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2011 Nets Camp Week Two

December 12-18, 2011

The Nets' Practice Report includes notes, quotes and photos from the week's practices at the PNY Center. Read on to stay current with all the Nets news you need, and be sure to get your View from the Couch for a more in-depth look at all aspects of Nets Basketball.

Mon | Tues | Wed | Thurs | Fri | Sat | Sun

—Friday, December 16—

Shawne Speaks for First Time
After signing with the Nets late Thursday evening, forward Shawne Williams ran through his first practice with the team Friday, and his conditioning should allow him to log minutes tomorrow afternoon against the Knicks. Brought in to provide depth at forward, and another shooter to complement Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, Shawne Williams will play both forward positions, though most often at the 3.

“A guy like me, I’ll play anywhere, whether it’s 5, 4, 3, 2 or 1,” Williams said. “I don’t care; I just want to play and I just want to win.”

The 6-foot-9 forward spent last season with the Knicks, breaking out with career-highs of 7.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in 20.7 minutes, shooting .401 from three-point range. He enjoyed his time there, making sure to praise the team’s executives and staff, but said he made a business decision to travel across the Hudson River and join the Nets.

“I’m not saying like I would’ve had no minutes in New York – there were minutes there, too,” Williams said. “I just feel like it was the best decision for my career and bettering myself as a player trying to take it to the next level.”

Having spent the summer training with “Hoops Whisperer” Ivan Radin and spending time at IMG, working out 15-20 hours a week, Williams feels ready to step on the floor after spurning offers from the Knicks, Bulls and Warriors. Though he admits it will be a bit odd to face his former team so soon.

“It’s funny, but it’s a business,” Williams said. “It’s something we’ve got to do regardless. We get paid to play, so I can’t look at the matchup or who we play. It’s going to be a funny feeling. It’s going to be a weird feeling because it’s so fresh.”

First Starting 5 of the (Pre-)Season
Nets coach Avery Johnson broke protocol Friday, revealing his starting lineup well before Saturday’s pregame media session, because there will be no shootaround before the 2 p.m. game against the Knicks at Prudential Center. The first Nets team to take the court in the 2011-12 season will be Deron Williams (surprise!), Anthony Morrow (surprise!), Damion James (ok, real surprise!), Shelden Williams (already announced) and Brook Lopez (making this his 9 millionth consecutive start).

James earned Johnson’s trust last season, but was derailed by injuries. The broken foot James suffered in his first NBA start, which came last December 12 against the Mavericks, caused him to miss a game for the first time. Ever. Since he started playing organized basketball. Returning February 16, he played only three weeks before suffering a concussion that cost him three games and, soon after, foot soreness that kept him out the rest of the year.

The second-year player anticipated starting at small forward, and prepared himself all offseason to justify the perception. He cut his playing weight from 235 to 226, setting out to prove his consistency and cement the reputation he earned at Texas as a dirty-work, all-hustle, all-the-time player.

“I’m just doing everything, man: playing defense, (grabbing) offensive rebounds, playing hard,” James said. “I want to be the hardest-playing player in the NBA. It’s just a blessing to be able to do it coming off a broke foot. It’s a blessing, man. I can never thank God enough. Coach believes in me so much, he believes in my ability to do some things. I want to keep coach’s faith in me.”

James averaged 4.4 points and 3.4 rebounds in 16 minutes during the 25 games he did play, shooting .447. His best game came against the Raptors on March 4 in London, when he posted a career-high 15 points, along with seven rebounds and three assists in 27 minutes. Even in the short time he’s overlapped with point guard Deron Williams, James has made a solid impression.

“He looks a lot better this year,” Deron Williams said. “He’s in great shape. Last year, he sat out so long, I think he put on some weight, and this year, he’s a lot leaner and he’s jumping good, running well. I think he’s going to be a good player for us. He’s a strong guy that can get in there and bang, play the 3 or the 4; he’s an aggressive offensive rebounder, which we’re definitely going to need.”

Petro Proving Himself
Backing up Brook Lopez for a second season will be Johan Petro, whom Avery Johnson believes to be in better shape for this year, after struggling to keep up during last season’s camp.

“He doesn’t come out much from drills (and) he doesn’t ask for a blow,” Johnson said. “I think he understands where his spots are in our offense, where he can get his shots. But he has to do a better job of rebounding for us when he’s in the game and staying away from some of those little ticky-tack fouls.”

