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NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 10

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Every weekend, we’ll be updating the Nets’ off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, etc. to help fans get ready for ... whatever.

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The trade machines are fired up ... even though we don’t know when the NBA trade moratorium will be lifted. November 11, a week and a half away, is one rumored date. And for that matter when the new season will begin or whether the Collective Bargaining Agreement will be re-opened.

None of that, however, has stopped pundits and fans from speculating, often wildly, about this deal or that deal. So, in the interest of keeping things calm, we decided to offer some skepticism.

Of course, most of the proposed “Who-says-no?” offerings are aimed at finding the proverbial “third star,” which we should note is not a phrase ever publicly uttered by anyone in the Nets front office or, as far as we can tell, any player. It originated nearly a year ago when Kyrie Irving, after a tough loss, suggested the Nets could use extra “pieces.” Here’s the exact quote from November 16...

“I mean, it’s transparent. It’s out there. It’s glaring, in terms of the pieces that we need in order to be at that next level,” he told beat writers. “I’m going to continue to reiterate it. We’re going to do the best with the guys that we have in our locker room now, and we’ll worry about all the other stuff, in terms of moving pieces and everything else, as an organization down the line in the summer.

“Collectively, I feel like we have great pieces, but it’s pretty glaring we need one more piece or two more pieces that will complement myself, [Kevin Durant], [DeAndre Jordan], [Garrett Temple], Spence [Dinwiddie], Caris [LeVert], and we’ll see how that evolves.”

Irving offered an explanation the next day (and said his failure to mention Joe Harris and Jarrett Allen was an oversight.)

“There’s still more goals I want to accomplish in this league,” Irving said the next day. “I can’t do it without improving an organization and winning a championship. I’m going to continue to push, I’m going to demand greatness out of myself and my teammates. We go from there.”

And thus began the hunt for the “third star” (even though again Irving never used the phrase.) It persisted and grew during the COVID hiatus with pundits and fans having a lot of time on their hands. Now, of course, the speculation grows. All that said, it should be noted that two of the three most mentioned names discussed in “third star” trades — Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen — had great moments in Orlando, driving the Nets to a shocking 5-3 record in the seeding games. Fans seem to forget that LeVert averaged 25/5/7 in the “bubble” and Allen led the playoffs in rebounds per game at 14.8.

Moreover, while so many hang on to the Irving comments from last November, there’s almost no discussion of what’s been said more recently, like what Kevin Durant said in mid-September about the “third star” controversy.

“What ‘Big Threes’ are there in the league?” he asked. “I mean, the best teams in the league usually got two guys. Lakers, Clippers. Clippers got two bench players that are pretty good, but they usually have two stars.”

And he indicated strongly the Nets already had a “third star.”

“I think Caris is that perfect guy for us to, any given night he can lead us in scoring or lead us in assists or he can control the offense or we can go to him in the post in a matchup,” Durant said on the Old Man & The Three podcast. “I feel like he has the tools to do everything on the basketball court. On our team, we play unselfishly, and we’ve got guys that can play off the basketball so on any given night anybody can be the star.”

And when asked if he thought LeVert was “big enough” to be part of a Nets, “big three,” Durant responded, “For sure, for sure.”

In another podcast — he did a lot of them — Durant said LeVert surprised him the most when he got a look at his new teammates.

“He is definitely better than I thought,” Durant said on a “Play for Keeps” podcast, “He’s different. He can score that thing. He can pass it. He’s quick. His thing is about being efficient, and I think that’s what you’re seeing. The shots he’s taking now, it’s like all of his lane. Not a lot of 3s, a lot in the midrange, getting to the cup. I think his IQ is what surprised me the most.”

Then, there’s new head coach Steve Nash’s comments since he’s been named. Around the same time as KD offered LeVert as the “third star” Nash had this to say.

“I’ve known Caris for a few years and always admired his game. He’s a great piece for us,” Nash said on WFAN’s Joe & Evan. “The NBA seems to be increasingly about who can contain the ball, and vice versa, who can penetrate and create high-value shots. Caris is a guy who can attack and make the first domino fall.

