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J.R. Holden hopes his two hats result in a solid draft ... and G League finds

NBA: G League Combine David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets brain trust was in Chicago a week ago for the G League Combine, then the NBA Combine which ran all last week. One key player out there for both camps was J.R. Holden, who wears two hats for the Nets: GM of the Long Island Nets and scouting director of the Brooklyn Nets.

Holden liked what he saw.

“Having went to the combine for the ‘G’ and the NBA, there is a lot of young talent that could help our organization. This draft has everything. Shooting, athleticism, guys with high basketball IQ. We will continue to build our team with talented players and good people off the court.”

The NBA Combine is always important, of course, but this year the G League Combine is more important than usual. The new CBA permits NBA teams to sign three, rather than two, two-ways. And two-ways have a couple of big advantages for teams looking for the proverbial diamond-in-the-rough: they cost half the league minimum and even that isn’t carried on team payrolls or salary cap. So if you can find a two-way who’s a contributor at the NBA level, it’s a big bonus especially with the new CBA putting a lot of restrictions on teams with big payrolls. The same is true of whoever Brooklyn takes at No. 21, 22 and 51. They’ll all be reasonably priced.

“Our core values are going to stay the same,” Holden told NetsDaily in talking about his two hats. “I believe when you develop players you are going to win. Because when you are developing players you are developing mindsets that we are going to do everything together.

“There is no disconnection between Brooklyn and Long Island,” added Holden.

Of course, the primary goals of Brooklyn and Long Island are different. The senior team’s priority is winning now, the junior team’s is development.

“Our expectations was to not get the first seed or even get the championship, our goal rather was to get better collectively,” said Holden, talking about this past season’s success in Long Island. “I felt like the No. 1 thing for me was to put our players and coaches in a better situation than they may have been the previous year. All of us came everyday with a certain level of gratitude, wanting to grind, and to reach our goals, and all of our players and coaches were able to be a part of that.”

Long Island is indeed coming off a solid season. They may have lost in the Eastern Conference Finals, but they developed players who wound up on the final Nets roster. More than that, Ronnie Burrell won G League Coach of the Year honors while Holden finished second in Executive of the Year.

So, with the NBA Draft on the horizon, the Brooklyn/Long Island Nets conglomerate is looking not just for draft picks on the night of June 22, but also two-ways who they can sign as as soon as later that night. RaiQuan Gray, who spent two years on Long Island, has one of the three two-way spots. The other two are up for grabs. If the Nets keep the 51st pick, the player selected down there is likely to spend time in Long Island as well. The Nets did that with Gray who was taken at No. 59 in 2021, played two years for Long Island before getting signed to a two-way the last week of the regular season.

It’s all part of the mission to rejuvenate a franchise that’s trying to find their way past the Big Three era. With the way both teams are structured, the main goal is to develop players from wherever you can find them, whether in the draft or on the current roster, to their maximum potential so that winning at the NBA level is the ultimate priority.

Moreover, as Sean Marks has said, he wants Long Island not just to be a testing ground for players but also coaches and executives. According to several reports, Burrell appears headed for a spot on Brooklyn’s bench where he will join Adam Caporn, who was Long Island’s coach two years ago before he was elevated. And Mike Scotto of Hoopshype reported this week that a third former Long Island head coach, Will Weaver, may also be joining Brooklyn’s staff.

Throughout the last few years, the Nets have done a solid job in evolving players through their system, in growing their athletes between Long Island and Brooklyn. David Duke Jr., who is on Brooklyn’s roster, is the most recent example. He’s played 45 NBA games the last two seasons, providing some solid defense and this season, he was First Team All-G League this year after averaging 22.5 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.8 assists and 1.9 steals in 22 games for Long Island.

“Our goal no matter what is to get our guys to the next level. For example, when you get a guy like David Duke Jr. and he comes to the Island, we develop him and let him grow, which he can take with him when he returns to Brooklyn. The same thing applies to Dru Smith, who we got in the middle of the year. Seeing him go back and forth and seeing his success was great. I think it’s always a checkmark or confirmation when we see our guys succeed, because it lets us know that we are doing the right thing.”

Duke Jr. is not the only player on Brooklyn’s roster who spent time at Nassau Coliseum. Nic Claxton got burn there in 2020. Day’Ron Sharpe averaged a double-double in Long Island last season — 19.0 points and 13.3 rebounds — while trying to hone skills like his 3-point shooting. The Nets also liked guards Dru Smith and Alondes Williams, both of whom were on two-way deals and had brief stints in Brooklyn.

Despite having plentiful success so far, Holden makes sure that he’s giving his best to players across the entire organization. He is on hand for Draft prospects’ workouts at HSS Training Center, not just looking for Long Island possibilities as G League GM but also as Brooklyn’s scouting director in charge of scouts around the country and overseas.

Holden knows a lot about European basketball as well as the G League and NCAA. He had a great resume’ as an international player, winning a total of 12 national championships in Greece, Belgium, Latvia and Russia where he played for CSKA Moscow when it was owned by Mikhail Prokhorov. He also hit the dagger in the 2007 FIBA Europe championship, upsetting Spain.

With a lot of incoming draft prospects looking to land themselves on an NBA or G League roster, it is important to them (and their families) to know what kind of organization is picking them up. The kind of team that will draft or sign them will likely decide on how their careers can take shape in the near future, so the level of importance given their development is paramount. Whoever winds up in training camp whether at HSS or the Long Island facility at Yes We Can Community Center in Westbury knows they’re joining an organization that prioritizes communication between its team and its affiliate, in which Holden expresses passionately.

“Whether it leads to a player getting a better contract or a better G-League contract, my job is to help make people better and help the team,” he said.

As the Heat has proved in this year’s post-season, the strategy can be a big winner for everyone. The Heat have seven undrafted players on their roster and three of them have contributed big-time to Miami’s success.

For next year, it will be interesting to see what both Brooklyn and Long Island do with their new additions. After the last two years of up and down, fans are expecting to see impactful changes that will lead the organization to ultimate success what were promised seasons ago.

So, it’s going to be up to Holden to feed the Nets pipeline to spark positive things in the future.