It’s the Special Schadenfreude Edition of the Off-Season Report! What’s schadenfreude? you might ask. Sounds German. Well, it’s the pleasure derived by someone from another person’s misfortune ... and we are not above it. Not.at.all.
After the Suns ignominious second round, Game 6 exit Thursday, the two Nets superstars who left Brooklyn in mid-season hoping they could win it all elsewhere have gone fishing. Kyrie Irving got an early start not even making the playoffs while Kevin Durant exited this week, not even getting as far as he did in 2021, his best season as a Net when Brooklyn and Milwaukee went seven glorious games with him dominating.
It is, as we noted on Twitter this week, too early to say who won — or lost — any trade after three months. Things need to play out longer before winners and losers can be assessed. The only exception is if one of the two teams involved in a trade wins it all ... and that’s not happening. Still, after the Suns burnout, questions have been raised about whether Phoenix owner Mat Ishbia gave up too much back in February on his first day as an NBA owner and whether the Nets recouped their losses.
To recap, the Nets knew that Ishbia wanted to get it done, make a big splash, and although his GM, James Jones, initially resisted giving up Mikal Bridges, leaving all the picks unprotected, adding a pick swap and sweetening the deal with Jae Crowder, a late add, Ishbia agreed to all the above. The deal was helped along by Sean Marks position that the key elements of the deal were non-negotiable and Joe Tsai’s mentor-protege’ relationship with the new owner.
Things started going south for Ishbia and the Suns not long after the deal went down.
Kevin Durant played in only eight regular season games following the trade. After recovering from his second MCL sprain in two years, he slipped during warmups in his first game back and needed time to rehab his left ankle. The Suns finished regular season with the same record as the Nets, 45-37..
KD did get back to game shape in time for the playoffs. After destroying the wounded Clippers, averaging 28.4 points on 52/46/96 shooting splits plus 7.6 rebounds and 6.2 assists, he couldn’t get his Suns past the Nuggets. Durant did put up 29.5 points and 9.7 boards, but his shooting splits in face of a smothering defense dropped to 45/22/88. In the deciding Game 6 blowout Thursday, he scored only two points in the first quarter on 0-of-4 shooting and had only eight at halftime on 2-of-11 shooting. By then, the game and the Suns season were toast.
Maybe it was the absence of 38-year-old Chris Paul that did the Suns and KD in. Maybe it was their lack of depth, hurt by having to give up Bridges and Johnson. Maybe it was fatigue. Durant averaged 40.7 minutes vs. Denver after 43.2 vs. the Clippers. Maybe meshing two great scorers in him and Devin Booker was always going to be problematic. Or maybe it was simply that the Nuggets superstar, Nikola Jokic, decided this was his time.
It’s never smart to underestimate KD, but he turns 35 in September and over the last four years, he has missed 175 regular season games, all 75 the Nets played in his first, COVID-shortened, season in Brooklyn, then 102 over the next three: 40 in 2020-21. 27 in 2021-22 and 35 this past season.
His (former?) best friend Irving missed 151 over the same four years: 62, 21, 46 and 22 and unlike KD, he embarrassed the franchise too many times to recount. Now, he’s a free agent with limited prospects in a league filled with teams trying to avoid the financial and flexibility sanctions found in the new CBA. As every Nets fan knows, the two played a total of 74 games together in three and a half years, 16 with James Harden who goes into Game 7 of the second round vs. the Celtics in Boston on Sunday afternoon ... in Boston. (We’ll be uncharacteristically rooting for the Celts.)
Meanwhile, back in Brooklyn, the Nets seemed to have survived things. They got swept in the first round without KD and Kyrie this year just as they did with KD and Kyrie a year ago. And more and more pundits think the two superstar trades, carried out near simultaneously at the deadline, could work out just fine for Brooklyn. Again, it’s too early to suggest who won or who lost, but “The Haul” looks pretty good. Here it is again...
