Back in early July, Willie Reed wondered whether he’d ever get an opportunity to play in the NBA. He was obviously confident in his abilities, but it was disconcerting that he was still out of the league.
The 25-year-old big man sat in an Orlando restaurant – at a table far too small for his 6’11 frame – and discussed each of his professional stops throughout his career. Reed went undrafted in 2011 and had brief stints with the Sacramento Kings and Memphis Grizzlies, as well as a training camp invite from the Brooklyn Nets last year. However, he never appeared in an NBA regular season game.
He spent the last three seasons playing in the D-League and he had one stint in the Dominican Republic, where the league organizers repeatedly referred to him as Willis Reed’s son and promoted him as such, no matter how many times Willie told them that wasn’t accurate (although the two are distant relatives).
As he ate his dinner, Reed spoke of just needing that one call, that one opportunity, from an NBA team to show that he can produce on basketball’s biggest stage. Last season in 48 D-League games, he averaged 16.4 points, 12.1 rebounds and 1.9 blocks, while shooting 60.3 percent from the field. He was ranked the top D-League prospect, but he still didn’t get a call-up from an NBA team.
“At times it was frustrating, but it humbled me,” Reed told Basketball Insiders. “I had gotten the opportunity to get called up in the past, but this past season it didn’t happen. It just made me want to work harder. I figured that if that call-up wasn’t coming, there was something more I needed to do or something I needed to work on, so I was in the gym every single day. And I tried to be as consistent as possible; I was determined to be consistent in every single game and keep improving.”
After putting in the work and expanding his game, now it was time for him to take the next step in his career. The way he sees it, he needs to be on an NBA roster this season. No more D-League, no more stints abroad if he can help it. As he said this, he was sitting with his newly pregnant fiancée and holding his 18-month-old son, who is a big reason why he desperately wants to ink that NBA contract as soon as possible. Reed wants to give his children the best life possible and provide for his growing family, which can be extremely difficult when playing in the D-League since salaries range from $13,000 to $25,000. With his son on his lap, and always on his mind, Reed was clearly on a mission entering the 2015 Summer League: NBA contract or bust.
In the Orlando Summer League, Reed was initially going to play for the Indiana Pacers’ squad. However, once Indiana selected center Myles Turner with the 11th overall pick in this year’s draft, Reed’s camp decided to make a change of plans.
Sensing that Turner would significantly cut into Reed’s minutes, his camp decided to move him to the Miami HEAT’s Summer League team. This shuffling is relatively common leading up to the event, as agents want their players in a situation where they can receive significant minutes and actually showcase their skill set.
Moving to Miami’s team ended up being a blessing in disguise for Reed. He got the opportunity to start each of his games with the HEAT and took full advantage of this opportunity. With plenty of minutes and an increased role, Reed ended up emerging as one of Miami’s best players – an impressive feat considering the team also featured lottery pick Justise Winslow and HEAT roster players Tyler Johnson, Shabazz Napier, James Ennis and Zoran Dragic. Hassan Whiteside was also practicing with the team (but not playing in the games), and Reed held his own against last season’s breakout center in workouts.
Reed approached Summer League like a professional. This was a business trip and he treated it as such. While many of the younger players were going out and partying at night, Reed was at his hotel and in bed early. This wasn’t a vacation; this was every man for himself in a brawl for NBA jobs. As a veteran, he understood that.
Over the course of Reed’s week in Orlando, the big man averaged 13.5 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 26 minutes, while shooting 60 percent from the field. His blocks were down from the previous year in Summer League, when he averaged 2.8 rejections in just 19.9 minutes. But that may have been because Miami wanted to see more of his offensive game since they already knew what he brought to the table as a shot blocker. Instead of swatting shots, he was actually attempting them this year. He took more shots in this Summer League than in any previous year, and even served as Miami’s offensive focal points at times (while still being their defensive leader).
Reed’s best statistical outing was his 17-point, seven-rebound, four-block game against the Los Angeles Clippers, in which he shot 7-10 from the field.
