Nets notes: Kidd takes some credit, Lopez downplays injury, and Pierce off the bench

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NEW YORK — A few leftover items from Thursday night’s big win for the Nets, the team’s third straight.

When Jason Kidd parted ways with assistant coach Lawrence Frank a little more than a week ago, it was viewed in one of two ways.

Either it was a desperate attempt to shift the blame for the team’s disastrous start elsewhere, or it was a power move intended to gain full control of the team from the coaching position after management surrounded Kidd, in his first year as head man on the sideline, with multiple talented assistants.

It seems more like the latter now that the Nets are riding a three-game winning streak, and the new things Kidd began immediately putting in following Frank’s departure are beginning to pay some dividends.

“We have a new system,” Kevin Garnett said following the 30-point loss to the Knicks last week. “We’re changing things on the fly. Jason has been putting in a lot of new stuff since [assistant coach Lawrence Frank] has left.”

When the questions came about the specifics behind Brooklyn’s blowout win over Los Angeles, Kidd subtly hinted that his system — along with getting players like Deron Williams back healthy — might have had more than a little to do with that.

“I would say the defensive side of the ball,” Kidd said, when asked what the difference has been these last three games. “The guys are executing the game plan. … The guys in that locker room, we’ve asked them to do some different things defensively. They’ve done it, and I think the trust factor on the defensive end has now led to the ball movement on the offensive end, and guys getting shots.”

Kidd mentioned the execution of the game plan twice more during his postgame remarks, and after perhaps dealing with some unfair pressure early on as his team was decimated by injuries, it seemed like a fine time for the coach to take some credit for putting a system in place that his healthy team is finally able to “execute.”

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Just as the Nets are beginning to roll, they may have yet another injury setback.

Brook Lopez left the game in the third quarter after crumbling in the post against Blake Griffin. He came out of the game briefly before returning to try to give it another shot, but the team trainer shut him down for the night a short time later.

In the locker room afterward, Lopez was in good spirits and didn’t have any tape, ice or brace on the injured ankle. He would have remained in the game if it was up to him, but even so, his status is up in the air for the team’s next game in Detroit on Friday.

“It’s doing well,” Lopez said. “I just twisted it a little, sprained it a little. I think I got hit by someone; I don’t really know what happened in the heat of the moment, but it’ll be alright.”

The last time Lopez suffered an ankle injury back on Nov. 15 in Phoenix, he similarly stayed in the game and played on it — but then he missed the team’s next seven. When asked if this situation might be similar, Lopez didn’t seem to think it was nearly as bad.

“I’ll know more probably later tonight or tomorrow morning, but it seems better,” he said. “Initially, last time I twisted it, it felt much more severe.”

It would be a mild surprise if Lopez played Friday on the second night of a back-to-back, with the team likely taking the cautious route after dealing with so many early-season injuries. But then again, they may want to keep things rolling as long as possible.

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Paul Pierce came off the bench for the second straight game, and while he had said after his first stint with the reserves on Tuesday that he was fine with that role, he seemed less convincing when answering that same question Thursday night.

“You know, I’m playing my part in this,” Pierce said. “That’s what it is. I’m trying to lead the second team, develop some chemistry with that unit. So, as long as things keep going where we’re winning games, I mean, like I said, I’m sacrificing or whatever for the good of the team.”

Pierce still will see some time with the starters in late-game situations, and he isn’t going to say anything that will upset the delicate balance the Nets have achieved on this current winning streak. But it’s clear he would prefer to be in the starting lineup.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.