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NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 10

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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.

Emotional Days

With apologies to the Buffalo Springfield...

When the dream came

I held my breath with my eyes closed

I went insane, like a smoke ring day when the wind blows

Yeah, pretty much. We use the editorial “we” in the Off-Season Report, but allow me a personal note. I was in a parking lot of a Garden State Parkway rest stop, sitting alone in my car, when the Woj Bomb hit about Kevin Durant.

I was overwhelmed. I basically knew it was coming, but ya never know. I became quite emotional. Euphoria set in. I shocked myself with my reaction. I had expected when and if the moment came, I would thrust my fist in the air and shout “Yes!” more than a few times. Nope, My reaction was quite different than I had anticipated. It was guttural, non-verbal. Irrational. Yeah, I just screamed. Took a couple of minutes to gather myself.

No, they didn’t win a championship. (Hell, after my reaction to the signings, I wonder if I could take the emotions of an NBA title!) But when you’ve been a fan for 25 years and edited this fine fansite (for so many fine fans), for 15 seasons with so many bad memories, so much angst, all the indignities, you feel, been down so long, it feels like up to me. Thus, the reaction. I know I was not alone.

This is pretty pretty much how I felt.

Great work Scooter. You, too, Sean.

Farewell, Rondae

Shams Charania tweeted Sunday afternoon that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson won’t be returning to the Nets but instead is taking his game north of the border.

The Nets had renounced their rights to RHP last month to help their salary cap situation. Prior to that, Hollis-Jefferson had been the longest tenured Nets. He was drafted by the Blazers in 2015 as part of a deal that sent his rights and Steve Blake to Brooklyn for Mason Plumlee and the rights to Pat Connaughton. The team had hoped that RHJ would improve his offense and his third year gave the front office some hope. He averaged 13.9 points and 6.8 rebounds. But after an injury during Jeremy Lin’s charity game last August, he didn’t seem himself for much of the season. In fact, injuries hurt his development big time. In his four years, Hollis-Jefferson missed a total of 94 games, most of which the Nets lost.

But he was always a fan favorite not just because of how hard he played, but because of his effervescent personality. His greatest moment probably came in Sacramento this season when he hit an impossible shot to complete the Nets historic comeback.

Good Luck up North.

Players knew

For months, we heard that Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving were headed to New York ... and the Knicks.

There was the famed hallway video at the All-Star Game. Kyrie and KD had to be talking about the Knicks and their two max salary slots, right?

They had to be talking about going to the Knicks! Based on hand gestures? Really? That was a story?

And famously, James Dolan went on Michael Kay the next month to predict great things. It was one day after he banned a fan for ever from the Garden for yelling at him to sell the team, the latest shot in the foot.

Even in mid-May after the disastrous season ended, Stephen A. Smith was saying it was virtually done deal for the Dolan gang.

And on and on it went.

Ric Bucher said they were going to New York, not Brooklyn. Some radio hosts loudly dismissed the idea of the Nets ever winning the two’s loyalty. (We see you, Mike Francesa, Boomer & Gio and a whole lot of others who were in the chorus.) All of them were dead wrong. Then, when the Nets coup took place, revisionist history set in. You see they had planned to go to the Knicks, but something changed their minds, one line went. Maybe it was KD’s injury in Game 5 of the Finals, went another. Had to be something. Or the Knicks really didn’t want KD because of said injury, that Dolan was scared off by memories of Amare Stoudemire, Joakim Noah and Kristaps Porzingis. All of them had lost a lot of games to injury after the Knicks acquired them.

Well, now we know a bit more than what we did a week ago. As Marc Stein wrote in the Times this week, Spencer Dinwiddie started recruiting Irving a year ago when the two were at Harvard for a class on post-career business opportunity. As pundits, one after another, crowed about the Knicks impending success during the season, the process of bringing them to the Nets was well underway. The players knew.

