The Brooklyn Nets may not be the best team in the Orlando bubble, but in the span of one day, they might have become one of the most entertaining.
The depleted Nets had a handful of replacement spots with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Spencer Dinwiddie, DeAndre Jordan, Taurean Prince, Nicolas Claxton and Wilson Chandler sitting out for the resumption of the NBA season. Three had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Sean Marks was put in a difficult position. Somewhat of a win-win, however, because how little the Nets had to work with – and the minimal expectations that come with them. The Nets are the seventh seed in the East with ½ game in hand on the Orlando Magic and six on the Washington Wizards, who will be without Bradley Beal and Davis Bertans and possibly others. Two of their players tested positive before leaving Washington two days ago. It will be awfully hard to tank out with only eight games to be played, no matter what team Brooklyn fields.
In addition to the entertainment, we’re seeing a prime opportunity for Marks and the Nets to evaluate talent for next year. Again, there isn’t much to lose. With ALL that being said, we’ll look at each spot and what the Nets look like entering the bubble. It’s very doubtful they get their lottery pick back, and it’s even more doubtful they win the championship.
So, in signing some players, we may have gotten a quick glimpse in how the Nets are going through this evaluation process. Marks did look at several players from the Long Island Nets, picking up Justin Anderson early on. But with the Nets giving it all for next year, there’s something to be said about the two veterans he signed: Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley.
We’ll look at their role on the team and the situation around the both. Jacque Vaughn reiterated to reporters Thursday that the acquisitions are a sign that the Nets are playing to win, and it comes as no surprise given Marks’ stated abhorrence to tanking, both inside and outside the organization. But Crawford and Beasley are unique cases. Neither played this past season, but they were arguably the most popular names on the market league-wise.
Personalities all around NBA Twitter rejoiced when Brooklyn signed Crawford, because the vet will have a chance to finally play against NBA talent, hoping to prove his worth.
Beasley is even more interesting in that he and Kevin Durant are childhood friends, and that KD went on the record saying he “is as skilled as LeBron James” back in 2018. The two grew up playing ball together in the AAU and high school circuit.
Marks refuted suggestions of Durant’s involvement, telling reporters Thursday, “I don’t think it’s fair to call Kevin on every single thing we do.”
But the move certainly made KD happy. “I was hoping that I could play with Mike one day. That would’ve been perfect,” Durant said in an interview with Mercury News in 2018.
“He’s a best friend. Why not?” Beasley responded when asked that possible reunion in that same year.
It’s fair to assume KD had something to do with the Beasley signing. And if that’s the case, what else is Marks to do? They’re in a different situation than year’s past, and part of the new Nets is, yes, about appeasing superstars. Marks put it simply when discussing the coaching search on “The Joe and Evan Show:”
“It would probably be, you know, not incredibly smart of us if we did not involve some of these key players in this decision.”
Touché. But if this was fully Marks’ call – would he waste a spot on a player serving a suspension five out the first eight games? We saw him do it with Wilson Chandler earlier this season, another veteran who is close with the superstars.
Long story short, this is more of an audition than it may seem. The Nets are playing to win, but most importantly, they’re evaluating to see who belongs around KD and Kyrie Irving in their pursuit of a championship next season.
So, here ya go, the Bubble Nets. As Marks said Wednesday, “Somebody joked today if we were going to have them wearing name tags because it is a new roster. What’s important is to get these guys at least on the court together bonding and playing together as soon as they can.”
The Nets do not lack ball-handlers, but they’re missing Irving and Dinwiddie. Marks added Crawford, Tyler Johnson and Long Island Net, Jeremiah Martin into the mix.
This isn’t necessarily the moment of truth for LeVert, but it’s a big opportunity for him to show that he’s good enough to lead a team full of misfits, and be that third star the Nets so badly want with KD and Kyrie. So, maybe not a moment of truth, but darn close. LeVert dropped 51 against the Celtics in one of the final games before the season suspended, and averaged 23 points, five rebounds and five assists – shooting 43 percent from three-point in the months of February and March. He’s healthy and “fired up” as one insider put it, emphasizing his excitement to get out on the court and prove himself. The chip on shoulder feeling is present, the vibe that stung everyone who watched him against the Celtics back in March. As his idol and now mentor Jamal Crawford said of him Thursday, he can be, “one of the greats in the game for a long time.”
