clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 9

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.


As @NetsVibes (aka “lets’ get hurt again”) wrote when he posted the image accompanying this story, “We move.”

In the first transactions since the Nets ended the “Big Three” era at last February’s trade deadline, Sean Marks & co. didn’t make any massive changes to the roster. There were no trades of veterans, no swings for the fences to acquire a star or superstar, no moving up or down the Draft board, but rather just a workmanlike, some might say boring, Draft Night in which the Nets methodically chose three new players at Nos. 21, 22 and 51. It was all incremental and that’s what we think we should expect not just in the days and weeks ahead but in the overall retool/rebuild: incremental change.

It’s not as if there was no signaling ahead of the Draft. In an interview with ESPN, then a press conference back in April, the Nets GM talked about his philosophy of giving the team core another chance —without defining said core — then followed those words with actions. First, there was the hiring of a coaching staff heavy on player development skills. Now, with the Draft, we have even more tangible evidence of where things stand. Brooklyn took two very young (more on that later) players in the first round and a college junior who has a NCAA title and First Team All-American on his resume’.

“Sean and I talked about keeping people in the building who want to be here, who fit being here in our building, who fit our culture,” Vaughn said the day after the Draft. “It was designed that way with these three men. So whether they were 18 or [had spent five years in college], I don’t think it mattered. We had some people that we targeted, and fortunate enough that people were there that we liked.”

Was that a slap at the recently departed? How could it not be? Marks, Vaughn and the rest of us went through an era of frustration, exhaustion, even anger, with Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and James Harden all asking out. As proficient a gathering of offensive talent as the NBA has ever seen, they ended their time in Brooklyn with only a single advance to the second round and two first round sweeps.

The Nets, according to Marks, had “a lot of conversations ahead of the draft” and there were enough rumors out there to suggest he was not exaggerating the phone traffic between HSS Training Center and the 29 other war rooms across the league. None of the conversations came to fruition, however.

We have written a lot about Noah Clowney, the skinny Alabama big taken with the first of four Suns picks acquired in the KD trade; Dariq Whitehead, the proud Newark native whose college career at Duke was thwarted by foot and leg injuries; and Jalen Wilson, the Big 12 Player of the Year whose “old man” game could flourish in the right circumstances. None are guaranteed success, and certainly not immediately. Clowney and Whitehead are, as Vaughn noted, 18 years old, Wilson the ripe old age of 22. They might all at one point or another wind up in the G League. Marks also said he would not limit their potential when asked about what he thought they could in their rookie year.

Marks also talked about where he thinks the organization is headed, putting the franchise somewhere between a complete rebuild and continued relevance.

“Our timeline — we’re going to compete,” Marks said after the draft. “That’s what we’re here for. I’m not going to sit here and say that we’re a contender overnight. But I think we’ve shown the ability, as an organization, to pivot and compete, potentially quicker than we probably were thought.

“At the end of the day, with a new CBA, a new group, some really good returners, let’s let these guys develop. A new coaching staff, let’s let them put their fingerprints all over this group and see where it goes in the next couple months, then a couple years and go from there.”

As @NetsVibes wrote, “We move.” How fast? Don’t know, but overall, Marks said he was “very, very happy” with the way things worked out on Thursday. Maybe that’s hype. GMs talk like that on Draft Night, but we won’t have long to wait to see if he’s right. Summer League begins July 7 in Las Vegas.

How young?

We have noted that Dariq Whitehead is the youngest player ever drafted by the Nets in New Jersey or Brooklyn and that Noah Clowney is the third youngest. We based that the relative birthdays of the duo and that of Derrick Favors, the 6’10” forward the Nets took in the 2010 Draft then traded away in the Deron Williams deal months later. All three were 18 at the time of their Drafts, not turning 19 until August 1 in Whitehead’s case, July 15 in Favors’ case and July 14 in Clowney’s.

But nerds that we are, we did a little more research since Thursday night and measured their ages on the Draft Night when they were picked. In that calculation, Whitehead and Clowney are the two youngest players ever drafted. (Favors’ Draft was a couple of days later than this year’s.)

So here’s the final numbers.

Whitehead was 18 years, 327 days old when he was selected on June 22, 2023.

