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EXCLUSIVE: Nets stash Isaïa Cordinier is ready to take next step ... maybe with Nets?

Isaia Cordinier is the most likely of the Nets four stashes to make the NBA. Our Alec Sturm interviewed him (in French!) recently on his plans for the future that could include the Nets. (Quotes have been lightly edited and translated for clarity.) 

NBA: Summer League-Brooklyn Nets at Minnesota Timberwolves Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

On July 7, 2016, Jeremy Lin signed a three-year contract with the Brooklyn Nets. Lin only lasted two years in Brooklyn and played a mere 37 games with the club. By the summer of 2018, the Nets and Lin both needed to move on and he was dumped on the Atlanta Hawks in a salary-saving move. Still, the Nets wanted something back for their once-prized free agent acquisition. In return for Lin, the Hawks — in addition to a future second-round pick — gave Brooklyn the draft rights to Isaïa Cordinier, a 2016 second-round selection who had been stashed in France.

Cordinier was drafted by the Hawks in 2016 with the 44th pick. He says now that getting drafted, which was then his “main” goal, was when his NBA dream began to look real. Still, Cordinier has yet to set foot onto an NBA court five years later other than a six-game stint at the NBA Summer League in 2019.

Now, Cordinier is finishing up his best season as a pro with Nanterre 92, a French basketball club in the LNB Pro A League. He was named to the All-EuroCup First Team in the 2020-21 tournament after averaging 15 points, five rebounds, and three assists on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and 44.9 percent shooting from behind the arc. For Cordinier, who has struggled with distance shooting, an almost-50 percent success rate is notable.

Here’s a breakdown of his season...

The Nets’ interest in Cordinier hasn’t faded since they acquired him in exchange for Lin. In fact, Cordinier says that he and the team “talk regularly,” and the Nets keep tabs on his games in France. You don’t do that unless you have some interest.

Being NBA contenders, the Nets might not have the luxury of using a roster spot on a player coming from overseas, at least for now. Cordinier is aware of that and admits he doesn’t know when he would be brought over. Still, he’s not chasing waterfalls; there’s mutual interest from both parties, he told NetsDaily: “I know they’re still interested in me —for this year or next year, I don’t know.”

In fact, he’s expected to be one of the top free agents in Europe, with teams like F.C. Barcelona reportedly very interested.

On a Nets roster already loaded with talent, where does Cordinier fit in? He’s a 6’5” (196 centimeters in Europe) wing with a tight handle who can explode to the rim and throw down thunderous dunks. The Nets already have all-world talent on the wing with 2-time Finals MVP Kevin Durant, as well as complimentary pieces like Joe Harris, who has led the NBA in three-point shooting percentage twice in the past three seasons but roster spots will open up in the offseason. And after all, Cordinier has always dreamed of playing in the NBA:

“Yeah, for sure. Since I [was] young, that was always the dream that’s - playing basketball and more. You know, I went through the professional career and everything, it started to be a real goal, like, I went through the draft, the drafting, etc. And I see then that’s the first, the main goal in my head for my career. So that’s what I train for, that’s what I practice for, and that’s what I play for, so yeah, for sure.”

The NBA G League is a different story. The Nets’ affiliate team in Long Island has already provided a French player to the Nets roster, Timothé Luwawu-Cabbarot, a former two-way player who was signed to a fully guaranteed contract in February 2020. Luwawu-Cabarrot is one of Cordinier’s “best friends” as well as a former teammate from the Antibes Sharks in 2013. They catch up every summer in France and FaceTime weekly, or as often as they can.

NetsDaily has previously reported that Cordinier wanted a two-way contract with Long Island, but things have changed. He wants to play at the highest level, however, a development league isn’t always viewed as an upgrade by already-established European players.

“I think, compared to the last two, three years,” said Cordinier. “I’m not, like, as — how can I say it — this is not the priority for me, to play in the G League.”

In 2019, Cordinier played on the Nets Summer League team, along with some former Nets whose names you might recognize, like Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs, Dzanan Musa and Theo Pinson. Prior to his stint with Brooklyn, Cordinier had played in the NBA’s Summer League with Atlanta but never saw significant time on the court. The Nets had a good run in Vegas, going 4-2, and Cordinier says he “really enjoyed it.”

In one game, he scored 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting — 3-of-4 from three — in a win over Detroit. He also grabbed three rebounds, stole the ball twice, blocked two shots and got an NBA highlight moment...

When asked about the play-style in Summer League compared to what he’s used to in France, Cordinier couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“Yeah, especially in Summer League when, you know, players [are] trying to show their skills,” explained Cordinier. “In Europe, basically, during the year you have training camp — long training camp, long season, you have time to set basics and, you know, you can go deep into details. So, it’s more of half court basketball. And in Summer League, it’s really transition, trying to play very hard defense to go off in offense after so it is just really offense to defense basketball. So yeah, for sure it’s really different.”

Would Cordinier be willing to play in Summer League again this year with the Nets?

“Why not?” he says, but there’s a scheduling concern.

Cordinier was named to the 16-man training camp roster for France’s Olympic national team this summer, which is made up of 12 roster spots and 4 alternates. He’s been put in an awkward spot as an alternate, where he will only join the team if a spot opens up because another player becomes unavailable. For now, he will just “take anything that [he] can”, even though he’s unlikely to make the trip to Tokyo. France’s Olympic run starts on July 25 while this year’s NBA Summer League tips off on August 8 and runs through August 17.

When asked to describe his game, Cordinier points out that his biggest strength is his motor: “I say my engine, because I play the game with a lot of passion. It drives me from defensive play, offensive play. And it allows me to, you know, run 100 percent every time.”

He’s not putting a limit on his development either. Cordinier still believes there’s improvement to be had across the board.

”I think I can be better at everything. I think I’m still young in my career, and I think I can be better everywhere. But this year, I really focused on, you know, read[ing] the defenses offensively, pick and roll situations, passing abilities and, you know, just trying to be more regular on my shots too, on my three point percentage. So yeah, I think I can develop my IQ a lot. But I have a lot [to] improve on in every aspect of the game, I think.”

His progress was interrupted in the 2017-2018 season when he missed the entire year after getting surgery on both knees to treat tendonitis, a process he described as an eye-opening experience:

“Now, I know my body almost perfectly. I know, what’s this, you know, what’s that at some point. and I can, like, by myself, I can analyze, and, you know, work on some different things. And, then I think the most important [thing] is I learned a lot about myself, you know, not only not only physically but mentally it’s been really, really tough and it’s a long journey … I had the chance to have, like, good people around me, family, friends, the good people that I work with to get some good results and yeah, I think after this year I was a better athlete and a better man for sure.”

His long and arduous recovery makes the All-EuroCup team honor that much sweeter. After all the repetitive days with incremental progress, it’s just a result of the hard work, he told ND.

“It’s a long journey. It’s a big fight against yourself because you have to know, like, the rehab is really repetitive. It is on repeat, every day, you’re doing the same thing to get one percent better in maybe one week, you know, and it’s really tough mentally.”

During general manager Sean Marks’ tenure, the Nets have been known to seek out —and find— “diamonds in the rough”. The reclamation projects that became Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie and D’Angelo Russell come to mind from the earlier years, while Mike James hailed from Russia this year to give the Nets a playoff boost.

Could Cordinier be the latest addition to that list in the upcoming seasons? They’ll have a lot of decisions to make between the Draft in late July and free agency in early August. With the 24-year-old’s improvement, he certainly would seem a strong possibility. So, don’t rule it out. In Cordinier’s words...

“We’ll see what happens.”