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NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 1

Every weekend, we’ll be updating the Nets’ off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, etc. to help fans get ready for ... whatever.

@TomKaminskiWCBS

And we are back, earlier than we expected. It’s the breaks of the game.

This is the 15th season of the Off-Season Report. When we started the feature, it was to sustain Nets fans going from one bad season to another, a bridge over the NBA’s version of the River Styx (aka the Hackensack.) Now of course that’s changed. Fans have different expectations which have not been met. Hope is mixed with skepticism, if not despair, right now.

Three years after Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving joined the team and after a year of James Harden, the Nets have won one playoff series. In fact, the last time the Nets got beyond the second round was 2023-24 when they lost to eventual champion Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. Not great, Bob.

So let’s get going.

Happy Anniversary, Brooklyn Nets!

As Irina Pavlova, the former Nets executive who had a lot to do with a lot of things in Brooklyn, reminds us Saturday, this is the 10th anniversary of the Brooklyn Nets.

Six months before Barclays Center opened, the team’s name was officially changed from the New Jersey Nets to the Brooklyn Nets with the new colors and logo official. The Nets new uniform would be debuted on September 28, the Opening night of Barclays when Jay-Z strode onto the stage wearing No. 4.

But today it’s been 10 years. Hello Brooklyn!

Ben Simmons — what you may not know

As Kevin Love wrote in the Players Tribune back in 2018, “Everyone is going through something” and thus, everyone deserves a break.

In the 18 seasons we’ve posted to this site, we have never seen vitriol like what we’ve seen directed at Ben Simmons. It is ugly. Most of it contends that Simmons really doesn’t have issues — physical or mental — that he’s just scared or lazy or out to swindle the 76ers ownership (like we should care? Josh Harris is worth $5.6 billion.)

Even Daryl Morey, the Sixer GM, has said publicly he believes Simmons has mental health issues ... and they are not all about basketball or the Philly fan phenomenon. Simmons admitted at his February 15 introductory press conference that he was affected by issues beyond the NBA, but he didn’t want to talk about them in a public forum.

“I’ve had some dark times over the last six months and I’m just happy to be in this situation with this team and organization,” Simmons said in the press conference at the Nets’ practice facility, adding, “It was a bunch of things I was dealing with as a person in my personal life that I don’t really want to go into depth with.”

So let’s review what else he went through. Then after reading, put yourself in his shoes. Drawn mostly from local accounts in Australia and our 76ers’ sister site, Liberty Ballers, here’s a recounting of Ben Simmons family issues back in the spring of 2021. It is not pretty.

It began at the end of March 2021. The 76ers were 32-15 and on their way to the No. 1 seed in the East. Simmons had just appeared in his third All-Star Game and was on his way to his second berth on the NBA All-Defensive team and being voted runner-up in the Defensive Player of the Year. Six weeks earlier, he had recorded a double-double with a career-high 42 points and 12 assists in a 134–123 loss to the Utah Jazz.

But back home in Australia, things were not going well. Olivia Simmons, Ben’s older sister, had unleashed a torrent of tweets in which she made scurrilous claims that her and Ben’s older half-brother, Sean Tribe, had sexually molested her from the time she was 3. Olivia Simmons also claimed that her mother had covered it up so as not to ruin Ben’s “brand.” Tribe is also Ben Simmons manager.

The tweets continued for several days with each claim making things worse for the family in suburban Melbourne. She later deleted them but of course they continue to exist on the Internet. Ben Simmons made a cryptic remark around that time, saying, “There’s a lot going on but you know, it is what it is. I gotta get my get my shit together. We got to get back on track as a team.”

By April 10, days after the initial tweets, Tribe released a lengthy statement from his lawyer, denying the sexual abuse allegations. He said was the “entire family” denied the allegations in the tweets. It also claimed that Olivia Simmons had been “in and out of treatment for much of her life” and asked for privacy.

Indeed, there had been a previous incident with Olivia Simmons that had also attracted attention in Australia. A year earlier, she had accused a former boyfriend, the son of NBA coach Nate McMillan, of abusing her and cheating on her with a man. Jamelle McMillan was then and now an assistant coach with the Hawks.

The family statement did not end things, though. On the same day Tribe released the statement, Olivia Simmons once again took to Twitter to stand by her initial accusations, as well as question the credibility of the statement. Not long after, Tribe sued his half-sister in Australia federal court, claiming “Olivia Simmons intended that the tweets would irrevocably damage Tribe’s personal and professional reputation and (in) particular his professional career and relationship with Ben Simmons.”

Things dragged on through the end of the 76ers season in June. By August, the Australia court entered a judgment on Tribe’s behalf because Olivia Simmons had not responded to the suit. Her former lawyer, according to local reports, told the court that Olivia Simmons therapist had suggested that she not continue with the case. Moreover, the lawyer said her client’s three-year-old daughter had recently had surgery for a rare brain condition.

