Yuta Watanabe

Nets Notes: Depth, Mills, Thomas, Drummond

The NetsKevin Durant and Kyrie Irving trades earlier this month significantly reduced the team’s star power but have created a deeper roster, resulting in difficult decisions for head coach Jacque Vaughn, as Mark W. Sanchez of The New York Post writes.

With Seth Curry back in action on Wednesday following a five-game absence due to a left adductor strain, the Vaughn and the Nets employed a 10-man rotation that left out a couple players who have had regular roles for much of the season. As Sanchez writes, there was no room in that 10-man rotation for Edmond Sumner or Yuta Watanabe in addition to Day’Ron Sharpe or Patty Mills.

Vaughn is happy to use 10 of the Nets’ 14 players (not counting two-ways) for the time being, but expects to tighten the rotation further this spring.

“We’re playing 10 guys right now,” Vaughn said on Wednesday. “Eventually that’s going to whittle down to nine or eight as you get into the playoffs, but I think that’s the biggest thing is being able to utilize the depth.”

Here’s more on the Nets:

  • Although he’s one of the odd men out of the Nets’ new rotation, Mills said he likes the look of the roster in the wake of the trade deadline and remains confident in the team’s chances to make the playoffs. In a conversation with Ian Begley of SNY.tv, the veteran guard made multiple references to the character of the locker room and the off-court bonds between Nets players. “Genuinely, you look around the room and we’ve just got really solid dudes,” Mills said. “(Potential) friendships, (where) you can talk and you can go outside of the basketball court, which I think at the end of the day makes a real impact on what we can do on the court.”
  • Given the opportunity to take on a larger role, Nets guard Cam Thomas scored 134 points in a three-game span earlier this month, but he has seen his minutes dip again within the last week, averaging just 19.8 MPG in Brooklyn’s last three games. Thomas, who expressed frustration with his limited playing time early in the season, doesn’t sound thrilled about once again taking a step back, Sanchez writes for The New York Post. “It’s tough,” Thomas said. “From doing one thing and trying to adjust to the team because that’s just what you got to do. It’s tough for sure. So just got to figure it out.”
  • Speaking to Michael Scotto of HoopsHype, Bulls center Andre Drummond admitted that he would’ve liked to re-sign with the Nets as a free agent last summer, but turned to the “next best option” when things didn’t work out with Brooklyn. “I definitely wanted to come back, but I think they were going in a different direction, so there was nothing I could really do about that,” said Drummond, who was the Nets’ starting center down the stretch and in the playoffs last spring.

Kevin Durant Expected To Be Out Through All-Star Break

Nets star Kevin Durant, who is currently sidelined with a sprained MCL in his right knee, is expected to remain out through the All-Star break, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (via Twitter).

Brooklyn has five more games before the break, so Durant will miss at least those contests. The team resumes post-break on February 24 against Chicago.

Durant, who was named an All-Star for the 13th time last month, will also miss the exhibition event, tweets Chris Haynes of Bleacher Report. An injury replacement will likely be named soon to take his place.

Head coach Jacque Vaughn told reporters, including Brian Lewis of The New York Post (Twitter link), that Durant received a “really good report” from doctors. The veteran forward has been doing some on-court work, but hasn’t been taking contact yet.

Before Wojnarowski broke the news, Vaughn also suggested that Durant was looking unlikely to suit up before the break.

I won’t step over that line…but the days are adding up,” Vaughn said (Twitter link via Alex Schiffer of The Athletic).

A couple of reports over the past couple weeks indicated that Durant was hopeful to return shortly before the mid-season event, but it makes sense for the Nets to be cautious with their best player. In addition to being 34 years old, Durant has had extended injury absences in each of the past three seasons after tearing his Achilles tendon in 2019.

In other injury news for the Nets, forward Yuta Watanabe will be out for Tuesday’s game against Phoenix due to back tightness and is scheduled to undergo an MRI on Wednesday, per ESPN’s Nick Friedell (Twitter link).

Nets Notes: Warren, Durant, D. Smith, Watanabe

It didn’t take T.J. Warren long to prove he can still play at a high level, but the Nets are focused more on keeping him healthy for the playoffs than maximizing his contributions during the regular season, writes Greg Joyce of The New York Post. Warren missed nearly two full seasons due to foot injuries before returning to the court in early December.

“Every game, I’m feeling more and more like myself,” he said. “Two years is a long time, two calendar years going through multiple foot problems. But I feel great. Mentally, I’m in a good space. I just want to continue to get better and help this team win as much as I can.”

Through 17 games, Warren is averaging 10.5 points off the bench in 20.4 minutes per night. Coach Jacque Vaughn considered moving Warren into the starting lineup in the wake of Kevin Durant‘s injury, but opted for Joe Harris instead in an effort to control Warren’s workload.

