EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Along with scores of team executives from each one of the NBA’s 30 franchises, the Nets’ brass was out in full force at the PNY Center Wednesday, watching on as a portion of the 44 invited draft hopefuls showcased their talents at the team’s practice facility.
Flanked by some of his trusty personnel, which included his assistant GM Bobby Marks -- the guy who came up with the idea for this two-day combine the Nets have now hosted for five years -- GM Billy King looked on. But unlike the previous two years, when Avery Johnson was around, King & Co. didn’t have a head coach to bounce ideas off of on this day.
With the Nets early in the process of finding a replacement for let-go interim coach P.J. Carlesimo, there’s a void of sorts among their typical brain trust circle. It’s not ideal, but it’s something they’ll continue to work through.
“Well, I think it’s always a little bit easier when you have your head coach in place,” Nets director of player personnel Gregg Polinsky said after the gym started emptying out. “But with that being said, the one thing about Billy is that he feels like the personnel people have been out seeing these people all year long, that we have done our homework, that we have put the time in on background.”
Sure, the continuity within the Nets’ personnel department shouldn’t hurt, given they've been working with each other for a while now. Ultimately, it’s going to be King’s call, though. The rubber stamp rests squarely on his shoulders. Coach or no coach.
“At the end of the day, the decision will be made by Billy,” Polinksy said, “but the information will be supplied basically from personnel people on where we think this fits, how we are going to list these guys in terms of an order of preference. So, the coach is always important, but I think being here, and knowing what the foundation is and what our team looks like going forward, it puts us in a position to do this even without a coach at the present time.”
Among other things, the Nets could use a small forward who can stretch the defense (even if Bojan Bogdanovic makes his way over here from Europe), and a power forward with a knack for the basket to compliment rebound demon Reggie Evans.
Although, if the Nets do re-sign Andray Blatche, he's already made it clear he’d have no problem playing more power forward since he saw extensive action at the position prior to joining the Nets last offseason. Should that be the case, then potentially, they'd need another big man to back up Brook Lopez.
Either way, there are plenty of variables that have to start slowly shaking themselves out as June 27 draft that takes place at the Barclays Center nears. Hey, don't forget that actual draft day wheeling and dealing as well.
“It’s early,” Polinsky said, “even though here we are all sitting here in the latter part of May. I think we are still gathering information, putting together the pieces of the puzzle and there’s some moving parts that you cant just say, ‘Hey, right now. We’d like to have this position or this guy right here’ because there are so many things that can happen during the draft that move you up, move you down.
“So we are going to take the most talented player, the guy that we think is there on the board for us that makes sense.”
Wednesday was the first of the two-day event Polinksy jokingly called the “Bobby Marks Invitational.” One thing some execs particularly enjoy about the format they’ve settled into at this particular combine centers around the lengthy, five-on-five game action, which is a rarity in the postseason evaluation process nowadays.
That’s why it drew the likes of Celtics president Danny Ainge, Rockets GM Daryl Morey, Hawks GM Danny Ferry, Sixers president Rod Thorn and Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. Just to name a few.
“Actually, for some guys, this might actually be a little more pressure than playing with their teams,” Polinsky said. “They look out here and they see presidents, general managers, even a little bit of ownership of teams that are here. When they are playing in their arena, let’s face it, we blend in a little more. So I think it is a little bit, for them, an opportunity to step up. But they realize they’ve got a lot of eyes on them, and people may not have seen them as much throughout the year.
“It is their time to make that first impression.”
That’s how it was for Norvel Pelle, the 6-11 former St. John’s signee. Pelle, a native of Los Angeles, was the top-ranked center in Rivals.com’s Class of 2011. But he failed to qualify academically and played at three prep schools before electing to enter this year’s draft.
So knowing this combine was his opportunity to leave a positive impression on some of the league’s top executives had Pelle feeling anxious.
“Very nervous,” he said. “Seeing a bunch of them in the gym is kind of nerve wracking. I didn’t go to college, so I really didn’t have that experience of playing in front of a whole bunch of people. So with this little crowd, I was still kind of nervous.”