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Off-Season Report - No. 2

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.

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Not a lot of news this week as the focus is firmly on the NBA playoffs. (We’re kidding.)

The Nets shook up their coaching staff, ditching three assistants and pursuing James Borrego, who was Jacque Vaughn’s lead assistant in Orlando before a head coaching gig with the Hornets. Sean Marks got a first place vote in the Executive of the Year balloting and Ben Simmons committed to the Australian national team in their pursuit of the FIBA World Cup gold come August.

The Simmons news probably is the most impactful. It means that Simmons believes he will be able to play competitive basketball on a tight schedule after not suiting up since mid-February, that he believes he will no longer be troubled by the nerve impingement that’s a side effect of the back surgery he underwent a year ago this week, believes he’s ready to commit, pass a test ... and he knows it.

As Brian Lewis reported Saturday:

Both Nets sources and others close to Simmons expect him to avoid another operation, the latter adding, “The group around Ben has noticed a complete change in Ben’s focus and mentality through this rehab and how he’s attacked it and engaged with everything.”

On Monday, Basketball Australia posted a 13-man World Cup roster and Simmons wasn’t on it. However, as BA noted, the roster is “preliminary.” Final rosters aren’t required till closer to the August 25 Opening Day.

Also, Monday, Boomers head coach Brian Goorjian said that the only thing that is keeping off the final roster is his health. He called himself and the team, “hopeful, not dependent.”

“He didn’t finish the season due to some physical constraints,” told SEN, the Aussies’ national sports network. “He definitely wants to be part of this and is working right now to get healthy. We made a spot for him. If he’s available by the time of Cairnes camp we will put him in amd give him a good look. He’s obviously when he’s at this best, he’s something that could really help.

“The communication has been good He is that frame of mind that he wants to be part of this. He just needs to get healthy,” he added.

“I’m preparing with what we have here. But I am hopeful. I am not dependent. But I’m hopeful. The timing is right. it’s good for us, it’s good for him. Again, I’m not there, not around him on the day-to-day. and I know he’s working hard. It’s just if he’s healthy enough. Nothing else would hold him back.”

The Boomers begin their practices on August 1 in Cairns, where the Boomers have a training facility. Then, after two exhibition games in Melbourne the week of August 11, they fly first to Tokyo, then the Japanese island of Okinawa where they will open Cup play vs. Finland on August 25, then Germany on August 27 and Japan two days after that. They will have to finish the initial group phase in the top two in order to progress to the next round. Assuming they move on — and Australia is seeded No. 3 among 32 teams — the games will continue through September 10 when the new World Champ will be crowned in Manila.

Counting the exhibitions, a team reaching the Final Four will play 10 or 11 games in roughly three and a half weeks. And there will be a lot of travel across the Pacific. By that time the World Cup is over, Nets players will be gathering in Brooklyn for workouts prior to the start of training camp at the end of September.

There’s been no word out of HSS Training Center about Simmons plan, but there is a clear upside — assuming he’s cleared and ready to go — getting Simmons back on the court. Sean Marks said two weeks ago that the goal with Simmons is that “he’ll be back 100% probably by September 1.” There have been reports out of HSS Training Center that Simmons is doing well and will not need a second back surgery. Would moving to Australia in early August disrupt that timeline?

The other intriguing part of the Simmons news is that Australia’s head coach Brian Goorjian might use Simmons as a point forward or even a center. Andrew Gaze. the legendary Australian basketball player, told SEN radio that if Goorjian does convince Simmons to play, he could “bring him in to play the 4 or the 5, I think that would give us a look that is tasty.” It might also be a look the Nets would savor as well.

Putting aside the well-deserved skepticism about his prospects — “show me, show me in a game,” as Bobby Marks said of Simmons last week, his return to form would make the Nets a far more interesting team. Presuming the Nets re-sign Cam Johnson, Brooklyn would have a young and talented core of Simmons, Johnson and Mikal Bridges, all of whom will be 27 next season, as well as Nic Claxton, who just turned 24. You could do a lot worse, particularly considering the defensive possibilities.

Don’t expect anything Simmons does in the World Cup to dramatically alter his current trade value which is at an all-time low. However, but if he shows he’s on the road back to good health, good fortune, the February deadline could be interesting.

How interested are the Nets in Damian Lillard?

Speaking of trades, expect more reports of Nets interest in Damian Lillard who might finally tell the Blazers it’s time to push the button on a deal to get him someplace else. We have been told to pay attention to the rumors of Nets interest in the 32-year, seven-time All Star “because they’re accurate,” as one league source told us. The Nets, said this source, have “heavy interest” in Lillard. One source. And considering the close relationship between Lillard and Mikal Bridges, it seems Lillard would have mutual interest, assuming he wants out.

Of course, all that flies in the face of the general buzz Sean Marks created with his post-season press conference and before that in an interview with ESPN. In both, he said he hopes to hang on to his “core,” give them more time together. Of course, he also said that the Nets would be ready if a bigger opportunity came along. We don’t know what Marks means by his “core.” How big is it ... and would Marks be willing to sacrifice a piece, maybe Nic Claxton as the source suggested, for Lillard?

One thing to watch is the NBA Draft Lottery on May 16. The Blazers currently hold the fifth pick. If they move up to No. 1 or No. 2, could that mean anything to Lillard? Would he be more interested in staying put if he was going to team with Victor Wembanyama? Would the Blazers fully commit to a rebuild around Wemby or Scoot Henderson and be willing to send Lillard elsewhere?