However, the performance that turned heads was against the Brooklyn Nets. This was somewhat of a revenge game for Reed, since the Nets had cut him after training camp last year. This game was clearly important to him and he wanted to send a message. He did just that. Reed finished the game with 17 points (on 8-12 shooting from the field) and nine rebounds in 28 minutes. Cory Jefferson, who was one of the players who made the team over Reed last year, had zero points, two rebounds, three turnovers and three fouls in 12 minutes. Reed admits that he entered that game with something to prove.
“I obviously knew some of the guys who were there [for Brooklyn], the young core, and I was upset that I was the only person who was waived last year,” Reed said. “But I understand that this is a business. I used that [experience being waived] and made myself better. I just tried to get better throughout the D-League season, and I was able to become the No. 1 D-League prospect and become really consistent. … It all worked out; I had a great game against them and a great Summer League.”
After playing so well for Miami, Reed’s stock was suddenly on the rise. The L.A. Clippers approached Reed’s camp during the brief window when they thought DeAndre Jordan was going to the Dallas Mavericks. The Clippers had actually expressed interest in Reed during the 2014-15 season when he was in the D-League, so they had their eye on him for quite some time. They were a possibility for Reed, but then Jordan returning to L.A. obviously changed everything.
But Brooklyn expressed interest in Reed as well. His performance against Jefferson was eye-opening, as was his productivity throughout the rest of the week in Orlando. The Nets ultimately signed Reed on July 9 and waived Jefferson on July 13. Finally, all of Reed’s hard work paid off and he got the chance he’s been desperately seeking for years.
“I was in Orlando and we had the day off, so me and my son were just eating at a restaurant and I got that call,” Reed said with a smile. “They called me and let me know they wanted to sign me. It was so exciting. So exciting. And right away, like five minutes later, I was actually doing my physical. Then, I was sitting on the bench for their next Summer League game. It was extremely exciting.”
Reed signed a one-year, $947,276 partially guaranteed contract with the Nets. The deal became fully guaranteed on October 28 – the day of Brooklyn’s first regular season game – so Reed received every cent of his contract.
Reed’s partial guarantee alone ($500,000) was worth 25 times his 2014-15 D-League salary, and his full salary was 48 times his D-League income. Suddenly, the Reed household is doing significantly better financially.
“My family is very excited,” Reed said. “I told them it was going to happen, because I was never going to give up on this dream. The first time I got called up, I didn’t even dress out – I was in a suit the whole time in Memphis. Then I got called up to Sacramento and I didn’t play. After that, I told my fiancée, ‘The next time you see me in the NBA, I’ll be on the court.’ Now, it just so happens that I got a contract with the Nets before the season even started and I’ll get an opportunity to show that I’m an NBA-caliber player, that I’m a rotation player and that I can help a team.”
It remains to be seen what kind of role Reed will have on Nets this season. The team will bring back veterans Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young in the frontcourt, and this offseason they also added Andrea Bargnani, Thomas Robinson and Chris McCullough in addition to Reed.
Reed has been in communication with the Nets’ officials and coaches. They were impressed with the huge strides he had made over the last year and explained why they signed him.
“They thought I had a very good Summer League performance; they thought I rebounded the basketball well and led on the defensive end because I was very vocal,” Reed said. “When they signed me, they also told me that this was the most consistent they had seen me play for such a long stretch and that’s exactly what they wanted to see.
“I just want to continue to do those things. I also want to continue to work on my explosion, my hand-eye coordination, my rebounding and my offensive game over the summer. I just want to be able to get into training camp and show them that I can be a reliable option throughout an 82-game season.”
From day one, Reed wants to make it clear that he’s going to be the energy guy who does the dirty work and never takes a second off. That’s the first impression he plans to make, and he’s more than willing to embrace that role during the season.
“You know what you’re going to get when you have me on your team; you’re getting a guy who’s always going to play hard every time he steps on the floor and a guy who’s going to defend as best as I can and pursue every rebound,” Reed said. “I think the coaches know that they rely on me to provide those things and always provide energy. That’s what I’m going to bring: athleticism, rebounding and energy.”
While Reed’s journey since 2011 didn’t go the way he had originally planned – from being undrafted to toiling in the D-League for years – he’s grateful for the ride and believes it was absolutely necessary. Rather than being upset that it took this long for him to land on an NBA roster, he has a very mature outlook on the situation. He views every moment along the way of his career as a learning experience that helped him reach this point. Each stepping stone led him to Brooklyn, and he’s not sure what would’ve happened had he missed one.