Talk about another guy – along with Melo — who should’ve been on a team this past season. At what point will GM’s appreciate a player who can simply get a bucket when you so desperately need one – versus all the analytics that come with it? Crawford’s iso-style of play may attribute to why he wasn’t picked up, but even at 40-years-old, I don’t think there’s anybody in the NBA realm who doesn’t believe Crawford isn’t the ageless bucket, certainly worth taking a shot on if you’re the Nets. In his final game in the 2019 season, Crawford went off for 51 points for the Phoenix Suns against the Dallas Mavericks.
The Nets have nothing to lose by signing him. They’re being praised around the league for doing it, and they get someone who can help LeVert create with the ball in his hands. If he proves himself, don’t be surprised to see him on the roster next year. For now, view him as Spencer Dinwiddie’s replacement.
Joe Harris never left Brooklyn. He was there for the horrors of a pandemic whose epicenter was outside the window. In fact, the Chelan, Washington, native exemplifies the spring of 2020 better than any Net. Brooklyn Strong. In addition to witnessing the pandemic up close, this week he revealed that last November, Harris’ mother came to live with him in his and his girlfriend’s Brooklyn apartment. She had been diagnosed with cancer and was undergoing treatment at Weill Cornell, one of the country’s top cancer centers. Then COVID-19 struck.
This is Joe Harris, though. Loyal. He would’ve missed the rest of the season with an ankle injury if the season wasn’t canceled. Now, he’s back and healthy —as his mom— and will surely need to step up if the Nets plan on seeing any sort of success.
Temple has been a huge voice on and off the court, and you appreciate having him now more than ever. His veteran leadership and familiarity with the players who remain is vital. He’s also a leading voice in the players union. Otherwise, Temple needs to keep the momentum from the season, where he averaged a career-high 10.3 points in 28 minutes per game. He’s the 3-and-D guy in Orlando.
Chiozza is another guy with a wonderful opportunity to prove himself. Chiozza’s claim to fame started in the same game as Caris LeVert’s 51-point game. Chiozza was running the point when the Nets made a 21-point comeback in the second half. Kenny Atkinson emptied the bench and it was Chiozza’s chance. From that point on, he played in the final five games and averaged 10 points while shooting 52 percent from three, showing capabilities as a backup point guard.
He’s also playing for a contract.
Johnson currently isn’t with the team, dealing with personal matters before heading down to Orlando. He’s completely separated and hasn’t played since February month, a month more than anyone else. So, you have to wonder how this time away from the team will impact his conditioning and the ability to learn the offensive system. Still, the combo guard has fallen off in recent years. Sean Marks clearly likes him after offering him a $50 million contract during the summer of 2016. Miami matched, but Johnson told me “I was ready for Brooklyn.”
Well, now is his chance at redemption.
Musa couldn’t seem to find momentum in the little bit of time he actually played this past season. He was a bit over-ambitious on the court and the end result typically wasn’t good, but Marks and the coaching staff like his confidence. He’s only 21-years-old. He’s 6’9” and can handle the rock. He’ll get a shot at redemption, hoping to shake away from the G League. He, too, stayed in Brooklyn rather going back home to Bihac in Bosnia, one of that country’s hardest hit cities.
Martin only played in three games for the Brooklyn Nets this past season – all garbage minutes. In the G-League, he averaged 17.7 points. He didn’t shoot the three ball particularly well – 29 percent. If he can’t knock down the deep ball, it’s hard to see how he will fit in playing behind so many guards. He has another year on his two-way deal, so he would like to impress. He and Donta Hall are the only two rookies on the active roster.
Take “bigs” with a grain of salt. The Nets have one true center in Jarrett Allen (6’11”). The closest after that? Donta Hall at 6’10” with a 7’5” wingspan. One can argue why Marks signed so many undersized bigs. Looks like the Nets will be playing plenty of small ball.
Like LeVert, Allen needs to take over if the Nets plan on seeing any success. He averaged a near double double and did all the things the Nets appreciate, especially on the offensive end where he served as a stellar rim runner.