Clowney was 18 years, 342 days old when he was selected on June 22, 2023

Favors was 18 years, 344 days old when he was selected on June 24, 2010.

Using that calculation, Whitehead and Clowney are the two youngest players drafted in team history. Also, as one draftnik noted, Whitehead was also the youngest player taken in the first round. Of course that matters. When their guaranteed rookie contracts run out on June 30, 2027, they will be only 22 and hopefully, already established NBA players but no where near the peak of their careers.

One other Draft note: The Nets have yet to finalize any Exhibit 10 deals, that is training camp invites. And unlike last year, when they signed Alondes Williams to a two-way deal on Draft Night then had to waive him in January. Williams stayed on with Long Island on their great run ... and actually improved. So expect a delay, maybe even some competition.

Joe Tsai’s new role and uncertainty

The other big news this week, obscured by the Draft, was Joe Tsai becoming chairman of Alibaba, the company he co-founded and the source of much of his wealth. In Asia and in the stock markets of New York and Hong Kong, it was big news. It signaled that Alibaba had chosen Tsai to get it out of his nearly three-year decline. From November 2020, when the stock peaked at $317 a share to this weekend when it cratered to $84.92, the so-called Amazon of China has seen some hard times.

Part of its decline was due to China’s general economic woes, part due to the Chinese Communist Party’s clampdown on tech, but the competition has also caught up with ‘Baba. Tsai’s elevation was accompanied by the return of Jack Ma, the charismatic teacher-turned-entrepreneur who played the biggest role in Alibaba’s emergence. Ma had been until recently in sort of exile, spending much of his time in Japan. His flamboyant and often unrestrained style had angered the party.

Tsai’s elevation was a bit of a surprise and there were reports that Beijing played a role in the change. Getting China’s economy back to its pre-COVID levels of growth is driving a lot of domestic policy and the return of Tsai and Ma signaled the party and government are willing to let bygones be bygones and reverse the clampdown. It won’t be easy. As Nikkei, the Japanese wire service reported, the world and China have changed since Tsai and Ma launched Alibaba.

As we’ve reported, it seemed like Tsai was stepping back from Alibaba, having his family investment vehicle and the Nets parent company, Blue Pool Capital, first divest itself of all U.S. stock holdings, then invest heavily in New York City real estate, buying two units at 220 Central Park South for more than $300 million, as well as a wide portfolio of other investments from a chain of hotels in Spain and Portugal to start-ups in bio-tech and ravel. Separate from Blue Pool Capital, Tsai agreed to sell eight percent of his personal Alibaba holdings — roughly a quarter billion dollars — with the help of Morgan Stanley, the big investment bank.

So, how all will this affect the Nets? It certainly means Tsai will be devoting more time to Alibaba which is headquartered in Huangzhou on China’s Pacific coast, a long, long plane ride from Brooklyn. Beyond that, there’s little certainty as to how much things will change. Tsai has worked closely with Sean Marks on every aspect of team building (and the reverse.) The likelihood, though, is that the effect will be less dramatic than one might expect.

One reason is that Clara Wu Tsai has played a larger role in the management of both the Nets and Liberty. She was absolutely critical to the recruitment of the Liberty’s “Big Three” and has a good relationship with Nets players as well. Mikal Bridges recently called her a “favorite” and the Tsais “good people.”

On Friday, Wu Tsai was in Aspen, Colorado, speaking on women’s sports and talked about how she and Joe had decided early on to treat the Nets and Liberty in the same way, improving facilities, treatment, training and amenities, including travel...

And next month, she’ll appear at a CNBC event on sports business with Stan Kroenke, owner of the Denver Nuggets, rapper and entrepreneur Travis Scott and a former employee of hers, Kevin Durant. The event is in partnership with Boardroom, KD’s media business.

As we’ve reported before Wu Tsai has played an increasingly more public role and now with her husband facing new challenges in China, expect that role to grow. One thing to look for is her official title. While she is listed as co-governor of the Liberty, she does not hold that same role with the Nets. That could change.

Ben Simmons Update

We thought Patty Mills might share an update Saturday on Ben Simmons availability for the FIBA World Cup when he dedicated a new mural on the side of P.S. 958 in Sunset Park, a short walk or drive from HSS Training Center. As we reported, he was asked but he didn’t add much to what we already know.