In early July, he wondered out of frustration if he’d ever get the chance to play in the NBA. Now, a little over one month later, he wonders if he ever would’ve gotten this NBA opportunity had he not experienced said frustration and taken his unique path.
“I’m 10 times better than the player I was when I first came out of school [in 2011],” Reed said with a laugh. “God makes things happen for a reason. I wasn’t ready when I first came out of school, but everything happens for a reason. I had to go through this journey. I had to go through the D-League. And all of that is what prepared me to now be in this position with the Nets and make the most of this opportunity. I’m just thankful for the journey. I got the opportunity to get stronger over those three years in the D-League, improve my offensive game and still keep the athleticism I had when I came out of school.
“Overall, I became a better player because of this journey. And I’m prepared for what’s next.”
UPDATE: This week, Reed signed a two-year, fully guaranteed contract with the Miami HEAT. The deal, which is for the veteran’s minimum, includes a player option for the second year so Reed can become an unrestricted free agent next summer.
NBA Daily: Are The Knicks For Real?
Ariel Pacheco breaks down the New York Knicks and their start to the season. Might they be able to push for a spot in the postseason?
The New York Knicks are on a four-game losing streak after their hot 5-3 start to the season. Yes, their play has been inconsistent, but their effort has yet to wane. And, while they are currently 11th in the Eastern Conference, the team has some solid wins under their belt and has seen, arguably, their best start in years.
Head coach Tom Thibodeau’s fingerprints are all over this team. Combined with the positive start, it begs the question: do the Knicks have enough talent to compete for a playoff spot in the East?
The Knicks have been competitive mainly due to Julius Randle; he’s played like an All-Star to start the season to the tune of 22.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game. Randle’s drastic improvement from a season ago has been a major boon to New York, as he’s kept them in close games and, at times, been their lone source of offense. His stat line would put him in elite company, as one of only four to average at least 20, 10 and 5 this season.
The other three? Giannis Antetokounmpo, Nikola Jokic and Domantas Sabonis.
Behind him, Mitchell Robinson has been the Knicks’ second-best player so far. He’s third in the NBA in offensive rebounds and 10th in blocks. Beyond that, it’s hard to overstate how impactful he’s been on the defensive end — when he’s off the court, the Knicks’ defense completely craters. And, while his offensive game is limited to mostly dunks and layups, Robinson provides the team a vertical threat in the paint with his elite lob-catching skills.
Kevin Knox II has also shown signs of becoming a rotation-level NBA player. He’s shot 41.7% from three and, while he still needs work on defense, he hasn’t been nearly as detrimental the team’s efforts on that end as as he has in years past.
Still, there are plenty of reasons to be skeptical. First and foremost, they lack the shooting to consistently put teams away and win games. And, of course, teams have taken advantage of that, as the Knicks have faced a zone defense — an effective defense, but one that can easily be shut down by a consistent presence beyond the three-point line — in every single game they’ve played this season. Of every Knick that has shot over 20 threes this season, Austin Rivers and Kevin Knox II are the only two that have shot above 35%, while no starter has shot above league average from deep on the season. During their latest four-game losing streak, they’ve shot just 31% from deep as a team.
RJ Barrett, who has really struggled to shoot the ball from all over the floor to start the year, is arguably New York’s biggest culprit here. Currently, Barrett has shot a bad 37.2% from the field, an even worse 18.5% from three and a better but still below average 70.2% from the free throw line. He’s also struggled to finish near the basket. Of course, more spacing in lineups that feature Barrett, as opposed to the clogged lanes he stares down alongside guys like Randle and Robinson, could go a long way in improving those numbers.
But, unfortunately, the Knicks just don’t have the personnel, or depth, for that matter, that they can afford to take those guys off the floor for extended minutes and expect to succeed. There’s hope that Alec Burks’ return could provide some much-needed range and scoring punch from the bench, but Burks alone might not be enough to turn things around here.
