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NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 4

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.

Gran Turismo World Tour 2019: New York - FIA Nations Cup Photo by Jack Thomas - Gran Turismo/Gran Turismo via Getty Images

Sean Marks and Steve Nash have been in Chicago this week for the NBA Draft Combine (and no doubt followed the NBA Draft Lottery which was also in Chi-Town). No word yet on whether they will keep the Nets pick in the 2022 Draft or move it forward. They have until June 1. But most if not all pundits think the Nets will simply push the pick forward till 2023 and almost all of them also think the Nets will trade the pick. Fun fact: IF they used the 23rd pick this year, it will be the highest pick the Nets have used since 2017 when they took Jarrett Allen at No. 22. They had higher picks, but dealt them away.

Not a lot of Nets free agency or trade rumors (how about none) coming out of the Combine although Adam Zagoria tweeted Saturday he did spy Marks talking with Lakers GM Rob Pelinka at the Marriott Marquis in Chicago Friday. Could be anything as Zagoria noted, including a possible conversation about Kenny Atkinson who is now a Warriors assistant and one of the finalists for the Lakers head coaching gig. Anything is possible, of course, as Zagoria noted...

‘Hello, my name is...’

Will Nets players, coaches and front office staff being wearing name tags come September when the team gathers for Open Gym and Training Camp at HSS Training Center?

Sean Marks has already said there will be changes in the roster with all their own free agents to deal with plus the constraints of being a luxury tax team. It’s a function of having a “Big Three” eating up most of your cap space.

Now, there are various reports of a shake-up in the coaching staff. Amar’e Stoudemire announced his departure on ESPN and Marc Stein has reported that both David Vanterpool and Adam Harrington, who is also director of player development, are also likely gone.

There are also reports that that the shake-up is not confined to Stoudemire, Vanterpool and Harrington, that others will not be let go. The Nets had eight assistant coaches, a player development assistant in Stoudemire, two consultants in Steve Clifford and Kyle Korver and a director of coaching analytics all filling out the bench this year. It was the largest set of assistants etc. in the league.

There is reporting (by ND) that the Nets are interested in adding James Borrego as an assistant, and presumably one who would sit close to Nash on the bench. He was dumped by the Hornets after posting a winning record (43-29, one game worse that the Nets) but not finding the playoffs. Borrego and Marks overlapped twice in San Antonio, once when Marks was a a player and Borrego a staffer and once when Marks was assistant GM and Borrego was assistant coach. Borrego also served as Jacque Vaughn’s assistant in Orlando and took over for him when Magic ownership dumped Vaughn early in 2015.

The shake-up, we have heard, will not be limited to the coaching staff, that front office types will also be giving their walking papers. No names yet.

So is it wise to have such an influx of newcomers when you’re trying to win it all? Normally, shake-ups of this scale take place when teams have disappointing records, but for the most part, those teams are in modified rebuild mode, not competing for a championship. The Nets pride themselves on their culture to get them through such change, but the culture, by everyone’s estimate, has seen some fraying around the edges. So, we are left hoping it’s strong enough to withstand this much change. After all, a look at the remaining teams in the playoffs shows the value of continuity.

Kyrie back?

It would a major shock if Kyrie Irving doesn’t return to the Nets next season. Period. There are a lot of fans out there who saw Sean Marks criticism, either direct or implied, of Irving as a sign that nothing is guaranteed about him being on the roster. Marks said a lot of things about Irving’s need to be available in both his press conference on May 11 and a post-press conference interview with Michael Grady that was released five days ago.

Sure, anything is possible, but the two sides need each other and with so many routes to a resolution, it seems there will be tough negotiations followed by a handshake and and a signature.

As Kristian Winfield wrote this week...

For a player seeking a long-term extension in an attractive market on a championship-caliber team, Irving’s pattern of absences is simply a bad look. Few other players could pull what he did and still be in the conversation for a max contract.

But few players in the league are as skilled or as capable of doing what Irving can with a basketball. Irving is spectacular to watch on television and even more so in-person. To lose that is to lose the very thing the Nets built this contender on in the first place.

Starpower, and Irving’s is almost irreplaceable.

But it’s more than that. Irving has said repeatedly he wants to continue to play with his guy, Kevin Durant, and believes he can also play a positive role in managing the franchise with Marks, Joe Tsai and KD. He also wants to stay close to his family. He told “I AM ATHLETE” podcast this week, “I bought a lot of properties in Jersey once I moved back. The taxes are horrendous. I have to talk to our governor about that sh**.”

Putting aside his complaint about property taxes, he and his extended family are settled in West Orange. It’s home. And he is committed to community, whether it’s his often anonymous donations to all manner of charities and emergency funds or simply helping at his alma mater, the Patrick School in Hillside, N.J. No one can take that away from him.

And as we have pointed out, he has a very good relationship with both Joe and Clara Wu Tsai which is based on mutual respect and even admiration for his commitment to social justice. The decision will ultimately belong to the co-owners.

The only fear may relate to the COVID situation in the city. There are calls in some quarters, admittedly muted, for a return to mask and vaccine mandates as infections and hospitalizations mount again. That might be worrisome. Indeed, we should expect speculation and a lot of rumors but unless there is something else out there that we’re unaware of, the two sides seem bound for some sort of resolution.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

Normally, after the Draft Lottery, we pull together the latest mock drafts and update our Draft Watch feature. But for the moment, we will hold off, not knowing if the Nets will use the Philly pick this year or next ... or whether they will even keep it.