As of now, you’d have to say Allen is expendable, however. DeAndre Jordan forced his way into the starting lineup after voicing his displeasure in backing up Allen. Furthermore, the Nets (and KD) love rookie Nicolas Claxton. As we’ve learned and continue to learn, Marks rarely has more than two true centers. It killed the Nets last postseason when Ed Davis injured his ankle and Philly destroyed the Nets on the interior.
So, if Allen wants to solidify a spot here versus being a piece in a trade, he ought to use this opportunity to show that he can be the best big man on the floor.
I think people forget how crucial Rodions Kurucs was last season because of how little he played this season. In 2018-2019, the Nets were 28-18 when he started, and went on 7-game win streak when Kenny Atkinson inserted him into the starting lineup. He was a big part of the grittiness on both sides of the floor. An enforcer of sorts, he locked down Blake Griffin in one of the biggest games of the season, and averaged 9 points and 4.5 rebounds, 33% from 3 in just 22 minutes.
After legal troubles, he was an afterthought this past season. He only played 12 minutes per game and started in only four. He should definitely get a ton of burn down in Orlando, especially with Michael Beasley serving a five-game suspension. He needs to cut out the pump-fake into a travel. Kurucs is best when he keeps the game simple, hence why people called him Kirilenko with a jumper. Kurucs next court date in his domestic assault case comes in late November, long after the “bubble” closes down.
Do we even call TLC a big man? In this instance, yes. “I may have to play the 4 or 5 at some point... we’re going to play fast, I’m going to help in the paint,” he recently told reporters. of course, that conversation came before the Nets signed Michael Beasley and Donta Hall. TLC was a solid piece for Brooklyn, serving as a hustle player who shot 36 percent from three and played well in the Nets last few games. He’s 6’7” which means he can play anywhere from the two to the four. Or if the Nets get really desperate, the five.
Beasley is a Net. How about that? Putting the initial shock aside, know that Beasley is another guy who was basically a walking bucket his entire career. His last noteworthy year was in 2017-2018 when he played for the Knicks and averaged 13 points and 5.6 rebounds in 22 minutes per game. He’s shown he can stretch the floor and be a scrappy type on both sides of the floor. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits in with these Nets. A big part is accepting his role and not trying to do too much. Can he do that? He won’t play until the final three games of resumption although the Nets say he’ll likely be able to the Nets three scrimmages with Western Conference teams.
Anderson isn’t officially listed as part of the team, as of Friday night. A good friend of Joe Harris, he was in and out of Nassau Coliseum, hardly ever getting any time with the Brooklyn Nets. With the Long Island Nets, he averaged 20.6 points and 8.6 rebounds while shooting 36 percent from three. He can be a bit of a bruiser despite being an undersized traditional four.
Hall was Brooklyn’s final acquisition – their last chance at nabbing a backup center for Jarrett Allen. Hall was a G-League standout and was picked up by the Detroit Pistons later in the year. He plays bigger than his size, known for his efficiency (62 percent) and explosiveness at the rim. He should see time based off Brooklyn’s lack of size. And with a 7’5” wingspan and a max vertical that has to be in the mid-30’ts, he could provide some highlights.
You can write a book about the Brooklyn Nets this past season. (Someone is, by the way.) As we wrote, “We didn’t start the fire” – which is to be continued. The Orlando game on July 31 marks an entire new season for every Net, whether it’s a replacement player or tenured veteran.
The Nets have entertainment value, but they’re also doing whatever they can to set themselves up for next year. It starts with interim head coach Jacque Vaughn, who has a legitimate shot at the most coveted open head coaching job in the NBA. He’s not going to throw in the white towel, by any means. For others, it’s about proving their worth to this team and throughout the entire association.
Crawford has been itching to play on an NBA floor. He has seven years of experience in the playoffs. He believes the Nets can prove some wrong.
“People on the outside aren’t expecting too much from us. And that’s cool. The game still has to be played,” he said on the Emergency Scoop B Radio Podcast. “I’ll make sure to keep that in our minds and take it one game at a time,” he said, adding, “In this situation it kinda works in our favor, it’s kinda like an AAU game. We really get to lock in.”
Who knows how the Nets will do, but they will certainly be entertaining.
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