The Knicks have also been lucky when it comes to their opponent’s shooting. Opponents have shot just 32.8% from three against the Knicks, well below league average. On three-point attempts that are wide-open, which the NBA defines as a shot in which no defender is within six feet of the shooter, opponents have shot just 33.9%. If that number sees some positive regression — and it likely will as the season goes on — New York may struggle to stay in games.
There are a litany of other issues as well. The point guard position is certainly an area of concern; Elfrid Payton’s range barely extends beyond the free throw line, while Dennis Smith Jr. just hasn’t looked like the same, explosive player we saw with the Dallas Mavericks and Frank Ntilikina has struggled with injuries to start the year. Immanuel Quickley has looked solid with limited minutes, but Thibodeau has been reluctant to start him or even expand his role. And, as there is with every Thibodeau team, there could be legitimate concern over the workload of his top players: Barrett is first in the NBA in minutes played, Randle is third.
Right now, there would seem to be a lot more questions than answers for the Knicks. As currently constructed, they certainly can’t be penciled in as a playoff team. There’s too much evidence that suggests they won’t be able to consistently win games.
That said, New York should be somewhat satisfied with their start to the season. And, if they continue to compete hard, tighten up the defense and if their younger players can take a step forward (especially from beyond the arc), they might just be able to squeeze into the play-in game in the softer Eastern Conference.
NBA Daily: Raul Neto Seizing His Opportunity in Washington
Tristan Tucker examines Raul Neto who, in the midst of a career resurgence, has provided the Washington Wizards with some much-needed stability at the point guard position in the absence of Russell Westbrook.
Washington Wizards guard Raul Neto is coming off one of the more disappointing seasons of his career. Waived by the Utah Jazz, Neto joined a Philadelphia 76ers’ roster in 2019 that had some serious championship aspirations. Unfortunately, like the 76ers, Neto’s season fell flat.
For many former second round picks, a rough season could signal the conclusion of a career. But not for Neto, who has persevered and turned his career around to start the 2020-21 season.
Neto exploded onto the scene for the Wizards and has really shown an ability to hold it down on the court, especially in the wake of Russell Westbrook’s injury. He’s averaged career-highs almost across the board so far, recording 8.9 points and 1 steal per contest on outstanding percentages; Neto’s shot 52.7 from the field and 42.4 percent from three, both by far the highest of his career and, among Wizards with at least 10 games played, rank fifth and sixth on the team, respectively.
“I think I have been around different teams and I try and do whatever the team needs on the court,” Neto said. “If it needs to play with more pace or if it needs more scoring, I will try and do whatever I can to help. I think that’s how I fit so quickly on the team.”
Neto began his professional career in Brazil when he was just 16 years old, playing for the World Team in 2010 at the Nike Hoop Summit and then heading to Spain for the 2011-12 season. After two impressive seasons, the 28-year-old point guard was selected with the 47th pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Atlanta then traded Neto to the Jazz where he eventually signed on for the 2015-16 NBA season.
Immediately, Neto was cast into a big role with the Jazz, starting in the season opener and starting in 53 of his 81 appearances that season. His efforts earned him a spot as a member of the World Team in the 2016 Rising Stars Challenge.
Neto would go on to play a majority of his next three seasons in the G-League, finding a hard time sticking to a role that suited him in Utah. When Philadelphia tried to remake its roster in the 2019 offseason, Neto was called in to give the team an able-shooting ball-handler, one that they desperately needed. However, Neto was, again, miscast and, while he was getting good minutes, the team as a whole struggled to find their identity and, as a result, everyone’s play suffered.
In the 2020 offseason, Neto was able to find a roster spot on the Wizards, who saw him as a potential diamond-in-the-rough type and a player that they should take a chance on. And their gamble has paid huge dividends as, at the moment, Neto has given Washington a reliable piece to play next to All-Star Bradley Beal.
“[Neto] does a tremendous job of running the team, running the offense,” Beal said after a Wizards’ preseason game. “He gets after it, he’s a real pest. I always make fun of him because he has a strong build…he’s very strong.”
Traits that likely stood out to Washington were Neto’s calm demeanor and his ability to run the offense, something that a few of his younger teammates could learn from and, hopefully, pick up themselves. Players like Deni Avdija and Rui Hachimura have shown much promise as scorers and playmakers and should continue to benefit from players like Neto that are able to get them the ball accurately and consistently.
