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Long Island Nets back to being key development piece for Brooklyn

Nets G League strategy is once again finding and developing talent for the big club and Media Day showed it

There’s been a lot of news about the Long Island Nets the last couple of days.

Dariq Whitehead is doing 5-on-5 contact drills at Long Island training camp in Westbury after almost five months of recovery and rehab following foot surgery. He and Noah Clowney were assigned there on Monday. The Nets signed Keon Johnson, a 6’4” shooting guard, to to its third and final two-way spot Tuesday and both Jalen Wilson and Armoni Brooks, signed earlier to two-ways, have been activated for Wednesday night’s game in Miami. With several players out, including Nic Claxton, Spencer Dinwiddie and Cam Johnson, Brooklyn needed reserves.

The G League, where the Nets discovered Dinwiddie and was part of Claxton’s progress as well as that of Cam Johnson and Day’Ron Sharpe’s development, is again a priority for the Nets as the organization has gone into its modified rebuild. Two-ways are seen as potential pieces now as well as the long term. When you have Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden, it’s about win-now.

On Monday, Long Island held its Media Day at Nassau Coliseum and on Tuesday they moved to the Yes, We Can Community Center in Westbury where they held practices in preparation for their March 10 opener at the Coliseum. For J.R. Holden, the Nets G League GM (as well as Brooklyn’s director of scouting operations) and new head coach Mfon Udolia, it was a chance to lay out their priorities.

“We are trying to be a connector of Brooklyn,” said Holden, who was one of Europe’s top point guards before working for the 76ers, Pistons and now the Nets. “That means that Coach Udofia will reiterate the same principles that Coach Vaughn does with the Brooklyn guys.”

“The biggest thing is teaching these guys how to play the right way,” added Udofia. “Whether it is through practice, player development sessions, or in games. We want to build good habits in each and every player. That will translate to Brooklyn, overseas, or any version of high level basketball.”

“This is my first year. So you are going to have that learning curve, especially since this is my first year calling timeouts, first time having team meetings, and a lot of other things,” said the veteran G League assistant who also was interim head coach of the Nigerian national team last year. “Once those guys build good habits, that will be a success for me.”

Both comments looked good Wednesday night when Armoni Brooks and Jalen Wilson got called up to Brooklyn. After flying from New York to Miami, both played well, being familiar with the Nets principals, both in Long Island and Brooklyn.

G League rosters have 10 standard spots. Neither the three two-ways nor NBA players like Whitehead and Clowney will count against that limit. They of course will be the priorities but there are some interesting other pieces, the two closest to the NBA likely being 6’11” big Patrick Gardner who Nets fans got familiar with during the FIBA World Cup where he averaged 8.8 points and 4.8 rebounds for Egypt, and Kennedy Chandler, the Nets Summer League point guard and former Grizzly. The 5’11” point guard is only 21. He averaged 14.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 2.0 steals in 30.3 minutes per game across five starts for the Nets’ Summer League squad. He spent his summer in Brooklyn.

For Gardner, who played for Marist before joining the Egyptian team, the gig in Long Island has double meaning. He grew up in Merrick, about five miles from the Coliseum, as well as Cairo, his mother’s home where he spent summers as a youth.

“I’m very excited to be here. It’s surreal to be in my hometown and I’m ready to get to work,” said Chandler. “To play for my mom’s country is an amazing experience to represent Egypt. It has been a dream for me for a while. To play in the FIBA World was amazing. There were a lot of great players there, I learned a lot and I was able to get my foot in the door, which helped me a lot as a player.”

Despite being 24, both the Nets and before them the Heat liked what they saw in him. He played five games for the Heat in this July’s Summer League before agreeing to sign with Brooklyn, then heading overseas. He sees his advanced age — for a rookie — as an advantage.

“I think what I can bring here is another level of maturity. I’m 24 so I’m not a young rookie. I’m looking forward to bringing some professionalism to this organization,” he told NetsDaily. Along with the returning 6’10” Kavion Pippen (Scottie Pippen’s nephew,) Gardner is the team’s only real big man.

Chandler was taken in the second round of the 2022 NBA Draft and got a four-year deal from the Grizzlies, three of it guaranteed. Although he was cut back in April by Memphis, he is still owed $3.7 million by the Grizz.

“It’s been an interesting journey. From the standpoint of me getting called up on draft night and getting a contract. To Me being in a situation with one of the best point guards in the league. And then me unfortunately getting waived,” said the Tennessee product who is close to Ja Morant. “It just goes to show that there are many routes you can go to in order to get to your goals. It’s all apart of God’s plan since I didn’t get to play much last year.”

Chandler who is hyperathetic like Keon Johnson, is likely to start at the point. He’s going to have some competition from a number of prospects, some with extensive G League experience as well as a couple of players who’ve gotten local tryout deals, one of whom, Khalil Shabazz, averaged 18 points a game for the University of San Francisco last season.

For Long Island, the bar is high not just in terms of development but in matching last year’s 23-9 record and top seed in the East. Head coach Ronnie Burrell was elevated to a Brooklyn’s assistant coach’s job with responsibility for bigs.

“The fans should expect an exciting brand of basketball this year,” said head coach Udofia. “We are going to play with pace, get out in transition, and we want to have space. We want to give our guys the opportunity to create off the dribble and to make plays. We also want to be super aggressive defensively. We want each team around the league to feel that they are getting themselves into every game.”