Red Alert! Big week ahead! This is not a drill!
Team USA opens its defense of Olympic gold, led by Kevin Durant, at 8 a.m. Sunday morning. On Wednesday, they play Iran which will air after midnight in New York and on Saturday, it’s the Czech Republic, again at 8 in the morning. The NBA Draft is Thursday night at Barclays Center and the Nets have, at this writing, four picks, the most in the Sean Marks era. Saturday is the deadline for the Nets to offer Bruce Brown a qualifying offer, making him a restricted free agent.
And by this time next week, attention will have turned to free agency which begins a week from Monday at 6 p.m., at least officially. There will be plenty of Woj Bombs and Shaw Wows before then!
So, let’s take it one at a time. Start with the fun stuff.
Kevin Durant pranked at Olympics
Not pleased. That apparently was Kevin Durant’s reaction in the tunnel before Team USA joined the Parade of Nations during the Opening Ceremony Friday. Someone — we know it was you, Draymond — started singing “Happy Birthday” to Durant. Problem is that his birthday isn’t until September 29 when he turns 33...
Tim Reynolds who’s covering the Games for AP asked Draymond Green, a well-known prankster and KD teammate in Golden State, if he was the culprit. Call it a non-denial denial.
I asked Draymond if he fears retribution from KD for the "Happy Birthday" prank last night. Let's just say Draymond didn't confess to being the ringleader, but he didn't deny it either.— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) July 24, 2021
Reynolds also reports that as Team USA and “Les Bleus,” the French national team, lined up to be introduced, there was some “chanting” between the Americans and French basketball players. The two teams play Sunday morning in the first game of Team USA’s defense of their gold medal. The French have five NBA players on their 12-man roster. (KD has already told Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot that the French forward cannot guard him.)
Durant was also caught talking it up with a Belgian women’s basketball player during the Opening Ceremony. She was thrilled.
And yes, there was a lot of snark reported (as you would expect) between KD and Bam Adebayo on one hand and Zach LaVine on the other. Don’t make too much out of it.
Also, don’t make much of the news from Dirt.com that KD has purchased a $15.5 million home in Hidden Hills, a gated community in the San Fernando Valley (That’s one-tenth of what Joe Tsai paid for his new pad at 200 Central Park South.) No, he’s not joining the Lakers although every fan in La La Land believe every star wants to sign up. KD is actually upgrading his summer residence. He sold the Malibu home where he rehabbed after his Achilles surgery for $12.2 million. Among his closest neighbors is Ben Simmons who as of this writing is still with the 76ers.
Speaking of southern California, no word on the details of the Nets training camp in San Diego other than the date but considering the multitude of ties between ownership and the University of California at San Diego, that’s the best bet.
James Harden and his bodyguard
Marc J. Spears of the Insider likes to tell back stories about the NBA and this week he told a great one about how James Harden upgraded his bodyguard after an altercation in a San Francisco club. Let Spears tell the story...
Morale of this story: with regards to bodyguards, the bigger the better.
So where is James and his buddy, Lil Baby? He’s back in the U.S. after a newsy jaunt to Europe that included Paris and the Greek island of Mykonos. Friday night, he and Lil Baby were spotted in Miami at the Rolling Loud 2021 festival at Hard Rock stadium. Do we see a bodyguard??
Lil Baby is among the performers at Rolling Loud this year.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
The Draft is Thursday at Barclays Center. You’ll be able to watch the first round on ABC, ESPN, ESPN+ and NBA TV. ABC will drop out after the first round. It all starts at 8 p.m. and goes on for a long, long time, close to midnight after all the picks, trades and press conferences. As of this writing, the Nets have the 27th, 44th, 49th and 59th picks. If they make all of the picks ... everyone will be surprised.
As far as we know, the Nets have only worked out one of the 20 prospects invited to the “Green Room,” the waiting area nearest the podium where players and their families sit and wait for Adam Silver to call their name. The invites are based on what NBA front offices tell the league on who’s likely to get picked at the top of the Draft. There are occasional miscues. Rashard Lewis, the great Seattle Supersonic who had to wait till No. 32 in 1992.
