54th pick in the 2014 Draft by the 76ers and traded immediately to the Spurs.

Moreover, the Nets seem likely to stash Jaylen Hands overseas. Hands, 20, was taken 56th pick in the Draft. He hasn’t been signed yet and his Summer League number, 4, has been given to Henry Ellenson.

That’s no affront to Hands. The Nets are looking to add veteran bench players and Hands can use some experience. He’s been working out in L.A. and participating in the Rico Hines UCLA runs.

If Hands is stashed, either in the G League or overseas, that would give the Nets six stashes, easily the most ever.

And just like the NBA, summer is the time for European free agency. So players move. Of the five stashes, four have changed addresses since June, three on Thursday of last week. Last month, Cordinier went from one team in the French League, Antibes, to another, Nanterre. Then, on Thursday, there were three separate announcements: Vaulet is going from Penarol in the Argentine league to Manresa in the Spanish League; White is going from Zalgiris in the Lithuanian League to Olimpio Milano in the Italian League; and Dangubic from Bayern Munich to Estudiantes in the Spanish League. Vezenkov is staying with Olympiacos in Greece.

No indication the Nets had anything to do with the decisions by any of the players to move on. The Nets retain the NBA rights to all the stashes no matter where they play. Also, most European players have “NBA outs” in their contracts, permitting the players to join an NBA club ... if the price is right for both sides.

The Nets under Sean Marks have regularly brought their stashes to Brooklyn for medical check-ups, advice on training regimens, shooting tips and just familiarization with the club. Vaulet spent a week with the team over the 2016 holiday break when his Argentine team was on break. After he was traded to Brooklyn last July, Cordinier was flown in for several days. And in June, the Nets brought Cordinier and Vezenkov (along with Rodions Kurucs) to Madrid for a multi-day session with Stefan Weissenboeck, their European shooting coach.

It’s all part of the Nets development scheme. These guys may never get a spot on an NBA roster, but the Nets will treat them as if they might. So who’s the most likely to wind up in the NBA. You’d have to think that Cordinier, with his decent if streaky performance in the Summer League, has a chance. He is also at 22 the youngest of the current stashes. Hands is 20.

By the way, White has been playing this weekend in the TBT Tournament, the $2 million winner-take-all competition among pick-up teams, mostly collections of alumni of big basketball programs. White is part of a pick-up team of Americans who play for Euroleague teams. He had 11 points and four rebounds in 17 minutes in a game played in Florida Saturday.

Brooklyn Brigade Update

Bobby Edemeka, the founder of the Brooklyn Brigade, writes us with word of BK BLOCK auditions and some changes

There is a LIMITED NUMBER of TRYOUT SPOTS and the Brooklyn Nets will be deploying this through their social channels next week, so PLEASE make sure you fill out the form below THIS WEEKEND!

SIGN UP HERE:http://brooklynnets.com/thebkblock

Given that The Brooklyn Brigade’s hard work over many difficult years inspired the creation of The BK Block, it would be AWESOME if Brigaders locked up as many spots as possible!

From the Brooklyn Nets:

“From their home in Section 114, THE BK BLOCK leads the way in keeping the energy going on game nights. They’ve been profiled by the media, praised by Nets players and even visited during games by Nets front office leaders. The BK Block is the heartbeat of Brooklyn Nets fans.

:For the 2019-20 season, THE BK BLOCK is looking to take its game to the next level, and they need you. If you’re a diehard Nets fan ready to bring your positive spirit, voice and passion to Barclays Center for home games, you’re the one we’re looking for.

“The Brooklyn Nets will be holding auditions to find new members Friday, August 9, 2019 from 4-7PM.”

From me:

For those wondering if it makes sense to sign up for the 2019-2020 auditions for The BK Block if you can’t commit to a full season, the short answer is YES.

At this point, I do think it still makes sense for you even if you’d only make 10 games or so.

Nothing is set yet but I’ll be suggesting that there will be two lists of people who get selected from tryouts:

1) people who can commit for a full season of games and

2) people who can serve as standbys for when people on the first list can’t make it

And if you got selected but weren’t able to make games, the only downside is you’d fall off the list ... no big deal since you were going to the games anyway; there’s no financial penalty.

Hope to see as many Brigaders as possible at tryouts for the 2019-20 The BK Block on Friday, August 9th!

See you there,

Final Note

Congratulations to Flatbush and Atlantic for their move to Brooklyn. The t-shirt mavens have also teamed up with DSGN Tree on distribution of some of their finest fashions. Here is our current favorite...

Bombs away!