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Andrews: How the ‘stay-ready crew’ went from being a luxury to a necessity

Orlando Magic v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

With a record number of players who’ve donned the black-and-white (27) and a record number of starting lineups (32), staying ready is a priority in Brooklyn, as ESPN’s Malika Andrews wrote this weekend.

So, a “stay ready crew” would need to have been created if it hadn’t evolved over the last couple of years. It’s not, as Andrews writes, unique in the NBA.

The idea of added pickup games and workouts for fringe players isn’t new. In Chicago, the Bulls call them the “low-minute run.” In Milwaukee, the Bucks have “the play group.” It’s the “extra-work group” in Detroit.

But there’s another element in the Nets crew. Not only does the crew include players outside whatever rotation the Nets were using. It’s included rehabbing stars and superstars as well.

Last season before the league shut down and before he contracted COVID, Kevin Durant was a regular part of the crew’s workouts. Nic Claxton who was part of the crew last year before joining the rotation this year and this recalled to Andrews what it was like to go up against KD ... even during his rehab from his Achilles rupture.

While the rest of the team was going through pregame treatment and getting set for routine naps before the 7:30 p.m. tip, Claxton was lacing up his shoes in American Airlines Arena for the only game he’d play that day: the stay-ready game.

Durant was on the other side. Claxton had never shared the court — as teammate or opponent — with the two-time Finals MVP.

“It was just a different intensity,” Claxton recalled. “It was surreal, just seeing him — you can’t make him miss. You really can just pray that he misses.”

Claxton has lost count of the number of times Durant had, in those early days, pulled up over him or caused him to lose his defensive footing. He remembers one game when the team was in Los Angeles, Durant drove by the young center and dunked on him. But slowly, Claxton began to move more quickly. His hands grew more active and agile.

This season, it was Alize Johnson’s turn to guard Durant in workouts as KD rehabbed from his hamstring strain. He, too, told Andrews about what it meant to his defense. If you can guard Kevin Durant ...

Johnson was immediately assigned to guard him. After the games, Johnson would text his friends stories of highlight-worthy Durant dunks — and the few stops he managed to get.

“It just gets me prepared for other dudes,” Johnson said of matching up with Durant. “It has pushed my defense playing against him and Kyrie.”

The crew’s big reason to exist of course is to get those at the end of the bench ready to jump in whenever someone else goes down. “Next man up” isn’t just a slogan. It’s a plan.

“We don’t have a lot of bodies,” said Nash, who Andrews noted drops into the “stay-ready” workouts weekly. “And without the G League and all of that in its normal form, it’s pretty limiting in what we can do. I just think it’s been a really good too.”

Bruce Brown, in case you may have forgotten, had a few DNP-CD’s early. He was an early member of the “stay ready crew.” Part of that Nets subculture is the grind-and-reward ethos

“They told me that my time was going to come, they just don’t know when it was going to come,” said Brown. “So, before every game I would be like, maybe it’s tonight, maybe it’s not, but I have to be ready when my name is called.”

The presence and success of the crew also is likely to be talked about among NBA players, like a lot of other things the Nets do. Blake Griffin had a short stint with the crew and appreciated it. He was healthy, as he noted at the time, but the Nets wanted to take some time to get him ready.

Griffin, who suited up with the Nets’ “stay-ready crew” for one week in March told Andrews: “Nothing replaces actual live reps, [but] it’s nice to have that as sort of the backup to prepare.”

With all that turnover, all those injuries, the Nets had to do something and the “stay-ready crew” seems to helped.