We are well past the midway point of the off-season. Today is the 88th day since the Nets got swept by the Celtics. There are 66 more days till the opening of training camp ... and we still don’t have clarity on who will be on hand.
No one expects any movement in the short-term. Sean Marks isn’t the only GM who’s on vacation. People have families and this is the first true summer vacations for the league since the pandemic began in March 2020. So, things are at a standstill on the Kevin Durant/Kyrie Irving fronts. Both are under contract for at least this season and there have been reports of contact among the Nets and their two superstars.
It is essentially, as Brian Windhorst said this week, all about supply and demand:
“The truth is we truly have a one of a kind situation on the trade market. Durant’s price is so high that nobody can afford to pay it, because if you execute a trade that makes your team weaker, then the point of you even calling to acquire Kevin Durant is failed.
So here we have something that’s extremely valuable that nobody wants to buy at its price. So when that happens two things usually happen in the market, in the supply and demand world; one is the price either gets lowered, or two it comes off the market. So right now, what we have is everybody waiting for the price to get lowered as the Nets mull taking it off the market. As of right now, as I put my ear to the ground in the NBA, I’m not hearing anything changing as far as the demand phrase of this.”
If the Nets are indeed pulling back from the far reaches of player empowerment, resisting any pressure and moving forward fits that mode.
Bruce Brown, Royce O’Neale, T.J. Warren, Edmond Sumner, Joe Harris and Ben Simmons
There is a subset of Nets fans that believe the Nets essentially traded Bruce Brown and a first rounder in 2023 for Royce O’Neale, the similarly sized wing the Nets got from Utah. They don’t see it as a good deal. Why expend one of your firsts when there is little difference between the two Both are 3-and-D types and are not so much established 3-point shooters although both averaged around 40 percent from deep last season. So it’s easy to compare in an either/or scenario. Making matters even more polarizing for these fans, Brown said the Nets didn’t even make an offer although they had his Bird Rights.
But looking deeper, it appears things are more dynamic. The Brown-for-O’Neale swap didn’t happen in a vacuum. It was part of a larger re-alignment of the Nets wing space.
By the time Brown was shuffling offers — eventually signing with Denver for the taxpayer’s MLE — the Nets were making other moves. They were working out and talking to 6’8” T.J. Warren and 6’4” Edmond Sumner. One of whom, if healthy, can give the Nets a scoring punch, and the other, if he makes the team, can offer athleticism and some defense. Sumner is even capable of playing some 1, the position he played at Xavier. O’Neale was Utah’s best defender not named Gobert. Moreover, Ben Simmons can capitalize on the short roll, as does Brown. He should be back and healthy. Same thing with Joe Harris.
With all that wing depth and skills, was there any room for a highly paid Brown? Sean Marks et al added some height in the 6’8” Warren and some spot-up shooting off the bench in O’Neale and Sumner. Simmons may not be able to shoot from deep but he’s an excellent finisher, particularly in traffic, and a top-5 defender in the NBA.
In other words, the Nets felt Brown was superfluous with all other moves and returns. he wasn’t going to get minutes commensurate with his salary, $14.2 over two years.
Of course, everything depends on health. Warren, Sumner and Simmons did not play a minute last season. Word from inside the Nets is that all are indeed well and will be ready to go on September 27.
Warren, of course, is the key. He has played a total of four games in the past two years and his signing was not accompanied by the traditional free agent press conference. So there’s been little discussion of him in the Nets off-season. This week, CBS Sports put him at the top of a list of “Five underrated NBA free agent signings.”
If the Nets end up running it back with Durant and Kyrie Irving next season, then Warren will be able to provide some ancillary scoring around those guys and take some of the load off their shoulders on the offensive end. If those two are gone, Warren is capable of taking on a larger role on the offensive end, as he’s a guy capable of generating his own offense. Either way, he’s a legitimate offensive option that the Nets were able to get at a very reasonable rate (one year, $2.6 million). They just have to hope he can remain healthy.
Similarly, Bryan Toporek of Forbes has Warren on the short list of The Best-Value Signings Of 2022 NBA Free Agency:
If Warren regains anything close to his Bubble form, the Nets will have snagged a potential 20-points-per-game scorer on a minimum deal. They’ll only have non-Bird rights on him, so they’d have to re-sign him next summer using whichever version of the mid-level exception they wind up having, but that’s a problem for another day.
Until then, Warren might be the single best low-risk, high-reward signing of the offseason.
It may seem like ancient history now, but in the “bubble,” Warren was as good as anyone. He averaged 31 points a game over eight games, including a 53-point outburst vs. the Sixers that had him shoot 9-of-12 shooting deep against Ben Simmons. Here’s some Warren highlights...
