It seems that every day brings a new opportunity to read tea leaves, over analyze the latest ESPN video or some tweet or IG posting from the far corners of the Internet.
Saturday was no exception. An Instagram account in L.A. — @lilmoviez — posted images from a very high octane scrimmage at Campbell Hall High School (“home of the Vikings”) whose participants included Trae Young, Caris LeVert, Victor Oladipo and oh yeah Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
The two Nets were also seen talking...
What could it mean? Beats us. The last time someone speculated about a KD and Kyrie conversation it was back at the All-Star Game in 2019 when the two were spotted talking in a hallway at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte. Knick fans were certain Kyrie was telling KD the Knicks had enough cap space to bring on two max players. So we’re not going down that road.
Meanwhile, there are other tea leaf and probably palm readings available on the status of the two superstars, one who has apparently made a truce with the Nets, the other who seems to be pulling away from the Nets orbit. Or at least that’s the current narrative.
In many ways, the Nets and Irving’s situation is the more intriguing. NO ONE thought Irving would be back after contract negotiations failed to get Irving a five-year, $248 million extension. Irving revealed his decision to opt in to year four of his original deal by telling Shams Charania, not Joe Tsai or Sean Marks.
Since then, a source close to Irving told Brian Lewis that he had every intention of playing in Brooklyn with or without his superstar teammate and the Nets extolled Irving’s skills and community service in a series of social media posts at the end of July, including one from Tsai, his first tweet even remotely connected to the Nets
The era of good feelings continued Saturday when the Nets posted video of Irving as part of the NBA’s Assist Week.
Not everyone is convinced this is all going to work. Nick Friedell who covers the Nets for ESPN and has been Irving’s toughest interrogator is among those who are skeptical...
“He’s gotta play, he’s gotta be a part of that team every day,” Friedell said on ESPN Friday in explaining what Irving needs to do. “And he’s got to play at the level that everybody in the league knows he’s capable of. But he hasn’t shown it in the last couple of years.
“So, is it possible to regain that trust? Absolutely. Kyrie is an incredibly talented player. One of the best guards we’ve seen in this era. Having said that, the team and organization, they don’t trust him, and that trust has eroded over time,” Friedell said.
“Count me in a group that is going to be very surprised if that trust within this team is gonna be able to be rebuilt at a high level again,” he concluded.
As noted this week by Keith Smith of RealGM, no team has more roster openings than any other NBA team. Brooklyn has 14 players under some sort of contract: 12 fully guaranteed deals — including Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving; a partially guaranteed deal in Edmond Sumner and a two-way in Alondes Williams. That leaves six spots open on the 20-man training camp roster, including three of whom will be Exhibit 10 deals, aka future Long Island Nets. You have to think David Duke Jr. will wind up with one of those openings.
Sean Deveney, late of Sporting News and now with Heavy.com, thinks the Nets will focus on bigs ... and maybe an All-Star with a Brooklyn pedigree. He quoted an NBA executive in a story Friday.
“They need another big guy, but they’re not feeling a lot of pressure as far as filling that spot,” an executive told Heavy.com. “There are veterans they can sign this month or even early next month — Dwight Howard would be the obvious one, maybe Hassan Whiteside. Cody Zeller is out there, too. They want to see what they have with Nic Claxton, but they want some insurance there, too. And they’re going to play [Ben] Simmons there quite a bit in small ball lineups. I’d expect them to keep 14 guys, keep one spot open. There has been some talk about them signing Carmelo Anthony, maybe as a nod to Kevin Durant, but obviously that has not gotten anywhere, at least not yet.”
Lot to digest there, but nothing firm. Howard and Melo have been mentioned before but neither have been signed. That doesn’t mean they won’t. The Nets didn’t sign LaMarcus Aldridge to a vets minimum deal last year until September 3. Whiteside and Zeller are new names. Any of those names wouldn’t require anything other than a vets minimum.
Melo was an Olympic teammate of KD and Kyrie in 2016 in Rio de Janiero and KD four years earlier in London. Born in Red Hook before moving as a child to Baltimore, Anthony is now 38 years old but averaged 13.3 points and 4.2 boards for the Lakers last year in 67 games, all but three off the bench. He is a professional.
Whiteside, 33, and Zeller, 29, both were backups last season, Whiteside in Utah where he averaged 8.2 points and 7.6 rebounds in 17.9 minutes, Zeller in Portland where he put up 5.2 and 4.6 in 13.4 games but got into only 27 before being waived on February 8.
