The Brooklyn Nets tipped off their second week on the NBA Campus in Orlando by welcoming in two new additions, as guards Jamal Crawford and Tyler Johnson completed their quarantines and joined the team for their first practices last Wednesday.
Before Crawford and Johnson were ready to go, the Nets were practicing with just nine roster players, so their arrival allowed the Nets to have a 5-on-5 of active players for the first time. But head coach Jacque Vaughn wanted to take the long view in being cautious with easing the two into a routine. Crawford, now in his 20th NBA season, had not played at all this season.
“We’re going to be smart and strategic with how we implement them back into the fold,” said Vaughn after their first practice. “Not just going to throw them out and press their bodies into a position we don’t want them in yet, with the goal of really getting them in game shape. That conversation was the first thing, and then we kind of -- the drills that we did, we got them in some drills, out of some drills, just to be smart. Overall Jamal’s a guy that’s going to be able to understand the flow of the game and speed of the game and put himself in the right position just by sheer IQ. Tyler’s ability to compete, he wanted to be in every drill, and trusted that I might have to pull him out some of them.”
Plugging in a pair of creative, offensively aggressive guards like Crawford and Johnson brought a new element to Brooklyn’s practices over the last week.
"No question. These two guys are vets,” said Garrett Temple. “Obviously, Jamal can do what he does anywhere in the world. Tyler's a very good offensive player, too. And they know the game. So that second unit definitely got the win when they were in there. It just makes us more competitive. It's going to help us out in practice but also it'll give us a better chance to win games. Just more competitive. Obviously now we have at least 12 guys now, so it definitely adds a more competitive nature to the games, to the pick-up, and we're enjoying it."
GARRETT TEMPLE’S VOICE CARRIES ON AND OFF THE COURT
Before the NBA arrived in Orlando, Garrett Temple was firm in his belief that the media spotlight on the league’s return to play was the strongest way to maintain and build momentum from June’s social justice protests.
Now that he’s in Orlando, he’s committed to keeping the conversation going. Last Thursday, Temple participated in a call of what he estimated to be 30 players to discuss next steps in the pursuit of tangible actions and solutions. With that, he said he was planning to wear “EDUCATON REFORM” on the back of his jersey during games.
"There are so many different causes to tackle, unfortunately, in our community,” said Temple. “We in the Black community have been marginalized so much, there's so many different things that need to change in order to allow us to get better chances. I think that education is something that's very much needed. It's fallen by the wayside in most cases, in my opinion. The public school system isn't nearly where it needs to be in a country as powerful as ours. Allowing people to be educated, allowing people to learn more things, maybe even changing some curriculum to make things more applicable to real-life scenarios, I think is something that really needs to happen. And give people more of an opportunity, once they get out of school, to use that education to make a better living for themselves and be contributors to society in an economic way.
“So education has been very important to me and my family. I know how much it can help and change someone's life. But, also, I think as individuals we need to change our mindset about educating ourselves, not just for focusing on pushing the government — the federal government or the state governments — to educate us, but focus on educating ourselves as well, so that we can know what's goin' on."
Temple appeared on CNN last Friday to discuss those issues, and he remains an important voice internally as well. In his 10th NBA season, Temple drew respect from the moment he entered Brooklyn’s locker room last fall. With the Nets missing key players and veterans such as DeAndre Jordan and Spencer Dinwiddie in the NBA restart, he’s OK with accepting a more vocal role.
“We have less veterans here and we have a couple of new guys, trying to teach them the ropes, teach them how we do things here at the organization, but it’s been great,” said Temple. “I’ve been more vocal but I was vocal before so just getting guys acclimated, and then obviously allowing them and telling them to use their voices as well.
“Garrett is in an amazing position right now,” said Jarrett Allen. “He's a leader in the NBPA, he leads our team, he's a voice for all the younger guys out there because he knows where to go, who to talk to. So not only does he point us in the right direction, he's also an active member in all of these scenarios. So it's just good having a guy like him on our side.”
GOING SMALL, TLC PLAYS BIG
As the Nets have navigated a short-handed roster during practices, it’s led to players filling in at unusual spots just to run through what the team was working on, mostly adjusting to a dearth of big men.
“As soon as we saw that we weren't going to have our initial roster, we had to be creative in thinking about what scenarios might present themselves,” said Jacque Vaughn. “So that is maybe a guy that played the 3 or 4 playing the five. Maybe a guy that usually plays the 3 plays the 4, so we've mixed around with that some and will continue to do so, especially since we're going to be careful and strategic in bringing Jamal and Tyler along to catch up with the rest of them so they'll sit out some practices and sit out some drills and while that happens we'll need bodies to play different positions for us.”
One of those scenarios has been minutes at the 4 spot for 6-foot-7 wing Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot.
“I love it, actually,” said Luwawu-Cabarrot. “They’re allowing me to fight down there in the paint and give some hits, fight for rebounds and stuff like that. I kind of like that. It’s been good so far. Of course, it’s going to be good when we have the 4 men coming in and 5 man. Speaking so far, the plays we’ve been bringing for this time here are mostly four outside guys and one center. It’s pretty much the same for me and it’s been good. It like it. It’s fun. We’ve been playing really fast in transition and all that, so it doesn’t really matter the 2 or the 3 or the 4. It’s pretty much the same.”
LIVING IN THE BUBBLE
The Nets practiced 10 of their first 11 days after getting out of quarantine in Orlando before taking their second off day on Tuesday. While the basketball has kept them busy, they’re still adjusting to the setup, with a long way to go.
“Oh, it’s definitely still strange,” said Temple. “Getting more comfortable, but it’s still strange. Whether I was here or not, you’ve got to walk around with a mask on, you’ve got to use hand sanitizer it feels like once every two, three hours. But being a little more comfortable. Again, being tested every single day so understanding people you are around are being tested and are negative. So that helps. Obviously the things they’ve put in place here have made things a little more comfortable for us. So I guess the nervousness has gone away, but it’s still strange being in this pandemic.”
GETTING READY FOR GAMEDAYS
Playing in the NBA Campus in Orlando, everything is different. Gameday will be no different. The Nets will get their first taste of that when they play the New Orleans Pelicans inn a scrimmage on Wednesday night at 7 p.m., to be broadcast by YES Network.
Flexibility is going to be key in dealing with the type of schedule the Nets haven’t seen before, featuring four afternoon games — plus another 5:00 p.m. start — out of the seven game times that have been set so far.
“I think overall we’re so used to game routine,” said Vaughn. “Having a night game, what shootaround looks like going into that game, even what the night before, day before’s practice looks like. Now you’re going to go into having two o’clock, 2:30 games, afternoon games. So what does your shootaround look like? What does your breakfast meeting look like? What does your postgame look like? Those things that happen with some variability also. It’s not like they’re all going to be 2:30 games. Some TV games. Some non-TV games. Where you’re warming up at might not be on the same court that you’re playing on. The time that you meet together as a team. So all those pregame and postgames that you’re used to having a set schedule, we’ll have to challenge ourself to definitely be flexible.”
Then there’s the matter of prepping for specific opponents once the games start to count. That’s just a little over a week away, with the Nets playing the Magic on July 31.
“We actually as a staff already started thinking about it,” said Vaughn. “It’s a different process of going to advance scout teams. We’re already trying to compute how we’re going to send someone to see scrimmages, whether or not the scrimmages are going to be on TV and we can get information that way, so definitely begin to talk about it. I think the NBA is still working through how many people we’re going to be able to allow to go to a game, what that scouting situation looks like, how many games out. So still working through it, but definitely starting to process that.”