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Long Island Nets: 2021-22 Season Preview

Brooklyn's G League affiliate returns with a new schedule format

The Long Island Nets return along with the rest of the NBA G League to a full season schedule after last season’s 15-game, month-long season played at a single site in Florida. Long Island went 7-8 through last season’s limited schedule.

Now the Nets will be back to playing home games at Nassau Coliseum as they embark on starting up again with a regular season routine that was interrupted in March 2020. Adam Caporn is the new head coach, joining Long Island after a successful run with Basketball Australia’s Centre of Excellence.

“The nature of the G League is naturally to feel that way quite often,” said Long Island general manager Matt Riccardi of the restart. “I’m hoping that we can avoid that in the future. The turnovers of coaching staff, performance team members, if they get good opportunities, that’s what we’re here for. Hopefully they get to reach their goals and accomplish what they set out to do, but we’re trying to create sustainable developmental success with Long Island and part of that is some continuity. Luckily, I’ve been there, Alton Byrd has been there, we’ve laid the foundation and we think Coach Capes and his staff is just going to continue on and raise that thing to a level we’ve never been to before. The goal is to have that long-term and to keep pushing, keep breaking down barriers and keep trying to become the best developmental program in the G League.”

NEW SCHEDULE FORMAT

The G League returns with a new scheduling format. The season begins with the Showcase Cup, with teams separated into four regional pods and playing 12 games through mid-December. Eight teams — the top winning percentages in each pod plus the next four teams with the best winning percentages across the league — will advance to play for the Showcase Cup at the NBA G League Winter Showcase. The remaining teams will each play two games while the Winter Showcase is being held.

“I like it,” said Caporn. “It gives you another short-term goal. It pieces the season together. To break the season into chunks and take the Showcase Cup as its own entity and work towards winning something, I think that’s motivating in a good way.”

The regular season will then tip off on Dec. 27 with a 36-game schedule and all team records reset. Long Island’s regular season concludes on April 1. The top six teams in each of the G League’s two conferences will advance to the playoffs.

“I think we’re all excited about it,” said Riccardi. “Another opportunity to compete and have a goal in mind. First 12 games of the season, going into the Showcase Cup hopefully we’re in contention for one of those spots and go in there and compete for a championship, which has never happened before, has never happened in this type of format, and then jump back into the season after the holiday break and have a full 36 games and then go into a playoff. It’s another opportunity to compete. The rosters change so quickly in the G League between call-ups, between assignment players being there, not being there, that I think it allows an opportunity for if you start slow, start hot, you still have to be competitive throughout the year and in two different settings.”

SUMMER LEAGUE REUNITED

Eight players from Brooklyn’s Las Vegas Summer League team will be with Long Island for the start of the G League season on Saturday night: rookies David Duke Jr., Kessler Edwards, RaiQuan Gray, Brandon Rachal, Day’Ron Sharpe, Cam Thomas, and Marcus Zegarowski, plus Jordan Bowden, who was with Long Island last season as well.

“It’s phenomenal for them,” said Riccardi. “They have some chemistry already. There’s some continuity. They know what each other does well. They know each other’s weaknesses and how they can help each other grow. They had a really good bonding experience together in Las Vegas and that will carry over into Long Island we hope.”

Long Island coach Adam Caporn was also able to spend time with the group in Las Vegas, arriving directly from Tokyo where he was an assistant coach for Australia’s bronze medal winning team.

“He got to meet everyone, got to be at a bunch of practices, see a few games and start to form those bonds and those relationships,” said Riccardi. “He’s done an amazing job as a relationship builder. He has all those guys’ trust so early on. It’s inspirational to see how him and his staff have been able to get these guys to gravitate to them and to buy into the culture that we’re building.”

G LEAGUE OPPORTUNITY FOR NETS ROOKIES

The Brooklyn Nets have four rookies on their 17-man roster with two-way players Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr. and first-round picks Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe. All are expected to be with Long Island when the G League season tips off this weekend and get substantial minutes as the season goes on.

“They have a great opportunity to get lots of reps and to be the focal point in Long Island,” said Brooklyn head coach Steve Nash. “Those guys, once we get into the season, we're not really playing up and down in practice. They can play stay ready group although that's great and it's important for us, it's not the same as playing five-on-five. They get some games there, they get lots of practices, Cam and Day'Ron are still available for our games and same with Kessler and David. Can be here at night and still experience it and learn and I think it's really important for their development.”

For Caporn, the mission is two-pronged: prepare all four to fit into a role with Brooklyn and also to expand their games on an individual level.

“Our team is well-built for them to seamlessly integrate and we have guys that understand or appreciate them coming back,” said Caporn. “I found such a great lift when they practiced with us. It lifted the intensity of the group and that’s what you would hope. Our program is set up to maximize their opportunity to get better.”

COACHING ACROSS LEAGUES

Prior to the truncated G League season of last winter, the Nets had regularly assigned a coach to work specifically with their two-way players and others on assignment as they moved between Brooklyn and Long Island. With four players likely in that mix this season, they’ve changed up their approach to a more comprehensive look, including the organization’s performance team and multiple player development coaches alongside the Long Island staff.

“There’s going to be a ton of coaches involved with the process,” said Riccardi. “We’ve actually created a player development task force to be a plan of attack incorporating analytics, scouting, both coaching staffs opinions, the performance team, bring that all front and center for everyone to look at and evaluate and come to an agreement for what’s the best way for these guys to develop.”

“The performance side of things is so big with that,” said Caporn. “That’s where we are really trying to be seamless that guys come between the two programs and the performance and preparation and the environment as much as it can is really consistent and headed in the same direction.”

G LEAGUE EXPERIENCE

Half of Long Island’s 12-man roster is made up of rookies, and when you add in Thomas and Sharpe, that makes eight of 14. So with the remaining roster spots, Riccardi emphasized experience, in particular with three players who have a full four years each in the G League.

“I think it’s very important to have guys that know what the G League is,” said Riccardi. “It’s a different type of league than anything anyone has ever played in. The setup is different, the format is different, the experimental rules are different. Having some veterans in there to help the young guys amplifies their growth and gives them a chance to succeed and cut the learning curve, I don’t want to say in half, but take a big chunk out of it because they can teach them how everything goes.”

COACHING CALL-UPS

This is only the sixth season for the Long Island Nets, but there is already a lengthy list of both head coaches and assistants who have moved on to the staffs of NBA teams or to G League head coaching jobs. Former assistant Damian Cotter has moved up to the Chicago Bulls bench after coaching the Windy City Bulls, joining Ronald Nored (Pacers), Josh Oppenheimer (Bucks), Will Weaver (Rockets), Shaun Fein (Clippers), and Bret Brielmaier (Magic). Former Long Island assistants Chaisson Allen (Wisconsin) and Jordan Surenkamp (Greensboro) are in their first seasons as G League head coaches.

Former Long Island assistant coaches Trevor Hendry and Ryan Forehan-Kelly have moved up to the Brooklyn staff, while Trajan Langdon, who helped launch the Long Island program as the team’s first general manager, is now the GM of the New Orleans Pelicans. Jana Austin also moved on from a training position with Long Island to become an assistant athletic trainer with the Pelicans.

“We look at Long Island as a development opportunity for staff as well as the players,” said Riccardi. “We’ve had some incredible success with our head coaches, been lucky to have some of these guys through the program and now they’re on the front of NBA benches. Part of how we look at development is a holistic approach of how we can both benefit from bringing all these people with all these diverse backgrounds and diversity of ideas into the program and then having them get the exposure and the opportunities elsewhere. We’re just as excited and we celebrate the staff’s successes just as much as we do the players.”

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