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NetsDaily Off-Season Report - No. 18

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 Draft 2017 Photo by Mohammed Elshamy/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Stuff is happening, but most of it is taking place elsewhere, in Manila, Miami, and L.A. where Nets players are either balling or training. The number of players working out at HSS is small and will be for another week or so. Expect everyone who’s been out there in those training “pods” to return to Brooklyn around Labor Day, a little later for those who are competing at the FIBA World Cup.

Also, don’t expect anything special in terms of filling out the roster until after Sean Marks & co. return from Manila around September 11. The Nets currently have a two-way slot open as well as three Exhibit 10s. Same goes with any extension discussions with Spencer Dinwiddie. There’s no rush. With a player on an expiring deal, like Dinwiddie, the two sides can go into the season with things unresolved. It’s different for players who have more than a year remaining on their deals. There’s an October 23 deadline.

The two-ways and camp invites are, of course, the foundation pieces for the Long Island Nets who start their season two weeks after the big club. The two-ways are signed primarily to play for G League teams. What normally happens with the camp invites is that they get waived early, then assigned to G League contracts. Up to four camp invites can be assigned that way. Invites also get bonuses of anywhere between $5,000 and $75,000, subject to negotiation. That max is a $25,000 boost from the old CBA. Neither two-way deals nor Exhibit 10 bonuses count against the salary cap.

At this point, we know the identity of one camp invite: Patrick Gardner of Marist and the Egyptian national team. Kennedy Chandler, the former Memphis Grizzlies point guard who started for the Nets Summer League team, was back home in Grind City recently telling local media he’s spending more time with his “new team” ... presumably Brooklyn. Another possibility is D.J. Stewart, a 6’6” shooting guard who Long Island acquired from the Sioux Falls Skyforce, the Heat affiliate, in a trade for Alondes Williams, the Nets two-way last season. Stewart averaged 21 points for Sioux Falls then played a limited role with the Wizards in Las Vegas and some summer ball with Marineros de Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic. Chandler is only 20 and his salary the next two years — a total of $3.7 million — will be paid by the Grizzlies no matter whether he plays or not. Stewart, a product of Mississippi State, is 24, both in the Nets timeline.

As for the two-way, we assume that the Nets are doing what they often do, wait till the last minute to survey who’s out there, who’s left, who’s been cut but are still NBA quality players. The Thunder, for example, has had to cut three players, including big Usman Garuba and PG TyTy Washington, in the last 10 days to get to the 21-player maximum heading into camp.

Otherwise, Brooklyn’s only roster question, barring a trade, is whether they keep Darius Bazley and Trendon Watford, both of whom aren’t guaranteed until Opening Night at which point their guarantees reach $200,000. Are the two 6’9” bigs in competition for a single spot, meaning that one of the two-ways or someone not yet on the radar could wind up with a standard deal? We don’t know. Could one of the two wind up with the other two-way? We don’t know that either. Currently, Jalen Wilson and Armoni Brooks are on two-way deals.

As we’ve noted before in this space, the Nets rotation seems pretty well set and this discussion is about the margins, but sometimes, fate plays a hand and players not expected to be a big part of a team’s plan will rise to the occasion. Think Bruce Brown in 2020-21. Brown didn’t play a second in preseason after he was acquired in an off-season trade but by January, he was a phenom, a 6’4” roaming center and king of the floater.

Friday as ‘ready’ day for Ben Simmons

Back in April, in his traditional end-of-season press conference, Sean Marks said the Nets team goal was for Ben Simmons to be “back 100% probably by September 1” and “ready to go” by training camp which starts a month and a day later.

Well, Friday is September 1 and we would expect that Marks, still in Manila at the FIBA World Cup, will be asked if Simmons is now 100%. The last time the GM spoke about Simmons publicly was back on July 9 at Summer League where he said that things were going well.

“He’s not doing 3-on-3 or 5-on-5 yet.” said Marks in Las Vegas. “I was down there two weeks ago with him and the training staff and saw the progress. Happy to report he’s in a great physical shape and also mentally. He’s rearing and champing at the bit to get out there,”

“We’ve got time,” he added. “This is not something where we’re going to rush him back in to play 5-on-5 in the next couple weeks. But he’s progressing — he’ll be ready to go hopefully very, very soon.”

Since then, there’s been little news out of Miami where Simmons has been working out with Royce O’Neale, Dennis Smith Jr. and at the beginning of the summer, David Duke Jr. At least one member of the Nets staff has also been on hand, just as Ryan Forehan-Kelly was last summer when Nic Claxton spent time in Texas. There’s still no word if he’s gone 3-on-3 or 5-on-5. The most recent video out of the University of Miami gym was from O’Neale this past week in which the Nets small forward said Simmons has been working hard then did a pan of the scene at the gym, showing Simmons, with a towel hanging around his shoulders across the court...

Not very edifying. So until we hear more, presumably from Marks, or see more, presumably from Simmons, fans will remain duly skeptical. The news all summer has been positive and not just from Marks, but Jacque Vaughn, Mikal Bridges and other teammates like O’Neale and Spencer Dinwiddie.

