Iman Shumpert Had the Drive to Return to Brooklyn Nets

Staying ready turned Iman Shumpert into a non-stop commuter.

One gym for workouts, another for weights. Over to the Georgia Tech facilities for treatment. Colleges, high schools, brand-name fitness franchises. Wherever Shumpert could find the time and the space to do what needed to get done, off he went.

“It was kind of like the most blue-collar thing that I have done in a long time,” said Shumpert. “With the time I've spent in the league, I think at some point you just sort of get comfy with knowing you've got somebody standing over you telling you what time you've got to be somewhere. It was kind of cool to go back to that high school feel, that high school hunger of, 'I just want to play basketball, I don't really care. If y'all give me a gym, I'll figure it out. I just got to play ball today.' It was cool for that so my kids and my wife — everybody got to see like, 'Man, dude. You really love basketball.' You going, you're rebounding for kids in seventh grade because their workout runs over. You damn near training them, too. I just got to be in the gym. So it was cool to just — not that I fell out of love with — but it was cool to quote, unquote fall in love with the game again and just fall in love with the little things of man, I'll go to the YMCA and play ball if I have to.”

The veteran swingman is once again a Brooklyn Net, having signed with the team on Jan. 30, though he has yet to appear in a game after waiting several days to clear health and safety protocols.

He was an in-season signing last year also, coming in after early injuries to Kyrie Irving and Caris LeVert and giving Brooklyn a defensive boost during a crucial part of the season in which they had to get past those injuries. He appeared in 13 games over a month with the team.

Since then, he’s been navigating a landscape unprecedented for a player waiting for the next call from a team. The 2019-20 season was suspended in March, resumed in July, and the 2020-21 season began in December. All the while, limitations on usage of public spaces during the pandemic made it a challenge to stay in shape.

Even when you can, it can’t replicate the experience of being on the court with NBA peers.

“When we’re talking about doing a workout, it’s easy to run by yourself and sort of force yourself to do sprints,” said Shumpert. “It’s another thing to run, stop, go, get hit by a screen, a couple actions coming in and then you’ve got to make a shot. It’s hard for me to simulate those things without having NBA players around. You can say, ‘I did the drill and I shot the floater,’ but it’s another thing when you’ve got (Norvel) Pelle out here trying to block your shot playing pickup. So it’s been great to get around those guys and be able to play. We played ‘threes’ the other day, being able to play ‘threes’ and really get some game-like action out there, really get to see that length again that the NBA brings.”

It’s a dramatically different roster than the one Shumpert was part of last season, but he’s also played with James Harden while in Houston and Jeff Green and Kyrie Irving while in Cleveland. (Irving was out with a shoulder injury last fall and didn’t play a game with Shumpert in Brooklyn.) He played for assistant coach Mike D’Antoni in both Houston and with the Knicks. He joked that the Brooklyn staff is full of coaches and trainers he’s worked with throughout the league.

“He’s just one of those guys who has been around, he’s had a lot of success, he’s very reliable,” said Joe Harris. “You can plug him into any sort of situation, and he’s not going to beat himself. He makes sound plays on the offensive end, and defensively, he can make a difference. He’s very active, he’s athletic, he’s and excellent perimeter defender with great hands and anybody like that you can plug them in in any sort of situation and they’re going to bring you positives. Then, from a locker-room standpoint, he provides a lot of great energy and a good voice, which I think will help us out, too.”

Shumpert is part of the group of reinforcements after the Harden trade left Brooklyn with three open roster spots. Center Norvel Pelle made his Brooklyn debut on Saturday in Philadelphia, and on Monday the Nets announced the signing of forward Noah Vonleh.

But it’s been a challenge getting new players integrated as full practices for the Nets are rare. And while Pelle and Vonleh are available for Tuesday’s game, Shumper has been listed as out with a hamstring strain.

“You can’t ask for maybe what you’d ask for in a normal year, especially with everything that’s gone on with us and the limited amount of time we can spend together on the practice floor, so it’s probably a little less than you would in a regular season,” said Nets head coach Steve Nash. “You want to see a basic understanding of what we’re trying to do at both ends of the floor where at least they can work towards that during a game. You also want to make sure that they are in some safety zone as far as fitness goes. Felt for Norvel. I think his lungs were burning a little bit in Philly. We felt for him, but at the same time we’ve kind of got to get him going. There is that challenge every time you bring someone in new who’s been at home basically to making sure that they’re in a place where, while it might not be pretty, it’s safe enough to put them out on the floor and they’re not going to do damage to themselves.”