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NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 5

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.

NOAA And FEMA Administrators Discuss 2022 Atlantic Hurricane Season Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Panic is in the air following Kristian Winfield’s report in the Daily News that if the Nets and Kyrie Irving can’t reach an agreement, things could go south fast. If Irving left, it “wouldn’t be a surprise” if Kevin Durant wanted out of Brooklyn, Winfield wrote. Winfield also reports that the Nets are “outright unwilling” to give Irving a “long-term extension,” not further defined. Furthermore, Winfield quoted multiple sources that Kevin Durant hasn’t “spoken” to the Nets front office since the Celtics first round sweep.

Remain calm.

We have spoken or texted or DM’d with people inside and outside the organization and the general impression is that they remain optimistic that the Nets new “Big Three” will return intact and healthy in September. Despite all the sturm and drang, all the hand-wringing, all the panic, the bottom line is that Kyrie Irving and the Nets want a reunion. Unless things change, of course, but as now, that’s where things stand. Everything else, as someone told us, qualifies as noise.

Bobby Marks who knows some things about the Nets also downplayed the Daily News story, suggesting that 1) he thinks Irving will return and 2) there are a lot of permutations between an opt-out and a full-blown, fully guaranteed, five year max for the two sides to explore. Moreover, he thinks KD will play a role, not just because of his superstar status of his friendship with Irving but because he’s committed to Brooklyn for the next five years. Bobby Marks says the ultimate decision will be Sean Marks, however.

Here’s the full interview...

His thoughts when asked directly if he thinks Irving will return:

“Yeah, I think Kyrie will be back,” Marks told his ESPN colleagues this week. “I think it’s just a matter of whether it’s two years, three years, maybe four years as far as the length of the contract. When you lose in the first round, like Brooklyn did, there’s going to be speculation for the next ... whatever ... two months as far as what the future of Kyrie Irving is going to be.

“And when Kevin Durant committed last off-season, that gave him a seat at the table to be part of that decision-making process. I would think that any decision about Kyrie’s future will be part of ... not the final say but Kevin Durant will be in the loop.

Bobby Marks added that he doesn’t think things will stray from the amicable.

“I don’t know if there will be a hardline stance where it is a one-year max and a player option. I think something will eventually be worked out. I think both sides will agree to what is best for them. Irving will be back in a Nets uniform. I think it will be the length of the contract.”

As for KD reportedly not speaking to the front office since the Nets were swept, Bobby Marks dismissed it as a concern.

“I think everyone needs a cooling off period. I think you need to let guys — I know they were eliminated in late April and we’re in late May — [but] I think there needs to be a period where guys need to get away from everything.”

Indeed, details of an Irving contract may take a while to iron out but that remains the bottom line (so to speak). It should also be noted that there were no quotes in the Winfield story from either the Nets or Irving’s camp. Nor has either side reacted publicly to the story. That’s smart negotiating and what should be expected in such a big deal.

A footnote: a lot of people — fans and pundits — believed last year that the Nets would never trade DeAndre Jordan because of his ties to KD and Irving. They were too close, it was said. The Nets of course dumped DJ in a deal that cost them all their cash considerations and four second rounders.

Some of those same people now think that KD will interfere in the Nets negotiations with Irving. Point is, don’t be so sure that friendship is a key determinant in the Nets decision-making.

As for Irving, his one text tweet this week was on the massacre in Uvalde, Texas...

We’d like to see more of that from the organization and individuals.

Who fills out the roster?

Free agency is still six weeks away, but things move fast. Putting aside the dynamics of roster building, meaning things like big trades that shake up roster math, the Nets have eight free agents as well as Patty Mills player option to deal with. The Nets can also utilize their taxpayers MLE, worth $6.3 million, to bring in someone.

Assuming that Kyrie Irving, Nic Claxton and Bruce Brown all return and Mills opts in, you’d still have six roster spots to fill plus two two-ways. That’s a lot of spots to fill with little money to fill them.

The general belief is that of the three former All-NBA vets — Goran Dragic, Blake Griffin and LaMarcus Aldridge — no more than one will return. Griffin has signaled he might be interested in returning to the Clippers, liking a Twitter post proposing a reunion. Aldridge tweeted back at Ettore Messina of Olimpia Milano, offering his services — “let me know if you need a scoring big.” Messina was an assistant in San Antonio when Aldridge played there. Maybe it was a joke, maybe not. Dragic, who passed on five other NBA offers in mid-season before signing in Brooklyn, did not appear to be a happy camper at season’s end.

