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Nets’ return becomes more real as five-on-five scrimmages resume

NBA Restart 2020 - All-Access Photo by Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

The Nets are still not a full strength as new players arrive in Orlando and quarantine but there were enough to scrimmage five-on-five Friday. It was their first five-on-five since March when the NBA shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic ... and it produced a bit of a surprise.

Jacque Vaughn told the Nets daily Zoom media session that he liked what he saw from his team, particularly their effort and conditioning after such a long layoff ... not to mention all the trauma the team has been through.

“We sort of built off yesterday where we just had a semblance of being back on the floor,” Vaughn said referring to Thursday’s first tentative day of practice. “We were able to play five-on-five and get up and down a little bit. So I was pleased at the effort and the conditioning level. and overall a good day in the gym.”

Five players were unavailable Friday. Jamal Crawford, Michael Beasley and, Donta Hall, the newly signed players are in Orlando but under quarantine. Tyler Johnson, who couldn’t travel with the team for personal reasons, apparently hasn’t arrived and Justin Anderson is not yet signed.

Vaughn singled out one player who was available and started for the first team: Rodions Kurucs.

“We haven’t decided what that starting unit is going to look like,” said Vaughn. “Today he started at the 4 position but I think we’ll see him play multiple positions. We’ll continue to get this roster together and see what units fit together and what combinations fit together but really envision his role of running the floor for us, rebounding the basketball for us, guarding multiple positions for us, offensive rebounding,

“I think his energy we’ll need to take advantage of,” the coach added. “He had a good practice today. He’s done a good job of being in drills with wings and with bigs. Kind of reiterated what I said the other day, we’re trying to make him the best basketball player that he can be. So far he’s accepted that challenge and is willing to play any position for us.”

Garrett Temple and Jarrett Allen both echoed their coach about the Latvian who fell out of the rotation early on this season and spent as much time with Long Island as he did with Brooklyn.

“Rodi is gonna be really big for us because of absences that we have coming into the restart,” Garrett Temple said. “His ability to offensive rebound, his ability to cause havoc on the defensive end, be a nuisance. And then offensively, knock down open shots and be a great cutter.“

“Rodi, the energy guy. He’s going to sacrifice his body and sacrifice the other team’s body for everybody’s sake,” Allen said. “He’s definitely knowing what it’s like to be a 4 or a 5.”

Presumably when Beasley is done with the quarantine —then his five-game suspension for a failed drug test— he move into the starting line-up, but until then Kurucs who is still only 22 is likely to get an opportunity. It should also be noted that Kurucs has a decided advantage over Beasley on the defensive end.

Vaughn said although Crawford is in quarantine, they’ve spoken.

“Our conversations were just pretty much getting him acclimated to whatever he needed while being here, and going through quarantine and what we could talk about offensively and defensively,” Vaughn said. “Just some very simplistic things to start talking basketball.”

Vaughn said he couldn’t recall if he played against Crawford during their careers which did overlap. Crawford, who at 40 is just five years younger than Vaughn. But as Brian Lewis tweeted, maybe Vaughn was just being modest or politic. For the record, Crawford averaged 13.5 points and 4.3 assists in 21 match-ups with Vaughn, but his coach was 17-4, Lewis noted.

Temple said he too has spoken with Crawford about veteran things.

“Maybe telling them what offensive sets we have. It’s the league and a guy like [Crawford] and Beasley, they’ve been in the league a long time. You just have different names for it,” Temple said. “So, it’s just letting them know what spots they’re going to get their shots on the court, and defensively, our schemes on the defensive end. It’s easy since the guys are vets.”

As for Hall and Johnson, Temple said the Nets will probably have to familiarize them by taking them through video of what sets the Nets run.

Allen reiterated that he doesn’t see himself under pressure despite having been removed from the starting lineup just after Kenny Atkinson was dumped. He’s still averaging a near triple-double at 10.6 points and 9.5 rebounds while blocking a more than respectable 1.3 blocks in 25.7 minutes per game. He also suggested he might “explore” some new wrinkles in his game.

“I wouldn’t say extra pressure,” said Allen talking about his role as what he called “the last big standing.” “I’m not really a feel the pressure type of guy. It gives me some more freedom. During the season all the options in front of me are sitting out. I really hope they get better. All the health stuff aside, now is almost a time for me to go out there and explore my game.”

He said he hasn’t spoke yet with Hall but he’s seen and heard a bit about the 6’10” undrafted rookie signed overnight Thursday.

“I don’t really know him that much at all really,” Allen said. “I’ve only seen stuff from Twitter. But from what I’m hearing, he’s super-athletic, he can play down low, he has a big wingspan and great on defense.”

Allen also revealed that despite the presence of an elite corps of NBA barbers, he’s keeping his ‘fro intact.

“In terms of my hair, I’m gonna keep it as it is,” he said. “I’m not gonna let anybody touch it, just gonna keep growing it out.”

Hello, Artis Gilmore.