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NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 4

Every weekend, we’ll be updating the Nets’ off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, etc. to help fans get ready for ... whatever.

NBA: Atlanta Hawks at Brooklyn Nets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a good week for Brooklyn Nets fans. No, their team didn’t make a trade but there’s new optimism (as always missed with skepticism) on Ben Simmons prospects. His agent told Brian Lewis that he has moved to the “next stage of his rehab and is progressing really well,” an indication that his next step is likely some on-court play. He has also been posting images of various gyms where he’s been working out, most recently the University of Miami gym...

Meanwhile, in Australia, one of the Boomers’ longest-serving players and an NBA vet, Matthew Dellavedova, has endorsed Simmons plan to play for Australia in the FIBA World Cup starting August 25 in Okinawa Japan. And we have a possible first game for Simmons return: August 14 when the Boomers play their first exhibition game in the Four Nation tournament at Melbourne’s Rod Laver stadium. Australia will play South Sudan, coached by Royal Ivey, on the 14th followed by games on August 16 and 17.

Which brings us to Brian Lewis’ rumination in Sunday’s New York Post. With Simmons possibly returning to Brooklyn and James Harden reportedly exiting Philly for a return to Houston, the question as Lewis put is not who won the February 2022 trade headlined by Simmons and Harden but rather, “Did anybody win? And which team lost worse?”

Harden is going to opt out of his $35.6 million player option for next season, according to reports, and is expected to return to the Rockets in free agency, per the Philadelphia Inquirer. If that happens — fresh off Harden reportedly getting coach Doc Rivers fired — it would close the door on the 76ers’ end of the much-scrutinized deal.

And it would be just the latest power move artfully connived by Harden.

To reiterate, the Nets sent Harden and Paul Millsap to the 76ers for Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first round picks, one of which the Nets used four months to acquire Royce O’Neale, the other of which is still three years away and protected 1-through-8.

As Lewis notes, Drummond has been gone for a year and Seth Curry is probably gone, too. O’Neale is an expiring deal, his contract only guaranteed $2.5 million of the $9.5 million he’s owed.

Bottom line, though, the trade comes down to Simmons and Harden. Yes, Harden gave the Sixers a good year and a half, leading the NBA in assists but twice his and Philly’s season ended in the second round, not close to a championship. Simmons had to be shut down in mid-February with nerve impingement, a side effect of back surgery.

The problem is that for Philly not getting anything in return for Harden leaves a big hole at point guard, which the 76ers may have a hard time filling.

Harden has only brought two second-round exits before (presumably) making his own exit. And with no path to replace his scoring and playmaking, that exit would be devastating for the Sixers...

Philadelphia won’t have the cap space or flexibility to replace him after sending two first-rounders to the Nets. That’s why they’re so desperate to re-sign Harden. Daryl Morey reportedly fired Rivers largely to please the free agent-to-be.

“Scenario A would be to bring James back,” Sixers president Daryl Morey said recently. “Scenario B, if he’s not back, we’ll have to get creative.”

And although as Lewis said, “the Nets’ story is still being written,” what you rather be stuck with, a 26-year-old owed $78.2 million over two years or a 33-year-old on the second year of a five-year, $250 million deal that would have paid him $62 million at age 37? Because that’s what the Nets were prepared to pay him if he wanted to stay.

A championship was the reason Morey wanted Harden but it didn’t happen. Ironically, Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer who broke the story about Harden’s return to Houston predicted all this in a March story with an ominous headline, “There will be no winners in Sixers-Nets trade if James Harden leaves this summer without an NBA title.” Pompey wrote:

Who will ultimately win the James Harden and Ben Simmons trade?

There’s a belief around the NBA that Harden will opt out of his $35.6 million player option with the 76ers and head back to the Houston Rockets in free agency. There’s also a belief that the Sixers won’t advance beyond the second round of the upcoming playoffs...

So right now, the Sixers are winning the trade. But if they don’t win the championship and Harden leaves, both teams lose.

Or as Lewis wrote at the end of his story...

Neither [the Nets] nor the 76ers can walk away saying they won this trade. If Harden ends up returning to Houston — playing at home, alongside the picks he was traded for — the Rockets might be the real winners.