“I’ve told him this message: That’s my No. 1 goal, that he’s healthy and hooping in the playoffs, showing his skills off to the rest of the world,” Vaughn said. “That would be the kind of guiding light. Will I be tempted at times (to push his minutes) if he’s rolling? For sure, every coach would be. But hopefully for his longevity, for the group, we’ll put him in a position to succeed the whole year.”

There’s more from Brooklyn:

  • The Nets haven’t decided how involved Durant will be while he recovers from his sprained MCL, according to Alec Sturm of Nets Daily. Vaughn explained that Durant hasn’t been on the bench because the team doesn’t want to risk someone running into him during game action. It also hasn’t been determined how much Durant will travel with the team and whether he’ll consider playing in the All-Star Game, although Vaughn expressed hope that he’ll be fully recovered by the February 19 event.
  • Vaughn also offered some insight into Dru Smith, who signed a two-way contract with the Nets on Friday, Sturm adds. “A guard that has some athleticism, good size, competes, so areas that we really love,” Vaughn said at Saturday’s practice. “I think he has some upside to get better. So (we) look forward to him being a part of our group and getting him involved pretty quickly with (G League affiliate) Long Island. He just landed and went through his physical, so he’ll be around and there’s a possibility he’ll be with the rest of the group watching tomorrow.”
  • Brian Lewis of The New York Post (subscription required) talks to Yuta Watanabe about the impact his success in Brooklyn is having in Japan.

Nets To Guarantee Contracts For Watanabe, Sumner, Morris

Yuta Watanabe, Edmond Sumner and Markieff Morris will have their contracts guaranteed by the Nets for the rest of the season, tweets Michael Scotto of HoopsHype. Saturday marks the deadline for teams to waive players on non-guaranteed contracts and avoid paying their full-season salaries.

Watanabe has been a tremendous find after signing with Brooklyn in August. He’s making 51.4% of his three-point shots, the best percentage in the league, and is averaging a career-high 7.7 points per game in his fifth NBA season.

Sumner has become a reliable rotation player after missing all of last year with an Achilles injury. The Nets acquired him in a trade with Indiana before the start of the 2021/22 season, then re-signed him last offseason. Sumner has appeared in 33 games, averaging 6.8 PPG in 14.4 minutes per night.

Brooklyn is the seventh team for Morris in a 12-year NBA career. He has only played 19 games and averages 11.4 minutes, but he provides a valuable veteran presence to help mentor the Nets’ young big men.

Atlantic Notes: Watanabe, Irving, Raptors, Sixers

Yuta Watanabe is leading the NBA with a .521 3PT%, but he hasn’t been earning playing time for the Nets solely because of his three-point shooting, according to head coach Jacque Vaughn.

“He’s doing a little bit (of) everything,” Vaughn said, per Brian Lewis of The New York Post. “… He’s getting his hands on balls, whether that’s being in the paint and plugging the paint, coming back and tipping balls. Being around the basketball and being in a good position, great drive to the rim, which was aggressive. So he’s grown as a basketball player.”

Watanabe has averaged a career-high 19.2 minutes per game this season for the Nets while playing on a minimum-salary contract that technically remains non-guaranteed. It’s a safe bet to assume the 28-year-old forward will remain with the club through January 7, which is the deadline for teams to waive players on non-guaranteed contracts and avoid paying their full-season salaries.

Here’s more from around the Atlantic:

  • At one point this fall, Kyrie Irving‘s NBA future beyond this season seemed up in the air, but the star guard has been reaffirming his case for a maximum-salary contract with his play in recent weeks, Mark W. Sanchez for The New York Post writes. It also no longer seems outlandish that Irving could remain in Brooklyn beyond this season, though it remains to be seen whether the Nets or any other team will be open to making a long-term offer.
  • Given the talent on the Raptors‘ roster, potential buyers around the NBA are keeping a close eye on Toronto and may be reluctant to move forward on other deals until they see if the Raptors will be sellers, writes Michael Grange of Sportsnet.ca. “Toronto are the first domino,” a league source who has been monitoring the Raptors told Grange. “What they do will affect teams all across the league: Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Atlanta – not that it’s about deals with any particular team, just that people are going to be waiting to see what the Raptors do before they make their moves. Toronto could set the market.”
  • Injuries have prevented the Sixers from taking an extended look at three-guard lineups this season, but they got a chance to do so on Monday night, with P.J. Tucker logging just 18 minutes. Kyle Neubeck of PhillyVoice explores the pros and cons of those guard-heavy five-man units — especially the ones featuring James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and De’Anthony Melton.

New York Notes: Nets, Simmons, Claxton, Watanabe, Knicks

Nets swingman Ben Simmons is returning for Friday’s game against the Hawks, but he’ll be limited to around 20 minutes of playing time and won’t suit up on Saturday in Indiana for the second game of the back-to-back set, tweets Brian Lewis of The New York Post.