So, we shall see. In the meantime, we’re gathering up quotes announcing the premature end of Simmons career or worse, like this one from Stephen A. Smith after Simmons couldn’t suit up for Game 4 of the 2022 Celtics sweep of the Nets because of back pain.

“Nobody is worse than Ben Simmons. Ben Simmons might also be the weakest, most pathetic, excuse for a professional athlete we have ever seen in not just American history but the history of sports. I can’t think of a professional athlete that has come across more pathetic than this man,” said Stephen A.

Days after the sweep was complete, Simmons underwent back surgery, a pretty strong indication it was a physical issue. No one uses back surgery as an excuse. But as the Guardian of London wrote this week of Simmons, he has become “the most derided athlete in America.”

Of course, like everyone trying to hedge their bets (both ways) on Simmons, writer Aaron Timms held out hope for a return of glory in this fit of prose filled with sports analogies only Brits and Aussies could fully appreciate.

When he’s in form, Simmons is compulsively watchable, the closest thing basketball has to a big-screen attraction from cinema’s golden age – a kind of Marlon Brando of the offensive transition. He flows to the rim like flood water waltzing down a river, a fusion of grace, unhurried speed, and inevitable, awesome power. In his early career, Simmons was most often compared to LeBron James and Magic Johnson, and there was hope that he might develop into the NBA’s ultimate monster, a point guard with the physical presence of a “big”. But the best analogies for Simmons’s peculiar combination of elegance and strength probably come from other sports. Gliding toward the basket with molten cool, Simmons at his very best recalls the sweatless poise of Zinedine Zidane, the unsplashy authority of Ian Thorpe in the final straight, or West Indies cricketing great Michael Holding, floating towards the crease with silently murderous intent.

Okay, then! All that aside, we do find it a positive that three of the the Nets top defenders, Simmons, O’Neale and Smith Jr. are working out together in Miami. Can’t hurt.

What’s with this?

This caught our eye mid-week...

It seems rare that a player traded from the only team he ever played for would sit with the guy who dealt him ... in a public setting, no less. No, it’s not tampering. Finney-Smith won’t be a free agent until at least 2025 when he has a player option with the Nets. Might DFS be headed back to Dallas? Doubt it.

More likely, it is a simple acknowledgement that DFS was an very popular player in Dallas before he, Spencer Dinwiddie and three draft picks were sent to Brooklyn for Kyrie Irving. Still is, it appears. And yes, he and Luka Doncic were particularly close, that DFS was perhaps Doncic’s best friend on the Mavs. Doncic even had his signature sneaker made for a horse by a company called Horse Kicks, and presented them to Finney-Smith as a Christmas present for his horse, Stevie. So, yes DFS popularity is a good thing.

And of course, DFS is indebted to Cuban for his help in getting his father released from prison after 28 years, as we reported. That matters a lot.

What’s next for Liberty?

The Liberty and Las Vegas Aces are not just competing for the No. 1 seed through the WNBA playoffs and the ultimate prize, a parade down Flatbush or the Strip. Their owners, the Tsais in New York and Marc Davis (son of Al of Raiders’ fame) in Las Vegas, are competing for the best players on the market, having shown a willingness to spend money on stars. The two owners are also reportedly the leaders of what you might call the progressive caucus of WNBA owners. So the competition is friendly.

Davis took a big step in the competition, recently, however. The Aces built a state-of-the-art training facility, “the first of its kind” is how the Aces rightly describe it. It is the first practice facility and team headquarters built solely for a WNBA team.

The 64,000-square-foot facility is located next to Raiders’ headquarters in Henderson, Nevada. Marc Davis inherited control of the Raiders from his father. It is not an exaggeration to say the facility rivals many an NBA training facility.

“Aces would have a top five facility in the NBA,” Knicks guard Josh Hart posted on Twitter. His team’s facility in suburban Greenburgh, N.Y. is notoriously antiquated.

The Seattle Storm will be the next WNBA team up with their own facility. They broke ground on a new training center in March which should be open for their 2024 season.

So what’s with the Liberty? They currently practice at Barclays Center on a built-out version of the small practice court just off the main entrance, which had been underutilized for years, then was pressed into service when the Liberty moved to Brooklyn. They do not practice or train at HSS Training Center one stop down on the D train from Barclays. (The Long Island Nets practice at “Yes We Can” Community Center in New Cassel, in Nassau County.)

There’s been no rumors yet of whether the Tsais will try to match the Aces or Storm, but it’s something to watch. Joe and Clara Wu Tsai have proven to be highly competitive in the W and very willing to spend.

Final Note

Speaking of the Liberty, start paying attention if you haven’t already. The Tsais’ other Brooklyn-based team has only seven games left before the WNBA playoffs begin on September 13. They are currently on a roll, having won nine out of their last 10, including the Commissioner’s Cup blowout of the Aces. They are now 2.5 games back of the Aces and play them at Barclays Center Monday night. A win Monday would put them a game and a half back — with six to play — of securing homecourt advantage through the post-season.

The Libs also play a brand of basketball that purists can appreciate, a selfless game on offense that can produce big numbers for Breanna Stewart or Sabrina Ionescu on any night, and stingy defense that keeps getting better. Don’t risk missing the bandwagon in their championship parade.