Won’t be too many more of these! With the NBA and NBPA tentatively setting December 22 as the start day for the 2020-21 season, the preseason will begin December 1 with the opening of training camp. There’s much we don’t know, including precise dates for things like player and team options and free agency; the salary cap and luxury tax threshold; the future of the G League and even how many roster spots each team will have. It’s possible that the two-way deal will be eliminated and each team permitted to carry 17, instead of 15 players.
Still, the approach of the season will likely lead to a lot of news from trades, which will be permitted starting a week from Monday, and the Draft, a week from Wednesday. There are few teams what have the scrutiny the Nets will have, with pundits (and to a lesser degree fans) wondering if Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving will return healthy and whether team chemistry will be good enough to launch a title run. There seems to be no issue with talent, particularly if, as expected, Joe Harris re-signs with the team.
Eyewitnesses to KD and Kyrie’s California workouts have been wowed by the two ... particularly Durant. Here’s John Wall and (mostly) Gilbert Arenas talking about what they’ve seen at the Academy where several Nets have been working out.
Can’t wait to see Kevin Durant back in action sounds like he’s back— NBA Central (@TheNBACentral) November 6, 2020
( No Chill Podcast) pic.twitter.com/GTHdM2UtFx
Spencer Dinwiddie admits he’s lost 1-on-1 to only one player out in California.
Only person I ever lost to was KD, but yet these young kids still try it pic.twitter.com/F4oOzjbwLN— Spencer Dinwiddie (@SDinwiddie_25) November 7, 2020
And Mike Prada, formerly of SB Nation, went DEEP into the bio-mechanics of KD’s game to suggest “no dip” in his game once the ball does up just before Christmas...
Achilles tears are no joke. I know the history. I know why it's such a devastating injury.— Mike Prada (@MikePradaNBA) November 4, 2020
But after studying Kevin Durant's biomechanics, I think he's gonna be juuuust fine. Perhaps more than fine.
In this week's newsletter, I go deep into why. https://t.co/zyC6LaRLOR
Bottom line for Prada is this...
What made Kevin Durant such an unstoppable offensive player before his Achilles tear? The simple answer is, well, simple: he is lethal from almost every spot on the court. He’s great at shooting threes off the catch, threes off the dribble, mid-range jumpers, layups, floaters, turnarounds, one-legged fadeaways, stepbacks, rise-ups, dunks, scoop shots, wrong-footed finishes, bullshit like this … the list goes on.
Finally, we note this: while everyone has focused on the physical aspect of Durant’s post-Achilles game, KD himself has said his long rehab — 561 days by the time he steps on the court on December 22 — has helped the mental aspect of his game, his joy for it. That counts for something.
“I just appreciate being in the gym, the workouts, the 1-on-1 sessions because of the injury. Now, I just appreciate just being in there with the other guys. I miss, you know, the whole routine,” he told “Stewie’s World” podcast back in August. (“Stewie” is Breanna Stewart who led the Seattle Storm to a WNBA title after blowing out her Achilles.)
“So doing it now every single day, I have a newfound, evolved level of joy for it. I feel like I’m growing every day I feel I’m having a kid-like joy every time I step on that court. That’s all I really wanted to have, to continue to have. I didn’t want to lose the love for the game because of an injury. It this point now, I just enjoy waking up and getting to the gym every day.”
The Nets being the Nets will probably be very cautious with Durant, particularly early. He may play less demanding positions. His numbers may very well drop. Steve Nash has said that he believes KD can play all five positions and he intends to use him at all five. There’s been a lot of speculation that he could play a lot of minutes at center which would mean things at the 5 could get even more clouded than they are already ... but that’s a subject for a different date, after December 22.
As for chemistry, that will play out on the court, but a significant number of players in the Nets rotation have been working out and playing together in California: KD, Kyrie, Spencer, Caris LeVert and DeAndre Jordan, among them, often together. The Nets have done the California training thing the past three years now and it’s served them well.
Joe Harris as a bargain?
John Hollinger may have surprised readers of his Athletic piece on free agent wingmen by suggesting that Joe Harris could be re-signed not in the $15-to-$16 million range but for $10.9 million. Specifically, $10,915,131. Hollinger, who formerly worked in the Grizzlies’ front office, praises Harris’ game. He just thinks that among small forwards, he ranks behind others on the market this year as unrestricted or restricted free agents. He also argues that there isn’t going to be a lot of cap space around the league later this month when free agency opens.
He also noted that there is an issue of contract length. That got us thinking. The Nets, as holder of his Bird Rights, can offer Harris a longer contract with bigger raises than any other team. He has said that ideally he wants to return —”Why not? , he’s said — and Sean Marks has called re-signing him “Priority No. 1.” Without mentioning Harris specifically, Joe Tsai has said he’s willing to pay the luxury tax.
Specifically, here’s the Nets advantage...
When a player earns Bird rights, he’s eligible to re-sign with his team on a maximum-salary contract for up to five years with eight percent annual raises when he becomes a free agent, regardless of how much cap room the team has.
Other teams can sign him but with a contract length of no more than four years and raises of no more than five percent. That’s a big difference over the length of a contract. The Nets and Harris could agree to a five-year deal with a player option in year 5 and/or with easy-to-achieve individual or team bonuses for. let’s say, shooting better than 40 percent or having the best 3-point percentage or being part of an NBA championship, etc.