Simmons will start at center in place of Nic Claxton, who is dealing with right hamstring tightness (Twitter link via ESPN’s Nick Friedell). According to Lewis, Claxton’s injury isn’t considered a long-term issue, as he won’t be getting an MRI (Twitter link). Claxton said he just experienced the tightness on Thursday and “expects to be fine,” Lewis adds (via Twitter).

Here’s more on the two New York teams:

  • Nets forward Yuta Watanabe, who has been sidelined since November 20 with a right hamstring strain, will miss his 10th consecutive game on Friday. However, he’ll return to action for Saturday’s contest against the Pacers, per Lewis. Watanabe was having a nice season as a reserve for Brooklyn prior to getting injured, averaging 8.1 points and 2.9 rebounds while shooting 57.1% from three-point range through 14 games (18.2 minutes per night).
  • Knicks fans have gotten a long-awaited look at the team’s young players the past couple games, writes Peter Botte of The New York Post. Botte notes that “fans have been clamoring” for head coach Tom Thibodeau to give “the kids” more playing time the past couple seasons, and forward Julius Randle, 28, was New York’s oldest rotation player during Wednesday’s win over Atlanta. “I like how our young guys work. I knew when we got them from the very first day, you could see it,” Thibodeau said. “You could see it in practice. You could see how they approach things. You could see how competitive they are. So usually those are the characteristics that drive achievement, when you look at how competitive a guy is. What’s their work ethic like? What’s their toughness like? What’s their mental quickness like? You look at all those intangibles. What are the things that drive achievement? And they fit the bill.”
  • Fred Katz of The Athletic wonders whether Thibodeau will use Cam Reddish as a small-ball power forward or go big with Jericho Sims while Obi Toppin is out for the next few weeks with a fibula injury. As Katz observes, Thibodeau has been strict about using a nine-man rotation lately, so it will likely be one or the other, not both. For what it’s worth, Sims was given the early nod in the Knicks‘ contest at Charlotte on Friday, tweets Steve Popper of Newsday.

Atlantic Notes: Rose, Raptors, Simmons, Watanabe

Derrick Rose has seen his playing time drop and he didn’t play at all on Sunday, Rose said Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau decided to give second-year guard Miles McBride a closer look, Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News tweets. McBride played 16 scoreless minutes against Cleveland.

“(Thibodeau) said he wanted to give a Deuce a look. That’s all he told me. So I understood,” the veteran Knicks guard said.

Considering Rose’s $15,596,339 salary for next season includes a club option, the Knicks could look to move Rose to a team in need of a backup point guard.

We have more from the Atlantic Division:

  • The Raptors need to solve their perimeter shooting woes in order to make a move up the standings, Josh Lewenberg of TSN writes. Toronto is shooting just 33% from deep, with Fred VanVleet (34%), Gary Trent Jr. (33.6%) and Scottie Barnes (32.1%) among those underperforming. “We’re not really where we need to be,” VanVleet said. “It’s not a bad place to be, we’ve just got to make that jump if we want to be a great team.”
  • The Nets’ Ben Simmons is hopeful he can return to action against Atlanta on Friday, Nick Friedell of ESPN tweets. Simmons has been out since Nov. 28 due to knee soreness. He’s averaging 8.5 points, 6.6 rebounds and 5.8 assists per game this season.
  • Another Nets player, Yuta Watanabe, is hopeful he can return to action on Friday or Saturday this week, Friedell adds in another tweet. Recovering from a hamstring injury, he recently got some 3-on-3 work in. Watanabe, who is a one-year minimum contract, hasn’t played since Nov. 20. He averaged 14.5 points during a four-game stretch prior to suffering the injury.

Ben Simmons Out At Least Three Games With Calf Strain

Ben Simmons has been diagnosed with a left lateral upper calf strain and will miss at least three games for the Nets, tweets Brian Lewis of The New York Post.

Simmons will be reassessed after the third game, which is Sunday against the Celtics. Brooklyn has two days off following the matchup with Boston, so the earliest Simmons could return will be next Wednesday against the Hornets.

The 26-year-old left Monday’s win over Orlando in the second quarter with what was called left knee soreness. Evidently further testing revealed that the injury was actually located in his calf. With Simmons out, the Nets relied more on Joe Harris and Seth Curry, and that will likely continue for the next few games.

The Nets also announced that forward Yuta Watanabe, the NBA’s leader in 3PT% (.571), underwent a second MRI on his right hamstring strain and the results were unchanged — he’s still dealing with the injury. He’ll continue to receive treatment and will be reevaluated in one week. Watanabe has already missed five consecutive games with the hamstring strain and will miss at least three more.

The good news is that forward T.J. Warren is targeting a Friday return, so his presence should help make up for the size lost from Simmons and Watanabe being sidelined. The Nets are currently 11-11, the No. 9 seed in the East.

