author: Tom Dowd
Head coach Shaun Fein leads an all-new roster for last year’s G League Eastern Conference champs
The NBA G League’s Eastern Conference defending champions tip off the 2019-20 season Saturday night in Fort Wayne with a different look. The Long Island Nets have a new head coach and a brand-new 10-man roster. In addition, the Brooklyn Nets have turned over each of their two-way roster spots, assigned to players who can spend a maximum of 45 days with the NBA squad while the G League is in season.
The roster does include two players who competed with the organization’s NBA Summer League squad, and five players who spent time in Brooklyn’s training camp, including guard C.J. Massinburg, who participated in both.
And new head coach Shaun Fein is more than familiar with the operation. He’s in his fourth season with the organization. Last season as Brooklyn’s player development coach he worked closely with the G League staff and spent plenty of time in Long Island, tasked with monitoring the progress of Brooklyn’s two-way and roster assigned players as they moved back and forth between Brooklyn and Long Island.
“I’ve gotten to know the guys,” said Fein, who launched training camp with his new roster on Oct. 28, of this new roster. “Some we had in Summer League. Some I’ve known before. Even over these last three or four days, we’ve gotten to talk a little bit. They understand our philosophy, how as an organization we want to do things. I think they’ve picked it up pretty quickly for the most part. Early on we could struggle a little bit just based on that we don’t have that continuity that we had on Long Island last year, lot of returners last year. They’ve picked up everything pretty quickly and they’ve seemed to jell and like each other and talk off the court, so we’ll be all right.”
This year’s two-way spots belong to forward/center Henry Ellenson and guard/forward Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot, both first-round draft picks in 2016. Ellenson is scheduled to travel with Brooklyn on a five-game road trip that begins in Portland on Friday night, but Luwawu-Cabarrot will be with Long Island for its opener on Saturday, to be followed by the home opener at NYCB LIVE on Monday night against the College Park Skyhawks, affiliate of the Atlanta Hawks.
Second-round draft pick Jaylen Hands has been working with the team through much of the last few months after participating in Summer League. The 56th overall pick was a top 25 national college recruit out of the San Diego area and spent two seasons at UCLA before going pro. He was named to the All-Pac-12 Second Team last year.
“His next step, he wants to be an NBA player,” said Fein. “We’re tasked with his development. He’s a young point, athletic. Decent shooter. He’s got to learn how to organize offense and just know what we’re doing all the time, know where guys are supposed to be. That’s one of the things he needs to develop; be a leader on the floor and know every position, know where guys are supposed to be. He’s got the athletic ability. He’s gotten better since he’s worked with us through Summer League and throughout the fall. He’s got a chance. I’m expecting good things out of him. I think we’ll go through some growing pains with him just because he’s a young kid. Excited about his potential.”
Massinburg led a breakthrough era at Buffalo, where the Bulls advanced out of the mid-major Mid-American Conference to win NCAA Tournament games each of the last two years. The 6-5 guard was a two-time all-conference first team pick and the MAC Player of the Year last season.
“A competitor. You want to win a game, you have him in the game,” said Fein. “I think he’s going to make winning plays for you. Comes from Buffalo where they had a lot of success during his four years there and he had a lot to do with it. Competes all the time, defensively, offensively. I think he can become a better shooter. He’s a guy that can handle the ball and play some point guard for us. He can play multiple positions for us too. Just a tough kid.”
C.J. Williams, Deng Adel, John Egbunu and Devin Cannady all joined Massinburg with some time in Brooklyn’s training camp before joining Long Island.
A 6-foot-5 guard, Williams played four seasons at N.C. State through 2012. In addition to experience abroad, the 29-year-old has two full G League seasons on his resume, in addition to two-way contracts with the Los Angeles Clippers and Minnesota Timberwolves the last two years.
“Looking at him as a leader of this team,” said Fein. “He’s been around the block. He can explain to guys what to expect and be that locker room voice for us. He can play multiple positions for us. If we want to go small, he can play the four. He can play the wing at the three. Skilled. Can shoot it. Smart player. We’ll lean heavily on him as a coaching staff to be kind of our extension in the locker room and help the younger guys. Kind of like Mitch Creek last year. Hopefully he can fill that role.”
Adel, a 6-foot-7 swingman, played at Louisville and had a two-way contract with Cleveland last year, playing 19 games for the Cavs in addition to G League minutes with the Canton Charge and Toronto’s affiliate, Raptors 905. He’s a switchable, versatile wing. Cannady is a marksman who shot 40 percent from 3-point range over four years at Princeton.
The Nets are counting on Egbunu up front. At 6-foot-10 and 257 pounds, the 25-year-old is working his way back after knee surgery cost him his last season at Florida and kept him out of action for much of the last two years.
“Five-man. Rim protector. Rolls to the rim hard and can be a lob threat all the time,” said Fein. “Rebounds the ball pretty well. Can get us extra possessions with the offensive rebounds. He’s an explosive athlete. Just a guy that we want to anchor our defense and be that guy that can protect the rim and also clean up the boards and get us going on the other end. This is his first time playing in I think two years. So he’s got some rust on him, but you can see the potential; shot-blocking, being a lob threat in the pick and roll. I think that will open up space for our shooters and our guards to get downhill.”
Fein takes over for Will Weaver, last season’s G League coach of the year, who moved on to a head coaching job in Australia. Long Island’s 34-16 record last season was tied for the league’s best, as the Nets led the league in points per game (117.7) while playing the league’s third-fastest pace (107.90).
“I think my vision is kind of the same as Will’s. We want to play fast,” said Fein. “I want to be organized too, if that makes sense. Like I told these guys at the beginning of camp, we want a lot of pace but we also want to be organized within that pace. I don’t want us to be helter skelter. I think pace is big in this league. I think everyone tries to run, but I think more importantly it’s going to be on the defensive side of the ball especially to start the season.
“I want our defense to be ahead of it, especially transition defense, pick and roll, I’ve been stressing that with the guys through film and drills in practice. That is my vision right now to start the season. Defensively we need to be on our stuff and I think the offense will come. These guys are talented enough and understand the game. They understand the offense, that will pick up as the season goes on. If we can lay that foundation of transition defense, pick and roll defense, those are the two main things that I think happen the most during the game, we’ll be OK.”