The Nets acquired Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith, plus five first round picks, a first round pick swap, four second rounders — all unprotected — and two trade exceptions worth $18.1 million and $4.5 million.
All told, they have more draft picks over the next seven years — 19 plus the first round swap — than 26 of the league’s 30 teams. Only one of the 11 first rounders is protected.
Bridges averaged 26.1 points in his 27 games with the Nets, 27.2 if you don’t count the four-second cameo in the last regular season game. He led the NBA in games (83), minutes (2,963), miles traveled on the court (224), all for the second straight year. He finished fourth in Most Improved Player voting and if there was a third team All-Defense, he’d have been on it. He finished second in Teammate of the Year balloting and has established himself as a fan favorite as well. Bobby Marks and others may contend he is not a “first option” on a championship contender, but that analysis doesn’t take into account his defense or his durability. And at this point in time, his contract is arguably the best in the NBA. He is 26 years old.
The others will not be confused with KD or Kyrie but are solid rotation players. CJ showed that he, like Bridges, can do more than asked to do in Phoenix. He sacrificed his body over and over again. He arrived in Brooklyn with a reputation as a 3-point shooter but he’s expanded that role. Dinwiddie, always a fan favorite, played his usual reliable game and although his 3-point shooting regressed after the trade, he too showed remarkable durability, finishing in the top 10 in both minutes played and miles traveled. DFS off-season surgery to straighten out a bent finger on his shooting hand will hopefully improve his historically good 3-point shooting.
The draft picks — and Sean Marks ingenuity — will now be crucial to accelerating the Nets return to being competitive. At this point, in both their public and private comments, Marks and Joe Tsai have professed a belief in an organic rebuild/retool. There have been rumors about the Nets having “heavy interest” in Damian Lillard, driven in part by Dame’s friendship with Bridges. Would the Nets go down the superstar path once again? Are Lillard and the Blazers at the end of their 11-year partnership?
One thing seems certain. As our guy Billy Reinhardt tweeted Friday,..
Advice to the Brooklyn Nets:— Billy Reinhardt (@BillyReinhardt) May 12, 2023
Hold on to those Phoenix Suns picks, tightly.
The Suns do indeed seem to be at a crossroads and those picks look a lot better than they did in February, with the Suns’ long-term future uncertain. The Nets own Phoenix’s firsts (again all unprotected) in 2023, 2025, 2027 and 2029 and have the right to swap their firsts in 2028. It’s not for nothing that ESPN headlined its off-season guide on the Suns, “Are the Suns getting closer or further from an NBA championship?”
Ishbia was not happy, first firing scouts and a front office staffer on Friday night...
In what could be start of many changes for Phoenix Suns, the team dismissed a front office executive and two scouts today, league sources tell @NBAonTNT, @BleacherReport.— Chris Haynes (@ChrisBHaynes) May 13, 2023
Then, Saturday night, he threw in the towel, dismissing Monty Williams, the Suns head coach...
New owner Mat Ishbia made decision to fire Williams, who has been the winningest coach in NBA since 2021. Suns have a starry but top-heavy roster with little cap flexibility this summer. The Suns will compete in coaching marketplace with Milwaukee and Toronto now. https://t.co/ElofmYaMDY— Adrian Wojnarowski (@wojespn) May 14, 2023
No doubt, that’s not the end of it. Of course, as one fan noted in response to the scouts’ firing, why do you need scouts if you have no picks! How bad is the Suns draft situation and thus their ability to replenish the roster, keep competitive over the long term? As Bobby Marks noted Friday, “Phoenix is not allowed to trade a first in any season but can offer pick swaps in 2024 and 2026. Phoenix has five second-round picks available to trade.” That’s it.
Even before Williams departure, Durant seemed somewhat concerned about the future of his new team in talking with media Thursday night.
“It’s hard right now to see what the future will hold for our team, but we’ve got a good foundation, good infrastructure,” he said after Game 6. “We can build on and move on from this and learn from it and get better from it.”