Injury Updates: Tatum, Herro, Barnes, Langford, More

The Celtics will have star forward Jayson Tatum on the court for tonight’s showdown with the Mavericks, according to Souichi Terada of MassLive.

Tatum was listed as questionable after hurting his left ankle in Monday’s game at Chicago, but coach Joe Mazzulla told reporters that he’ll be able to play without any limitations. Tatum appeared to be moving normally during shootaround, Terada observes.

Tatum is among the early favorites in the MVP race, averaging 30.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.6 assists while playing 37.2 minutes per game, the most in his career. He has led Boston to the best start in the league at 13-4.

There’s more injury-related news to pass along:

  • Tyler Herro will return for the Heat tonight after missing eight games with a sprained left ankle, the team announced (via Twitter). Max Strus was downgraded to out due to a shoulder injury, according to Anthony Chiang of The Miami Herald (Twitter link).
  • Raptors forward Scottie Barnes will miss tonight’s game with a sprained left knee, tweets Josh Lewenberg of TSN Sports. Fred VanVleet is sidelined with an illness, so Toronto is down to 10 available players.
  • Spurs guard Romeo Langford has been cleared to return tonight after missing five games while in the health and safety protocols. Josh Richardson will miss the game after suffering a sprained ankle in Tuesday’s practice (Twitter link), and Zach Collins has been downgraded from probable to out as he recovers from a non-displaced fracture of his fibula (Twitter link). Coach Gregg Popovich sounded optimistic when asked if Collins is close to returning. “Yes, I guess is the answer,” he replied. “He’s just not ready yet. We thought he might be, but he’s not.” Popovich also refused to provide any details about the illness that forced him to miss Sunday’s game, telling reporters, “I’m fine,” Orsborn tweets.
  • Dean Wade, who missed the past six games with knee soreness, will come off the Cavaliers‘ bench tonight and will be on a minutes restriction, according to Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com (Twitter link).
  • Nets forward Yuta Watanabe will be sidelined through at least Friday with a hamstring issue, tweets Nick Friedell of ESPN. An MRI taken Tuesday night confirmed the injury (Twitter link), but Watanabe doesn’t seem concerned. “It’s not that serious,” he said. “… It’s day to day. We’ll see how long it takes.” (Twitter link)
  • Mavericks coach Jason Kidd is optimistic that Maxi Kleber, who’s dealing with a lower back contusion, will be available Saturday or Sunday, tweets Brad Townsend of The Dallas Morning News.

Nets Notes: Simmons, Curry, Watanabe, Warren

Ben Simmons, who sat out all of the 2021/22 season in large part due to mental health issues, is still working with a therapist on how best to handle challenges like his return to Philadelphia on Tuesday night as a member of the Nets, writes Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

As Shelburne details, Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn referred to the road game against the Sixers as “the most hostile environment he’s probably ever going to be in” and said it would be a “monumental” hurdle for Simmons to clear.

While Brooklyn didn’t end up winning the game, it’s safe to say Simmons cleared the hurdle — he played 32 minutes and filled up the box score with 11 points, 11 assists, seven rebounds, three steals, and three blocks. After the game, he said with a smile that he thought the boos and the “F–k Ben Simmons” chants were “going to be louder,” according to Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I feel like I’m in a good place,” Simmons said. “I’m happy, I’m doing what I love. So to be out there and have that experience was amazing. Obviously it wasn’t the result we wanted. It’s frustrating to lose a game like that, but I think it’s a good step forward.”

Here’s more on Simmons and the Nets:

  • Within her aforementioned story, Shelburne says that a meeting between Simmons and Vaughn last Tuesday in Sacramento helped clear the air and put the three-time All-Star on the right track. “Sometimes I think guys just want to be heard,” Vaughn said. “And so for me to listen to him, about where he wants to get his game to, that he believes he’s going to get it back to an All-Defensive level. To hear those words means that we’re going to work on it together.” Since that meeting, the former No. 1 overall pick has averaged 14.8 PPG, 8.3 RPG, and 6.5 APG on 78.8% shooting in four games (29.9 MPG).
  • Seth Curry has played in eight of Brooklyn’s last nine games, but the team is still being cautious with him as he comes off ankle surgery. Curry has been ruled out for Wednesday’s contest in Toronto due to left ankle injury management, tweets Brian Lewis of The New York Post. Yuta Watanabe, who leads the NBA with a .571 3PT%, has also been ruled out for a second straight game — he won’t suit up against his former team due to right hamstring soreness.
  • Vaughn provided a minor update on T.J. Warren on Tuesday, telling reporters that the veteran forward is now practicing against players and not just coaches, per Mark W. Sanchez of The New Post. However, it remains unclear when Warren will make his Nets debut. “No setbacks, so overall T.J.’s been getting a good body of work in,” Vaughn said.