If you eliminate his final “bubble” game, vs. Miami — when Jimmy Butler held him to 12 and famously said Warren wasn’t in his league — Warren averaged 39.7 points a game on 65/61/92 and just one turnover.
Warren, as long as he’s healthy, should get a lot of looks from the Nets point guards and as we have noted, nobody in the league has had more assists on 3-pointers than Ben Simmons during his first four years in the NBA. Only downside is that if he excels, the Nets flexibility with him will be limited. Warren’s on a one-year deal and the Nets will only have his Non-Bird rights at season’s end and could offer him a limited raise. Of course, we are getting ahead of ourselves. He will have to play first.
NYC point gods galore
In the 1990s and 2000’s, there was in New York City a phenomenon, the “NYC point gods,” producing one great PG after another, some of whom made their bones in the city’s high schools, others on the blacktop courts across the city.
There was Dwyane “Pearl” Washington, Marc Jackson, Kenny Anderson, Stephon Marbury, Rafer Alston, Kenny Smith, God Shammgod and Rod Strickland. Most of the eight donned a New Jersey Nets at one time or another.
Next Saturday, July 29, a documentary, produced by Kevin Durant and his manager Rich Kleinman, will air on Showtime, entitled, “NYC Point Gods,” Here’s the trailer...
As Neil Best of Newsday wrote this past week, the doc is filled with highlight videos as well as interviews ... and some down sides. It shows warts and all.
The film includes a trove of vintage video from the ‘80s and ‘90s to document it all, plus a wide range of interviews, including with college coaching stars of the era such as Lou Carnesecca, Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino.
While the film mostly is over the top in its lauding of New York guards, it does briefly address the elephant in the room: their decades-old reputation as poor shooters.
Anderson who was the overall No. 2 pick in 1991 NBA Draft and All-Star starter three years later. said he fully cooperated with the producers. As Best noted, he grows emotional talking about what his experience at Queens powerhouse Archbishop Molloy from personal development to lifelong friendships including with the late Jack Curran, his head coach.
“Growing up in New York, going to LeFrak City, Queens, where back then in the ‘80s it was kind of rough, drug-infested, I went to Molloy and that was my safe haven,” he said. “I went from 7:30 in the morning to like 9 at night.”
Jackson, Anderson and Marbury were probably the most successful of those featured. All of them were All-Stars, Anderson and Marbury with the Nets. So all you Nets historians, set to record.
Summer League fall out
The Nets summer league team, as a unit, has to be considered a bit of a disappointment. When you have four second-year players with nearly 3,000 minutes of NBA experience, including 40 starts, you’d hope for a better outcome than 3-2 out in Las Vegas. Cam Thomas and David Duke were probably the best individual performers with Kessler Edwards and Day’Ron Sharpe putting up good numbers overall, but both had some bad games. Overall, their biggest problems were defense and inconsistency.
Alondes Williams, the Nets two-way signing, did not look good. Both Brian Lewis and Steve Lichtenstein expected more from the 6’5” point guard who was the ACC Player of the Year and the first player to ever lead the conference in points and assists.
The reviews were harsh (Lewis) and harsher (Lichtenstein.)
In fairness, it was never fair to expect him to be. Sure, he’s the highest-rated of the Nets’ rookies, and they somewhat surprisingly handed him a two-way contract. But the fact is, he went undrafted, and just because the Nets could have a dire need of a backup point guard — if Irving gets traded — doesn’t mean Williams will be ready for that role because he’s clearly not.
Though Williams has an NBA-ready frame as a big guard and has some passing skills, he finished summer league averaging 4.6 points, 2.6 assists and 2.2 turnovers. His lack of a jumper let defenders sag off him, and the result was Williams shot just 32 percent overall and went 0-for-7 from 3-point range, dead last on the Nets in offensive rating and PER.
And while we’re at it, the Nets should immediately withdraw that two-way contract given to guard Alondes Williams. His exquisite passing can be neutralized (he coughed it up 11 times in 97 Vegas minutes) by teams playing off him because he too can’t shoot a lick.
Of course, five games of glorified pick-up in the desert isn’t enough to judge anyone and Williams threw some beauteous passes that were fumbled by teammates. Both writers also note that the Cam Thomas and David Duke did not can three’s at an acceptable rate: Thomas shot 27.3 percent while Duke hit two percentage points less, neither showing any improvement in that area from last season. Both writers did like one of the undrafted rookies, UNLV’s Donovan “Stretch” Williams, a 6’7” wing with a 7’0” wingspan and some potential down the road as a 3-and-D guy.
Wing Donovan Williams, known as “Stretch” for his 7-foot wingspan, performed well playing at his old UNLV home. He showed range (3-for-4 from 3) and athleticism (an acrobatic open-court lob from Thomas). He’s unlikely to get a two-way, but he could stick in Long Island or get an Exhibit 10 invite to camp.
