Nets Are Scorching Interview – Ben Couch

Posted on: August 5th, 2009 by Sebastian Pruiti Comments

It has been a little while since I have interviewed anyone, so Ben Couch decided to help me out.  If you are a Nets fan, you probably have heard of the name Ben Couch.  For the few that haven't, Ben Couch is a writer for NJNets.com who does a great job with his interviews and articles (For those who haven't read my interviews in the past, I really enjoy asking Beat Writers/Writers Close To The Team questions about the Nets because they are close to the team and they have a better feel of the team).  Ben was kind enough to answer a few questions for me and here they are (If you can only read one answer, please read his take on the Nets players he likes to interview - great stuff!):

NAS:  Did you grow up a Nets fan?  If not what was your favorite team growing up, and are you now a Nets fan?

I think this is the part where I get ready to duck, because I grew up in Brooklyn (fancy that!) rooting for the Knicks (*gasp*). To save space and be self-serving, your loyal readers can get the full breakdown of how I ended up with the Nets here. That in mind, I did keep an eye on the Nets, mostly around the time they picked up my then-favorite player, one Stephon Marbury. (I know … I know … Dude’s eating vasoline these days. But there was that Brooklyn connection, remember? And he’s quite charitable.)

To answer the second half of this one, I clearly know who’s paying my paycheck (+1 Nets) and after a year I’m now familiar with the players and staff, whom I’ve found to be a genial bunch (that’s another point for the tally). So I have selfish and personal reasons for wanting the team to succeed. However, it’s kind of hard to flush years of watching Michael Jordan ruin my childhood out of the system. Were I getting my “View from the Couch” (heyo!) in my underpants at home, there’s a good chance I’d be rooting for the blue-and-orange. But it’s probably safe to say that if I do move on, I’ll always think fondly of the Nets and the players I’ve dealt with thus far.

NAS:  You have gotten a lot of great interviews, which one stands out as your favorite?  Who is your favorite player to interview?

Thanks, but yikes. As a reporter, I ask these questions all the time, and of course they’re impossible to answer. The recent Kiki Vandeweghe interview was pretty interesting – I went in with five questions, expecting I’d be done in a few minutes, and ended up talking for 20. It was hard not to drink the Kool-Aid after that one. He’s got a way of explaining things that makes you wonder how you couldn’t have made sense of them earlier. Rod Thorn and Lawrence Frank are basketball minds of similar depth; each is capable of talking about the game and the league to no end. A single question can result in a dissertation-level response, and I say that warmly. It makes interviews easy breezy.

Player-wise, Jarvis Hayes and Keyon Dooling – as most anyone will tell you – are about as affable as people can be, from Keyon asking me if I’d “changed the world” by voting on Election Day to Jarvis giving me a hard time after noticing I interviewed one of the Dancers pregame. Devin Harris is my age, which is kind of weird to think about. I don’t know how well I’d handle being “face of the franchise” right now, though I suppose I’m a visible one, to some extent. I try not to think about that, ha. Any case, we get on well (a plus considering I have to lean on him so often for content) and I actually understand him when he mentions things like throwing Wii parties at his house.

Vets like Bobby Simmons, Josh Boone, Eduardo Najera and Trenton Hassell were always available and willing to work with me, good game or bad. Brook Lopez is having as much fun with this whole NBA thing as it seems he is, though he’s probably more focused than one might expect only seeing the fun clips. CDR always puts a good twist on what could be bland answers, like this response to a question about his strong finish to the season: “It feels great. But I'm definitely not content, because I felt like I've deserved to play. This is just the start for me.” Sean Williams is straight nice – and great with kids; ask any season-ticket holder or event attendee. And despite English not being his first language, Yi can surprise with the occasional joke.

I know he’s gone now, but talking to Vince one-on-one at the end of the year blew me away. He handles himself so smoothly in group sessions you don’t even realize the depth of quote he’s capable of giving. I think that’s one of the main reasons my piece reflecting upon his season was as strong as it was. Speaking of that trade, Ryan Anderson and I once spent 20 minutes talking about movies (NJNets.com podcast, you ask? We’re working on it …), and he broke down how his mother watched The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in theaters more than once, just so she could write down all the quotes she found inspiring and send them to him.

