Keeping Up On Long Island



Keeping UpOn Long Island

The Nets place a high value on their G League franchise and staying close with the players moving between Brooklyn and Nassau County

There's a little thing that tells you a lot. When Brooklyn Nets GM Sean Marks refers to the franchise's NBA G League affiliate on Long Island, he doesn't like to refer to players or staff being "down" in the G League.

It's kind of a natural instinct when you're talking about minor league affiliates, but Marks has never seen it that way, and he corrects the verbal slip when he makes it himself. When he took over as Brooklyn's GM in February 2016, the Long Island Nets were already in the works to debut for the 2016-17 season. If they weren't, Marks would have added a G League expansion franchise to the top of his to-do list.

"Long Island is a valuable, valuable resource for us, and we’re going to use it," said Nets coach Kenny Atkinson. "We’re going to use it consistently, especially when we can’t practice or we have a full roster and those guys can’t get playing time. We’ll send them to Long Island because it’s an invaluable tool for us. It’s a good opportunity for those guys to get better."

When the Long Island Nets opened their season on Nov. 3, 2018 draftees Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs were both in the starting lineup, along with a third rookie, two-way contract signee Theo Pinson. Alan Williams was also in that starting lineup. The center opened the season as Brooklyn's other two-way signee before being waived in early January to pursue a playing opportunity abroad.

The G League has evolved from its eight-team origins in 2001 to a loop based on single-affiliation franchises directly owned by their NBA parents. The advent of two-way contracts before the 2017-18 season solidified the utility of the G League affiliates to their parent clubs and extended the connection of their players.

Marks and Atkinson see the two franchises and their respective staffs as one, and that extends to the way they manage the development of their young players or two-way players. Pinson can suit up for Brooklyn, or Musa and Kurucs can be assigned to Long Island at any time.

Their commitment to cohesiveness extends to assigning a coach on staff to specifically manage those players with their development and their transitions between Long Island and Brooklyn.

"He's been massively instrumental with how well things have gone with our two-way players and the rookies that have been assigned to us."

Last season, it was Weaver's assignment to manage those relationships, but while Weaver worked mostly out of Brooklyn, Fein has a more hands-on assignment and has spent much of the season working directly with the Long Island staff.

Fein is a former G League assistant coach who joined Brooklyn's staff in 2016 as part of the video team. He played professionally overseas for a decade after playing two seasons at Georgia Tech.

"There's days where he'll go back and be part of a Brooklyn practice or be part of a Brooklyn game night, but it's been a luxury, our relationship is strong having worked together for three years," said Weaver. "It's a nice resource to have on the bench, not only just as a coach, but someone who is never losing sight of those players.

"There's a consistent point person to learn everything about those guys and make them feel like they've got a friendly face that they see every day or nearly every day. We think that's a real strength of our program here in Brooklyn that there's connection going on besides just the pick and roll coverage and the shot selection, that there's a relationship being built. For us, Shaun is that guy that's doing that."

It's a relationship that began well before the season started. While Kurucs and Musa did not play during NBA Summer League, they were in Las Vegas with Weaver, Fein and the Nets coaching staff. Pinson, whose two-way deal became official later in the summer, was also on the Summer League roster.

"He's a great coach, he's a great mentor. We're very satisfied and very happy to have that kind of guy to help us out in multiple ways, especially when we finish games and we start a new game and he's showing us the video, we feel like we're in Brooklyn again."

There was also training camp in Brooklyn, in which several of Long Island's roster players, including Mitch Creek, Nuni Omot, Jordan McLaughlin, Drew Gordon, Tahjere McCall and Shannon Scott, participated along with Pinson, Musa, Kurucs and Williams. It allowed the players to build on their familiarity with one another.

"You could tell when we went 4-0 (to start the season)," said Pinson. "We were clicking on different cylinders than other teams. You could tell they had a little training camp with each other, but we had a little upper hand as far as playing an intense environment with NBA pros and guys who, this is what they do. We're competing against those guys in practice and winning games. I think that just gave us the confidence and understanding in each other's games and what each other likes to do."

While Kurucs was called on early in Brooklyn due to injuries that left the Nets' rotation short at one of the forward spots and eventually secured a regular rotation spot in Brooklyn in December, Pinson and Musa have been central players for Long Island. Kurucs has played in a handful of games for Long Island, while Musa and Pinson have done the same for Brooklyn. If they are sometimes out of sight, they are never out of mind.

There are also occasional practices at HSS Training Center and a game scheduled for Barclays Center on Feb. 4. It's all part of an approach that sees the two teams and their staffs as a singular group, part of a larger whole.

"There's a chance to say hi and catch up, and for Jacque Vaughn to have a conversation with Shannon Scott and Drew Gordon to bump into Sean Marks," said Weaver of bringing the G League squad to Brooklyn. "Those kinds of things we believe in. It's all part of this holistic development process. There's things that go on between the lines in games and scouting reports and then there's this whole other component that makes you feel part of something bigger than yourself."