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November 19th, 2010

Nets Shooting Stars in Early Season

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of Friday Features we’ll be posting here on NJNets.com to take a more in-depth look back at each week that was. You’ll still be able to get Daily Updates with our Practice Report page (coming soon!), and be sure to visit the site each Monday to find out what happened this weekend and what to watch in the coming week.

One game.

That’s all it took for everyone to know that it really was All New for the Nets. The final score read 101-98, Pistons defeated in both teams’ season opener, victory coming for the Nets 18 games earlier than it had a year ago, here in stunning comeback fashion.

With 1 minute, 40 seconds left in the game, the Nets looked done. Richard Hamilton had hit a corner three to put the Pistons up by seven, and the Nets regrouped with a timeout. Eight seconds and one perfectly executed play later, Jordan Farmar – shooting 1-of-6 at the time – swished a three-pointer to halt the momentum.

After the Nets sandwiched a Devin Harris three-point play between two defensive stops, they isolated Harris coming out of a 20-second timeout. The point guard attempted to drive past Gordon, but fumbled the ball, diving backwards to punch it toward Anthony Morrow, who had rotated to the right wing. A step beyond the three-point line, Morrow picked up the low pass and fired.

Swish.

The Nets led by two, and from there they staved off the Pistons with free throws, a victory stolen due to defense and a pair of clutch three-point shots from players brought in this offseason to take – and make – those attempts.

“It’s something I’ve done in L.A. in my pro career so far,” Farmar says. “I led the team in 3-point percentage last year (shooting .376) – I really worked on it. You just come in and shoot ’em when you’re open. You’ll get shots. Me and ‘Ammo’ (Morrow) work every day.”

The fifth-year guard doesn’t mean simply showing up at practice – he and Morrow are regularly the last two veterans off the floor, shooting from each of the five three-point stations until it seems impossible either should be able to hoist another attempt. That has helped the duo transform the Nets into of the league’s top 10 three-point-shooting squads.


Below is our feature about the Nets’ recent partnership with the NBA D-League’s Springfield Armor. For more, read the press release.

The NBA Development League, 10 seasons into its existence, has proven under President Dan Reed to be an adaptable entity, simultaneously a training ground for numerous players, referees and executives and also a research and development stage for NBA experiments, from replay rules to All-Star activities. One of the more prominent recent additions is the “hybrid affilation” partnership, in which an NBA team exclusively joins forces with a D-League counterpart, managing the basketball operations – from player personnel decisions to selecting the coaching staff and style of play – while existing local ownership maintains control of the off-court business operation.

Last Tuesday, after considering options since the spring, the Nets officially agreed to partner with the D-League’s Springfield Armor, beginning next season. The decision makes them the second NBA team to enter into a hybrid affiliation, following the Rockets’ successful partnership with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, which began last season and culminated in the team winning the D-League championship, earning the D-League’s Coach of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards, celebrating three D-League All-Star nods, leading the league in attendance and – perhaps most importantly – setting a D-League single-season record with 10 Gatorade Call-Ups (spread among four players).

Rockets VP of Player Personnel Gersson Rosas also serves as the RGV Vipers’ General Manager, one of three members of Houston’s front office who wield dual titles, joining  Rockets personnel scouts Brent Johnson (RGV Vipers Director of Player Development) and Phil Jabour (RGV Vipers Director of Scouting). “We felt like we gave our team every opportunity to be successful and we were fortunate to have players who were close to being Houston Rockets who decided to take a chance on our D-League team,” says Rosas, offering Garrett Temple, Will Conroy and D-League MVP Mike Harris as examples. “Both our familiarity with them as players and their interest in being Rockets worked out well for both sides, for the Houston Rockets and the RGV Vipers. Our business side and our ownership locally does a great job.

“It was a lot of success overall, but it was a lot of work. It really blazed a path for what the New Jersey Nets want to do now, and more involvement by the NBA is going to help the minor league as a whole because there will be better resources, better talent and players will be developed at a higher level as a result.”

That vision is shared by Reed, Nets General Manager Billy King, Armor owner Mike Savit and Armor GM Alex Schwerin. During the conference call announcing the Nets’ partnership, Reed lauded the hybrid affiliation as a positive development in the D-League’s continued evolution as a full minor league for the NBA, pointing out that this was the sixth single-affiliation partnership between an NBA team and a D-League counterpart, following the full-ownership model embraced by the Lakers (Los Angeles D-Fenders), Spurs (Austin Toros) and Thunder (Tulsa 66ers), along with the Mavericks and Texas Legends.

King had spoken with Reed during his NBA hiatus between jobs with the 76ers and Nets, and believes the Nets’ involvement to be a natural progression from those first discussions. He gleaned from Reed that the league – for now – was comfortable with its 16-team footprint, and without expansion imminent, the hybrid model emerged as a possibility through talks with Savit.

The Armor owner was receptive due to an extensive background in minor league baseball, with holdings in five teams: “This basically allows our organization to do what I think we do best, which is sell sponsorships tickets and tickets and do the work on that end. And it basically separates the basketball end of it and allows the experts to come in and oversee and run the basketball department, which is pretty close to the model, if not the model, that I’m used to and has worked for 100 years of minor league baseball.”

With the D-League even producing an NBA General manager this summer (Hornets’ GM Dell Demps served in the same position with the Toros), it has fully realized its potential for talent development across all aspects of the NBA.  While the Nets plan to assign – avoiding “send down” seems to be the grammatical key – players they’ve drafted or signed (King mentioned undrafted rookie free agent guard Ben Uzoh might soon travel to Springfield), they’ll be aggressive in managing the Armor’s basketball operations, with an eye on producing NBA-quality coaches, trainers and executives as well.

