More and more, NBA players off-season regimens are being posted on social media. We touched on that earlier Saturday in discussing Nic Claxton’s progress. So far this summer, we’ve seen a lot of interaction between Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson on Team USA. We’ve also seen Claxton, Spencer Dinwiddie and recently Trendon Watford working out in California, Ben Simmons, Dennis Smith Jr. and Royce O’Neale working out in Florida.
Claxton, Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Wilson were even mic’d-up by Nets social media at hometown camps in Greenville, S.C., Norfolk, Va. and Denton, Tex, respectively. Not to mention the group that showed up at Summer League to support the new guys. Whole lot of bonding going on in what look like player pods.
How valuable is chemistry, continuity for the Brooklyn Nets? A lot. One reason it’s so is the Nets high turnover. Since last February, the Nets have lost 10 of 15 players who were on standard deals, some lost to trade, others to the waiver wire. Gone, in basic chronological order, are Kessler Edwards, Kevin Durant, T.J. Warren, Kyrie Irving, Markieff Morris, Joe Harris, Patty Mills, Seth Curry, Yuta Watanabe and Edmond Sumner. (Those who remain? Claxton, Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe, Ben Simmons and Royce O’Neale, meaning a 24-year-old and two 21-year-olds are the senior men on the team.)
Now, four of the players who replaced them — Bridges, Johnson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith — all got the benefit of starting and playing 25+ games together in the Nets system at the end of the season. But still, that is one hell of a turnover going back to the trade deadline, six months ago.
Is there enough chemistry and continuity to make a big improvement this season? There are plenty of deep stats showing how well the new guys played with the guys left over from the previous iteration of the team. But those are small samples and everyone, even the players themselves, had to expect a period of transition. Making a search for definitive data even less productive is the fact that the team simply didn’t have time to alter offensive schemes put in place for KD and Kyrie. Players were simply plugged in to those old schemes, replacements rather than treated as unique pieces with their own strengths and weakness. Ultimately, things were tweaked, improved. You live by learning.
It would appear that judging from all that video and other things that the Nets are creating a bond and with obvious leadership coming from Bridges and Johnson as well as Dinwiddie, the Nets eminence grise at 30. (Austin Reaves told SiriusXM radio this week that the Twins are also Team USA’s glue guys.)
It’s not just the videos. Bridges and others have commented about the positive group chat atmosphere despite players being so removed from each other geographically. Bridges specifically the role Simmons, supposedly the awkward outsider, plays.
“Ben is my guy, man. I got confidence, I got big faith in him this year,” Bridges told George on his Podcast*P show last month, offering a look inside the Nets off-season connectivity. “His back was messed up. Now that he’s got surgery and he’s getting back. He love the game, bro. I think he’s in a good place, f*cks with all of us like we’re close. He’s the one talking in the chat all the time and we all f*ck with him.”
Bridges along with Thomas, Johnson and Dinwiddie have publicly praised what Simmons has done while in Florida to get back on the court. Dennis Smith Jr. and O’Neale have joined with him in Miami.
New, of course, doesn’t always translate to successful and the Nets have lost a lot of talent and intangibles in their teardown. Of course, they will miss Durant most of all. Despite the complaints that KD was not a natural leader, he was demanding on the court and an example in practice. Nets officials could always point to him arriving at the gym two hours before the scheduled start time and ask other players, “why aren’t you doing that?” But then again, no one on this year’s team has made, then pulled, a trade request nor was anyone about to become entangled in yet another controversy that could warrant suspension.
The Nets still have a few other roster spots — a third two-way and three more camp invites — to fill before everyone starts to gather at HSS just after Labor Day. But at this point, things appear basically set and considering all of the turnover and turmoil, chemistry should be improved over last year’s training camp. That is a good thing.
Pivoting back to New Jersey
Ian Eagle was on with Mike and Jim of the Bad Weather Fans pod this week talking about a lot of things but much of what he had to say was about the Nets history and noted how the Nets have finally pivoted back to New Jersey after abandoning the state a decade back.
Ian Eagle on the Nets embracing their NJ roots! pic.twitter.com/9etNyGjzth— Mike Bisceglia (@MikeDeliversPod) August 18, 2023
“They were completely tossing the Jersey connection aside,” said Eagle who’s been with the team doing radio or TV for 29 years. “Truly, it was a conscious effort. And the last three years, something has changed. They have embraced their history more. You’ll see guys — Buck Williams and Kerry Kittles and Derrick Coleman and Kenny Anderson ... Otis Birdsong, even going back to that. stretch of time in Nets history.”