Bottom line: winners and losers in NBA trades are not determined in the first days, weeks or months following a deal. At the time of the trade, with Harden publicly lobbying for a change, it looked like the Nets won it. Since then, the pendulum swung wildly with some suggesting it was the worst trade ever (It wasn’t. Another Nets trade won that trophy 10 years ago.) Now, who knows.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

We noted this week that draftniks believe Leonard Miller, the 6’10” forward who played for G League Ignite this season, will wind up in Brooklyn and, per Alex Schiffer, the Nets have interest in Emoni Bates, the one-time high school phenom who’s fallen on hard times.

So, let’s take a look at Jalen Hood-Schifino, a 6’6” freshman combo guard from Indiana, who two mock drafts like for the Nets at Nos. 21 or 22. In various mocks, he’s been mentioned as high as No. 11 and as low as No. 27. Opinions — and assessments of his readiness — vary.

He’s a big guard and we know how the Nets love big guards, but he’s also has been accused of “lackadaisical” play and we know how that turns off the Nets.

In the middle of the draftnik pack is Kevin Sweeney, who has JHS at No. 20.

I’m torn on how to evaluate Hood-Schifino as an NBA prospect. There are plenty of pros: above-average positional size, solid defensive instincts and an advanced midrange game. At the same time, Hood-Schifino lacks the burst to create separation from defenders and isn’t necessarily a primary ballhandler in the NBA. As long as he shoots it well, he’ll have a long career and might be worthy of a lottery pick. But there’s also some real downside here that caused me to move him down to the late teens.

Here’s some highlights...

No word on whether JHS will be in for a workout at HSS. His the latest info from Hoopshype on who’s been in and who is scheduled.

Meanwhile, Brian Lewis has joined John Hollinger in the belief that the Nets will trade one of their first rounders for more immediate help.

Many throughout the league who spoke with The Post believe the Nets are likely to move one of those picks in a trade to find either a proven scorer or rebounder.

The Nets traded the 19th pick in a complicated three-team deal in 2019, giving up the rights to the pick which turned into Saddiq Bey and Dzanan Musa in return for Bruce Brown and Landry Shamet. But that was more of a salary dump as the Nets cleared space for the Clean Sweep a week later.

Do Joe and Clara still want a superteam?

The Nets are going to build organically, be patient, give the core of last year’s team another chance with some changes, of course. That’s the Brooklyn mantra and there’s no indication (yet) that Joe and Clara Wu Tsai want to go that superteam route again.

Unless ... you look at what they are doing with their other club, the New York Liberty. Both the New York Times and ESPN had in-depth stories this week about the extent the couple went to stock the Liberty roster with superstars.

As Kurt Streeter of the Times wrote of Wu Tsai’s trip to Istanbul in January where Breanna Stewart was playing for Fenerbahce in the women’s Euroleague competition ...

Wu Tsai, who owns the Liberty with her husband, Joe Tsai, went there to chase Breanna Stewart, the off-season’s most coveted free agent. Accompanied by her team’s coach and general manager, Wu Tsai pitched Stewart in the middle of her Euroleague season with a team in Istanbul.

But Wu Tsai left the rest of the team’s brass behind as she made the final push. She rented an 80-foot tour boat and took Stewart, Stewart’s wife, Marta Xargay, and the couple’s 1-year-old daughter, Ruby, for a cruise. Gliding through the Bosporus, Wu Tsai reeled in Stewart, the two-time league most valuable player, with questions.

”When you have that amount of time,” Wu Tsai told ESPN’s Alex Phillippou, “You can pretty much just talk about anything.” And talk they did.

“The way that she came all the way to Istanbul, really getting to know my family, Marta and Ruby, and taking us on an experience through the Bosphorus, she knows what hits close to home,” Stewart told Phillippou . “And she made it a point for it to be important for her too.”

“I’m invested in her and her family, and she needs to be happy,” Wu Tsai added. “Things need to work out for her family in New York in order for this to be successful. It was not only getting to know Stewie on a personal level, but also Marta and Ruby, and of course I was able to observe an incredible, powerful partnership between her and Marta.”

Wooing Stewart was only the first step of the Liberty rebuild which began with the Tsais buying the franchise from MSG in 2019, moving the team from the Westchester County Center to Barclays in 2021 after the pandemic-induced “wubble.” Then, the last couple of months, they traded for Jonquel Jones and signed Courtney Vandersloot, arguably the best big and best point guard in the WNBA.

As Phillippou wrote, the Tsais rolled out the red carpet for all three both before and after they decided on New York. She cited how the Liberty treated Jones her first day as a Lib at Barclays Center.

