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Even with roster changes, Chris Chiozza and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot need to step up

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Chiozza and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot do not have much of a guaranteed future with the Nets, but they may very well need to ready when NBA action resumes at the end of the month.

Chiozza is on what could be described as an extended two-way deal that will make him a restricted free agent in October, meaning he could either re-sign outright or have the Nets match any offer sheet given him by another team. TLC has a contract for next year, signed in mid-season, but it’s barely guaranteed. He has to be on the roster at two now undetermined dates to get his vets minimum deal fully guaranteed.

But, at least before Wednesday night’s news regarding the Nets interest in Jamal Crawford and Michael Beasley, you’d have to believe they were going to be a big part of the Nets rotation when Brooklyn re-opens against the Magic in Orlando on July 31.

“I feel like it’s a big opportunity for me,” Chiozza said two days before Spencer Dinwiddie was ruled out of the “bubble” at Disney World. “It’s something I’m looking forward to. I hope Spencer feels better, but if not, I’ll be ready to take on those extra minutes.”

At that point, he and Vaughn had not yet discussed his role in detail, as Greg Logan reported Thursday.

“I don’t think I’m going to have to change too much,” Chiozza said. “I’m just going to go out there and play the way I’ve been playing. I feel comfortable playing with anyone on court, and I think I know everyone’s game pretty well. I think it will be a little bit of an adjustment if I am playing with the first group, but I think I’ll be pretty good and make a quick transition.”

Asked if he was disappointed that the Nets didn’t convert his two-way deal to a standard contract last week, Chiozza said it wasn’t as if he expected it.

“I wasn’t sure that they were going to do it or not, so when it didn’t happen, it didn’t bother me too much because of the circumstances,” he said. “I’m still going to be ready to play. That’s all I really cared about ... being able to be in the playoffs and the last few games of the season.”

Under normal circumstances, two-ways like him and Jeremiah Martin wouldn’t have been eligible for post-season play but under NBA rules adopted for the “bubble,” the two were added to the roster to fill in for the injured Irving and Kevin Durant.

But he was also asked as to whether he’d want to come back next season —he’ll be a restricted free agent come October— Chiozza said he “definitely” wants to return.

“I’ve gotten comfortable here, enjoy the teammates, the staff, all the coaches. So I would love to back for sure.”

Chiozza certainly proved his worth prior to the NBA shutdown. As Logan notes, after averaging just 2.1 points while playing limited time in his first 16 appearances earlier in the season, Chiozza was a key piece in the Nets run in early March. In the Nets 4-1 run, he averaged 10 points, 2.6 assists and 3.2 rebounds in 19 minutes per game with a shooting split of 56/53/100

More importantly, though, Chiozza showed crazy energy ... and a chemistry with Caris LeVert. In the Boston game on March 3, he played the final 20:45 of the overtime win. In those five games, he proved himself to two coaches: the now departed Kenny Atkinson and the interim Jacque Vaughn.

Luwawu-Cabarrot has also been looking forward to the restart. TLC said last week he was willing to play the stretch 4 or even 5 if that’s what’s required. Now, with the anticipated signing of the 6’9” Beasley —and almost certainly another big, he’s more likely to be at his traditional position of swingman.

“I think we’re going to play super-fast, super-quick, we have a young team with a couple of veterans,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot. “My role is going to stay the same, I’m just going to help more in the paint and stay out there with (Jarrett Allen), sometimes have to do the dirty job that they do.”

Jacque Vaughn has faith in TLC and singled him out for praise during his Zoom call with the media, as Tom Dowd pointed out in a feature on the Nets official site.

“He really came into form,” said Vaughn. “From a coaching perspective, his ability to defend was really pleasing for us, his ability to show strength, that he could defend multiple positions. And really out of pretty much all the guys that stayed in market, he’s in really good shape. I’m looking forward to seeing the work that he’s put in, kind of test it when we get to Orlando for sure.”

Like Chiozza, TLC started off as a two-way and like Chiozza, he shined in the week before the shutdown. In those five games, he averaged 11.4 points and 2.6 rebounds. But in the two big road wins, he excelled, scoring 13 points in 25 minutes at Staples Center and 16 points (and eight rebounds) at the TD Garden. (His contributions to the overtime win had Celtics beat writers disparaging their team post-game for losing to “a guy named Timothy Love Carrot.”)

Before the reported agreements with Crawford and Beasley, Luwawu-Cabarrot anticipated Vaughn would push a run-and-gun game.

“I think we’re going to play super-fast, super-quick, we have a young team with a couple of veterans,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot. “My role is going to stay the same, I’m just going to help more in the paint and stay out there with (Jarrett Allen), sometimes have to do the dirty job that they do.”

And he also anticipated the re-start would be good for him.

“It’s huge for us, huge for me,” he added. “Obviously, we’re going to miss them, going to miss everybody, but as we say this year and as it’s always been, it’s next man up. We have to stay ready and be ready to play. I’m sure they’ll support us and we’ll try and do the best job we can.”

One of six Nets to stay the entire pandemic in Brooklyn, TLC spoke about why he didn’t return to his native France. He was born in the Paris suburbs.

“I just thought it was not worth it,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot. “I’ll be able to see my family after everything is over. Everybody is safe. So there was no rush in terms of like going back home and seeing my family because it could cause a problem health-wise.

“So I didn’t feel the rush or the need to go back, especially with the NBA being postponed and the fact that you have to quarantine like two weeks when you come back from Europe and all the laws and rules about people coming back from Europe to the US. So it was, like, timing. It was not worth my time to go back. So I’m just on a bunch of Face Time and Zoom calls with my family, and that was fine.”

Of course, the Nets haven’t yet filled out their “bubble” roster. Crawford and Beasley will have to be formally signed as will Justin Anderson with whom TLC will have to share minutes. Then, soon, we should know the identity of the fourth substitute who presumably will be a big man.

Still, for two players who started the year in the G League, it’s been a big year, proving they belong.