Another team, of course, could sign him to a bigger base than the Nets to narrow the gap and maybe Harris doesn’t want to be tied up for that long. But such a deal would give him job security for a lot longer and give the Nets (and their owner) some additional flexibility. Signing Harris to a deal that would take him to age 34 isn’t that risky, as Hollinger noted, because shooters like him have longer careers. J.J. Redick is 36 and earned $13 million this year ... and will earn another $13 million next year.
Last season, the Nets worked some cap magic to get DeAndre Jordan what he and teammates KD and Kyrie wanted as part of the Clean Sweep. (Thank you, Andrew Baker, underrated capologist) This shouldn’t be as difficult.
Draft Sleeper of the Week - Jalen Smith
So far, in our Off-Season Reports, we’ve profiled prospects for both the No. 19 pick and the No. 55 pick and a couple in-between. This week, we look at a player who’s ranked No. 19 in the ESPN Top 100 which came out this week. Jalen Smith is a 6’10” power forward with a knack for rebounding and a developing 3-point shot.
As ESPN writes of his positives...
- Has good size for an NBA power forward, at 6-foot-10, 225 pounds with a 7-foot-2 wingspan. Saw most of his minutes at center this season and should be able to play both big man spots in the NBA.
- Versatile offensive player. Made 37% of his 3-pointers and 75% of his free throws on a fairly large sample. Capable of attacking slower defenders from the perimeter or scoring in the post with either hand. Made more than 60% of his 2-point attempts.
- Competitive on both ends. Length and excellent timing made him an effective shot-blocker. Uses both hands to protect the rim. Also a productive rebounder.
Seems kind of Net-ish but his negatives might give those in the Nets scouting department and front office some concern...
- Doesn’t cover ground very well defensively. Hunched in his stance. Gets beaten off the dribble. A step slow to defend power forwards on the perimeter and lacks a degree of size and bulk to guard more traditional centers inside.
- Thin lower body. Struggles to operate in traffic.
- Below-average passer. Doesn’t have much court vision when asked to create offense.
Of course, the Nets are picking at No. 19 in a mediocre draft (assuming they don’t trade it for the proverbial, mythical “third star.”) So you’re not getting someone ready-made for the NBA. You address the development challenge. With Jarrett Allen (only 23 months older than Smith) and Nicolas Claxton (only 11 months older), would there be room for a young big ... unless of course you think you might be trading either of them? Then again, the Nets draft mantra has always been “best player available.”
In his second year at Maryland, Smith averaged a double-double, 15.5 points and 10.5 rebounds while shooting 36.8 percent from deep, shooting on average three a game. He blocked 2.4 shots a game as well. After being nicknamed “Stix” in high school, he was upgraded to “Thix” after he added weight and strength between his freshman and sophomore years.
And yes, we have highlights with music...
And here’s an update to our Sleeper from a month back ... Cole Anthony. As it turns out, Anthony has a bit of a relationship with Kevin Durant going back to his high school days. Anthony is the son of Greg Anthony, former Knick. Two years ago, KD sat down with young Anthony and talked with him about where he could improve his game.
They even worked out together, under the tutelage of personal trainer Chris Brickley...
That has to matter, right?
Raptors Road Trip?
Among the still-unresolved issues is where the Toronto Raptors will play their home games this season. As we noted last week, there’s some thinking that Newark’s Prudential Center could fill in. The big issue is the international travel restrictions that both Canada and United States have instituted for cross-border movement, things like a lengthy period of quarantine each time each team flies in and out of Toronto.
Stefan Bondy who last week first raised the possibility of Newark tweeted the other day that he’d heard that the Nets and Raptors could share Barclays Center!
I included in my story that among options — and maybe there are more — were Newark, Tampa, Nashville or sharing an arena with another NBA team. I got the sense that was Barclays.— Stefan Bondy (@SBondyNYDN) November 6, 2020
Meanwhile, Marc Berman reports that moving the Raptors base to a U.S. city may not be needed.
[T]hose sites, including Newark, are long shots, and the likelihood of remaining in Toronto still is very much on the table.
According to sources, the NBA is working with governments in both Canada and the United States to come up with new guidelines that would make it feasible for visiting teams to travel to and play in Toronto...
Despite spikes in positive cases, the Raptors’ strong priority is remaining this season at Scotiabank Arena. The Raptors became a national treasure when team president Masai Ujiri’s club won their first NBA championship in 2019 over the Warriors.
Other cities suggested include Nashville, Kansas City, Tampa, Orlando (Disney World) and Buffalo, where the MLB’s Blue Jays played). There are reports that Raptors reps have already visited at least one of those venues, Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena.
For the Raptors, an agreement to play in Brooklyn or Newark would put the team within 200 miles of all its Atlantic Division rivals: the Nets, Knicks, 76ers and Celtics. With the league putting a priority on less travel, that would help.
S, what would a sharing agreement with the Nets at Barclays look like? It would be a ofor the arena since the biggest event it’s hosted since March was early voting. It would mean at least 72 dates — 36 home dates for each team — plus the playoffs. It would also mean, once fans get in the stands, extra concession revenues. Would the new team store feature Raptors gear? Would New York tabloids cover the Raptors?
Of course, Masai Ujiri, the president of the Raptors, might have to take back his famous insult delivered outside the Air Canada Center (now Scotiabank Arena) back in April 2014
We’d tend to agree with Berman that the Raptors will do whatever they can to avoid relocating. But as Brooklyn native Dr. Anthony Fauci has noted, the virus sets the schedule.