At least KD was willing to speak about things post-game. Booker didn’t show. It’s ugly in Phoenix. Recriminations galore.
That said, there ARE big issues that Nets have to deal with, starting with Ben Simmons contract. While Bridges contract may be the best in the NBA, Simmons with $78.2 million owed over the next two years could be worst unless he returns to form. There are some signs of hope with the reports he wants to play for Australia in the FIBA World Cup and his relationship with the Nets seems better, helped perhaps by his new agent, Bernie Lee. Howard Beck, now with GQ, reported this week that the Nets have been trying to gauge interest in Simmons, but said that’s not uncommon at this point in the off-season.
And yes, this analysis is a bit different from what we had to say at the top of our first Off-Season Report, but things, including opinions, are changing.
Like we keep saying, we won’t know how those deadline deals will work out, maybe for years. In the meantime, we’re happy that others are not.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
The Nets keep their draft workouts secret. It’s been that way since Sean Marks arrived in 2016. But Hoopshype, in scouring Twitter feeds from players and agents, has compiled a short list of who’s been at HSS Training Center since the close of the season...
At the top of the list is Terquavian Smith, a 6’4” sophomore shooting guard who’s currently mocked at No. 27, the only projected first rounder Brooklyn has worked out ... as far as we know. Smith is familiar with HSS Training Center. He worked out for the Nets last season when they had no picks going into the draft and no picks coming out of the Draft. Smith, who was hoping to be a one-and-done, eventually dropped out and returned to Raleigh and North Carolina State. It was a bit of a surprise, as Jonathan Givony wrote for ESPN in March when Smith opted into this year’s Draft.
“Smith surprised many by withdrawing his name from the 2022 NBA draft after a strong showing at the NBA combine in Chicago last May, saying at the time that he ‘just wants one more season to get everything right and be a college student.’ Givony wrote then.
Indeed, Smith seems like a mature young man.
“I improved my grades. I’m a year closer to getting my degree now. You only get one chance to be a college student and get that college vibe,” he told Givony. “There was no rush for me. I’m ready to contribute to an NBA team now.”
He put up good numbers for the Wolfpack, per ESPN, leading NC State in scoring (17.9 points), assists (4.1) and steals (1.5). He also finished as the second-leading scorer in the ACC as well as the second most prolific 3-point shooter with 91 makes on the season.
Analysis of his draft stock is all over the place. Givony thinks he’s a late first rounder, but Sam Vecenie of The Athletic thinks his skills warrant only a mid second vote. Givony’s take:
Smith, 20, is intriguing to NBA teams with his combination of dynamic shot-making, ability to change speeds out of hesitation moves and explosiveness finishing around the rim. He puts consistent pressure on opposing defenses with his aggressive style, regularly rising up for contested 3-pointers from impressive vantage points.
Scouts who went down to Raleigh this year thought that Smith had grown in some areas of his game, but not improved in others. He’s become a better decision-maker and passer, potentially giving some hope for Smith to play some point down the road. But his frame is still extremely skinny, and his defense is all over the map.
He struggles to stay in front of his man, and isn’t really impactful in any way on that end of the court.
As his highlights show, “Baby T” has NBA range and confidence...
Do the Nets currently need more wings? No, but Sean Marks et al have always gone with the Best Player Available mentality.
Smith is in Chicago again this week for the NBA Draft Combine which begins Monday. We will know more about him at week’s end.
Wembyrama begins Tuesday night
The Nets would seem to have no dog in the fight Tuesday when the Draft Lottery airs. The lottery, which takes place in Chicago, will be televised on May 16 at 8:30 p.m ET on ESPN where because of the huge stakes, a huge audience can be expected.
How huge the stakes? About 7’4” huge. That’s Victor Wembanyama’s height, just one aspect of the 19-year-old’s intriguing package. It’s been a long time, perhaps since LeBron James selection in 2003, that a prospect has gotten this much hype and it appears to be deserved. Every pundit — and apparently every scout — who flew to Paris to get a look at him came back awestruck. The nearest comparable appears to be Kevin Durant, a complete package of skills and basketball IQ ... but a half foot taller.
