Reset with the Restart for Brooklyn's Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs

Season two has had ups and downs for the Nets' 2018 draft class

For Brooklyn’s second-year players out of the 2018 NBA Draft, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs, the 2019-20 season has been an uneven one. But with the stoppage of play back in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there is the opportunity for a hard reset, to add one more chapter down in Orlando after four months between games.

“It’s a great opportunity of course, not just for me, for everyone,” said Kurucs. “For me, Dzanan, all the young guys, it’s a great opportunity for us to show up and step up and help the team. As a group, we’ll do the best that we can.”

With the NBA on hiatus, Musa and Kurucs traveled different roads. While Kurucs went home to Latvia for nearly two months, Musa remained in Brooklyn rather than return to Bosnia & Herzegovina.

In Latvia, Kurucs quarantined for two weeks, and emerged as the country was opening up. He estimated there were about 1,500 cases nationwide. Once he was able to get back to work, he had a partner in Washington Wizards forward Davis Bertans.

“First I was working out with Davis because everything started to open up and we had gyms,” said Kurucs. “Everything was open. Worked out with him together. Then I got my own coach and started working on my pick and roll game, pick and pops. I was playing pick and roll by myself, with a coach, with a big man. Dribbling skills, ball-handling. I was getting a lot of shots in. Really working on it for sure.”

Musa said Bosnia & Herzegovina was aggressive in closing down the country, with concern about the ability to handle a major outbreak. Early on, he donated several monitors to hospitals in order to help with treatment. Ultimately, he opted to remain in the United States.

“I had an opportunity to go home because NBPA was contacting me for a chance to go home but I decided to stay in Brooklyn and try to get better as much as possible,” said Musa. “I tried to gain weight, trying to get stronger at home and then when the practice facility opened I was first in the gym on trying to get (head coach Jacque Vaughn’s) attention to get him to know that I'm ready for whatever.”

After a surprising rookie season earned him a starting spot and a trip to the Rising Stars game at All-Star Weekend, Kurucs fell out of the rotation early this season and played rarely in November before reemerging in December and playing steadily for the next month, with a season-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting in a win over Miami on Jan. 10.

Musa’s opportunity was flipped, with a steady rotation role in November. But his last NBA game appearance was on Feb. 5. He played 12 games in the G League for Long Island this season, most coming in that span, all from Jan. 27 on, averaging 19.5 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.8 assists.

“I think my best games were not overthinking,” said Musa of his stretch playing regularly for Brooklyn in November and December. “I was just coming out there and doing my thing, playing as hard as I can. I wasn’t thinking about scoring, thinking about doing some crazy plays. In the bad games, I was thinking too much. I was trying to impress everybody. I was trying to do too many things, so I think that I matured a lot from that point, from let’s say February to now, just to realize what’s my role on the team: to give the energy, to make the right plays and just to help my team win, not thinking about individual stats too much.”

They’ll be returning to play in a new environment, the fanless campus in Orlando where they’ll tip off Brooklyn’s return to play on July 31. Kurucs expressed confidence in the concept in the midst of the pandemic, and Musa praised the way the organization has handled health and safety issues at HSS Training Center. And neither is overly wary of playing games without fans.

“I’ve been watching ACB League where my brother played with the Spanish team,” said Kurucs. “It wasn’t as bad actually. It was actually pretty cool. I asked about his experience. He said it was pretty all right to play in an empty gym. It wasn’t that bad. I don’t think it’s going to be bad in Orlando. You’re going to hear a lot of trash talk on camera probably.”

“To be honest it’s gonna be a little bit strange, especially without fans, but I think we’re all professional basketball players,” said Musa. “We’re paid to play basketball, we love this game. To me personally, just give me the ball with me on the court and I’ll play whenever.”

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