Prior to signing a non-guaranteed deal with the Brooklyn Nets, Iman Shumpert was one of many unsigned NBA players trying to find work — and stay safe — during a pandemic.
Shumpert, who lives in Atlanta, described the struggle of finding places to work out while balancing short time frames available. The 30-year-old said it was a “tough” process that was time-consuming and a daily challenge.
“It was tough. I was driving about 45 minutes to an hour to get into a gym. I was lifting at another gym so about 15-20 minutes from there and then I was driving over to Georgia Tech to get treatment, which is probably another hour,” Shumpert told reporters Monday.
“All those things were happening because there were small windows for me to get on the court knowing that they need to clean the court in between things. You also have volleyball and basketball for men and women in college spaces I was working out in. A lot of times, I found myself in LA Fitness or an equinox gym just trying to get my weights in and make sure I get some sort of cardio, even if I have to do the StairMaster.”
Despite Shumpert’s difficult balance, he appreciated the independence of the process. As Shumpert said, in the league, players usually have people telling them where they have to go and be.
Shumpert also appreciated the extra work. After all, he hasn’t played since December 2019. As he says, he did not lose the love of the game but the process made him appreciate his love for the game and the little things along the way.
“It was cool. It was kind of like the most blue-collar thing that I have done in a long time,” Shumpert said about the process. “With the time I spent in the league, at some point, you get comfy knowing you got someone standing over you telling you what time to be somewhere. It was kind of cool to go back to that high school feel and that high school hunger of I just want to play basketball. I don’t care if yall give me a gym. I’ll figure it out and I got to play ball today.
“It was cool for that just so my kids, my wife, and everyone got to see ‘man dude, you really love basketball. You go and your rebounding for little kids in seventh grade and because their workout run is over, you are like damn near training them too.’ Not that I fell out of love with it but it was cool to “fall in love with the game” again and fall in love with the little things of going to the YMCA and play ball if I have to.”
On the other hand, like all players waiting for their phone to ring, the difficulty of the process can make them less motivated, less committed to staying ready. In the 30-year-old’s case, after the season started, he took his foot off the pedal a bit just to make sure he remained healthy while he waited for the call, which turned out to be Sean Marks and the Nets two months later.
“Just working out and trying to do things more full court early on when the season first started, Shumpert said on the early stages of the process. “I was doing more full court stuff and I sort of took the foot off the gas a little bit to try to make sure I was healthy and make sure when I do come into a situation, I have fresh legs as opposed to trying to run myself into the ground not knowing when I am going to get a call.”
Shumpert noted how in the gym it is easy to follow drills independently and force yourself but when he got to the Nets, there were other obstacles he had to get accustomed to ... such as playing with fellow NBA talent, what coaches call being “basketball-ready.”
“When we talk about doing workouts, it’s easy to run by yourself and force yourself to do sprints. It’s another thing to run, stop, go, get hit with a screen, couple of actions coming where you got to make a shot. It’s hard for me to simulate those things without having NBA players around. You can say like, ‘yeah, I did the drill and I shot the floater but it’s another thing when you got [Norvel] Pelle out here trying to block your shot when we are playing pickup.”
In terms of his transition since joining Brooklyn last week, Shumpert says the move has been great. He credits a lot of that to the familiarity he has with the personnel. From players to coaches, Shumpert is pretty familiar with the makeup of the Nets unit.
“It’s been great and so far so good. I have got a warm welcome from everybody. I know a lot of the guys here and it seems like all the coaches and trainers I’ve ever come in contact with, everybody sort of pulled over here to Brooklyn,” Shumpert said. “It has been a pretty easy transition for me as far as personnel.
“Getting back up to speed and just shifting from working out by myself and working on the small details - getting better as a player and then translating over to now and applying to a team aspect of things. I am trying to do everything all in one pretty quick to try to help the guys as opposed to coming in and worried about myself. Moreso coming in and trying to help the team since we got another scheme of superstars over here now. It’s been great to get around those guys and be able to play. We played three’s the other day and being able to play three’s to get some game-like action out there and get to see that length again that the NBA brings.”
Shumpert is no stranger to playing alongside NBA superstars throughout his time in the NBA. From Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James to reuniting with Kyrie Irving and James Harden in Brooklyn, he is well aware of what it is like as a role player to compliment superstars with the end goal of success.
He discussed how he plans on bringing that experience, on top of his perimeter defending, to the title-contending Nets. Shumpert also doesn’t care about filling the box score offensively.
“It is even simpler than defense for me,” Shumpert said on his impact. “I think it is a communication thing and being able to communicate the terminologies of our league and get me up to speed quicker because I played with multiple different franchises. With each franchise, I had to play alongside some form of a superstar in our league. Those guys understanding that I want to understand the role enough to say I can get this done and not take it personally.
“There are a lot of times where in order for a star to be a star, a role player has to be a lesser version of themselves. Not a worse version but a lesser version just to focus on the things we got to focus on to win. I think that adds a level of comfort not only to our superstars but the guys in the locker room. I come in with high confidence whether I score 30 or score one point. It doesn’t matter and I think that becomes contagious when you are playing on the ball club that we got. We get into those later months of the season, the consistency and the communication is what provides the energy for us to play defense on that end.”
When it comes to playing alongside superstars in Brooklyn, the 30-year-old will have to wait to play with Kevin Durant as he will most likely miss the next two games under the league’s health and safety protocols and return Saturday against the Golden State Warriors. On the other hand, Shumpert, if he does see minutes Tuesday, will be playing alongside Kyrie Irving, a superstar he won an NBA championship with back in 2016 with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
On that availability, Steve Nash little new to add, but he did get snarky.
“Kevin is on about 90 negative tests,” Nash said sarcastically. “It would be wonderful if he can join our ball club as soon as possible. Kai’s index finger is improving. I am sure with playing with many of those myself, it is sometimes something that doesn’t go away in the season but it is manageable. We will see what level he is able to attain as far as the pain and inflammation but I think right now, he is in a manageable camp and he can play tomorrow.”
Shumpert will become the fifth Net with NBA Finals experience. He’s played in three, winning it once in 2016. Kevin Durant, of course, has gotten there four times, winning it twice in 2017 and 2018. Jeff Green was on the Cavaliers Finals team with Irving and Shumpert in 2018 and James Harden with KD on the 2012 Thunder team.
Of course, the Georgia Tech product is currently on a non-guaranteed deal that will expire on February 24 unless the Nets decide to keep him.
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