Host pre-draft combine as coaching search continues
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn native A.J. Matthews' sister works at one of the concession stands at the Barclays Center.
He'd admittedly love to join her as a Nets employee -- on the hardwood, not behind a service counter.
“I just wanted to show everyone I could really play with these guys from Division I championship teams," Matthews noted during the Nets' pre-draft combine in East Rutherford, N.J. last week. "A lot of people know I can dunk and grab rebounds. I want them to know I can score."
While it's highly unlikely the 7-foot, 215-pound Farmingdale State alum can earn a spot on the Nets' roster for the 2013-14 campaign, that didn't stop Matthews or fellow Brooklynite Demetrius Conger from putting forth their best foot during the team's collegiate talent search in advance of the June 27 NBA Draft, which will be held on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
“It was very different," Matthews said of wearing a Brooklyn practice jersey just a few blocks from where he grew up. "I was born and raised here. I’ve seen the New Jersey Nets a lot, seen them change into Brooklyn, just five minutes from where I live. My sister actually works at (the Barclays Center). I’m just glad they gave me the chance to show I can play with these guys. I’m just going to keep working hard.”
Matthews, a Harry Van Arsdale High School graduate who led all of Division III in rebounding at Farmingdale during his junior season, helped the Nets fill out the floor during the 5-on-5 drills, which featured players like point guard Peyton Siva from defending national champion Louisville.
Conger, a 6-6 swingman from St. Bonaventure, got some run as well, relishing the opportunity to display his wares in front of the Nets' braintrust, which is currently seeking a head coach to take over for P.J. Carlesimo, who was given his walking papers less than 24 hours after Brooklyn's Game 7 opening-round loss to Chicago on May 4.
“I think I played all right. It was a little bit to get used to," admitted Conger, who attended Atlanta's Covenant Christian Academy before playing for the Bonnies. “[I was] raised in Brooklyn the majority of my life. It was a pretty good feeling. A sense of pride with me being from Brooklyn and my family being here in Brooklyn. I’m looking to prove that I’m a hard worker. I’m looking to get better. That’s the main thing. I get to showcase my entire game.”
While the two Brooklynites continue to chase their hoop dreams, Siva is anxiously awaiting draft night.
The speedy 6-foot playmaker projects as a potential second-round pick next month. With the Nets picking 22nd overall, and already having C.J. Watson and Tyshawn Taylor behind star point guard Deron Williams, Siva doesn't appear to be a player they'd covet.
But that didn't stop Rick Pitino's floor leader from running and gunning with the likes of Iranian big man Arsalan Kazemi of Oregon, Illinois guard Brandon Paul or Kansas forward Travis Releford.
“I haven’t really played 5-on-5 since the [national] championship game," Siva admitted during a post-practice interview aired on the Nets' website (www.brooklynnets.com). "I want to show these teams I can be a leader on the court, just continue to play the way I’ve been playing. I have to maintain that focus and energy, come in, bring a lot of energy, play tough and be a leader.”
Leadership, at least on the coaching front, is something the Nets are sorely missing at this point. Nearly a month after Carlesimo's firing, Brooklyn is patiently mulling potential candidates for the suddenly high-profile post.
With San Antonio having advanced to the NBA Finals, and Miami and Indiana currently battling it out for Eastern Conference supremacy, the Nets are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, who went through two coaches, Avery Johnson being the first, during the team's inaugural campaign in our fair borough, would doubtlessly like a high-profile coach at the helm.
But King may have his eyes on much-sought-after Indiana assistant Brian Shaw, or current Memphis head coach Lionel Hollins, according to a story in Wednesday's New York Post.
The Nets have already received a "Thanks, but no thanks," from former Bulls and Lakers coaching icon Phil Jackson, but proven NBA retreads like Larry Brown, Jerry Sloan, Nate McMillan, Scott Skiles and Jeff or Stan Van Gundy could get a look-see in the coming month.
"There's a lot of candidates out there at this time and that's why we reacted quickly [in firing Carlesimo]." King told ESPN earlier this month. "Long-term we just need to get a good fit for us."
With a $200 million backcourt, anchored by Williams and Joe Johnson, a center coming off his first All-Star season in Brook Lopez, and one of the deepest benches in the league, the Nets are certainly an attractive landing spot for an out-of-work veteran coach, or an assistant looking to prove himself in the No. 1 spot.
Brooklyn won 49 games last season, reached the playoffs for the first time since 2007, established a new franchise record for road wins and averaged right around 17,000 per night at its new state-of-the-art facility. But the biggest, and most important seat in the house, has yet to be filled with just about a month to go before the draft.
Carlesimo, who has been working at ESPN since his exit from Brooklyn, indicated last week that Prokhorov's mandate of an NBA championship by 2015 may be a bit far-fetched, especially with the way the team is currently constructed.
"I wouldn't say that team cannot win a championship, because we thought we could this year if things broke a little better for us," he said. "But if that's on your plate that you need to win a championship in two years, I think that makes it a little challenging."
"I also think the expectations are maybe not totally realistic, but you'd rather have that from your owner, and then he's got the wherewithal to back it up," Carlesimo added. "That's his goal. We talked about that from day one. He doesn't make any bones about it. He doesn't want to have a nice team, he doesn't want to just sell tickets in Brooklyn and make the team competitive. He wants to win an NBA championship, and as a coach you can't ask for more that. So if what comes with that is a short leash, well, so be it."
Short leash or not, the Nets will likely have a new coach in place by July. The humidity that is likely to descend on Brooklyn during that at-times torturous month will pale in comparison to the heat on Brooklyn's new head man to deliver the franchise's first-ever NBA championship.
"It's not about marquee, we want the guy that we think can do the job the best," King noted of the ongoing coaching search. "And going forward for the long-term."
Thus far, King and Prokhorov have proven that "long-terms" can get short in a hurry if the Nets aren't playing up to snuff. Just ask their first two head coaches.