“It still feels like weeks away yet, but from all accords and from what I’ve heard, he’s looking after his body, and getting into his shape and healthy that everyone wants him and needs him to be,” said Mills of someone whose family he’s known since Simmons was a child.

“So first and foremost for him it’s getting to that part where he can be Ben again,” Mills added. “Obviously, a full off-season of rehab, of healthy workouts both in the gym and on the court is what he’s looking at. From what I’ve heard, he’s looking good, feeling good but we’ll see how we roll out from then but until then, I think we’ll have to wait and see.”

We found it interesting that Mills quoted what he has heard apparently from others whether they might be the teammates who are working out with him in Miami or officials in Basketball Australia. He didn’t quote Simmons himself. But Mills is ever the diplomat so maybe he didn’t want to share anything personal.

Meanwhile, there was a lot of tabloid and social media attention to a conversation that Malika Andrews and J.J. Redick had on Draft Night about Simmons. Andrews, ESPN’s former Nets beat writer, asked Redick, Simmons former teammate, about the Nets prospects, which Redick noted were positive, citing the two first rounders, Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, Nic Claxton etc.. But he didn’t mention Simmons and it quickly became awkward when Andrews noted he didn’t mention Simmons...

As with anything Simmons-related, it quickly became exaggerated. As the Post reported:

“I still believe in him,” said Redick, certainly representing the minority when it comes to the league’s feelings on the Australian.

There is a bit of hope when it comes to Simmons, though, as he posted photos of himself working out in Miami on Instagram last week.

“Just chumming the water,” a bulked-up Simmons wrote as the caption.

Redick is not just a former teammate. Simmons gave his first big interview to Redick’s Old Man and the Three podcast last September. Was it a diss? Or simply an acknowledgement that it’s been a while since anyone has seen Simmons play and until he’s back, whether for the Boomers or Nets, he’s just not that relevant. So again, we wait. Australia opens its training camp for the FIBA World Cup team August 1, “still a few weeks away,” as Mills put it.

Stash Report

When Spencer Dinwiddie was traded to the Wizards in a five-team deal back in August 2021, one of the assets the Nets got in return was the draft rights to Nikola Milutinov, the 7’0” Serbian center who was taken by the Spurs in the first round of the 2015 NBA Draft but never signed by San Antonio. A traditional, back-to-the-basket European center, there was some interest in whether the 26-year-old then playing for CSKA Moscow would come over and play for the Nets.

It seemed unlikely at the time. Milutinov was making $2.5 million net of taxes in Europe making him the second highest paid player on the continent and he seemed happy to stay in Europe. Moreover, his limitations were such that he wouldn’t command as much money on the NBA market as he would in Europe.

Now, it’s pretty much official. Milutinov signed a Euroleague contract with Olimpiakos of Greece where he played when the Spurs drafted him.

He got less money this time around $1.4 million but he’s returning to Greece where he maintained his homes while in Russia. His new deal is for two years and that will take him to age 30. It’s hard to imagine the Nets whose big men are athletic 24-, 21- and 18-year-olds will have a need for him. The Nets will retain his rights and he could wind up as ballast in some future multi-team deal. You’ll be able to see him in August during the FIBA World Cup. He’s Nikola Jokic’s backup on the Serbian national team.

Meanwhile, a former Nets stash looks like he will be in the NBA next season. Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 6’9” power forward who the Nets drafted in the second round six years ago. was MVP of the Euroleague this season. The Nets held on to the Bulgarian big’s rights until 2021 when they were included in the trade that brought James Harden to Brooklyn going to Indiana in that multi-team deal. Indiana then shuffled off his rights to Sacramento and the Kings are pushing hard to get the 27-year-old to the NBA and may be willing to give him more than the MLE.

Final Note

We don’t know what the roster will look like in tenth edition of this year’s off season report but decisions will have to be made this week, starting with team options Thursday on David Duke Jr, who is on a vets minimum deal with Brooklyn and Dru Smith who is on a two-way deal . Then, next Friday is the opening of free agency. Hang on to your hats. We may have been wrong last week when we said the Draft could bring additional change to the roster. It’s hard to believe there won’t be changes to reports by next weekend.