Then, there’s Andre Drummond who suggested he might get a better offer than another year on the vets minimum. Drummond started until Claxton took his place near the season’s end and in the playoffs. He said he’d like to be back but who knows what else he’s offered? He did post this Friday...

(To those who say, that he’s wearing a Nets t-shirt is meaningless, our response is maybe, yes, maybe no. But it’s his video, his choice of Nets gear.)

So how do you fill out those minimum spots? There will certainly be vet signings. Last year, the Nets had rookies, none of whom made more than $2 million but unlike last year when the Nets had five draft picks, this year they might have one or none. So where do you find replacements for the rookies? Look no further that the Long Island Nets. As our Alec Sturm reported this week, Long Island’s coach, Adam Caporn, had positive things to say about a number of his players’ prospects.

Our eye was drawn in particular to what he said about RaiQuan Gray, the Nets 59th pick in last year’s draft, a 6’8” big with guard skills, and Brandon Rachal, a 6’6” Bruce Brown-type who went undrafted out of Tulsa.

“He’s just a very unique player with his passing ability,” Caporn said of Gray. “I think he has a really bright future and like I said, I’m really happy to see how he finished the season strong because he did a lot of work on his shooting to see him rewarded for that and head into the summer ready to work hard and know that the journey is trending in a good direction was real positive. His passing’s elite, and that’s the skill that I think will define his career and hopefully get him in the NBA.”

Gray in fact has been in the gym at HSS Training Center ;.. preparing for the summer league presumably?

Caporn also went out of his way to praise Rachal.

“You know, one of the guys I’m really proud of — I’m proud of all of them — but Brandon Rachal just got better and better and better, especially in his finishing and his growth as a player,” he told ND.

And if he’s healthy — recovered from plantar fasciitis — Marcus Zegarowski may also get a chance. Zegarowski, out of Creighton, was the Nets 49th pick in the 2021 Draft. “He’s an elite shooter,” said Caporn.

As Long Island’s big man, Thon Maker had an up-and-down season, but Caporn who knows Maker from Australian basketball expressed some optimism about the 7-footer’s prospects.

“Thon had been shooting the ball well, is a versatile player, and can defend the perimeter and inside,” said Caporn, noting that one of his missions was to see whether Maker and Day’Ron Sharpe could play together. “And Day’Ron had shown an ability to step out shoot as well,” he explained. “And we were searching for something in that period a little bit. So the combination of those guys… we wanted to have them both on the court and we — like lots of teams — had significant lineup changes. That was something we thought could work and did in stretches and then Thon got hurt as well.”

We should have a better sense of young players who the Nets like outside of their own prospects when the team announces its Summer League roster right after the Draft.

And again, expect there will be trades which could add to or subtract from those openings. We’ll wait.

Stash report

What’s up with Nikola Milutinov, the Serbian seven-footer whose rights the Nets secured in the Spencer Dinwiddie trade last August? Although he’s got one year left on his contract with CSKA Moscow, he reportedly wants out and here’s why: After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Euroleague suspended the four Russian teams from competition, leaving CSKA and the others confined to the VTB Russian League. The 27-year-old Milutinov is entering his prime and doesn’t want to limit himself to the Russian league, no longer one of Europe’s finest.

So there have been various reports in the last couple of weeks that Milutinov is talking to other European clubs. Among the candidate teams mentioned have been A.C. Monaco, F.C. Barcelona and as this machine-translated report from Trend Basket points out, Virtus Bologna

It is alleged that the Italian team, which aims high for the next season and wants to establish a competitive team in the EuroLeague, is interested in Nikola Milutinov, who is also a CSKA player.

It is not known at what stage the negotiations with Nikola Milutinov, who continues his career in CSKA Moscow. The 27-year-old player is currently fighting with his team in the final series of the VTB League. Carrying the team in the series where he was 2-0 against St. Petersburg, Milutinov averages 17.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 6.0 assists in two games. Serbian center has managed to double-doubles in eight of his nine games this season in the 2021-22 VTB Playoffs.

On Sunday, other teams were added to the speculation.

There have been no mentions of the Nets in any of the European reports and here’s one reason that might be: he can make more money in Europe. He is one of the highest paid players in the Euroleague at about $2.5 million net of taxes meaning his gross earnings are probably nearly $4 million. To get him in Brooklyn, he and the Nets would have to negotiate a salary package. Although he was drafted by the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Draft, he is no longer governed by NBA rookie scale for the 26th pick in 2015, around $1.2 million.

