We expect more speculation this coming week on both the Nets plans for the Draft and free agency. All 30 NBA teams now have a head coach and GM in place after the Wizards and Pelicans filled their coaching vacancies. That clears the table for more intense discussions of team futures. And of course, we are now 12 days from the Draft, 15 days from when free agent moves can be announced and another four from when players can be signed ... and many Draft Night trades become official.
We also note that Sean Marks, Kevin Durant and Joe Tsai were all in Las Vegas last week, Marks to support Durant and Team USA in the exhibition games, Tsai for the WNBA All-Star Game. Do we know if the three men sat down or what they might have discussed? We do not. Like we said, rampant speculation is coming.
A ‘Deer District’ on the Barclays Center Plaza?
Back at the end of June, Norman Oder, the critic and chronicler of the overall Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park project, was on the plaza at Barclays Center when Kevin Durant hit his two-pointer to tie Game 7 of the Nets-Bucks series. What he saw and recorded was intriguing...
Oder put the number of fans on the plaza at 150.
It was live ... ad hoc. Nothing was planned nor authorized. It was just crazed fans getting as close to the action without being inside. At the time, Oder noted that an original selling point for the arena was that passers-by would be able to check the scoreboard from the street. That view, as he noted, never materialized, buried behind “layers of advertising in front of it.” Now, with the new LED screens across the front of the building, there’s a reasonable facsimile, a view inside that’s projected outside. So would the Nets consider making this permanent for big games like the playoffs ... as the Bucks do with their “Deer District” outside Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum.
Even Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, has commented on the district’s success and said he can see the phenomenon happening elsewhere.
“It’s quite spectacular, this whole plaza around it,” Silver said ahead of Game 4 of The Finals.
“They are replicating this in a lot of cities around the league,” he said. “They’re doing it now in San Francisco, these big huge developments. It’s not just an arena, but it’s a town hall.”
So the other night, at a community meeting, Oder asked a representative of the Empire State Development Corp., the state agency that holds the deed to the arena, about the future of gatherings on the plaza in Brooklyn.
“Small portions of Nets games were aired on the atrium glass display approximately one minute per quarter, with a mix of live clips and replays,” Tobi Jaiyesimi of ESDC stated. “There’s plans to continue this for the upcoming season.”
Highlights “are shown selectively as well” for the New York Liberty, she said, as Oder recounted.
That of course isn’t anywhere close to what the Bucks do with the “Deer District,” which provides a live feed of the action on a much larger screen. In the Bucks’ two Finals home games, 20.000 fans have gathered outside. The original capacity was 8,000.
There are other differences as well. The plaza — soon to be renamed the SeatGeek Plaza — is a lot smaller than the “Deer District” with a standing capacity of around 3,000. And although the plaza has access to the New York Subway and LIRR, it is bounded by three heavily trafficked streets, Flatbush, Atlantic and Fourth avenues, the busiest intersection in the state of New York.
So, there’s concern that a large crowd on the plaza could affect safe ingress and egress for those inside. In other words, what Oder caught on his mobile phone is unlikely to be replicated on the plaza in any significant way. No “Deer District” in Brooklyn. Of course, there’s a long time before next year’s playoffs.
Draft Sleeper of The Week
Chad Ford, formerly of ESPN and now an independent draftnik, dropped some knowledge this week about the Nets plans for their 27th pick (assuming they use it). He reported that the Nets have interest in 6’11”, 265-pound Day’Ron Sharpe of North Carolina.
There are lots of rumblings around the league that the Nets are targeting Sharpe at 27.
After trading away Jarrett Allen, the Nets used a lot of guys at center, including Blake Griffin, Jeff Green, Nicolas Claxton and even Bruce Brown. So getting a player like Sharpe, a big bruiser with a great motor and surprising passing ability, might be a wise investment for Brooklyn.
That was followed by a report that teams are having trouble setting up workouts for the Greenville, NC, native after he decided against participating in the NBA combine. Does Sharpe have a guarantee? Hmm.
Some mocks have had Sharpe being taken right around the Nets pick. ESPN has him at No. 31, Tankathon at 25, but NBADraft.net has him going at No. 51. Ford sees Sharpe as a throw-back big man, a big, smart presence underneath but with limited perimeter skills...