“Deni [Avdija]’s very talented, he’s very very talented,” Neto said. “He’s young so he’s got a lot to learn and get better. He’s a very good player, he’s been playing professionally overseas for a while…Rui [Hachimura] is also a very good player. Strong, plays hard and very good defense. Probably going to be our guy, like today he was guarding [Kevin Durant], he can go against guys in this league that are tall and can score.”
While the Wizards are in the midst of a disappointing season, something that may prove worthwhile in the long run may be to give Neto, who’s averaged just under 17 minutes per game, a larger role, perhaps as the team’s sixth man. When Neto is on the floor, Washington’s already potent offense gets even better — multiple lineups that feature Neto have posted an offensive rating of at least 130 points per 100 possessions — and, while it isn’t that cut-and-dry, it would behoove the Wizards to experiment and see what he can do in a larger role.
“I just try to play my game,” Neto said. “With my new team, I’m trying to understand my teammates and play the game the way Scott [Brooks] wants us to play and just move the ball and be a player out there that tries to help the team and do whatever I have to do. If I have to shoot, if I have to score depending on who I am on the court…”
“I think, number-wise, I did great,” Neto said after the Wizards’ preseason opener. “I think there’s always room for improvement and I think I’m going to work on that and take advantage of my opportunities.”
“[Neto] has heart, he has grit, he has everything we need,” Beal said. “He can shoot the leather off the ball which is what I love about him too.”
Neto isn’t the solution to all of Washington’s problems — of which, there are many — but there’s no denying the impact he’s had, even in his short time with the team. With the turnaround he’s seen, Neto has not only proven that he belongs in the NBA, but that he can serve as a solid veteran spot-starter or bench piece. Not just for a Washington team that can use just about anyone right now, either, but for any team looking for a consistent shooter and leader on the court.
“It’s easy when you have teammates like we do,” Neto said following a preseason game. “I’m just trying to work hard and play the right way. I think we have improved…we’re still going to get better.”
Point-Counter Point: Where Should The NBA Expand?
For the first time since 2004 when the NBA allowed Charlotte to have a second go at a franchise, the NBA is seriously entertaining the idea of expansion. The NBA, like many businesses, has seen its revenue ravaged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and could look to monetize new markets as a means to recover some of those losses, the burning question remains, where to expand?
From time to time there are things that surface in the NBA landscape that requires a little debate, we call that Point – Counter Point. We have asked two our of writers to dive into the topic of NBA expansion, which for the first time since 2004 when the NBA allowed Charlotte to have a second go at a franchise, the NBA is seriously entertaining the idea of expansion,
The NBA, like many businesses, has seen its revenue ravaged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and could look to monetize new markets as a means to recover some of those losses, the burning question remains, where to expand?
The most popular candidate among cities that haven’t been home to an NBA franchise previously is Las Vegas, whihc makes a ton of sense and has to be a heavy favorite if the NBA does expand.
The market and potential for revenue have long made sense from a financial perspective, but the stigma around ‘Sin City’ was an issue. Things have changed quickly, though, and professional sports and the public, in general, are much more accepting of sports gambling than in previous years.
The NHL was the first professional league to enter the market with the Las Vegas Golden Knights in 2017. The team won the Stanley Cup in their first year as an expansion team and have quickly become a popular team in the league.
The WNBA and NFL have since joined the NHL in Las Vegas with the Aces (WNBA) and LAs Vegas Raiders (NFL). The NBA could soon be joining them. Vegas is the 28th most populous city in the U.S. and generates a ton of traffic from all over the world. It just makes too much sense.
Another reason it’s only a matter of time is the NBA’s already established in the city as a league. For years the NBA Summer League has been held in the area and it has become quite a popular event. Many from the industry attend, from media to players.
Finally, Vegas has a home stadium ready to go in T-Mobile Arena.
London could be a huge move for the league and sports in general, but the timing isn’t right. Given the current circumstances in the world, London doesn’t seem as likely as other cities. That’s unfortunate, as it makes a ton of sense from the league’s perspective. Not only would it be the first NBA franchise to be based in Europe, but it would also beat the other major U.S. sports leagues in getting there.