Playing in his UNLV college arena, he seemed comfortable in his limited opportunities, knocking down 3-of-4 from deep. I’m under no illusions that he is an NBA player—he needs to hit the gym hard to be able to withstand the league’s physicality.
Williams has been working out with Tracy McGrady, as we learned this week...
RaiQuan Gray, the 6’8” big with point forward ambitions, intrigued both Lewis and Lichtenstein with the latter writing:
Still, despite a rough outing on Sunday (three intercepted passes that all led to Sixers transition buckets, two missed open three-point looks, and a blown layup), I just have this feeling that there might be something there with Gray. Defensively, he was even more of a factor than in the Bucks game, where he was a bit too slow getting out to three-point shooters. While he wasn’t much of a rim protector, his straight-up wall in the paint hindered several Sixers opportunities. In addition, he is adept at getting his hands on balls that lead to steals.
Meanwhile, pundits across the league continue to hold distinctly different, and mostly disparaging, views of Cam Thomas who for the second year in a row led the Summer League in scoring (we aren’t counting the two games Moses Moody played for Golden State where he averaged 27.5 to Thomas 27.4 over four.)
Thomas is routinely described as “shot-happy,” “undersized,” “defense-free” and “a certain archetype of player who thrives in summer league.” But they all must concede he can score. Indeed, he proved that last season when he was inserted into the Nets lineup around the All-Star break.
Moreover, as Lewis noted in his Summer League recap, there were improvements elsewhere in his game that got lost in the discussion of his scoring.
The more important numbers for Thomas’ growth are his playmaking. He more than doubled his assists from a paltry 2.0 to 4.2 and nearly halved his turnovers from 3.8 to a more manageable 2.0.
His 3-point shooting did drop however, from 36.0 percent in last year’s Summer League to 27.3 this year which unfortunately was in line with his NBA shooting level in 67 games of regular season play, 27.0. Lewis also reported that the Nets have had trade offers for the 20-year-old, specifically a future first round pick. Obviously, the Nets didn’t bite.
A final note: our Alec Sturm reported this week that Taze Moore, the hyper-athletic wing, has an invitation to join the Long Island Nets. He saw limited minutes in Las Vegas.
The question now is whether any of the Summer League Nets will wind up with the second two-way, assuming Duke gets a standard NBA contract from either the Nets or another NBA club. The Nets can wait. It is obviously not a priority right now and two years ago, the team waited until the day before the regular season to sign Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot to a two-way.
Kevin Durant’s Thirty-Five Ventures announced this week that it had decided to make an undisclosed investment in the Premier Lacrosse League, the outdoor lacrosse league founded by the Rabil Brothers working with Joe Tsai, a lacrosse aficionado. Other investors who were included in this round of financing included the WWE and Arctos Sports which hold interests in, among other things, the Warriors, Kings and Red Sox.
It’s the second time the Nets best player and owner have put money into the same venture. Earlier this year, before KD asked out of Brooklyn, Tsai’s Blue Pool Capital invested into Just Women’s Sports where Thirty-Five Ventures already held a stake.
Does it mean anything in terms of the Nets current standoff with Durant? Probably not. Business, like politics, makes for strange bedfellows and these investments take months to put together. Both Thirty-Five Ventures and Blue Pool also have a wide variety of investments, some large, some small. KD owns a significant piece of the Philadelphia Union of the MLS while Tsai has a small investment in the L.A.F.C. franchise along with a lot of other celebrities. On the other hand, any links between the two sides has to be considered a good thing.
KD arrives on TikTok
Kevin Durant who loves social media arrived on TikTok this week. On one level, it was less than auspicious but as art it approached another level. See for yourselves.
Seven seconds or less indeed.
As the Nets final roster is put together, there are openings. Right now, the Nets have 12 players, including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, under fully guaranteed standard NBA contracts, one two-way and one partially guaranteed deal, Edmond Sumner’s.
So there are fans and pundits (and no doubt, front office types) lobbying for this player or that. In China, there is a groundswell of fans and pundits lobbying Joe Tsai to to sign Zhou Qi, the 7’2” center on the Chinese national team. He was drafted No. 43 by the Rockets in 2016 when Houston with its Yao Ming legacy was China’s most popular team. He appeared in 19 NBA games, making no impact. Here’s some highlights from a game three weeks ago.
Zhou, pronounced Joe, can’t count on a Tsai endorsement to get a second chance at the NBA. even assuming he hears those who want him in Brooklyn. That’s a Sean Marks decision. Then, again, the center of the Chinese women’s national team is Han Xu who doubles as the Liberty big.