In terms of draft stock, Sharpe has been hovering as a mid-first-round to late first-round pick all year. His old-school game of strength, hustle and grittiness on the defensive end won’t be for everyone. But there’s real potential here because of his fluid athleticism, his switchability on defense and a solid feel for the game that makes him a passing threat out of the post.
Sharpe was also an honors student at UNC ... and plays the piano. That fits the Nets mold as well. They like smart guys.
Of course, it might be kind of a head-scratcher considering the Nets have two bigs under 22 already on the roster, Nic Claxton and Reggie Perry, and Sharpe is only 19. But the Nets are proponents of BPA. taking the Best Player Available.
As Fran Fraschilla told the Post’s Steve Serby Saturday when he asked about what the Nets should do at No. 27, “When I’m picking 27th, unless two guys are exactly equal, I am not picking for position, I am picking for NBA talent. Who is the best NBA talent on the board that may have escaped the first 26 picks?”
Here’s some highlights from Sharpe’s freshman season in the ACC. He is indeed a bruiser who can pass...
And here’s some more, this from Mike Schmitz of ESPN who got a look at Sharpe in L.A. two weeks ago then spoke with him. Schmitz thinks Sharpe has untapped perimeter potential...
Loved breaking down film with big man Day’Ron Sharpe. Really engaging, lively personality with a great feel for the game. Averaged 19.7 PTS, 15.7 REBS, 3.0 AST, 1.6 STL and 1.9 BLK per 40 minutes as a freshman at UNC. Also started alongside Cade, Barnes and Moody at Montverde. pic.twitter.com/iBR2d2BhLd— Mike Schmitz (@Mike_Schmitz) July 1, 2021
Indeed, interest is building in Sharpe. As Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report noted, “The mystery seems to be raising interest.” So you have to wonder if he’s going to move up in the mocks with the new attention to his potential. That’s happened before. The Nets really liked Donovan Mitchell before he rocketed up mocks back in 2017 well above their 29th pick.
With all the talent the Nets have on their roster, It’s likely that whoever they take at 27 (again, if they do use the pick) is bound to see more time at Nassau Coliseum than at Barclays Center. That could also apply to anyone they take at Nos. 44, 49 and 59.
Performance Team Update
There was some buzz this week about the Nets performance team, which Sean Marks sees as jewel of Brooklyn’s player empowerment culture. Players rave about their treatment. Some fans may have issues with how long players sit after various injuries, but it’s been critical to development. And as every fan knows, the Nets “Big Three” played only 334 minutes together this past season, regular season and post-season combined.
In that context, an ad popped up on LinkedIn for a Director of Human Therapy which sounded like a big job...
After the Bucks series, Sean Marks was firm that the Nets injuries were not going to lead to any overhaul of the performance team. Marks said he would study the performance team, but as Greg Logan noted Marks is not in the habit of making rash decisions.
“We know we’ve got guys coming back and we’ve got to get them healthy,” Marks said of the injuries. “The objective is to go into next season with the right habits, having worked this offseason. Go in with a different mindset of how are we going to attack 82 games. Hopefully, it’s 82 games and a regular-season format and a proper training camp.”
So what’s going on? It appears the Nets are moving pieces around the board rather than going for some big changes. The performance team has been without a director since Zach Weatherford, the former Navy SEAL performance chief, left in June 2019 after a three-year stint. In the meantime, two Australians, Dan Meehan, director of sports science, and Les Gelis, director of medical services, have basically been running things.
Another indication that we shouldn’t expect to see anything big is that the Nets have hired Chris Miller, from the US Ski and Snowboard Association, for the performance team. Miller, who holds a degree in kinesiology — the study of body movements — from USC, gleefully noted he’ll be joining the team as “a Physical Performance Coach.” But there’s already a physical performance coach on staff, Daniel Jones (another Australian). So, is Jones being replaced? Nope. He’s still there, we’re told.
Why now? It’s hardly surprising. NBA staffers work on contracts based on the fiscal calendar which runs from July 1 to June 30. This is the time when contracts are renewed, ended or modified.
At some point, as they do every year, the Nets will put out a press release with details of (some but not all) new hires, new positions. We’ll know more then than we know now but it doesn’t appear that there’s any major shakeup underway.