Around the same time, a TikTok video emerged in which Olivia Simmons claimed she was abused in a child sex ring. “This entire country was built off pedophilia,” she said in the video. “And I remember everything.’

By September, the court had awarded Tribe a half million dollar (Australian) judgment which Tribe said he had not intention of collecting. He just wanted justice. Tribe also claimed that Olivia Simmons tweets began just days after he had received a new car for his birthday from Ben Simmons.

It was indeed tough times for the 76ers star, what with explicit criticism of his play in the Eastern Conference semi-finals from fans and Joel Embiid and implied criticism from Doc Rivers. In that same season-ending press conference, Rivers was asked about whether what was going on back in Australia could have affected his play.

“I can’t answer that because I don’t know,” said Rivers. “But listen, it’s another example of, where players are real people, and they have real lives, and they have real stuff going on.”

Similarly, teammate Danny Green spoke about Ben Simmons situation on his “Inside the Green Room” podcast later that month. He noted Ben Simmons was indeed dealing with difficult issues “with his family, things back home.”

“I saw a kid that had been going through a lot the whole year — mentally, emotionally, inside, outside, off the court with his family, things back home,” Green said. “And he doesn’t necessarily discuss it with us in private, but I knew he was going through a lot. He had some things going on during the season.”

There were also reports that Ben Simmons would’ve liked to go back to Australia to deal with the issues, but the season was in full swing and quarantine issues Down Under would have made any trip lengthy. We don’t know whether Ben Simmons spoke with the Sixers about getting time off.

We do know that Ben Simmons relationship with the Sixers had come unraveled by August. The media focus from then through when he refused to report in September was all about his relationship with the fans or coach or superstar teammate. Little if any attention was given to what was going on back home with his family.

As he alluded to during his introductory press conference, things are complicated, not always what they seem.

“It wasn’t about the fans or coaches or comments made by anybody; it was just a personal thing for me,” Simmons said.

In the past year or so, we have seen sports fans and the general public rally around athletes like Love, gymnast Simone Biles and tennis player Naomi Osaka after they explained how the pressure of pro sports had caused them to rethink things, take some time off. Ben Simmons deserves the same respect and we wish him — and his family — well.

The Nets have promised they will do what’s necessary to get him back on the court and settled in his new role. He have a good record with sports psychology. Then, there’s Patty Mills who’s known Simmons and his family since the two were growing up.

“I knew him in Australia. Him and his family well going back to when I was a kid. So close with him and his family,” said Mills after the trade. “I watched him grow up not only on the court but off the court as well. So yeah, go back a fair bit.

“I’ve got his back. I’ve always had his back.” Another reason to keep Patty around.

Will things work out. Both Shams Charania and Mike Scotto said this week that the Nets are confident that over the next five months, things will get resolved. Let’s hope so.

Kevin Durant visits the French Riviera to support Mike James

Mike James cameo with the Nets in 2021 was a fun time. I mean who can forget this play...

It was Durant who pushed for the Nets to sign James after he had had a fallout with CSKA Moscow and became available. The Nets decided not to re-sign James last summer and he wound up with Monaco in the Euroleague.

So on Friday night, KD was in the Principality of Monaco as a fan sitting courtside and supporting James who led his team to a critical win in the Euroleague playoffs. No surprise, it got a lot of attention...

Post-game, Durant and James embraced, much to the appreciation of fans in the Central Park-sized country...

Does this portend a return to Brooklyn for James? The 31-year-old filled in nicely for the Nets, averaging 7.7 points and 4.2 assists in 13 games, one start at the end of the 2020-21 season. The Nets point guard situation is a bit unsettled and it should be noted that Brooklyn still retains his NBA rights, as Yossi Gozlan of Hoopshype confirmed to NetsDaily.

Or maybe, KD just wanted to see an old friend and get some time on the Riviera. Works either way.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

Why do we do this? Why do we do mock drafts? Out of habit?

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Nets are not going to use the 23rd pick in this year’s draft, the one they acquired in the Harden-for-Simmons trade, As Adrian Wojnarowski said on ESPN Game Day last Sunday afternoon (after sitting courtside with Sean Marks for at least 45 minutes on Saturday night), the Nets think the 2022 first as well as the protected 2027 first “are going to be trade assets.”

Other than not being higher, the 2022 pick has a lot going for it. It is unprotected and more importantly it can be moved to 2023 if its owner — the Nets now — with the deadline for that decision June 1, 22 days prior to the NBA Draft. It would also be unprotected in 2023. So it’s somewhat more valuable before June.

