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Caris LeVert and Jacque Vaughn leading Nets into ‘Bubble’ ... together

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NBA Mexico Games 2017 - All Access Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Caris LeVert is in a position where it may feel like the weight of the world is on his shoulders. He’s been extremely active in the fight for social justice, attending four-to-five marches/protests in the past two months in addition to taking care of himself and family during the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, as the NBA looks to resume on July 30 with four -– maybe five — Nets not even going to Orlando, LeVert understands his responsibility to be a leader for a young Nets group. Alongside him in leading the group, on and off the court, he notes, is his head coach, Jacque Vaughn.

“I think for me it’s just taking on that challenge of being a leader, being the leader of that group,” LeVert said on a Zoom call with Nets media Friday afternoon. “Going down there with some of the most experience on the team, playoff experience. I feel like I relish these types of opportunities and situations. Everything aside, I’m looking forward to going down there and seeing what we can do.”

And regarding Vaughn?

“As a young player in this league, someone who’s aspiring to get to that level, it’s good to be around a winning type of coach each and every single day,” said LeVert. “And definitely has my best interest on the court, he tells the truth every single day. And that’s all I ask for, so definitely a good goal to work with him every day.”

LeVert has two new looks, one being new cornrows on his head which he explained was inspired by his favorite player growing up, Allen Iverson. The second is his physique and “strength” he put on during the quarantine.

“I feel good right now,” said LeVert. “I haven’t played in games since March so that’s the question I really don’t know but I feel good in my workouts though. And if I didn’t, I honestly wouldn’t be going down there to play. So I’m looking forward to getting out there.”

With Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Nicolas Claxton, Wilson Chandler and potentially Spencer Dinwiddie sitting out, LeVert has been in constant communication with Vaughn. LeVert and Vaughn have worked closely together over the years and have built a strong relationship with one another.

Indeed. As time grows, so does confidence about Vaughn keeping the Nets head coaching job ... on a permanent basis. One league source recently told NetsDaily, “Jacque has a real good shot at this job. Plus, Sean [Marks] likes the assistants and the assistant coaches want to stay in Brooklyn.” Adrian Wojnarowski has said similar things. On Thursday, he told an ESPN podcast, “I would take Jacque Vaughn against the field right now.” Sean Marks also told reporters that Vaughn will not be evaluated based on wins and losses.

LeVert, an advocate for Vaughn, re-posted a clip on Instagram of him working out at HSS with the head coach, going full speed in a pivot-shooting drill.

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Different @carislevert look. Same Caris LeVert game.

A post shared by Brooklyn Nets (@brooklynnets) on

A big reason why Marks appreciated Kenny Atkinson and his staff so much was/is because they’re all on the court practicing with the players. That’s not that common.

In the two games Vaughn coached before play was suspended, Vaughn attended his pregame press conference covered in sweat and a t-shirt, refusing to let go of his routine with LeVert and other players.

“He [Jacque] played in the league so he’s very competitive,” LeVert said about his coach. “He knows a lot about the game, a lot about the league in general. Knows a lot about winning and what it takes to win, he’s played in the finals, played on a really good Jazz team. So, he knows what it takes to get there,” said LeVert.

Furthermore, Vaughn has a very good relationship with Kyrie Irving and was often seen working out with Irving prior to games this season. His relationships extend beyond Irving.

“I think JV’s been great just in the sense that he’s trying to make the most of the situation, treat everything as normal as possible in terms of making sure guys are prepared when we’re going to get back and playing, making sure guys are playing and developing the right way, kind of maintaining constant communication with people,” Joe Harris said on a Thursday Zoom call. “Especially early on, when we’re not able to get into the facility.”

And in an interview with WFAN also Friday, Marks told Evan Roberts and Joe Benigno that he will certainly listen to Irving and Kevin Durant.

“It would be probably, you know, not incredibly smart of us if we did not involve some of these key players in this decision,” said Marks. “That only goes to Kevin, I think it’s — you know, Kevin and Kyrie, we’re gonna pick their brains on what they are looking for in a leader, what they want in a coach, what they need. I think these guys have been brutally honest so far.”