—Thursday, December 15—

King Comments
Nets general manager Billy King is playing patient, even as he realizes it’s time for the roster to round into final form. Surprised at the skyrocketing salaries being paid out around the league, King made sure to rein in his desires, believing maintaining flexibility to be more important than overspending to make sure something happens soon.

“We could have got them,” said King, following Thursday’s practice at the PNY Center. “But I think if you’re trying to build a championship, you’ve got to do it systematically, with the right pieces. You just can’t sign guys and, think, ‘Okay, now’ – if you don’t think that’s a championship-caliber team that you’re building with those guys, then you shouldn’t do it.”

Now in his second year with the Nets, King is operating with a different mindset than he did during his 10-year tenure with the 76ers, focusing more on building a complementary “team” after finding out the hard way that being incorrect with big money means you’re stuck. It’s why the additions this offseason have thus far been supplementary.

"I guess maybe as I’ve gotten older and wiser, you can be a little more patient and understanding," King said. "And the great thing about it is, the relationship I’ve developed with Deron and Avery’s developed with Deron and our team, we’re all on the same page; we’re all on the same page. We all understand where we’re trying to get to, and that’s where the confidence comes from, I guess. We all understand where we’re trying to get to and don’t want to make a mistake."

The most prominent move thus far has been signing Shawne Williams, whose acquisition was announced Thursday evening. The 6-foot-9 forward, a former first-round pick (2006 – No. 17 overall), comes to the Nets following a one-year stint with the Knicks in which he played in 64 games and posted career-best averages of 7.1 points and 3.7 rebounds in 20.7 minutes, while shooting .401 from three-point range.

“A lot of teams are going small at four," said Nets coach Avery Johnson. "You know you stick him in the game and he can maker defenses pay when teams double team Deron or Brook in the post. And just give guys room to operate. He had a little bit of a breakthrough year last year.”

This is technically Williams’ second go-round with the Nets , who first acquired him from Dallas, along with Kris Humphries, for Eduardo Najera in January 2010; Williams did not appear in any games with the team before being waived. For his four-year NBA career, Williams has averaged 5.9 points and 2.9 rebounds in 190 games.

Outlaw Officially Released
Travis Outlaw has been “amnestied.”

Nets coach Avery Johnson broke the news to media following Thursday’s practice, minutes after Outlaw exited the practice court for the final time, a pad covering his nearly healed shooting hand (offseason wrist surgery). Johnson said that the organization wishes Outlaw the best, praising his effort and coachability.

“With Travis, it’s part of the business,” explained general manager Billy King. “As I told Travis, ‘It’s the ability to have flexibility. It’s nothing you did; it’s just, ‘I’ve got to keep as much flexibility for the organization as possible.’ I thanked him, and I said, ‘If I can help, if somebody calls me, I’ll let them know you’re in shape, you’re ready for contact.’ But this is where we are now, with this rule.”

The Nets signed Outlaw as a free agent prior to last season, but the veteran forward struggled with his adjustment to starting and playing small forward after spending much of his career as a reserve ‘stretch 4.’ He averaged 9.2 points and 4.0 rebounds in 29 minutes while playing in all 82 games (55 starts), posting career-worst shooting percentages from three-point range and overall.

Designated as the team’s “amnesty player,” Outlaw’s remaining salary won’t count against the Nets’ cap or luxury tax, though the team is still responsible to pay the amount previously guaranteed.

Udoka Added On
The Nets also announced the signing of veteran forward Ime Udoka, who spent the past two seasons with the Spurs. The 6-foot-5, 220-pound swingman has a reputation for strong defense, and Avery Johnson values Udoka’s experience, saying he’s comfortable playing him for 4-8 minute stretches off the bench.

Billy King pointed out that after two years with the Spurs (under Johnson’s mentor, Gregg Popovich), Udoka should be familiar with much of the terminology, which will help him quickly assimilate.

Udoka’s mother passed away last week, delaying his arrival at camp, and though he’s working through the emotional swing, the seventh-year forward remains encouraged by the potential of the Nets’ roster.

“When you have a good, veteran point guard like Deron Williams, the sky’s the limit with the talent here, like the good big man inside (Brook Lopez),” Udoka said. “It’s a talented group of guys.”