The timing would be great too, as the league has a number of up-and-coming players from Europe. That’s caused an increase in popularity worldwide, so surely fans would be excited to get a team of their own.
Given the things that would have to be worked out to have a team playing so far from most of the league, it’s hard to imagine the NBA going through those obstacles on top of the global situation as of today. Patience will be key for London, but it’s one of the best options if things were different right now.
The last two cities that come to mind in terms of contending cities are Mexico City and Louisville. While the NBA would be wise to wait to expand overseas, Mexico City could be a great option. There’s an untapped market south of the U.S. border and it would be much easier to add to the league in short order than somewhere in Europe.
Louisville makes sense as well as a city that offers a market not being maximized by the league. It’s a great basketball city for college hoops, as is the state of Kentucky in general. Residents would buy in right away and it may offer the most loyal fanbase the NBA can establish in little time.
– Garrett Brook
The city that immediately comes to mind when thinking of expansion in the NBA Is Seattle. Home to the SuperSonics from 1967-2008, the team was a staple of the city before being bought in 2006 and subsequently moved to Oklahoma City two years later.
The SuperSonics had a lot of success in Seattle during their 41-year stint, making the playoffs 22 times, the NBA Finals three times and taking home one NBA Championship in 1979. The SuperSonics have maintained national relevance since their departure.
In a poll done by the Herald Net at the beginning of the year, 48 percent of responders said it was “very important” to bring the SuperSonics back to Seattle. In a Twitter poll done by a journalist at the same newspaper, 77 percent of respondents said that it was “very important” to bring the SuperSonics back. And, because the NHL is expanding to Seattle, the city is currently building a brand new $930 million stadium.
One of the primary reasons the team pulled out of Seattle in the first place was because the team wanted a new stadium, and the city refused to invest the money necessary to build one. All of this packaged together with Seattle’s rapid growth as a city, over 400,000 people have moved to the Seattle metro area since the SuperSonics left, which means if the NBA decides to expand, don’t be surprised if Seattle is the immediate favorite.
Another city that comes to mind when speaking of expansion is Vancouver, the former home of the Memphis Grizzlies.
The Vancouver Grizzlies didn’t have much success in their six seasons, thanks mainly to poor management in the front office. If given a more successful team, Vancouver could play host to an NBA team yet again.
Attendance started in the middle part of the league in the Grizzlies opening couple of seasons in the NBA, showing that there is interest in basketball in the area, but as the team continued to struggle year after year, they slipped to the back half of the league.
Another reason cited for the Grizzlies’ departure from Vancouver was the value of the Canadian dollar at the time compared to American dollars; that is less of an issue now as the Canadian dollar has become much closer in value to the American dollar over the last 20 years. It stands to reason that a good team would draw more interest than it did in their first run in the city, especially with the sport of basketball growing in Canada as a whole.
If the NBA wants a team further east, Pittsburgh is a city with a passionate group of sports fans that would almost certainly rally around a team were they to have success early on. Pittsburgh features successful franchises in the NHL, NFL and MLB, so it stands to reason an NBA franchise would succeed in the city as well. There would also be no worries over having to build a stadium in Pittsburgh since the Penguins stadium, PPG Paints Arena, has a capacity of 19,758, which is more than the average capacity for an NBA arena.
Kansas City is another place that has a lot of basketball history, even if it was over 35 years ago. The Sacramento Kings were initially located in Kansas City from 1972-1985 and even made the Western Conference Finals in the 1980-81 season with a team that featured former Wizards’ general manager Ernie Grunfeld. Kansas City did struggle with attendance during that period, but since 1985 the city of Kansas City has grown quite a lot, with the city’s population going from 1.15 million in 1985 to nearly 1.7 million at the start of 2021. Plus, the success of the Chiefs and Royals have both had in the city in recent years – both have won championships in the last 10 years – indicates that an NBA franchise would have the ability to succeed there as well.
– Zach Dupont
EDITORIAL NOTE: While the NBA is exploring the viability of expansion, there is no timeline currently being discussed. Obviously, with the current state of the pandemic, NBA expansion is not going to happen soon, but as the world normalizes in a post-vaccine world, expansion seems more likely in the NBA than it has in almost two decades, so expect to hear more about this topic.