D’Angelo Russell could transform Nets

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Two years ago, the Nets paid $20 million in luxury tax for an old, losing team that wouldn’t have its own first-round pick for the next four years.

Bleak is an understatement.

Yet, Brooklyn acquired a 21-year-old potential franchise player this summer.

The context isn’t as pretty.

Before D'Angelo Russell became available, he had to alienate his teammates by recording and posting a video of one discussing sleeping with women other than his fiancé. He had to disappoint with his maturity and work ethic. He had to demonstrate that he wasn’t ready to carry a team on the court.

To get him, the Nets had to surrender their best player – Brook Lopez, who’s on an expiring contract. They also had to relinquish the No. 27 pick in this year’s draft. And they had to accept Timofey Mozgov‘s toxic contract, one of the NBA’s worst.

But the Nets still got Russell – a far more valuable player than anyone thought they would have at this point.

Russell needs development, on and off the court. He will test the culture Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson are building. But Brooklyn faces little downside in betting on its ability to reach Russell – and immense upside.

Just because Russell didn’t set the NBA on fire by age 20 doesn’t doom him to obscurity. He has flashed enough of the talent that made him the No. 2 pick just two years ago. Point guards tend to develop later. He might still be a star in the making.

Though far from a sure thing, Russell is now the crown jewel of a young core that also includes Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and No. 22 pick Jarret Allen.

Again without their first-round pick this season, the Nets aren’t cleanly incentivized to turn all playing time over to the youngsters – which would usually come with the upside of more losing and a higher draft pick. So, Brooklyn added helpful veterans, leveraging their bad contracts.

Though overpaid (three years, $48 million remaining) and primarily the cost of getting Russell, Mozgov can still play. He should start at center.

DeMarre Carroll (two years, $32.2 million remaining) came with sweeteners (a first-rounder and second-rounder) from the Raptors, who just wanted to dump salary. The Nets need the draft picks, but they could also use Carroll in the wing rotation. Brooklyn even unloaded Justin Hamilton, forcing Toronto to eat his $3 million salary, in a clearly helpful deal.

The Nets also traded for Allen Crabbe (three years, $56,332,500 remaining) without getting a draft pick, a more curious arrangement. Sure, Brooklyn offset costs by sending Andrew Nicholson (three years, $19,911,007 remaining) to the Trail Blazers. But Crabbe’s trade value now is determined by his actual salary. Considering the immense luxury-tax savings for Portland, the Nets probably should have extracted a pick. They apparently just really like Crabbe, though. After all, they signed him to this contract with an offer sheet the Trail Blazers matched last year.

This summer, Brooklyn took its annual foray into high-priced restricted free agency with Otto Porter. Like with Tyler Johnson‘s and Crabbe’s teams before, the Wizards matched.

So, the Nets turned to a smaller, sensible signing. Their big addition in free agency? Tyler Zeller. Though merely a passable player, Zeller is a big upgrade at center, where Brooklyn had just a 31-year-old who looks incapable of playing huge minutes and a raw rookie.

Despite resources flushed away years ago, the Nets are trying to win as much as they can now while setting themselves up to win a meaningful amount later. They’re threading that needle pretty well.

Offseason grade: B+

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.

Wembanyama scores 37 Scoot Henderson 28, both make case to go No.1

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The NBA league office hates tanking — the action, the word, the mere suggestion of it.

But there is going to be some serious tanking in the NBA this season, and anybody who watched the Victor Wembanyama vs. Scoot Henderson game Tuesday (also known as the G-league Ignite vs.  Metropolitans 92 from France) knows exactly why.

What. A. Show.

Victor Wembanyama, the projected No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, showed why he is a true 7’4″ unicorn who can do seemingly anything. He finished the game with 37 points, hitting 7-of-11 from 3, with five blocks, showed off some handles and even brought the ball up court a couple of times.

This play sums him up well: at 7’4″ Wembanyama is the ball handler in a pick-and-roll, looks smooth, and when the defender goes under the pick casually drains a 3.

Scoot Henderson, expected to go No.2 in the next draft, flashed his explosive athleticism to the tune of 28 points, nine assists, and five rebounds.

Ja Morant was impressed.

There was a lot for fans, scouts, and GMs to be impressed with.

For all his shooting an offensive game, Wembanyama was just as impressive on defense. His length and mobility forces players to change their driving angles to the rim. He also showed a fearlessness in going after the big block.

Henderson showed high-level athleticism and an ability to get to the rim at will, but he also set up teammates and an improving shot. Henderson is a dynamic athlete and a season playing against the men of the G League is only going to sharpen his skills.

Henderson made his case Tuesday to be the No.1 pick — scouts say he has the potential to be a franchise cornerstone point guard, a top-10 player in the league, and he looked it in this game. He showed no fear, even going at Wembanyama a few times.

However, Wembanyama will go No.1 because he just breaks the mold, there is nobody like him. Anywhere. He looks like a generational talent, even if there is some work to do to realize it. Wembanyama started to show that Tuesday night.

These two teams face off again on Thursday night in Henderson, Nevada.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

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After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.