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Practice notes: Cam Johnson’s connection to Brooklyn, injury updates

Jacque Vaughn discussed both the joy of the NBA, a player developing a connection with his community, and the bane of it, injuries, at Nets practice on Tuesday.

Courtesy of Brooklyn Nets PR

Before the Brooklyn Nets flew down to Atlanta for their Thanksgiving Eve showdown with the Hawks on Wednesday evening, they held practice at HSS Training Center. Jacque Vaughn reflected on Cam Johnson’s recent community service initiative with Wellfare at Marcy Playground, while providing brief injury updates on two sidelined Nets.

At Johnson’s exit interview following the 2022-’23 season, the 27-year-old wing looked ahead to exploring Brooklyn the offseason. His acclimation process after a mid-season trade was, as you can imagine, quite hectic. But a commitment to Team USA in the FIBA World Cup kept him busy — and far away from the borough — most of the summer. Now in his first full season as a Net, Johnson is just beginning to settle in as a New Yorker.

At Marcy Playground, the praise for his new environment was on high: “Sometimes I might take a little walk, explore, just look around. I did — one of the days was the marathon day. So I went down and watched it and it was just people all over the place, you know? All different types of people from all different types of backgrounds. I took a walk through the park, they had little organized leagues playing in playgrounds just like this. And so I kind of went over, watched some of the games and talked to some of the kids, went through a little farmers market. Just real Brooklyn-type stuff, you know? That’s what I call it, Brooklyn-type stuff. Just figuring it out. I mean, this is a unique place to live in.”

He continued: “There’s people all around every day. People all around every day, and that’s kind of the beauty of it, is that you get to meet so many people from different walks of life, and kind of build a sense of community as opposed to - I would easily revert to just being in my house being tucked off by myself. Go to work, come home, go to work, come home. And to an extent, living here kind of forces you out of that.”

Jacque Vaughn, meanwhile, is now 13 games into his eighth season on Brooklyn’s staff, whether as an assistant or the man in charge. While his first season as a Net did coincide with Spencer Dinwiddie’s, Vaughn’s near-decade in the borough now far outpaces the rest of his players’ tenures.

Vaughn, when asked how he encourages his group of neophyte Brooklynites to embrace the city, said, “Man, this is an unbelievable community. Dive into it, embrace it, be a part of it. That’s the best part of being here in Brooklyn. The reason I’ve always wanted to live here, to feel the people, to feel the borough. Appreciative. And for Cam to have his time and spend it in a thankful way, pretty cool.”

It certainly is.

What’s not pretty cool, though, are the back injuries Dennis Smith Jr. and Ben Simmons are currently sidelined with. Smith Jr. was a late scratch against the Philadelphia 76ers after first being listed as questionable on the injury report, and it doesn’t seem his “lower back strain” has improved since then.

Smith Jr. will not be flying with the team to Atlanta and is scheduled for an MRI in the coming days. Vaughn would not explicitly say Smith’s back has worsened since Sunday, but noted that “the fact that he’s not playing. That’s kind of our steps a little bit. You let a guy get clinically diagnosed, you hope it’s an acute injury, then you see if he can get some treatment and get back on the floor. Well, we had a couple days of treatment and he’s not back on the floor. So then we’ll take the next step and get an MRI.”

Elsewhere, Ben Simmons is scheduled this week for a reevaluation of the nerve impingement in his lower left back. Not traveling with the team either, Simmons is “just still doing what he was doing, as far as off-the-court stuff, but not in practice or anything of that nature,” per Vaughn.

Thus, it appears that the end of Simmons’ absence is not on the immediate horizon, as the 6’10” point forward has not yet progressed to on-court activity. However, we will wait with bated breath for the results of his medical reevaluation to confirm. Expect a full update Wednesday.

We will do the same for Brooklyn’s leading scorer in Cam Thomas, currently sidelined with an ankle sprain suffered against the Los Angeles Clippers. Thomas, like Simmons, is scheduled for reevaluation this week, perhaps as early as Wednesday.