“It’s about making these pieces fit together, and a lot is left to be determined, but Caris is versatile — he can start, he can maybe fit that [Manu] Ginobili role as a closer — but it’s exciting to have a player of his caliber, another player who loves the game.”

He said much the same about LeVert and was positively effusive about Allen in comments he made in his “Town Hall” with Ian Eagle.

“Caris and Jarrett both developing at an excellent rate,” said Nash. “Caris’ performance in the bubble, I think he made the all-bubble team, showing how prolific he can be scoring and playmaking. He’s a big guard who also can get into the ball defensively. He can improve a lot as well, which is exciting. He can continue to grow and improve.

“Jarrett, the same. I thought his performance in the bubble showed some big growth at both ends of the floor. He was more dynamic at the defensive end, expanding his game there, getting out and player farther out on the floor, covering guards, moving his feet for stretches that we hadn’t seen in the past, and then his rim protection I think has been his cornerstone,” said Nash.

“Offensively, I think he’s getting better in traffic. He’s getting a better feel, and he’s going to continue to grow there too. So, two very talented players who have youth and a lot of upside and are great pieces to put in the mix here for this team.”

Now, nothing said here means that LeVert and Allen are untouchables, particularly if a really big star becomes available, and there has been a notable lack of discussion about Spencer Dinwiddie who seems to think he could be dealt. Still, the Nets roster is built for stability, not flexibility and some former coaches, executives and players think it’s best to be patient.

Bobby Marks (no relation) thinks Sean Marks is not under any pressure to do a deal, saying two months ago...

“Do the Nets need to bring in a third star? Not if LeVert can be that player,” Bobby Marks told ESPN. “His play in the absence of Durant and Irving, especially in the games in Orlando, demonstrated his emerging all-around game, as he averaged 25, 5 and 7 while playing several positions, including point guard.”

Marks, the former Nets assistant GM, also said he thinks the Nets are likely to wait to see how things work out with their roster and then see what’s available at the deadline (if indeed there are needs.) Vince Carter seemed to echo KD when he talked about too many players needing the ball.

“If you’re gonna go get three guys who really demand the ball, that gets tough after a while.” Carter told the Daily News. “One if not two guys of your Big 3 tend to become unhappy sometimes. If they buy into that, then it’s a possibility. If they don’t, then a Big 3 doesn’t work. You just have three big names who really can’t co-exist because they all want to be alpha dogs. I think that’s the biggest thing. You have to bring a Big 3 that can coexist and complement each other.”

And Jeff Van Gundy, during a seeding games broadcast on ESPN, said the Nets don’t need a “third star” as much as “layers of players,” meaning a deep roster.

Things change, and what fan wouldn’t want Jrue Holiday or Bradley Beal on their team but there doesn’t seem to be any real indication that the Nets are pursuing deals (rather than just listening). Nash did say in his interview with Steve Serby, “We are playing for a championship. We are saying that out loud. That’s how we’re going to frame all the decisions we make and the effort and intensity that we train and play with.”

What’s our best guess —- and that’s all it is? At least in the short run, the Nets will make moves at the edges, find a 3-and-D type and make sure Harris comes back, at least for now. Nash hinted at the need for defender in his initial press conference.

“Obviously, I think one of the most important things is to start on the defensive end,” Nash said, “be strong in defensive transition and in the half court.”

Isn’t that enough?

A note about coaching hires

And just like that, the Nets coaching staff has filled out. In terms of quality —and quantity— it’s impressive. The staff amounts to a head coach (who’s a Hall of Famer as a player), two former head coaches, one of whom is a guaranteed Hall of Famer; an assistant prized for his defensive acumen, three holdover assistants from Kenny Atkinson’s era and two “development assistants,” one of whom could make the Hall and the other with a reputation for steadiness.

Not bad.

If you count Amar’e Stoudemire and Ryan Forehan-Kelly, the “development assistants” as coaches, then the Nets have a staff of eight assistants, That doesn’t count Dan Liburd, the head strength and development coach, nor Daniel Jones, the physical performance coach who works with the performance team. That’s a lot and beyond the numbers, there’s the money Joe Tsai has spent here. No one has reported what Steve Nash is making as a head coach, but figure somewhere between $3 million and $5 million. You’d think that Jacque Vaughn, who’s been identified as the highest paid assistant coach in the NBA, makes seven figures. Same goes for D’Antoni. Udoka, who was interviewed for several head coaching jobs, doesn’t come cheap either.