Tsai criticized by the right
After his live interview with CNBC’s Andrew Ross Sorkin back on June 15, Joe Tsai has become the target of conservative pundits who contend he is a mouthpiece for the Chinese Communist Party.
In at least two commentaries since the interview, one in the National Review and the other on the site of the American Enterprise Institute, Tsai — noting his Brooklyn Nets connection — has been excoriated for defending China’s human rights record, particularly in Hong Kong. Indeed, Tsai did defend Hong Kong’s National Security Law which permits authorities to crack down on dissent. Tsai, who maintains a residence in Hong Kong, said that after more than a year of protests, the law has brought “stability” to the former British colony.
Paul Wolfowitz, one of the architects of the Iraq War and a leading conservative voice in foreign affairs, wrote that Tsai is an exemplar of businessmen who “publicly champions dictatorship in conspicuous alignment with their business interests,” a reference to Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant.
[T]he billionaire shamelessly exploited the freedom he enjoys here to promote false claims about the “stability” allegedly brought to Hong Kong by Beijing’s new National Security Law, while neglecting to disclose as executive vice-chairman of the Alibaba Group that his personal fortune depends on the goodwill of the Beijing authorities who could crush even a company as powerful as his.
The “stability” Tsai praises so warmly is what the Poles used to call the “stability of the graveyard” under Soviet rule.
The National Review’s Jimmy Quinn, while noting Tsai’s philanthropy and his outspoken criticism of anti-Asian and Asian-American violence in this country, critiqued Tsai’s interview in even harsher tones. Saying whatever Tsai’s record in the U.S., he is “not worthy of celebration” because of his position on China.
Tsai’s apologism for the Party line is a tiring, old tactic. As he did in 2019 following the uproar over a tweet by Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey (“fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong”), Tsai in his interview advocated deference to nationalistic Chinese sensitivities. “This is a very scarring kind of history of China having foreign powers come in and carve up your territories,” he said, adding, “If you’re a Chinese citizen, I look at this history, I want to make sure that we prevent foreign powers from carving up our territories. I think Hong Kong ought to be seen in that context.”
Quinn called that claim “farcical.”
Why does this matter? Because relations between the U.S. and China are worsening on an almost daily basis and Tsai may be the most high profile Chinese businessman in the U.S. right now. Tsai was born in Taiwan, holds Canadian citizenship and was educated from eighth grade through law school in elite U.S. schools, but he sees himself as Chinese. It’s his heritage.
Mikhail Prokhorov learned the hard lesson of what can happen when relations between your home country and the U.S. go sour. His 2009 purchase of the Nets was celebrated by Russia initially. He was after all, the first (and so far only) European owner of an NBA franchise. Dmitry Medvedev, then president of Russia, announced the purchase to Barack Obama at a United Nations reception for heads of state in September 2009! But five years later, Russia invaded Ukraine, the U.S. instituted sanctions and Prokhorov’s U.S. holdings including the Nets were put at risk. The Russian oligarch pulled back. There was even concern at one point that the Treasury would sanction Prokhorov, leaving the Nets in an uncertain place legally.
Tsai is in fact stuck between the U.S. and Chinese interests. The U.S. regularly warns China about its human rights record and its international intentions. China, on the other hand, is cracking down hard on Chinese companies like Alibaba which use American stock exchanges to finance their growth. As a result, Alibaba, the main source of Tsai’s wealth, has tumbled on the New York Stock Exchange. It’s not a good place to be and there doesn’t seem to be much chance that things will get better anytime soon. So, our point is: watch this space.
ICYMI, the Nets continued racking up marketing milestones in the second half of the season. As we noted, the team remained No. 2 in NBA merchandise sales, behind only the Lakers, with the “Big Three” finishing No. 3 (Kevin Durant), No. 8 (Kyrie Irving) and No. 9 (James Harden) among individual players. That’s close to what they were in the first half, the only difference is that Irving slipped from No. 6 to No. 8.
The team also jumped in Twitter followers, going from 1,207,843 to 1,482,589 (+23 percent) from January 1 through July 1. That’s the biggest jump among teams in the four major pro sports.
Kevin Durant is on the cover of NBA2K for 2021-22, the first Net to be so honored. He shares the game cover, a tribute to the game’s historic big men, along with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Dirk Nowitzki.