Of course, if they trade the pick, the Nets could be out of the 2022 Draft altogether. Their own pick, the 16th, is headed to Houston as part of the original Harden trade (it’s by now hard to distinguish). They have no seconds either. Their pick is the property of the DeAndre Jordan salary dump. Similarly in 2023, they have only swap rights with Houston in the first round, Atlanta in the second, round. But if the Rockets finish above the Nets in the standings, the only instance where the Nets would lose the pick, we will have other things to be concerned with.

Moreover, the Nets have no cash considerations with which they could buy a pick. They exhausted the league limit in the DeAndre Jordan salary dump.

The Nets could in theory use one of their five trade exceptions in a new salary dump where they acquire a player but demand draft compensation in return. They used to do that when they had all that cap space in the years after Sean Marks took over. They got a first and a second for what turned out to be the privilege of taking on DeMarre Carroll from Toronto in 2017, got the same package for taking on Kenneth Faried from Denver in 2018 and a second for taking on Greg Monroe from Toronto again in 2019.

But maybe, just maybe they don’t think they have the time or inclination to develop another young player, what with Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe, Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. already on the roster. The Nets had five picks last year in a very good draft. They also signed Duke who had gone undrafted.

So all that said, we’ll take a look at players who the Nets might take if they had a late first/early second pick. So, how about Trevor Keels, the 6’5”, 220-pound Duke point guard who’s only 18, so there’s plenty of development time.

He’s currently projected between No. 25 in the first round and 33 in the second. Here’s what Jonathan Givony of ESPN and Draft Express wrote about him this week. ESPN has Keels at No. 27.

Keels is one of the youngest prospects in the draft and brings the type of toughness, feel for the game and winning spirit ... Improving his body and finding more consistency as a perimeter shooter are priorities for Keels moving forward, something he could elect to try to do with another year in college, potentially

As of right now, he’s declared for the Draft. Here’s some highlights...

If indeed the Nets do either keep the first rounder or acquire a pick, expect them to take someone on the younger side, a kid who could spend some time with Long Island.

Kessler Contract

We all remember how the Nets surprisingly dumped James Johnson to open up a roster spot for Kessler Edwards who among the Nets five draft picks and one undrafted signing started the most games. The primary rationale in giving Edwards a standard deal with a second year option at $1.56 million was well-known; Unless he had been converted from a two-way to a full NBA contract, he wouldn’t be able to play in the post-season.

But Yossi Gozlan of Hoopshype points out that there may a second reason: to secure a longer term deal for the 44th pick in last year’s Draft. Edwards would become a Non-Bird restricted free agent if the Nets decline his $1.6 million team option, he wrote in his off-season report on the Nets. “If they do, they can re-sign him for up to four years, $8.7 million.”

In a follow-up exchange with NetsDaily, Gozlan added this: “Signing a rookie toward the end of the season to a two-year deal with a team option, then declining that option to re-sign that player to a long deal has been a common trend recently. The Grizzlies did it with Jontay Porter and the Pelicans did it with Didi Louzada.”

Welcome, Desert Dogs!

Back in June of last year, it was announced that Joe Tsai and two other famous Canadians, Steve Nash and Wayne Gretzky, had invested in an expansion pro lacrosse team in Las Vegas. The team had an agreement to play at the 12,000-seat Mandalay Bay Casino’s arena but no name. They even had merchandise that read “Las Vegas LAX.”

This week the team announced the team had a name. They are the Las Vegas Desert Dogs. They also signed a new coach and GM, an NLL Hall of Famer. And of course, they have a logo and gear...

How long before we see that gear at the Fanatics Store?

The team considered more than 2,000 fan submissions on the name and conducted surveys to identify Desert Dogs as the name and brand that would best represent the local community.

The Desert Dogs will begin assembling players in July when the NLL holds its 2022 expansion draft, before the league’s entry draft in August.

For the record, both Tsai and Nash have other sports investments but this is the only one that’s interlocking. Nash is also a minority investor in the MLS’s Vancouver Whitecaps and Spanish soccer team RCD Mallorca. Tsai owns the Nets, Long Island Nets, New York Liberty, two teams in NLL (that’s permitted) and is a significant investor in the PLL, the outdoor lacrosse league. He is also a small investor in the F.C.L.A. team in the MLS. Kevin Durant is also an investor in an MLS team, the Philadelphia Union.

Final Word

What’s left to say? We’ve spoken our piece this week in a variety of ways. Next week, we expect to hear from Sean Marks at least, at the annual end-of-season press conference. The Nets did not open Baggie Day, where players pack up their lockers to the media. It’s normally when beat writers get a chance to talk with anyone and everyone on the roster. That and media locker room access has been restricted by COVID. It’s about time that the NBA and the Nets show there’s still a value to transparency.