Nets playing catch-up amid London hoopla
January, 14, 2014
By Mark Woods | Special to ESPNNewYork.com
Getty ImagesPaul Pierce plans some sightseeing as Andrei Kirilenko & Co. try to get in gear for Thursday's game.LONDON –- No sleep till Brooklyn? Try no sleep in London.
The Nets went straight into practice Tuesday morning after their trans-Atlantic trip, and more than a few members of the contingent confessed to fatigue as they prepare for Thursday’s game with the Atlanta Hawks in the British capital.
But, said Paul Pierce, shut-eye can wait.
The veteran has made this long-distance journey before, for a preseason matchup with the Boston Celtics in 2007. Although some might privately grumble about having to divert overseas in the middle of what has become a tougher than expected season, Pierce's sightseeing schedule is already mapped out.
“You cherish every time you get to be places you don’t know,” he said. “Even though I’ve been a couple of times, it’s been six, seven years since I was here. I probably will go to the London Eye, check out Big Ben, take a couple of pictures."
There is little opportunity to be idle. The NBA will use what has become an almost annual trip to press the flesh with sponsors and roll out the kind of offcourt activities normally reserved for the All-Star Game.
That means VIP receptions, a NBA Cares clinic and assorted events designed to promote the league to a British audience that still ranks basketball far below soccer on the popularity list.
Yet this game -- at the 19,000-capacity 02 Arena -- sold out within 24 hours, a quicker pace than on the Nets’ last visit to face the Toronto Raptors in 2011.
And there is still talk that, one day, there will be a European Division with franchises in cities like London, Paris, Madrid and Moscow.
“The growth of the international fans has come because of the international players,” Pierce said. “The more and more players you see from international parts of the world, the more the fan base of the NBA grows. That’s really the biggest part of it; you have players from China, from Germany, from all over the world.
“When you have that type of culture in the NBA, it spreads. I can’t even tell you how many players from different countries there are in the NBA. Just in this team alone, we have four, five, six. That says a lot about the way the game’s going.”
Still, some remain skeptical about the concept of fulfilling what was a long-term vision of outgoing NBA commissioner David Stern by adding teams outside North America.
Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov has extensively promoted the Brooklyn brand in his native Russia, mirroring much of the outreach undertaken by the Houston Rockets when Yao Ming opened a door into China.
One-off regular-season contests, TV deals, jersey sales? Simple. But frequent flyer miles to Europe? Not so fast.
“I don’t think it’s realistic only because of the traveling,” Nets forward Andrei Kirilenko said. “Maybe if it’s going to be a whole division, like the Euroleague is a division for the NBA, like the West or Eastern Conference -- so once a year you go to another continent and play three games there and then come back and adjust, maybe it's going to work.
“But it’s definitely not going to work coming to London then coming back. It’s physically impossible.”
ALL BUSINESS: Rested or not, Jason Kidd put his team through a light practice Tuesday at London’s Imperial College at what was the equivalent of breakfast time in New York in a bid to get his team quickly acclimated to British time (five hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time).
Neither Brook Lopez nor Deron Williams have joined the traveling party with assistant coach John Welch (personal reasons) also remaining in the United States.
Williams will continue to get treatment on his injured ankle, but Kidd has yet to determine whether the All-Star will be available when Brooklyn returns to face the Knicks on Monday at Madison Square Garden.
“He’s going through his rehab, and we’ll see where he’s at when we get back,” the Nets head coach told reporters.
With five wins out of their past six, the one thing Kidd will hope his players have not lost en route is that momentum as they look to match their victory over Atlanta on Jan. 6.
Their loss Saturday to the Raptors apart, there is a feeling among the coaching staff that greater consistency in the rotation will be vital in making up lost ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
And, Joe Johnson added: “We’ve kind of figured out some minor things and to roll with what we’ve got. And we’ve been doing a pretty good job of guys helping one another on both ends of the floor. We’re just trying to develop some kind of cohesiveness, just trying to string some wins together.”
The role of Shaun Livingston in filling the void left by Williams’ latest injury could prove vital.
The eighth-year guard struggled against the Raptors, notching just eight points and three assists, but he has been a steady hand during Brooklyn’s resurgence, featuring alongside Johnson, Pierce and Kirilenko at various times as Kidd has shuffled his lineup.
“It’s been fun because he’s a different threat,” Johnson said. “He’s a different point guard, a big point guard who’s pass-first but who can really score the basketball.
“He has a mismatch every night, and he helps us all out with it because he draws so much attention by getting in the paint and making easy plays, making the guys around him better.”