Still, we’re looking around at who the Nets might take if they either use the pick on June 23 at Barclays Center or find a way into the second round. It would be odd for the Nets not to find some way into the Draft. It’s never happened in the Marks Era and as he’s noted, with such a high payroll and limited flexibility, the Nets need to fill out the roster with inexpensive talent, whether with vets minimum deals or rookie contracts. After all, the Nets had four rookies on the roster this past year in Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe, Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. Among them, they started 40 games.

So all that said, we will keep looking at possible pick-ups for the Off-Season Report, just in case, till we hear Jay Bilas voice ringing out at Barclays Center a month from now.

Would Auburn’s Walker Kessler fit with the Nets ... aside from the obvious potential for confusion with Kessler Edwards? ESPN has the 7’1” big penciled into that 23rd draft slot and indeed he fits a need, as Jonathan Givony notes in his latest mock draft.

With all of the Nets’ center options on expiring contracts, it would certainly make sense to look to this position as an option to add a young prospect on a rookie-scale deal. Kessler was the best defender in college basketball this season, a force as a rim protector who also brings upside as a pick-and-roll finisher and even as a perimeter shooter.

Here’s some video but again, don’t get too excited. The kid has some fundamentals...

Ben Simmons real estate watch

Will this become a regular feature? A week after a report that Ben Simmons had sold his Moorestown, N.J. mansion to to Philadelphia Phillies right fielder Nick Castellanos for $4.55 million and put his $3 million Center City condo up for sale, there are reports on Dirt.com, the celebrity real estate tracker, that he is also selling his L.A. dream home in the gated community of Hidden Hills for $23 million. That’s $5 million more than he paid for it a year ago.

The 12,000 square foot home boasts of seven bedrooms and eight baths with amenities including two pools, a guesthouse, gym and three-car garage. Dirt has some nice pictures of the home.

Meanwhile, Simmons and fiancée Maya Jama have been seen both on the streets of New York and at her New York apartment still under construction.

This is good news for the Nets. Simmons is all at once putting Philly in the rear view mirror and abandoning his West Coast outpost he would have barely occupied. He appears to be following Sean Marks advice from that May 11 press conference...

“He needs to be in here, smell the gym again, around his friends and family, and participate in building the culture together,” Marks told the media.

Gambling and Integrity

The NBA is all-in with gambling where legal. Teams are raking in millions of dollars in endorsements from the big names in sports betting. But most of the discussion has been about how it will affect team finances, not integrity. With so much at stake, will gamblers —big money gamblers — find a way to inside information that could affect their bets.

Mike Mazzeo of PlayNY wrote this week about the need for transparency, not just for the convenience of gamblers but for the protection of the game’s integrity. He cited the (small) fines the Sixers and Suns were docked for violating league injury reporting rules regarding the injury status of stars Joel Embiid and Devin Booker.

As Mazzeo explained.

Historically, listing a player as out on the official injury reports means they have zero chance to play. Which is why it made zero sense that both Embiid and Booker would be eligible to suit up in the first place. And if the average American sports bettor can’t even trust the official injury report of one of the country’s four major professional sports leagues, what’s the point? Going forward, if a player is ruled out on the official injury report, he should just be 100% out. No changes allowed.

“Even if they don’t bet, fans just want to know who’s in and who’s out,” one major American professional sports league official told PlayNY. “This shouldn’t be a guessing game.”

There were other examples like seven Heat players being listed as “questionable” for Sunday’s game with the Celtics. Of course, gamblers want more information than that and the fear is that if they can’t get it legitimately from the league, they may seek it via illicit means.

The more teams keep close to the vest, the easier it is for nefarious activity to occur as that information becomes extremely valuable. Maybe highly compensated players can’t be bought. But lower-level staffers who make far less money might become more willing to divulge that info for additional payment.

“Integrity is the backbone of sports,” ex-New York Giant Amani Toomer, now a trustee at Entain Foundation US, told PlayNY. “And if people start thinking it’s (scripted like) WWE, it’s a problem.”

Getting inside information has always been crucial to betting. But the legalization of sports gambling is mushrooming, raising enormous stakes. The solution has to be increased transparency but teams — and particularly the Nets — resist providing a lot of the details that fans, media and gamblers want. Expect some middle ground. The NBA needs sports betting revenue. After all, as Mazzeo reports,

Multiple industry sources told PlayNY that the general ballpark for a non-exclusive sportsbook partnership deal with an NFL, NBA, NHL or MLB team is around $5 million annually. An exclusive deal could run in the $10 million range or more...

If they are going to take millions upon millions in sportsbook partnership money, America’s professional sports teams and leagues owe bettors actual transparency on injuries. Providing misinformation on their official injury reports is simply unacceptable — especially deep in postseason play.

We shall see how this tug-of-war works out.

Final Note

Roger Angell, the great New York-born sportswriter died Friday at the age of 101. He wrote mostly about baseball and mostly about what goes on at the edges of the field. But in 1975, he wrote this about pro sports fandom.

“It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look—I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring—caring deeply and passionately, really caring—which is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté—the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball—seems a small price to pay for such a gift.”

Yup.