So bottom line, even before free agency, Joe Tsai is spending money. Yes, yes, he can afford to, but not every mega-rich sports owner spends freely. Also, one of Sean Marks’ hallmarks as a GM has been to fill out his staff with all manner of specialists, particularly in the area of data collection and analysis. One of our favorite photos from the Marks era is this one from summer league two years ago...

Who knows, there may even be other hires, not in the assistant coaches department but elsewhere in the organization. The Nets created the physical performance coach job last season. In the past, they’ve added data scientists in the analytics and performance departments as well as a Team Performance Psychologist.

Maybe other teams have bigger basketball operations staffs — the Knicks come to mind— but this group does look, at least on paper, special.

The Newark Raptors??

As the league and players discuss a December 22 start —and a Christmas Day extravaganza, there are a LOT of issues, big and small. One of the biggest ones is where the Raptors will play when games start up. International travel regulations may very well keep them from playing in Canada. Instead, they will likely have to find an alternate venue in the United States. Here’s how it could work, per Stefan Bondy Saturday...

If the Toronto Raptors are forced to relocate next season because of COVID-19 restrictions, the smartest answer could become reality: a move to Newark.

The Raptors have spoken to the operators of the Prudential Center about using their 19,500-seat arena, according to a source. It’s one of a few options for Masai Ujiri’s squad, and a preference for the NBA because of its close proximity to all of Toronto’s division foes.

Indeed, the Nets and Knicks are no more than 15 miles away and the 76ers just down the Turnpike, a little more than an hour from Newark. The Celtics, at 200 miles to the northeast, would represent the longest trip to an Atlantic Division rival’s venues. It would also keep the Raptors in the same time zone. Kansas City, home of the Sprint Center, is offering its mid-America location. Bondy says a plan to relocate the team to Louisville was considered and dropped, no doubt in part because the city is still raw from the Breonna Taylor killing ... and a number of NBA and WNBA players have criticized city leaders for their response.

There’s also other reasons to choose Newark, Bondy notes. The Rock was the home of the Nets (and the NBA Draft) between 2010 and 2012 and it’s owned and operated by Harris Blitzer Sports Entertainment, which also owns the Sixers and the Devils. A possible downside: Newark is currently ravaged by COVID-19 and Raptors players, coaches and staff would have to be housed either in the city or northern New Jersey. There’s limited hotel space in Newark.

Why not Nassau Coliseum? It’s shuttered. Mikhail Prokhorov abandoned it, laid off its employees and stopped making lease payments to the county. Its ownership and management are muddled. It’s expected to take several months to get it back up to speed.

Whether NBA venues will be open to any fans at any time this season remains a big questions and it’s possible the Raptors could follow the Blue Jays to Buffalo, but three NBA teams in New York would be fun.

Draft Sleeper of the Week - Josh Hall

Who you might ask? Hall is among the most interesting prospects in the 2020 Draft who’s taking advantage of a loophole in the NBA’s eligibility requirements and hoping to go directly from Moravian Prep in Sawmills, North Carolina, to the NBA.

AND the Nets appear to be interested in him...

Considering NBA teams can only work out ten players, Hall would seem to be a serious candidate but for which pick? Owing to his lack of credentials, he’s a bit of a mystery.

Sports Illustrated has him going to the Nets at No. 55, the pick they acquired in the Kenneth Faried salary dump two years ago. ESPN+, out this week with its top 100 prospect, ranks Hall at No. 60. Others have him in the 40’s or undrafted. No one has him anywhere near No. 19 where the Nets pick in the first round.

Here’s a high school scouting report on him from two years ago...

Very fluid athlete. Not explosive and lacks strength, though. Finesse player who must get tougher. Great shooter with deep range. Stretch four-man or combo forward who handles well in open court. Great finisher with variety of shots off one foot going to the basket. Defense and rebounding need improving. Tough to project since he has a very high ceiling but also a low floor.