The teams with the best chances at the overall No. 1 are the Pistons, Rockets and Spurs, each with a 14% shot, followed by the Hornets at 12.5% and the Blazers at 10%. It drops off after that, with the last team in the lottery, the Pelicans having only a half percent chance.
Is there any chance that Nets could get him? NO! Don’t even dream about it! But if he falls to the Blazers, that could presumably effect Damian Lillard’s mindset. Lillard has said he doesn’t want to be part of a rebuild. How might the prospect of playing with a generational player affect his thinking ... and the Blazers. Also, if the Blazers move up to No. 2 or 3 and take Scoot Henderson, a promising guard from G League Ignite, would that suggest Portland would be more willing to finally move on and invest in a backcourt of Henderson and Anfernee Simons? Lillard has been attending Blazers draft workouts so he is still interested in the Blazers future.
No doubt there will be other ramifications once the lottery is in the books. This is reportedly a very strong draft. Teams with solid draft position may look to move other, more high priced talent to get under the tax threshold, get more flexibility.
There’s also a slim chance the Knicks could wind up in the lottery. If the Mavs drop in the lottery below No. 10, where they currently sit, the pick would go to the Knicks, the last payment in the Kristaps Porzingis trade.
So get the popcorn ready but remember it’s only a movie for Nets fans, not reality.
The Tsais take over HSS
Before jetting off to Hong Kong and Macao where he talked about the future of digital entertainment, Joe Tsai was in New York for The Asian American Foundation’s Heritage Month Summit and Celebration, as well as its inaugural awards dinner. May is AAPI (Asian-American and Pacific Islanders) heritage month. Tsai, his wife, Clara Wu Tsai and their foundation helped get the TAAF started and are among its biggest benefactors.
The event was star-studded with Michelle Yeoh, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress, headlining the awards dinner. In addition to the high fashion events, Tsai got into his sweats and hosted a basketball game for many of the weekend’s participants at the Nets HSS Training Center in Sunset Park.
On hand was Tsai’s son Jacob, who’s played high school ball in California...
Mom was there as well to cheer everyone on...
Also participating in the game, among a lot of other notables, was Canadian actor Simu Liu known for his Marvel Universe roles ... and Olivier Sedra, the Nets announcer who called the game.
Last week, Clara Wu Tsai was featured in a lengthy interview on Good Morning America with Robin Roberts. In it, Wu Tsai, co-governor of the Liberty and co-owner of the Nets, talked about her new role as Executive Producer of “Unfinished Business,” a documentary on the history of the WNBA. It includes behind-the-scenes footage from the Liberty’s 2021 season. The documentary airs on ESPN2 Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. ET. It also is showing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music through Thursday. Here’s the trailer:
In the interview, Wu Tsai talks about the documentary but also the Liberty’s chances this year after their stunning summer — “this could be our moment” — and the ways in which she, Joe Tsai and their foundation have been helping the Brooklyn community...
The interview caught the attention of Mikal Bridges who retweeted the video and added, “She’s literally one of my favs ” Indeed, Wu Tsai has often engaged directly with players on both the Liberty and Nets, famously hosting Liberty players at a high-end California spa during a losing streak in 2021 and frequently discussing issues of race with Kyrie Irving.
Before you go, we’d like to treat you to our Lucas Kaplan’s compilation of Nic Claxton’s defensive highlights...
Here's Nic Claxton's defensive highlight reel from this season, set to some smooth jazz: https://t.co/dZsWCZIxBJ pic.twitter.com/Pq9tk8bQgd— Lucas Kaplan (@LucasKaplan_) May 10, 2023
We are all about culture.
If you know, you know...
with all due respect pic.twitter.com/gmPcRH42nh— Netszn (@Netszxn) May 12, 2023