The franchise served Bahamian food at her introductory news conference and invited members of the New York Bahamian Consulate. Touring the home locker room for the first time, Jones remarked, “This is what a professional locker room looks like.” And the adjacent player lounge stocked with snacks and liquid fuel — the first she’s had in the pros. When she was sick and congested upon her arrival to New York, she was offered a stint in the sauna and gladly accepted.

Little things but they matter.

Both the Times and ESPN noted the recruiting role played by the Tsais’ willingness to pay a big fine by quietly chartering jets for their team two years ago in violation of WNBA rules. League officials ultimately found out and after considering taking the Liberty away from the Tsais, they ultimately settled on fining the team $500,000. Streeter wrote of that decision:

Tsai bristled at the limitation. So in 2021, he paid for the Liberty to use private jets, then shielded that fact from the league until the team was caught. The result: a $500,000 fine, the biggest in league history. Perhaps not unrelated: In 2021, the Liberty made the playoffs for the first time in five years and then repeated that feat in 2022.

The fine was steep, but a point was made by the Tsais, loud and clear: Travel conditions must evolve. For now, the league has settled on a partial change, allowing teams to charter flights for the playoffs and a small number of games during the regular season.

It was a big fine but a great investment. Stewart said it was a big part of her decision to join New York. As she told the Times.

Stewart, a vice president of the players’ union, has also been one of the league’s most vocal proponents for chartered flights, a factor she said played into her free agency decision.

There are a number of takeaways from the two stories. Yes, the WNBA isn’t the NBA. Acquiring the best talent is a lot easier and infinitely less expensive. With only 12 teams, you can make a big splash faster in the W than in the L.

Still, the Nets, like the Liberty, have placed a premium on treating players well and see it as the best recruiting tool in a competitive marketplace. Perhaps that was wasted on some of the superstars the Nets chose or wasn’t appreciated enough. But as the pursuit of Stewart, Jones and Vandersloot showed, it is still the priority for the Tsais whether it’s the WNBA or NBA.

Mikal Bridges certainly appreciates how they operate as he said this week in his interview with Spencer Davies of Hoop Herald.

“Joe Tsai’s a nice guy. His family’s sweet. I love his wife. His kids are really cool. They’re great people, man,” said Bridges. “They love the city of Brooklyn and they just want to do whatever it takes for the fans. They’re just great. They welcomed me with open arms and it’s been literally ever since.”

“Sean Marks is a really good dude. I like ’em a lot. I don’t know, you hear the whole thing about what’s going on in Brooklyn and how people don’t like this and that. But I’m just like, these people are great. They’re great people.”

“It’s cool. I like the city a lot,” he added.

Like Sabrina Ionescu did with the Liberty, Bridges will likely be called on to recruit for the Nets if not this off-season, then next. He is under contract through 2026.

Tragedy in Taiwan with a Nets connection

Taiwan has become a new venue for basketball players who still want to play at a high level and make decent money in hopes of maybe returning to the NBA. Dwight Howard played there this season. So did Jeremy Lin.

Last Sunday though may have signaled the end of Lin’s career as a basketball player, the result of an inadvertent elbow thrown by his former teammate, Chris McCollough. Here’s how Yahoo! Sports described what happened.

Lin, 34, was injured while contesting a rebound against his former Brooklyn Nets teammate Chris McCullough, who now plays for the Formosa Taishin Dreamers.

As McCullough was coming down from his jump, his elbow inadvertently collided with Lin’s face, causing the latter to collapse to the ground and hit his head.

Jeremy Lin suffered a head injury during a game in Taiwan after being elbowed in the face and hitting his head on the court.

While still in a daze, Lin was able to get up from the court with help. He was taken to a local hospital for medical attention and was later spotted back on the bench watching his team lose against the Formosa Taishin Dreamers.

Post-game, Lin said there’s no guarantee he’ll be back on the court.

“I can’t promise that I will continue to play ball next year,” Lin told reporters. “This is something that is decided year-by-year.”

Lin thanked his fans for their support, but didn’t make any promises...

Final Note

Yup, the Nets should have kept Bruce Brown who has been more than a glue guy for the Denver Nuggets now up 3-0 in the Western Conference Finals. Whether the Nets decided on Royce O’Neale over him or decided to pay Patty Mills what they could have paid Brown, this post-season has shown the 6’4” Brown can be a key player for any team on both sides of the floor. Brown has said that the Nets never made him an offer last summer which upset him. On the other hand, he appreciated what the Nets did for him under Steve Nash, turning his career from journeyman to rotation player on a title contender.

Good Luck to him.