Isaiah Jackson, the 6’10” shot-blocking 5 out of Kentucky is that prospect and he is ready to play at Barclays. The 19-year-old doesn’t lack for confidence.
“In the workout we did a number of things. They wanted me to go there and show what I could do,” Jackson told the media Friday in New York. “Everybody from the front office was there, but I met with Steve Nash. We talked, I had a great workout too, so it was a plus.
“The feedback there was good. I think they really want me. I feel like I can bring it all, especially in the playoffs where they had KD playing the 5. I feel like I could fit that role, just put KD at the 4 and let him do his thing. And I feel like some of the older guys like Blake Griffin, I could fill that role too as well just helping him, keeping him from not having to play as many minutes as he’s been playing.”
He is probably the top shot-blocker outside the lottery. Take a look...
His game is raw, his athleticism is top flight. Jackson grew two inches and added 20 pounds in the past year and a half and is now 6’10.5” in shoes. He has a wingspan of close to 7’3” and a max vertical of 37”. That’s a bit longer and higher than where Nic Claxton and Jarrett Allen measured as prospects. ESPN’s Jonathan Givony said he has “historically good quickness for a big man on paper.”
Givony’s colleague, Mike Schmitz, broke down Jackson’s game with the Pontiac, Michigan, native...
The Nets might have to move up to get him. He’s been mocked around No. 20 for most of the build-up to the Draft, as high as No. 12 in one mock. Why would they take him with Claxton and Reggie Perry on the roster already? As we’ve noted over the years and in recent weeks, the Nets believe in BPA, best player available. (In fact, the Nets have worked out a number of young bigs and have been linked to several of them in mock drafts.)
You want a prediction on how things will work out on Thursday? With a bare minimum of insight, we think that the Nets will keep the pick at 27 and try to bundle the three second rounders, maybe with some cash, to move up into the mid-30’s.
Sam Vecenie of The Athletic who projects Ziaire Williams, a raw, thin 6’9” wing from Stanford, at No. 27. thinks keeping the pick is smart all around. The 27th pick in the Draft will be paid $2 million this season, about the same as the vets minimum. So, why not take a chance on a “wild card” like Williams.
The Nets are competing for a title and can afford to take a home run swing on a late first-round pick if only because it’s unlikely many of these guys would be able to hold down a rotation spot on a title contender right now. Williams has a long way to go, but it’s hard to imagine someone better for his game to be around every day than Kevin Durant.
Bobby Marks thinks the Nets might even keep a second rounder. And if the Nets signed a second to a two-way deal, he won’t count against the salary cap.
By the way, we too picked Williams in the SB Nation Bloggers Draft. It’s as good a bet as any. Take a look...
From basketball vagabond to entry level staffer in Brooklyn
Every once in a while, when he have the chance, we like to take a look at what it’s like on the ground floor of the Nets basketball factory ... you know, that part of a factory where the ordinary workers make the products. So, this week, we check out the “video assistants” work table.
Lance Harris is the ultimate basketball vagabond. After four years at Kansas State, Harris went undrafted and headed overseas. A 6’6” 3-and-D forward, Harris first headed to Slovenia, then Greece, Bosnia, Greece again, Italy, Ukraine, Italy again, Russia, Turkey, France, Slovenia again, before finishing up in Montenegro, a tiny country on the Adriatic Sea in 2020. Thirteen years, 14 teams, nine countries in all! And just before he decided to move into the Nets front office, he had an offer from a team in Croatia!
Instead of suiting up again, he put playing behind him and joined Brooklyn as one of four video assistant/player development staffers. He’s one of at least two such staffers with very recent playing experience on the Nets. You wont find his or their name on the staff directory. The Nets are as close-mouthed about their staff as they are about draft prospects.
Recently, though, he sat down for an hour with Aaron Johnson, a former University of Alabama at Birmingham hooper, to give some insight about his role with the Nets and talk about playing overseas.