King envisions the D-League staff participating in the Nets’ training camp and creating an environment in which players can develop as they would with the Nets, but through play on the court. With Nets coach Avery Johnson utilizing complex defensive terminology, having players gain crucial in-game experience against NBA-caliber talent is a major change from attempting to develop a player while working with an affiliated, though not singularly focused coaching staff.

“The model I would look at is the Lakers, where they run the Triangle offense,” King explains. “They run that in their D-League system, so when guys go down they’re still running what Phil runs, and that’s how we see it happening with us – especially on the defensive end. Avery has a very complex terminology, and this will give them a chance to understand that.”

It’s a tack that benefited the Rockets. Rosas points out that Temple and Conroy were late 2009 training camp cuts that the Rockets were able to pull onto the RGV Vipers roster. Believing the players to be close to the NBA and also good fits for the Rockets style of play, the team was able to build upon the work that began during training camp, with the duo earning a combined five Gatorade Call-Ups over the course of the season.

The Rockets also have experience assigning first-round picks to the D-League, having notably done so with 2010 Most Improved Player Aaron Brooks (in 2007) and 2010 No. 14 overall selection Patrick Patterson. Rosas admitted those moves can be challenging, because all players want to stay in the NBA once they’ve arrived. But by preaching that the focus is on maximizing their talent, keeping the players familiar with the D-League staff and clearly communicating the organization’s objectives for each, the Rockets have created a comfortable environment that makes it an easier sell.

That train of thought rings true for Nets guard Jordan Farmar, who made history as the first player to participate in a D-League and NBA game in one day, doing so for the D-Fenders and Lakers on April 1, 2007. He did so two other times that season, averaging 14.7 points and 5.7 assists in 31.7 minutes for the D-Fenders – during a season he averaged 4.4 points and 1.9 assists in only 15.1 minutes per night with the Lakers.

“Everybody’s situation is different,” Farmar says. “It could be a difference of five minutes if you get drafted to one team to the next. You may be starting and playing a lot of minutes if you get drafted to a team that has a few people at your position or isn’t really looking for what you bring at the moment, but really like who you are as a player. (Being assigned) might just be a chance for you to play basketball. That’s what it’s about. You get paid the same regardless, you’re still a member of your team. I think being able to humble yourself, and go out there and work on your game, work on your craft. Use it as a tool instead of getting mad at the situation and thinking it’s a negative thing.”

Beyond managing personnel decisioins, Rosas and the Rockets have found one of the main challenges of the hybrid model to be balancing the NBA focus on player evaluation and development with the local ownership’s goal of succeeding in the market and providing a winning team. He believes the healthy relationship between the Rockets’ ownership (Leslie Alexander) and that of the RGV Vipers (Alonzo Cantu) has been essential to the partnership’s astounding first year accomplishments: “We’re fortunate that Alonzo and his crew have a big vision for the RGV there in Texas and they understand the value of having that team in that region. Our communications are very productive, in that the ownership group there gives the team all the resources to be successful, whether it’s facilities or staffing or arena management – whatever the case may be. We feel like it’s a big strength of ours.”

King, Savit and Schwerin seemed similarly enthused, with each team recognizing the value in joining with a partner whose strength resides in an area that could benefit from an assist. “The basketball operations end of it is not our expertise,” Schwerin admits, “Which is why to me this is a perfect marriage: you’re combining two distinct entities that can do their thing and work together for the same goal. I think if you bring an NBA team like the Nets, which has a lot more resources in terms of coaching and scouting and everything else, it’s just going to improve the entire situation: the caliber of players we get, the ones we might look for on other teams, the whole nine yards. To me, this is one of those deals, where – I know people try to find negatives in deals, but there’s nothing – this is just positive as positive can be.”


What to Watch This Weekend
The Nets are challenging the Kings tonight (10 p.m., YES, WFAN 660 AM) and the Nuggets on Saturday (9 p.m., YES, WLIB 1190 AM). Here are three things to watch for during the back-to-back set:

  1. Can the Nets at least earn a split?

    If the Nets win at least one of these games, they’ll finish 2-2 on the trip – a stark difference from last year’s 0-4 showing. The Nets had lost 23 straight road games against Western Conference opponents before Monday's win against the Clippers in L.A. Their record in the previous five seasons when the trip did not coincide with Thanksgiving was 11-17.

  2. Will Morrow make four more threes?

    Once Anthony Morrow makes four three-pointers, he'll qualify for the NBA’s career lists, joining as either the No. 1 or No. 2 ranking shooter for career three-point percentage. Morrow – shooting .364 for this season and .451 for his career, currently trails Steve Kerr (.454) for the top spot.

    With Morrow launching 5.0 attempts per game and sinking 1.8, it’s likely to happen sometime during the Denver game on Saturday. But you shouldn't take your eye off tonight’s contest, because Morrow’s twice hit six in a game, and nailed five in the Nets' victory against the Cavaliers last Wednesday.

  3. Can Morrow and Travis Outlaw just play well in the same game already?

    This has started to filter its way around the Nets’ blogosphere, but Morrow and Outlaw have yet to perform well simultaneously through the first 11 games. As Nets Are Scorching highlighted recently, the player having the better game is averaging 18.5 PPG on 56-percent shooting and 53-percent from three point land, while the other is averaging 5.0 PPG on 24-percent shooting and 21-percent shooting from three. If they ever even out, the Nets offense should receive a nice boost, alleviating pressure on Devin Harris and Brook Lopez.

--Posted by Ben Couch at 5:15 p.m.


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