More to the point, there was a blinding illogic to the assumption that two of the NBA’s best players were headed to the NBA’s worst team, one with a long record of futility: the most losses last year, the most losses in the last five years (tied with the Lakers) and the most losses over the course of this CENTURY. They had to be enamored of an organization that dissed one of the team’s legends by having him handcuffed, an organization that had unceremoniously dumped their best young player —and dumped on his reputation— after he had the audacity to suggest his experience was unsatisfactory, an organization had had screwed up its relationship with the team’s only real superstar over the last decade?

On one hand, the pundits nodded in agreement that the franchise was dysfunctional but could never seem to translate that to an admission it has lost a lot of attractiveness. The Knicks played in the Garden, the Mecca. New York was New York. Brooklyn, they implied was not. (Some even suggested Brooklyn was not cool!)

But bottom line was this: Not many of the pundits actually talked to players. Our Anthony Puccio did and he got it right. They know what was going on. They know the Nets were the better choice. When just before free agency, four players were asked which was the better organization, all four said the Nets.

Ironically enough, Bobby Portis, part of “Randle and the Rentals” (trademark pending) the Knicks signed this week, told The Athletic that “us basketball players” knew what was happening with Durant and Irving months ago.

“I knew what was gonna happen in February. 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.”

“I’m not going to leak my source. But we all know where they were going. I’m protecting mine, but we all knew where they were going.”

Back to the media. Most of it relied on old perceptions, old traditions and declared, despite all logic, that the Nets simply could not match the “aura” of the Garden. Huh? With all the rest of that going on, the losses, the controversies, the poor development of young players, some indefinable “aura” was going to rescue them?!?

When Stefan Bondy, virtually alone, cited the Knicks record as detrimental to their chances in free agency, he was banned from team events and got little support from his colleagues. Harvey Araton, the Basketball Hall of Famer writer was one who did. Just after the Nets success was revealed, he said there was shock all around the Knicks organization.

It was a stark realization that the Nets’ architect, Sean Marks, had already constructed a solid foundation while the Knicks had succeeded only in tearing apart yet another blueprint.

As Chris Mannix told Bill Simmons Sunday, one of the issues for Knick management was its obliviousness to the Nets success.

“How the Nets presented themselves and how they conducted their organization the last few years resonated deeply with Durant. The fact that the Nets looked so functional and had such a strong infrastructure there mattered to Durant...

“I don’t think for a second they [the Knicks] believed the Nets infrastructure was as valuable as it turned out to be.”

The Nets didn’t seems to be deterred by all the stories, the speculation that they were on a fool’s errand. They carried on without saying much, if anything. One insider told us that he thought the summer would be “special” ... “exciting”

And now, it is special, it is exciting, Still, a certain element of basketball fandom is in denial. Now, the question is whether all those who were wrong will admit it or find new ways to diss the incredible change that has overtaken the NBA in New York.

Caris LeVert, rising superstar?

We have been told that one lure for KD in particular was playing alongside Caris LeVert. “Kevin really wants to play with Caris,” one source told us. Indeed, there is a relationship that started when LeVert underwent his third foot surgery, this one by Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Durant reached out to LeVert to recommend O’Malley adding that “Once Doc finishes with you, you’ll be like brand new.”

Since then, LeVert has worked out with Durant in the summers, as has newly acquired Taurean Prince. He told reporters in Las Vegas that he didn’t recruit KD ... that much. He fielded a few phone calls from Durant asking about the city and the organization, but LeVert said he wouldn’t consider that recruiting.

“I really didn’t, honestly. 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.”

The question now is how LeVert will fit in with the new Nets. Is he a third option once KD gets back and second until then? No question. When he was on the floor last year, he was often the Nets best two-way player, particularly at the beginning of the season and the playoffs. He meshed well with DLo and Dinwiddie. He can certainly do the same with Irving. Should he develop a more reliable three pointer, he and the additions could remind people of a backcourt in Oakland.

Will he be intimidated by the role? On a championship contender (with Durant)? He says no.

“I don’t think there will be any pressure,” said LeVert. “Basketball is a fun game.”

