Nets fall to Bucks in NBA Summer League opener
LAS VEGAS — As Kevin Durant goes dark and Kyrie Irving watches a Los Angeles Sparks game, the Nets’ NBA Summer League team must play with the organization’s uncertain future hanging over them.
Despite all the drama surrounding the team, it hasn’t been a topic in Vegas.
“We’re just coming to work, we’re getting better,” Brooklyn summer league coach Adam Caporn said Thursday. “I felt their attitude, their commitment was great. They are locked up. You can smell it from them.
Brooklyn’s summer league roster is made up of Cam Thomas, Day’Ron Sharpe, Kessler Edwards and David Duke Jr., four of the Nets’ rotation players from last season who are all entering their second season after mixed rookie years. But with next season’s roster so uncertain due to Durant’s requested trade, which could be followed by a trade for Irving, the Nets are trying to stay in the present and not worry about what might happen. be requested from Thomas and Co. next season.
“Well, that’s not what I’m focusing on right now,” Caporn said. “We have a team, we try to help them improve. We try to give them all the opportunity to show what they can do and put them in a position to succeed. This is a discussion for many people later.
Both dynamics were present Friday in Brooklyn’s 94-90 loss to the Bucks, the team’s first summer league game. Thomas picked up where he left off in Vegas a year ago, scoring 31 points, including 17 in the fourth quarter, to rally the Nets from a double-digit deficit. His step back 3 in the final seconds to tie the game came off the front of the rim. Duke, meanwhile, scored 22 points and was aggressive defensively.
Thomas was Durant and Irving’s understudy last season and said he texted Durant a week ago, despite a report from Yahoo Sports that the Brooklyn franchise player left the grid with his fellow NBA stars since his exchange request. Irving attended the Sparks game in Los Angeles on Thursday with Lakers guard Kendrick Nunn. The Lakers are the only known team to try to trade for Irving.
Whether or not Durant or Irving are with the Nets next season, Thomas said he would always appreciate their mentorship.
“I connected a lot with those two,” Thomas said Thursday. “These two are my brothers no matter what. I always call or text them about something. So, you know, that’s what it is. It’s part of the business. Hope everything works out in our favor. But, you know, you just have to move on in life.
Duke, one of Brooklyn’s two-way players last season, is currently unsigned after declining the Nets’ $1.5 million qualifying offer in June. The 6ft 4in guard said he was not worried about his contract situation, but hinted he had higher goals than going back on a two-way deal for another season.
“I’m always going to strive for the most that I can, aren’t I?” said Duke. “If there’s a spot on the roster to aim for, then whatever happens from there happens. But like I said, I’m just here to try to play the best I can, to show what I can bring to Brooklyn, to anybody. It’s just my mindset.
While Duke and Thomas rallied the Nets, Ben Simmons, Nic Claxton and newcomer Royce O’Neale supported them on the court. As the Nets, Irving and Durant haven’t typically been to Vegas, in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Durant’s Olympic demands last summer. But even LeBron James and Russell Westbrook both came out to support the Lakers on Friday, despite not greeting each other.
Claxton re-signed with the Nets on a two-year, $20 million deal and said he’s heard from the two stars since signing his new contract, but he doesn’t consider it to be its job to change your mind.
“It’s above my pay grade,” he told reporters while wearing a New Jersey Nets shirt. The 6-foot-10 center has attracted interest from other contending teams, but has resumed with Brooklyn despite the uncertainty of its stars.
“I’m happy to be here,” Claxton said. “I feel like we have unfinished business regardless of who is going to rock with us next year.”
Nic Claxton wears a New Jersey Nets shirt. “We have to support the OGs.” pic.twitter.com/qRIASA9Qed
—Alex Schiffer (@Alex__Schiffer) July 8, 2022
In a scene constructed for a modern basketball western, Claxton was riding a horse in the Dominican Republic when his phone died with news of Durant’s trade request. News of Durant broke along with Brooklyn’s trade for O’Neale, which cost them the Sixers’ 2023 first-round pick acquired in the Simmons trade.
“My news, I thought, was great,” O’Neale said. “And (Durant’s request) happened and I was (like) … ‘Oh.’ I feel like my news has gone under the rug a bit, but I’m excited.
Shortly after the trade, O’Neale heard about former Net Taurean Prince, who was his teammate at Baylor. Prince was handled by Brooklyn in the trade to acquire James Harden and called his close friend to vouch for the organization.
“Man, you’re gonna love it over there,” O’Neale told Prince.
O’Neale played for recently hired assistant Igor Kokoškov in Utah and has heard from Simmons and Patty Mills since joining the team. Donovan Mitchell called him to rave about Joe Harris, who Mitchell played with on Team USA at the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup.
After spending five years as a playoff regular at Utah, the 6-foot-5 winger said he’s optimistic Brooklyn will be competitive no matter who’s on the roster.
“I had nothing to do with it,” O’Neale said of building the roster. “I don’t know anything about it, but definitely with all these guys it’s a special group we have right now.”
Life goes on for the Nets, especially in a city like Vegas, where sleep deprivation rivals New York. But the shadows of Durant and Irving continue to hang over the team as their fates are decided.
(Photo by Cam Thomas: Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA Today)