His job is entry level for those players who want to transition from playing to coaching or other jobs in the NBA. Harris talked about how his job is divided in two. He spends time in the Nets video room at HSS scouting five games out, “coding” the opponents games as he called it, listening for other teams’ play calls so that a coach can come in and get a sense of how the next team on the schedule is doing. He also spends time working out with individual players, doing simple things like rebounding the ball during a shooting practice to helping develop young players.
“On the floor we help with the players. Sometimes we work out them out. Sometimes we just help them with just rebounding and I had the opportunity in February to go to the (G League) ‘bubble’ with our two-way player,” he said of Reggie Perry, last year’s rookie. “I went there for 30 days with him. to make sure he got everything he needed. I was also on the (Long Island Nets) coaching staff as a G League coach for 30 days — that was cool — and write scouting reports. I was able to write scouting reports as well.”
It’s a big difference, he told Johnson, than what he thought coaching would be like. It’s not just about drawing plays. It’s about preparing players, getting to know them on and off the court, etc. It’s given him a different perspective, he said.
Harris was also asked about what sets the Nets “Big Three” apart from your regular players. The 36-year-old said it was the seriousness and love for the game he sees every single day. Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden are different when they cross that black line.
“When they step on the floor, there’s no talking or joking around or laughing. KD steps on the floor and he’s just working out, he’s strictly about business. There’s nothing funny. It’s just straight to it. I’ve never seen anybody so wrapped up into basketball than KD. He’s thinking about basketball all the time, all the time. Even when I talk to him, he’s always talking about basketball. — women’s basketball, high school basketball. He watches all levels.
“Same with Kyrie, man. He locks in. He gets on the floor he has a crazy work ethic as well. Just watching him he amazes me the most. I’ve never seen anybody able to use both hands like he can. I’ve seen people make a left hand layup obviously but the way he can spin it off the glass, it’s an art, it’s amazing.
“James is James. He works hard. He’s always in the gym. He makes sure everyone is in the right shot. He’s a great leader. Those guys have their own parts in how they do, how they work and how they prepare themselves to be successful, not only themselves for our team as well.”
Harris spoke at length about moving from country to country and how that affected his family and how important his wife was in the process. Talk about your love of the game.
‘Philanthropy streak’ continues
Joe Tsai has been a trustee of the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey for years. Tsai spent five years at the toney boarding school outside Princeton starting in eighth grade. He has also been the school’s benefactor, helping to finance what’s known at the Tsai Field House, a $179 athletic facility on campus.
In fall 2020, people of color comprised about 52 percent of the student body and about 30 percent of students received need-based financial aid. The school’s annual tuition is a little less than $70,000.
This week, Bloomberg News reported that Tsai helped out the school in much the same way he did Barclays Center employees during the pandemic...
Having such high-profile supporters helped the school during the pandemic. Bond documents note the school did not receive a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program, saying a benefactor “instead” offered a line of credit to avoid cutting staff. While the school doesn’t name the donor, a financial statement included with bond documents says the Joe and Clara Tsai Foundation provided an $8 million line of credit to the school in November. A spokesperson for the school declined to comment.
With so much news about he and wife Clara Wu Tsai’s philanthropy, which the Chronicle of Philanthropy called a “philanthropy streak,” and his taste in Manhattan real estate, Tsai is fast becoming one of the most prominent Chinese and Asian businessmen in the U.S. ... if not the most prominent. As we noted in last week’s Off-Season Report, there’s a downside for Tsai in all this. He is becoming increasingly the target of criticism from conservatives and human rights activists critical of the People’s Republic. Expect more of that.
Don’t lose your iPhone. Don’t let the battery run down. The next 10 days to two weeks are likely to be rock n’ roll. With four Draft picks and eight free agents — not counting Spencer Dinwiddie — there’s a good chance that the lower half of the roster will be remade. And we haven’t even talked about the “Big Three” extensions. We hope to offer comprehensive coverage of the Olympics, Draft, free agency ... even the Summer League roster. That starts in two weeks, by the way. Stay tuned.