Albert was right

Albert Nahmad lists himself as a “salary cap enthusiast.” He doesn’t work for a team, but has fun with numbers. Last week, as everyone was scratching their head about how the Nets could sign KD, Kyrie and DeAndre Jordan, he figured it out...

As it turns out, that appears to be exactly what the Nets did. Nahmad was justly proud of himself Sunday as the sequencing began to unfold.

Among the benefits of configuring the signings and sign-and-trades this week is that the Nets could pay second round pick Nicolas Claxton out of cap space. As a second rounder, taken at No. 31, he wasn’t eligible for first round guarantees. The Nets did right by him, as Bobby Marks noted...

The money is a little less than what a player taken at the end of the first round will make ... but there’s a guaranteed third year. First rounders only get two years guaranteed, with team options on years 3 and 4. So again, everyone is happy.

Next up would be the players signed with a salary cap exception: the room exception (Garrett Temple) and the vets minimum, which is also an exception (Wilson Chandler and the last two roster spots ). These deals are outside the cap ... thus “exceptions” to the cap rules.

We don’t know who in the organization came up with the plan. Andrew Baker, a Tulane-trained lawyer, is the Nets capologist as “director of contract management.” Marks brought Baker over from San Antonio, one of his first hires. He’s the leading suspect, but in the past, two long-time front office employees, Matt Tellem and Matt Riccardi, have played a role in manipulating the CBA. Whoever came up with it, give that man a bonus!

Unanswered Questions

There are still a few more questions out there after this weekend’s moves.

What are the protections on the Warriors’ 2020 first rounder that was surrendered in the Durant S&T? We are told they are heavy and the pick is likely to roll over at some point and become a second rounder.

What happens to Theo Pinson? Once Chandler and Temple are signed, the Nets will have 13 roster spots, leaving two open and the two-ways. The Nets had to renounce Pinson’s caphold to squeeze the last drop of cap space. Once things have settled down, there’s nothing to stop Brooklyn from offering him a minimum deal. He seems satisfied with the way things are going. He was in uniform at the Summer League game Sunday.

Who’s the 15th man? No idea except we were told the Nets would, by default. lean towards a veteran. It’s not about development any more as much as it is winning a chip. So who’s out there (assuming it will be a point guard)? RocNation Sports, which now has three clients on the Nets, has two other interesting clients, Trey Burke who played with Caris LeVert at Michigan and is a free agent, and Jeremy Lin, who needs no introduction. Lin looked like he has lost a step after his ruptured patella tendon and although he has a ring, he played only three minutes in the Finals. Former Net Isaiah Whitehead is also a RocNation client. Vince Carter???

What was the point of taking on two more stashes in the DeMarre Carroll S&T? At first glance, it would appear to be a paper transaction, giving the Nets a couple of assets that can be used in complicated trades that require assets without cap value. Stashes are just that, like second round picks. But on second thought, one of the two, Aaron White, might be worth watching. An athletic stretch 4, the 6’9” Zalgiris player, he was expected to be in Wizards camp this season. Might he wind up in Nets camp instead?

Who are the new coaches? The Nets moved quickly to replace Trajan Langdon and Gianluca Pascucci when they moved on to the Pelicans and Timberwolves, hiring Jeff Peterson and Andy Birdsong (who were at the Kyrie Irving contract signing). Now they need to replace Will Weaver as Long Island head coach and assistants Chris Fleming and Pablo Prigioni.

What’s with Irving taking No. 11? We thought that was reserved for retirement. Brook Lopez wore 11 from when he was drafted in 2008 till when he was traded in 2017. He is, after all, the leading scorer in Nets history. Was he consulted?

Finally, the big one: when will Durant be back? Will he miss the whole year? Achilles ruptures are quite possibly the worst injury a basketball player can suffer. But there are gradations in the severity of the rupture ... and the time needed to rehab. Some players need a year to get back. Others seven and a half months. Seven and a half months would be the end of February. Let’s hope for that.

Final Note

Luis Scola was right... ”Once they win, they will get everyone they want.”

They did and they did.