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Brooklyn fills out staff ahead of draft

Ollie leads new cast of Nets assistants for Jacque Vaughn

June 21, 2023 John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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With the NBA Draft looming Thursday night at Downtown’s Barclays Center, the Brooklyn Nets officially unveiled head coach Jacque Vaughn’s staff of assistants.

As reported two weeks ago, Kevin Ollie, Will Weaver, Jay Hernandez, Ronnie Burrell and Corey Vinson are the new additions to a bench that brings back director of player development Adam Caporn and assistants Trevor Hendry and Ryan Forehan-Kelly.

Brooklyn is loaded with picks heading into this draft, but could use those selections to make significant trades or rely on its staff to continue developing young talent.

Also, Portland point guard extraordinaire Damian Lillard may be in play as a potential trade target for general manager Sean Marks, who has been typically coy about his intentions ahead of the draft.

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Lillard, who intimated in April that he might not be on board with the Trail Blazers’ rebuilding project, has been rumored to be interested in playing alongside Brooklyn swingman Mikal Bridges, whom the Nets acquired last February from Phoenix in the deal that sent Kevin Durant to Phoenix.

The seven-time All-Star also took in the Nets’ Game 3 loss to Philadelphia in the opening round of last season’s playoffs at Barclays.

“Are you gonna go young, or are we gonna get something done?” Lillard pondered in an ESPN interview.

“I think we just kinda been on the fence with fully committing to either one. I just think we at that point know where everybody wants to win,” he added. “They believe I deserve that opportunity.”

Marks hasn’t budged on his early stance that the Nets, armed with Bridges, Cameron Johnson and Nic Claxton, could benefit more from bringing in fresh talent and letting Vaughn and his assistants develop players instead of rebuilding on the fly with a star of Lillard’s caliber.

“I think in this day and age, we’ve all seen players demand trade players behind the scenes, ask for this,” Marks said.

“Teams change, whether it’s ownership groups or front offices, and next thing you know, they pivot. So we just have to be ready for whatever comes our way. And if we can make a change that we can compete, we’ll be strategic about it.”

Portland point guard Damian Lillard has been rumored to be on the trading block ahead of Thursday night’s NBA Draft in Downtown Brooklyn. AP Photo by Mary Altaffer

Of course, the Nets could trade for Lillard as well as pick up new, breakthrough talent via the draft, considering the bevy of picks they acquired in dealing Kyrie Irving to Dallas and jettisoning Durant to the Suns.

They already have a youthful core of reserves, including Yuta Watanabe, Cam Thomas and Day’Ron Sharpe.

“We have a young group here that is wanting to compete, so we’re going to be going after it every year,” Marks noted after exit interviews in April following Brooklyn’s first-round playoff elimination.

Marks picked up five unprotected first-round selections in the February swap meet.

He also had two picks left from the trade that sent James Harden to the 76ers in February of 2022, a deal that landed enigmatic swingman Ben Simmons in Brooklyn.

Simmons has only suited up for the Nets 42 times since, and was unavailable during the stretch run toward the postseason as well as the Nets’ four-game sweep at the hands of his former team due to back and knee issues.

While he may be in an untradeable position due to his lack of production the previous two seasons, Simmons still has two years left on his contract, as does Lillard.

The trade may not match perfectly, but it would be a feasible swap if Marks threw in the likes of Spencer Dinwiddie and/or Joe Harris as well as a first-round pick.

Regardless of who winds up on Brooklyn’s 2023-24 roster, Vaughn has to be enthused with being able to help pick his own staff for his first full year at the helm.

He took over for fired head coach Steve Nash last November and guided the Nets to a 43-32 record thereafter.

Brooklyn grabbed the No. 6 seed in the East before faltering against Philadelphia.

Ollie is the most notable new additon. He guided the University of Connecticut to the 2014 national championship, but eventually parted ways with the Huskies following his firing in 2018 over a failure to monitor his program after an NCAA investigation.

The 13-year NBA veteran disputed the charges and the firing before he agreed to accept a $4 million settlement from his alma mater.

Weaver rejoins the Nets’ staff after two seasons as special assistant to the head coach and one season as the head coach of Brooklyn’s NBA G League affiliate, the Long Island Nets.

Hernandez spent the past five seasons in Charlotte, serving as the Hornets’ assistant coach/director of player development.

Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks has a lot of decisions to make, both of ahead of and during Thursday night’s NBA Draft at Barclays Center. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II

Burrell was named the G-League Coach of the Year last season after leading Long Island to a 23-9 mark, tied for the second-best on the circuit.

Vinson was the Suns’ player development coach and video coordinator the past three seasons.

The draft will begin at 8 p.m. Thursday night and can be watched on ABC and ESPN, with ABC covering the first round only.

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