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With G League set to open Friday night, Long Island Nets hope returning core brings success

NBA: Summer League-Philadelphia 76ers at Brooklyn Nets Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

The definition of the word development is a process that creates growth, progress, positive change or the addition of physical, economic, environmental, social and demographic components.

The theme of the 2022-23 Long Island Nets organization this year will be to carry out this process, not only to win games, but to also evolve the players, assist them in reaching their personal goals of making an NBA roster.

Last season, the Nets went 18-15 in the G-League, finishing with the sixth spot in the Eastern Conference. The Nets were able to make the G League playoffs before getting bounced by the Delaware Blue Coats.

With the likes Cam Thomas, Kessler Edwards and Day’Ron Sharpe only playing a handful of games on Long Island after being called on to provide emergency service in Brooklyn, the Nets were led by key players like Bryce Brown who averaged 15.6 points on at least 45% shooting from the floor, but Brown is gone. He’s now playing in Poland.

So the Nets will rely on their returning players including Marcus Zegarowski, who averaged 12.5 points before going down with plantar fasciitis, as well as RaiQuan Gray and Jordan Bowden, who both averaged better than 8.5 points.

With a good share of Long Island players returning this year, there have also been additions to the team that can lead by example. Chris Chiozza, who is entering his fifth year as a pro and fresh off an NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors, is looking to help his teammates find their way in their respective careers.

“Being one of the older guys of the group, I just try to show the younger guys what they need to do in the G-League to stand out,” said Chiozza, the best known player on Long Island’s roster. “From the Warriors side, I try to take the team chemistry they had and their culture to implement it here.”

Then there’s Alondes Williams, 6’5” point guard who the Nets signed as a two-way after he went undrafted in June. Williams didn’t play that well in the Summer League but the Nets like his potential.

“Alondes is great. He is super talented and he knows he is super talented. To me when you leave college there is that next step. He’s also had obstacles in his career,” said new Long Island GM J.R. Holden. “He didn’t play at Oklahoma and than he transfers to Wake Forest and is ACC Player of the Year. So he is really taking his maturation steps small.

“And in Brooklyn, he gets to play with the best players in the world. So when he is here on the Island,he able to see to see that he has to work hard. Overall, he is a fun-loving kid who’s all about the team. He’s going to really help our group.”

The Nets want to see improvement in his deep shooting and holding on to the ball.

One of the Nets’ returning players is Kaiser Gates. Gates, an undrafted player from the 2018 draft, is a sharpshooter who is making his return to the Nets after his stint with the team in the 2020-21 season. Now in his second time with the team, the 6’7” Gates is hopeful that not only his personal goals are met, but the team’s goals as well.

“I want us to win as many games as possible, and I also want as many of us to get called up as well,” Gates said.

Gray, the next-to-last pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, certainly believes he is one of those players who is NBA caliber. After spending an entire summer focusing on his weaknesses and turning them into strengths, including a Summer League stint, Gray expects great returns in the near future. It doesn’t hurt to also have a great relationship with Day’Ron Sharpe, who has made them jump to Brooklyn. Being in contact with someone who made the jump helps in development as well.

“That’s my guy, we talk to each other every day about things on and off the court, “ Gray said about Sharpe. “Even though he is younger, I feel like you can learn from somebody who is younger than you, especially when you’re a person like him.”

While players want to explore their goals this year, it’s the job of the front office to develop them as both a winning unit and possibly prepare them for a call-up. After last season, head coach Adam Caporn wound up on the Brooklyn bench and GM Matt Riccardi took a job with the Mavericks in Dallas.

The two people who will fill these roles this season are head coach Ronnie Burrell and the general manager Holden.

Burrell, a New Jersey native and former Euroleague player, has had his own path in exploring what it takes to get better as a player.

“Players want to be coached directly, the best players I have been around do,” Burrell said. “Some people believe players aren’t as coachable as they once were. I don’t necessarily believe that. It’s based on honesty and accountability, that’s my style.”

Both Burrell and Holden say they’ve been able to learn from the players as well while getting comfortable with their jobs.

“I have made a lot of mistakes probably in my first months in, but I’ve learned from everyone,” said Holden. “I think the main part of my job is interacting with people and making sure I listen more than I talk.”

The Long Island Nets have a number of other players to watch: Donovan Williams, a hyperathletic 6’6” 3-and-D type out of UNLV; Treveon Graham a 6’5” shooting guard who played with Brooklyn’s playoff team in 2018-19, and Davion Pippen, the 6’10” nephew of Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen.

Long Island opens tonight vs the College Park Skyhawks, the Hawks affiliate, in suburban Atlanta. Game starts at 7:00 p.m. ET. You can watch at the G League’s website, or on the G League app.