Would the Nets be interested in Milutinov, a traditional center? Well, they do need bigs and they were interested enough to ask for him in the Dinwiddie trade and Sean Marks reportedly pushed for him when he was the assistant GM in San Antonio. BUT if the Nets wanted to compete with the European clubs on pay, they’d have to dip into their taxpayers MLE, valued at $6.3 million, and with all their other needs, that is highly unlikely, or Milutinov would have to agree to a vets minimum deal. That too seems unlikely.

That said, here’s some highlights from last month. He is strong, athletic and with good hands and skills in the pick-and-roll and rim protection. That’s former Knick Alexey Shved feeding him by the way...

Ben Simmons Real Estate Watch

Yeah, it’s a recurring feature now. Two weeks ago, we reported that Ben Simmons had sold his place in Moorestown, N.J. for $4.55 million, nearly double what he paid for it two years ago. He’s also asking $3.0 million for his Center City condo at Philly’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel.

Then last week, we noted that he’s put his Hidden Hills mansion in L.A. up for sale, asking $23 million, about $5.5 million more than what he paid last year for the brand new farm house style home. So where he’s going to live? Looks like New York...

No, we don’t know where in Manhattan the Maya Jama apartment is located, but it appears that the Nets star is all-in on New York. And if he gets bored, it should be noted that she has places in London and L.A. It’s all good.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

We will know soon whether the Nets will defer using the 76ers unprotected first rounder from 2022 to 2023. The draft deferral deadline is June 1, aka Wednesday. It seems nearly certain that Brooklyn will indeed defer. Philly reportedly believes that the Nets will defer.

Still, we will carry on with our Sleeper Watch. It’s always possible that the Nets find a way into the Draft, probably second round.

This week’s Draft Sleeper is a 6’8” freshman forward from Memphis, Josh Minott. Minott is reportedly rising in mock drafts. The No. 23 pick would seem high considering his production but his No. 48 standing in ESPN’s Top 100 now seems low.

He’s raw but very athletic and his calling card is defense, as he told Adam Zagoria at the NBA Draft Combine last week.

“I don’t really feel like a liability on anyone on the court,” he told Zagoria. “I feel like I’m comfortable guarding every shape and size that there is.

“And offensively, I’m just a creator, and that’s with or without the ball. I’m someone that’s perfectly capable of doing the stuff that doesn’t appear on the stat sheet…Not many people feel comfortable without the ball, I’m someone who I’m always trying to get some type of motion on the court, whether that be cutting, flare screens, split actions, all that. I feel like I’m comfortable in NBA situations. I understand reads and I feel like I’d be attractive to any team.”

Obviously, he is also articulate and confident! Would he and Kessler Edwards overlap a bit? Probably. He does not have Edwards’ shooting skills, at least not yet, but he’s a better facilitator. If the Nets somehow wind up with a pick in the second round and he’s available, there are worse plays than a high-flying big. Best player available is the rule that low.

Here’s some highlights...

And yes, the Nets have worked him out.

Speaking of Draft workouts, we noted this week that the Nets recently worked out two players who are mocked around the end of the lottery: Malaki Branham, a 6’4” shooting guard out of Ohio State, and Tari Evans, a 6’9” forward who played with Cam Thomas at LSU.

What’s with that? Are the Nets going to move into the lottery? Nope. Their policy hasn’t changed. They are happy to work out higher picks if the player and his agent are willing to travel to Brooklyn. Chet Holmgren is not going to waste time and effort to come to Brooklyn for a couple of hours when there’s virtually no chance of the Nets getting anywhere close to the top pick. That’s an agent’s choice. Still, the Draft is just the beginning of an NBA player’s career and information gleaned from workouts and interviews go into the Nets database for possible future use.

Here’s a good example of why you do it if you can ... from Sean Marks history with the Spurs. In 2015, San Antonio had the 26th pick in the Draft, but Marks also interviewed D’Angelo Russell, then seen as a top 5 pick, giving the Spurs assistant GM an insight into DLo’s character. Two years later, that gave him confidence to pursue Russell when Nets GM — despite all the controversy in Los Angeles.

So, ya never know but ya plan for it the best you can. Front office staff and scouts come and go, but the database goes on forever.

Final Note

Hug your children if you have any; Cherish those hugs when you get them back. Nothing is guaranteed.

Happy Memorial Day weekend!