But before COVID hit, Hall had put on weight and added strength, jumping all the way up to 215, and improved his skillset. The 20-year-old become a five-star high school recruit, being named the North Carolina Player of the Year by one scouting service. Initially, he committed to N.C. State but then reversed course after getting noticed at a high school showcase in South Carolina and instead declared for the Draft

Highlights are hard to come by, but here ya go...

What would the Nets do with a pick, presumably late in the second round? Roster spots are at a premium. Last year, the Nets stashed their second rounder, Jaylen Hands of UCLA, on the Long Island Nets. He didn’t count against the roster or the salary cap. They could do the same with a second rounder this year as well.

Of course, if he doesn’t get drafted, the Nets could simply sign him for a camp stint, then waive him and assign him to Long Island. Or, he could wind up as a two-way. Of course, we wonder just what the level of interest is, whether the Nets were able to get a glimpse of him. Moravian Prep is off the beaten track, a sports finishing school. Here’s an image of the gym...

The most recent reports of Nets interest have come in the past week, but back in late September, his father told a local newspaper that the Nets —and Raptors, who pick at No. 59 — were in touch.

As we’ve noted in past Off-Season Reports, the Nets have looked at several prospects that most draftniks put deep in the second round. Interestingly, some of them are pegged mid-second. One is Isaiah Joe, a 6’6” wingman out of Arkansas who as Brian Lewis reports is mocked at between 34 and 38, the midway point between the Nets two picks. Does that mean they’re planning to drop down on Draft Night or far more likely they’re looking at every eventuality.

Basquiat-inspired uniforms

The news, not yet officially confirmed, that the Nets will wear Jean-Michel Basquiat uniforms as their “City Edition” number this year created more internet copy that any “third star” trade proposal this week.

The uniforms, like the Bed-Stuy Coogi edition introduced in 2018-19, will honor a Brooklyn-born artist who took street art to new heights. A season back, it was Biggie Smalls, the pioneering rapper. Now, it’s Basquiat. Both died young, Biggie at 24, Jean-Michel at 27. Neither death was from natural causes and neither would see their legacy in its fullness.

It’s fair to say that the music and art were modern in that they represented the “shock of the new,” as art critic Robert Hughes famously called the phenomenon back in the 1970’s That shock is often so powerful that the art and artists become controversial, the artist ostracized, the art belittled, by the establishment in their respective crafts.

The uniforms were not designed by Basquiat who died in 1988 or Smalls who died nine years later. They are inspired by his work, and most importantly to us, the Nets have now twice chosen to honor young Black artists who rose out of Brooklyn to worldwide acclaim. While other teams have used the “City Edition” to highlight local landmarks or experiment with color, the Nets decided to honor individuals whose accomplishments are a point of pride in Brooklyn. That’s what’s important.

So who’s next? What other young Brooklyn artist should be recognized for his breaking with tradition, his own “shock of the new?” We’d go with Spike Lee. Yeah, it would be weird, him having a decades long (unrequited) love affair with the orange-and-blue. But he is just as important to film as Smalls was to music, Basquiat to art. Moreover, he is still with us, a fact that should make the Nets, as representatives of Brooklyn, even more willing to take the step. (Of course, Spike could maybe give up on Dolan too. Just Sayin’)

Final Note

This one is easy: VOTE if you haven’t already. It’s your duty, a right defended with hundreds of years of sacrifice on battlefields and on streets ... and the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

The Nets, pushed by Joe and Clara Wu Tsai, have done what they can over the past several months to enhance democracy, welcoming the use of the Barclays Center entrance plaza for protests against instances of police brutality and publicly saying, “Enough is Enough” days after the killing of George Floyd. More recently, they’ve opened up the atrium at the arena to the City Board of Elections. The BoE doesn’t provide daily vote totals, but once the election is over, it will provide totals, which no doubt will reach tens of thousands.

Here’s a small sample of how BSE Global, the Nets, Liberty and Barclays Center have used social media to get out the vote over the past week, including celebrating an appearance by actor Paul Rudd who brought cookies to comfort the rain-soaked crowds...

Farther afield, the Nets have noted that their players have voted...

See you all next week assuming the world doesn’t collapse. This being 2020, you never know.