There’s also an outlier in Nikola Milutinov, whose rights the Nets acquired in the Spencer Dinwiddie deal. There’s only the slightest indication of his interest in the NBA. A couple of months ago, a Russian basketball writer, Dmitry Planadin, tweeted that the 27-year-old seven-footer might be interested in the NBA.
Nikola Milutinov is leaning towards staying with CSKA, per sources. However, he'd definitely entertain NBA options.— Dmitry Planidin (@DmitryPlanidin) June 20, 2022
There’s been nothing since with most speculation suggesting he will either stay with CSKA (despite its continuing ban from Euroleague play because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine) or join a big Euroleague contender. He made $2.5 million last season, net of taxes, and his reported buyout from CSKA is $1.2 million, $800,000 of which an NBA team can pick up (without any effect on the salary cap or luxury tax.)
Milutinov is currently playing back-up to Nikola Jokic on the Serbian national team in FIBA Europe competition. He is a traditional back-to-the-basket big with some serious pick-and-roll skills. Watch this space ... but not too closely.
One other point on roster construction. The Nets still have their taxpayers MLE which clocks in at $6.5 million for up to three years and $20 million. It would seem that there aren’t a lot, if any, candidates for that big of a deal but it should be noted that the TMLE can be cut into pieces.
Another precinct heard from on Ben Simmons at the 5
As Deveney said and others before him, the Nets can be expected to show Ben Simmons at the 5. Steve Nash has said it.
“I think he plays both [point guard and center],” Nash said at the end of the season.
“He’s just such a well-rounded, versatile athlete and skilled player that I think it would be limiting to say, ‘Hey, you’ve got to handle the ball all the time. You have to facilitate the offense all the time.’ That’s what’s special about him is the varied skills he brings to the table. So, yes, he’ll facilitate and be the point guard.
“He’ll also sometimes be the center. Other times he’ll be the guy that’s just playing position-less basketball, trying to create offense in the half court.
So has Bobby Marks.
“The likelihood is that we see Ben Simmons playing the majority of minutes at center,” said the former Nets assistant GM now an ESPN insider.
And this week, Jalen Rose went even further saying that Philly, whose player development has not been exactly stellar, made a mistake in pushing Simmons into the point guard role.
“Philadelphia made a mistake in developing Ben Simmons as a point guard, and here’s why,” said Simmons. “When you’re not attempting shots outside of the paint, it’s hard to have you at the top of the floor. So, now that they have KD, he’s going to play quasi-minutes at the four. Watch Ben Simmons be on the baseline playing like a small-ball 5. And, in that case, he’s going to have an opportunity to be a productive player. He’s not going to have to worry about shooting the ball, he’s not going to have to worry about being a big-time scorer. He can be a defender, a playmaker, and a teammate, and I think he’ll fit right in with KD and Kyrie.”
Of course, Simmons himself has declared himself a 1. But over and over, there seems to be a consensus that the 6’11” 26-year-old is going to be playing a lot of 5 in Brooklyn.
Last week, by the way, Chris Johnson, Simmons personal trainer, posted video of Simmons on Instagram which we posted. When a fan asked if Simmons was working on his 3-point shot, Johnson responded, “.absolutely!”
Rose also took a shot at the 76ers organization and Philly fans for their “slander” of Simmons.
“Well, first it’s about health, and he took a lot of slander for not playing in Philly and with the Nets,” Rose said while analyzing the Simmons settlement on Tuesday’s edition of NBA Today. “And as any athlete will tell you, you don’t just turn around and get back surgery. So, clearly he was injured. So, I want to know how he even passed a physical. But now that he’s there, I believe he’s healthy. He’s going to give them what I consider a jump lineup up front.”
Rough start to schedule
Digging deeper in the schedule might make you a little queasy about the Nets start. Over the course of the first 20 games of the NBA schedule, the Nets play only eight games at Barclays Center. That is the worst home/away number in the East, second worst in the NBA, per John Schuhmann of NBA.com. Brooklyn also have five back-to-backs in that stretch, second only to Detroit in the league.
Congratulations to Brook Lopez on another big day of Disney...
And best wishes to Michael Grady, aka Grady, now the voice of the Minnesota Timberwolves. Hard work pays off. We DID know that.