OFFICIAL GAME PROGRAM OF THE BROOKLYN NETS
The Nets sent four players to All-Star Weekend, with D'Angelo Russell earning the franchise's first All-Star Game invite since 2014
Almost three years to the day that Sean Marks was announced as the Brooklyn Nets new general manager in the midst of a 21-61 season, the NBA's 2019 All-Star Weekend served as a grand reintroduction for the franchise on the national stage.
No NBA franchise sent more players to Charlotte than the Nets, who were represented on the court through all three nights of action, and weren't shy on Thursday as the NBA media descended on the Queen City.
Joe Harris grabbed the spotlight on All-Star Saturday Night with his triumph in the 3-Point Contest, following Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs taking the court for the Rising Stars game on Friday and preceding D'Angelo Russell making his first NBA All-Star Game appearance to close out the weekend on Sunday night.
"We want to improve and we want to win, but I think it’s good when guys get individual accolades like that," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "I think it helps the program. I think other guys in the league look and like, ‘Hey, come to Brooklyn and there’s opportunity there and you’ll develop.’ I think that’s part of it."
The contingent was also joined by Spencer Dinwiddie, whose opportunity to defend last season's Skills Challenge title was derailed by thumb surgery.
They all arrived in Charlotte coming off a triple-overtime win in Cleveland keyed by Russell's takeover in the final OT period. That gave Brooklyn a 30-29 record going into the break, good for sixth place in the Eastern Conference with two more wins than the Nets claimed throughout the entire 2017-18 season, officially putting an end to a string of three straight seasons with fewer than 30 wins.
From the record to the All-Star Weekend invitations, the signs of Brooklyn's resurgence have been everywhere throughout the 2018-19 season, and the league is taking notice.
Dinwiddie and Allen made a Thursday appearance on ESPN's The Jump with host Rachel Nichols and Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen, then Harris joined his two Brooklyn teammates on Sirius NBA Radio.
Friday night's Rising Stars game for first- and second-year players served as a testament to the promise of Brooklyn's youth movement and the strong drafting of Marks and his front office team. There were 120 players drafted in the NBA over the last two summers, 20 on the court Friday night, and two of them were Nets.
The 21-year-old rookie Kurucs was the lowest-drafted player in this year's game, selected 40th overall by the Nets last June. The 20-year-old Allen was the 22nd overall pick in 2017. Kurucs has been in Brooklyn's starting lineup for half the season, while Allen has had the center spot locked down since this time last year.
Allen's Team USA came away with a 161-144 win over Kurucs' Team World. Allen did what has drawn him the most attention this season, with two blocks, while Kurucs had 10 points with five assists and four rebounds.
Dinwiddie didn't get the chance to take the court Saturday night, but he did join Reggie Miller, Chris Webber, and Kevin Harlan for the broadcast of the Skills Challenge to open up All-Star Saturday Night.
"We want to improve and we want to win, but I think it’s good when guys get individual accolades like that."
Before they got started, Dinwiddie called out the closing 3-point shot as the most important part of the event. Miss it on your first try, no matter how big a lead you have, and you're in trouble.
"The first chest pass is important, just because you can get down on yourself a little bit, you'll lose a little bit of time," said Dinwiddie. "But the place where I won the challenge was the shot, because I was behind in my first couple and came down and hit the shot the first time, whereas the other guys missed."
As the event went on, Dinwiddie called for contestants who were trailing to fire up their 3-pointer from halfcourt to catch up. It turned out that's exactly how Boston's Jayson Tatum won the event, banking in a 45-footer to beat Atlanta's Trae Young in the finals.
In a 3-Point Contest featuring the homecomings of Stephen and Seth Curry, the hometown favorite Kemba Walker of the Charlotte Hornets, the legendary Dirk Nowitzki and defending champion Devin Booker, it was Joe Harris who stole the show.
The Brooklyn sharpshooter came in as the NBA's No. 2 3-point shooter this season, and looked the part -- with a little bit of clutch shooting for good measure. Harris drained his last eight shots of the first round, including six straight money balls, and needed every one of them to clinch a spot in the finals with Steph Curry and Buddy Hield.
Leading off, Harris again drained his entire closing money ball rack to finish with 26 points, edging Curry by two points to raise the trophy.
On the big stage Sunday night, at the 68th NBA All-Star Game, Russell took his place with the NBA's best. The fourth-year pro became the franchise's 15th NBA All-Star, but the first since Joe Johnson in 2014.
Russell scored six points in 12 minutes on a pair of fourth-quarter 3-pointers, and added three assists for Team Giannis, closing out a big weekend for Brooklyn.
"I think it’s huge," said Atkinson of the impact of Russell's success with the Nets and the team's growing reputation for development. "It’s really players talking with other players. They know we have a great player care staff with our performance team. Our coaches are excellent developing young players. Hopefully, that reverberates throughout the league."