We also believe that Lillard’s decision to show up at Barclays Center for Game 3 of the 76ers series was not as random as some have suggested. Chris Haynes of TNT reported that Lillard was only in the city because he was talking to his record company about his next album and only at Barclays because he couldn’t get Knicks tickets! Really? Well, Bridges said he knew before the game that Lillard would be courtside, then partied with Lillard post-game. We also read this week that Lillard and Bridges work out together in the off-season (along with Blazers Anfernee Simons and Nassir Little.) Doesn’t seem random to us and Haynes also admitted Lillard hadn’t attended another team’s game since entering the NBA.

The other side of the argument re Lillard, as Billy Reinhardt tweeted this week, is the prospect that the Nets might be interested in taking a shot at Giannis Antetokounmpo or Luka Doncic in a couple of years. Should they use all their assets, including the league’s fourth biggest stash of draft capital, for “lesser players?” (Brian Windhorst suggested this week that the Knicks are interested in Giannis saying while the New Yorkers are 97 percent focused on this year’s playoff prospects, they’re using the remaining three percent of their collective brain on the Bucks and getting the two-time MVP to The Garden.)

We anticipate a lot of rumors, some contradictory, between now and Draft Night on June 22. We hope we can sort them out.

Woj: CBA will make this ‘one of the most active trade summers’


Adrian Wojnarowski, speaking Thursday on ESPN, dropped a bomb without any players’ names attached but said WojBomb was just as explosive. The new CBA, whose full consequences have yet to understood, has surprised players, Woj said, in that the structure of the agreement is going to change how superteams are constructed, how they’re paid...

Bottom line is that the way the CBA is set up, teams with big payrolls could face enormous sanctions and not just in terms of money but flexibility. The NBA is finally understanding the super rich owners aren’t deterred by a hundred million dollar tax bill.

“What the league is finding out now is that it is going to be very difficult for teams like Phoenix, like Golden State, like the Clippers to have the highest payrolls in the league and have any flexibility on your roster,” said Woj.

“What the league wanted — they didn’t get a hard cap but they got something that might act like a hard cap — the league has wanted to spread the talent around the NBA. They want that third star for a team in another market. It’s going to be hard to have three stars, three max players. Phoenix is going to be facing that.

“You’re going to hear this term, ‘second apron’ — the second tax apron. You’re going to be hearing it over and over this summer because this is going to be one of the active trade summers in the league because teams are going to have to start getting their payrolls and rosters balanced out. You’re not going to see the veteran role players making significant salaries with superstars. If you’re going to pay two or three at the top, you’re going to have to have a less expensive roster down below.”

How will this affect the Nets? They are currently about $10 million below the luxury tax threshold. Signing Cam Johnson to a four-year $90 million deal starting at about $20 million, will put them over the threshold. Still, barring a big trade with the Nets taking on big new salary commitments, it is unlikely they will get to the second apron which is set at $17.5 million above the threshold. A Lillard trade, depending on how a deal is configured, could get them there.

How bad are the restrictions if the Nets or other teams go over the second apron. Here’s a summary from Hoops Rumors, based on analysis by The Athletic’s John Hollinger.

Penalties for exceeding the second apron include the loss of the mid-level exception, a ban on including cash as part of trades and the inability to accept more salary in a trade than the team sends out. A team in the second apron will also be unable to aggregate salary in trades and cannot trade its first-round pick seven years in the future (ie. its 2030 pick in 2023/24) or sign players on the buyout market.

Also, if a team exceeds the second apron and remains there in two of the four subsequent years, its frozen draft pick (the one that was initially seven years out) will get moved to the end of the first round, regardless of the team’s record in that season.

It would seem that the Nets wouldn’t want to go THERE, certainly not in a rebuild or retool, (particularly when as Billy Reinhardt tweeted, superstars may be available down the line.) The Nets seem to be a good spot with their current big star, Mikal Bridges, on a nice deal but not a max. Johnson presumably too. They lost two of their max deals with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving moving on, leaving only Ben Simmons with a max. They will probably have to deal with the second apron s a year from now when Nic Claxton will be eligible for and — barring the unforeseen — will get the max or very close. Assuming Simmons, Bridges and Johnson are all on the roster, things will get tight and decisions will have to made.

As for the specifics of how the CBA could affect Brooklyn, we started writing up an analysis on the subject but gave up because we don’t have all the details ... nor knowledge of the unintended consequences. They will dribble out between now and free agency ... just like Woj’s comment that the new CBA will lead to a lot of trades.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

Word is leaking out about which draft prospects are showing up and showing off their wares at HSS Training Center. The Nets don’t announce who’s in for a workout, but often the player’s agent or the player himself will tell the media where he’s been, where’s he going. One prospect who dropped by Industry City this week is a Big Ten power forward, Coleman Hawkins. Hawkins is being mocked late in the second round where the Nets have the 51st pick.

The 6’10” Hawkins played for Illinois and had a respectable year, averaging 9.9 points, 6’3 rebounds with shooting splits of 44/28/61. His calling card is his passing, averaging three assists a game. He can also play solid defense, averaging 1.2 blocks and 1.1 steals for the Illini. He has also been described as “pesky” and “aggressive.”

Basketball is in his blood. His great-uncle, Tom Hawkins, played 10 years in the NBA after a collegiate career at Notre Dame and his father, Rodney Hawkins, played college basketball at San Diego State and had some overseas gigs as well. He’s one of nine children and three of his sisters also played college ball.

Hawkins is the kind of guy who could fit into the new third two-way slot allotted under the new CBA. The Nets currently have one two-way, RaiQuan Gray, under contract next year, giving them two spots to fill. The new CBA also permits teams to sign second rounders to deals using a new second round exception. That way, if a team wants to sign a player taken in the second round to more than the the rookie minimum or for more than two seasons, it must use cap room or an exception such as the mid-level.

Final Note

The Nets video team, which has done such great work all season, has posted all of its “On Location” episodes in one place. Whether you enjoyed the season or not. enjoy the hard work.