—Wednesday, December 14—

Camp Coming to a Close, Nets Ready to Play
With the preseason opener just four days (and two practices) away, even with a still-unsettled roster, the Nets are eager to get on-court at Prudential Center and see what might be in store this season.

Their first of two matchups with the Knicks will present them with the imposing presence of Carmelo Anthony, Amar’e Stoudemire and free-agent acquisition Tyson Chandler. Each was a long-time Western Conference opponent of point guard Deron Williams, who spent 5 ½ seasons with the Jazz and recognizes the challenge they present as a united frontcourt.

“I don’t really need to see it (in action) – I know,” said Williams, after Wednesday’s practice at the PNY Center. “It’s going to be a tough front line; you could argue it’s the best in the NBA right now.”

While Williams allows that it’s unlikely most teams are ready to play games, considering the abbreviated training camps and incomplete rosters, he believes the Nets will put a “solid group” out there. That includes fourth-year center Brook Lopez, who has kept his eyeballs away from the sports section and its rumor-rampant pages, instead focusing on each day of practice.

“I’m super excited,” Lopez said. “We’ve taken what we learned from last year, and you can tell already. We’ve gone over more in these 3-1/2, 4 quick, lockout-compressed training camp days than we did in all of last year in training camp. We’ve been through much more, and I think everyone’s really excited to get out on the floor.”

It’s becoming likely Lopez will be joined up front by sixth-year forward Shelden Williams, who signed with the Nets on Tuesday.

“The way he looked today and because you can tell at the four position, I don’t have a lot of options,” admitted Nets coach Avery Johnson. “That’s how things can move pretty quickly. So we had him and Brook moving pretty quickly and he’ll have to play some 4 for us. Obviously, it’s a pre-season game. But it’s not necessarily an easy task when you’re going to be playing against a perennial All-Star at that position.”

Expect the starters to play at least the first and third quarters on Saturday, and the three D-League invitees – JamesOn Curry, Dennis Horner and Jerry Smith – to earn playing time as a reward for lifting the level of competition all week.

Rookie Run Down
Nets rookie forward Jordan Williams will be out at least five days while recovering from “mild to severe dehydration,” having lost weight at a rate that caused concern among the team’s staff. Coach Avery Johnson said that Williams hadn’t often asked out of drills, pushing himself perhaps too hard.

“His weight was a little bit up coming into camp, so it was something that needed to happen,” Johnson said. “Fortunately, the kid is recovering, he’s doing well. We got him over to out doctor yesterday afternoon and hopefully we’ll have him back sometime in the next five days to a week.”

—Tuesday, December 13—

NETS Lock Down the Landlord
The Nets finally announced their first transaction of free agency, and though only a harbinger of moves to be made, the signing of sixth-year forward Shelden Williams on Tuesday adds much-needed frontcourt depth to a team devoid of a starting option at power forward.

“Shelden is an experienced player, he’s come in in pretty good shape, ran the court pretty well, picked up our offensive and defensive systems pretty good,” said Nets coach Avery Johnson. “He’s been around the block a few times, and he knows what he’s doing. (He’s) a veteran player that’s going to provide a lot of experience and depth at our frontcourt position.”

Williams, a 6-foot-9, 250-pound forward, was drafted fifth by the Hawks in 2006 but has bounced around the league since – the Nets will be his seventh team in six seasons. He’s averaged 4.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in 14.0 minutes during 303 games (69 starts), most notably filling in for an injured Kenyon Martin last season with the Nuggets and averaging 4.9 points, 5.7 rebounds and 19.2 minutes in 29 games (27 starts) through December.

Johnson went on to praise Williams’ basketball IQ and positive locker room presence, also lauding the 28-year-old’s ability to adapt to any role the team asks of him. Williams, just back from Russia (where wife Candace Parker was playing UMMC Ekaterinburg), said he had been contacted by several teams since the start of free agency, and the Nets were the first to commit.

“I felt like it was an opportunity for me to actually go out there and play,” Williams said. “(I’m) just a guy who can go out there and play defense and scrap, play physical and do all the little dirty things.”

With the Nets’ first of two preseason games on Saturday, Williams will likely see significant minutes, though Johnson indicated he wouldn’t start. Barring any further additions, Johnson suggested D-League invite Dennis Horner could get the call, grouping him with either Johan Petro or Damion James.

For more on Shelden Williams, follow him on Twitter: @sheldenwilliams.