The jerseys too are a respectful throwback to the 35 years the Nets spent in New Jersey, he agreed.
“And it’s nice to see because there was successful basketball prior to Brooklyn and it should be celebrated and it certainly should be remembered. But in the early going, they went so far to pump up Brooklyn as the brand. Now, they’ve settled into ‘No, it’s the Brooklyn Nets. It’s not just Brooklyn. It’s also the Nets.”
Credit Joe and Clara Wu Tsai for the change.
Nets brass supporting Team USA
Just before game action began Friday night at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi, Joe Tsai and Sean Marks were escorted to their courtside seats by someone who seemed to be a UAE official and his young son. The four sat only a few feet from where Steve Kerr was coaching Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. After the win over Greece, everyone posted for pictures.
Having the team owner and GM sitting in such a prominent place near Team USA underscored that the brass is supporting their two young stars. We can’t say for sure but Jacque Vaughn and a Nets assistant or two might have been nearby. Jacque Vaughn and newly hired assistant coach Corey Vinson were in Malaga, Spain, for games vs. Slovenia and Spain, even went to the beach with Bridges and Johnson. Are there others, Nets aren’t saying. Marks is on the record saying he will be in Manila next weekend for the opening of the FIBA World Cup and Tsai’s office and residence are only short, two-hour hops across the South China Sea from the Philippine capital.
From ‘The Twelve,” two
USA Basketball is rolling out short bios on all twelve members of Team USA, calling them “The Twelve.” In each, the players are asked to talk about their first memories of basketball, specifically international ball. Both Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson chose the same same moment...
The two play again at noon ET Sunday on FOX Sports, this time vs. Germany.
High School reunions
When going through the schedule, you should also be mindful of the games where former high school teammates get it on, none more so than the Montverde national championship high school team of 2019-20 with its eight current or future NBA players, including two Nets players, Dariq Whitehead and Day’Ron Sharpe.
2019-20 roster— 94 Feet of Madness (@94Madnes1) August 17, 2023
Day’Ron Sharpe https://t.co/eTj8pvNBAD
The Pistons game on December 23 should see four of the Montverde alumni on the court: Cunningham and Duren as well as Sharpe and Whitehead. It’s also Joe Harris return.
Yup, they killed it
We thought we had examined and analyzed the 2023-24 schedule completely in order to present a comprehensive look at the season ahead. But, alas, we forgot the comedic possibilities. Nets social media did not. Yup, they killed it.
First, there was Tony award-winning Brooklyn actor and Nets fan Jeffrey Wright reading the schedule, one game at a time in a voice so level, so luxuriant that it is noise-cancelling without the head sets.
And if that wasn’t enough, there was this: Nets staffers took their camera(s) to Coney Island to ask Brooklyn beach goers and tourists alike to identify NBA team logos. Comedy gold.
The video was also posted on the Nets Chinese language site on Weibo, with subtitles. That’s nearly seven million potential viewers right there.
We tend to agree with those fans who believe the guy in the orange True Religion t-shirt knew all of them, but went along with the gag. He contributed our favorite description? “Two question marks trying to make love.” Check out the video to see what team will now carry that imprint.
It’s catching on
When a Japanese national team wing hit a three late in Japan’s exhibition game loss to France a couple of days ago, he smiled and flashed a Mikal Bridges three sideways three sign. It was as much a tribute to Yuta Watanabe, Bridges’ teammate last year, as it was to the creator of the sideways three. And Watanabe decided he needed to post it...
I expect FIBA fans will master it by the World Cup Finals in early September.
Lots going on Sunday early. At 11:00 a.m. ET, Nets fans are invited to the Ticketmaster Plaza, formerly the New York Daily News plaza, the Resorts World Casino Plaza and Seat Geek Plaza, (as Norman Oder has noted accurately.) Entrance is open to the public and free of charge as are food and beverage. Buck Williams and Albert King will do a meet-and-greet at noon and the Nets three rookies — Noah Clowney, Dariq Whitehead and Jalen Wilson — will arrive at 1:00 p.m. There will be entertainment as well, including Brooklyn rapper Lola Brooke who is scheduled to appear at 4:00 p.m.
While that is going on, Team USA will be playing the German national team headlined by Dennis Schroeder of the Raptors and the Wagner brothers, Franz and Moritz of the Magic. The game starts at 12 noon ET on FOX Sports. Wonder if you’ll be able to watch at the Ticketmaster party.