This comes two days after Marks said that KD has been a “very loud voice” in discussions about the Nets future.

Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot told the Zoom call how Vaughn has been vital in communicating with the group on and off the court.

“He’s done a great job, he was calling us weekly, texting us as a group or individually,” said TLC. “He was talking to us, how to stay motivated during these types of times because of what’s going on with COVID-19, and after, we had talks as a team for Black Lives Matter and all those things. So, he’s done a great job, and us as teammates talking and communicating.”

LeVert echoed similar sentiments.

“At first [our communication] was watching film on Zoom, kind of like what we’re doing now. Keeping conversation alive, making sure that each of our family members are OK and safe and things like that. Making sure my body feels good, my game feels good and my head’s good going down to Orlando.”

With Irving out and Dinwiddie currently sick with the virus, LeVert might be called upon to handle the point guard duties, Vaughn has told him. When the Nets drafted him, Sean Marks told Kenny Atkinson that he believed Caris was more than capable of running the offense.

“I kind of was playing point guard when those guys were playing in general, so I’m sure that’ll definitely be in the works,” he said.

Still, LeVert is firm in believing that other guys will step up, namely players like Chris Chiozza and TLC.

“Whether they have gotten a shot or not, I feel like the guys that were in that game, a lot of them were young like Chiozza and TLC and guys like that, are still NBA-caliber players,” said LeVert. “Really high level players that have a lot of talent. I feel like when guys are put in those positions, there’s not really a lot of thinking going on. They just go.”

As for Dinwiddie, he provided a health update on Friday.

In his WFAN interview, Marks also suggested that Dinwiddie is “doing fine ... he’s definitely feeling symptoms and we’re doing everything we can to support him.”

Marks, in a bit of a cryptic remark, said of the “bubble,” “We’ll be strategic in how we play down there and how we compete. But again this is much, much bigger than the game of basketball. This transcends that.”

While many are discussing the possibility of the Nets tanking and getting a lottery pick, the team has the same mindset it’s had in the past: Next man up.

“If we’re talking basketball, it’s next man up. We have guys on the roster who are eager to play. I think whoever’s on the court is going to give their all,” he explained. “Obviously there will be adjustments with different personnel. I think that’s inevitable. But like I said, next man up. We have a lot of talented guys on the roster still and I know those guys are very eager to get their chance and opportunity to go down there and make a statement and show what they can do.”

In the final 17 games of the season, LeVert averaged 23 points, five assists, five rebounds and 1.6 steals, while shooting 41.5 percent shooting from three. He dropped 51 points in a double OT win against the Boston Celtics on their home floor, then four days later, posted his his first triple-double. So, with most of Brooklyn’s playmakers and shot creators out, he will have the responsibility to orchestrate the offense and score the rock.

Vaughn has no other choice but to put all the trust in LeVert’s hands, and he sounds like he’s up for the challenge. Moreover, this is not only an evaluation period for Vaughn, but LeVert as well. The Nets are listening to offers for a third star to put with Durant and Irving next season. If LeVert plays the way he did in February and March, they might already have their match on the roster.

“It will definitely be a challenge, it will be fun to go down there and compete,” said LeVert. “Everyone’s role will be a little bit different. Hopefully everyone is ready for that task.”

Also on WFAN, Marks dismissed a rumor that the Nets are preparing a “Godfather offer” for Spurs coach, Gregg Popovich, who the Nets GM both played for and worked under as an assistant coach.

“Pop has a job. So I will say that. And, obviously, we all know he’s an amazing, amazing coach — and to be quite frank, an even better leader. So I’ll let Pop continue to coach for the Spurs. He owes it to them and they owe it to him. I’m sure he’s quite happy there,” Marks said.

Marks admitted Popovich “does like New York,” but it looks more than ever that like Vaughn has the inside track going into the “bubble.”