Gaines Making ... Gains
Point guard Sundiata Gaines showed up to camp in terrific shape after rehabbing a fractured hip and then playing for BC Armia Tibilsi, and Avery Johnson has noticed:

“(Sundiata’s) looking really good. He’s come into camp in really good shape, he plays the game the right way, he’s physical, he’s focused. He’s doing a better job of running the team, because he understands a lot more what we’re doing; our terminology has had the chance to sink in, so you can see the confidence in him. He’s really getting after it. We had a battle in our scrimmage the other night when him and Deron were really going at it, so it’s been fun to watch.”

—Monday, December 12—

Armor-ed Encampment
Though no acquisitions have yet been announced, there are three new faces in Nets camp: Jerry Smith, JamesOn Curry and Dennis Horner. The trio has been attending practice since Friday, along with Bob MacKinnon and Chris Carrawell, their coaches on the Nets' NBA Development League affiliate Springfield Armor.

In the first season of "hybrid" affiliation between the franchises (the Nets run the Armor's basketball operations while leaving the business side to the local ownership), especially with a small roster, Nets coach Avery Johnson is looking for the three players to drive camp into a higher gear. He's offering a chance to do what they do well, and do it consistently; they have responded thus far.

"All three of those guys are playing their hearts out," Johnson said. "They each have individual skills which make them potential pros. They really make our D-League team strong. They've come in with a lot of energy. Because we're running similar systems, basically, there was no drop-off for them when they came in. it's exciting to see. They play awfully hard, and they don't want to go back."

The most talented of the bunch is Curry, a 6-foot-2 guard who was drafted by the Bulls in 2007 (2nd Round, No. 51 overall). He's played parts of four seasons in the D-League, between limited European stints, and first joined the Armor in 2009, when the team selected him 14th in the D-League Draft.

Though he averaged 15.5 points, 4.0 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game last season, Curry knows that scoring won't be enough to earn him regular time in the NBA, especially with Deron Williams and Brook Lopez on the roster.

"I've just got to knock down shots if the ball comes my way or I'm open, of course," Curry said. "But the main thing is defend. Because if you get on the court and defend, defend, defend; defend, defend, defend. Then your chances will come, opportunity will come and then maybe you can build up that trust, that continuity and maybe they think, 'We can call a play for him.'"

Joining him in the backcourt is Smith, who also returned to the Armor for a second season, following four years at Louisville. In 49 career games with the Armor (three this season), the 6-foot-2 point guard has averaged 13.3 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.2 steals in 25 minutes.

Known for his defense, Smith has four times logged six steals in a single game, and he's going to "hang his hat" on creating energy at that end of the floor. If Johnson's looking for each player to know their strengths, and play to them, Smith is ready to show and prove.

"Mine is going to be the defensive intensity," Smith said. "I'm going to bring it every day on the defensive end, and as far as the offensive goes, I'm going to try to learn from the veterans like Deron and Sundiata (Gaines) and Jordan (Farmar). I feel like I'm in a really good position here, and I want to come to work every day and work hard."

That attitude is shared (of course) by Horner, a 6-foot-9 forward who the Armor drafted in the third round this season, following an 11.6-PPG, 5.6-RPG showing with Hasapis Omonia Nicosia in Cyprus' Division A (13 games). Horner caught Williams' eye with his rebounding and penchant for making hustle plays, earning praise as "the kind of player you want on your team."

Having grown up in Linwood, N.J., Horner's enjoying strong family support playing close to home, though they're all South Jersey 76ers fans. Yet he welcomes the experience, and hopes the smooth transition from Springfield continues.

"It's great," Horner said. "It's a dream come true. It's something I've been looking forward to my whole life, getting to this level and playing with the best players in the world. It feels great."

Damion Making Moves?
Avery Johnson indicated that second-year forward Damion James might spend time at power forward against the "hybrid 4's" that often confounded the Nets' defense last season. James, who guarded all five positions during his four years at Texas, feels up to the task.

"I'm big and I'm strong enough, athletic enough to play the 4 position as well, so I just look forward to playing every position I have an opportunity to," James said. "I think it's more opportunity for me to score the ball, because I'll have bigger, slower guys on me, so that'll help my drive or my one-dribble pullup. So I think it's a great opportunity, plus it allows me to rebound the ball a lot, too, which I can do pretty good."

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