Of the new Nets, Courtney Lee and Tony Battie were both cordial when we met them earlier this summer, while Rafer Alston lit up the media session he did. That guy is glad to be back in the area, ha. And Terrence Williams … whoo, boy, he’s going to be a fun one to work with. He was probably the best quote of everyone we brought in for pre-draft workouts.

Looking around the league, Dwyane Wade gave me a few great Devin Harris quotes at All-Star Weekend because of their history in AAU (Chicago-Milwaukee) and college (Wisconsin-Marquette). Also, in a hilarious story I can’t repeat publicly, Dwight Howard once messed with me for about five minutes pre-interview. That was great good fun.

NAS:  What are the advantages of blogging for NJNets.com?  Are there any disadvantages?

Ah, the inevitable “working for the team” conundrum. Though I’m a team employee, I try to keep objective-ish. Y’all need a reason to read me. In most situations, I handle myself – and am handled by PR – same as the media. On gamedays, it’s shootaround in the morning, shuffle into the coach’s office pregame, then off to the locker rooms, then press box for the game, then postgame presser and locker rooms. However, because NBA.com runs the AP game story, I try most nights to come up with a “feature” angle you won’t get in the gamers everyone else is writing, whether it’s an intriguing matchup or a focus on one of our guys.

I generally go through PR to get players or execs otherwise, though of course it’s easier to ensure I don’t miss Rod or Kiki when I can drop by their office to be certain they’ve still got time. And when player clinics or season-ticket holder events are taking place in the Practice Facility, it’s just a quick trip downstairs for me. Those are good times to just kick it with the guys and build the rapport that makes the job easier.

PR does work to help me produce exclusive content that makes sense for our site but not the papers, like setting up time with the guys to work on their blogs or off-beat interviews (wow … that pun is too clever by half). Tagging along with Brook and Devin to help capture their All-Star Weekend experience was pretty unprecedented (and awesome) access. That whole four-day weekend was an “advantage,” really, though the 14 hours of sleep were not.

I like to think of this as a partnership in which we’re all trying to make the Nets look good. That means guys can (if they’re so inclined) be a little freer with me because they know I’m coming from common ground. It also means occasionally sitting back and letting the external coverage take care of say … coaching speculation or trade rumors. When I do run up against negatives, I try to avoid stretching the truth at all costs, angling instead for the sunny side. Hard to find in the blowouts? Yeah, but there’s usually some individual performance to highlight. Or I can just talk about someone’s newborn son.

NAS:  How do you find out about trades and stuff like that?  Do you hear ahead of time, or do you found out when it is announced like the rest of us?

I might get a heads up from PR that something is going to be coming down the pipe, but details I don’t often get until shortly before everyone else as I’m readying the release for Web.

NAS:  Do you consider yourself more of a beat writer who writes his articles on the internet?  Or do you consider yourself a blogger?

If you go by the coverage – games, practices, etc. – I’m a beat writer. Blogging’s part of that package now. It’ll be interesting to see if sportswriters begin (or have time to begin) treating blog posts like they do features, coming up with the type of creative posts you might see on a FreeDarko or the various team blogs that are out there. I’d imagine things might skew that way as newspapers shift to producing more online content.

NAS:  CDR, Devin Harris, and Terrence Williams are on Twitter, what Nets player do you think will get one next?

It’s ultimately up to the players. We’d love for guys to do it – CDR and Terrence are clearly running with it quite successfully – and we’ll help to facilitate anyone’s interest in Twitter or other new media as best we can. For the record, I’m pretty sure Brook Lopez would be awesome to follow.

Ok on to the Nets questions:

NAS:  How did you find out about the Vince Carter trade, and what was your reaction?

I found out about the trade unofficially the way most people did – while checking for Draft-day updates on ESPN.com. I soon got official word from PR so we could start prepping for the official announcement (Web graphics, coding the press release, etc.) With the amount of talk around last season’s deadline, Vince being traded wasn’t a total surprise. He was a veteran on a younger team and held the largest contract, which extended past the 2010 summer every non-championship contender and their mother is prepping for.

The return on those aging superstars is usually some combination of expiring contracts/cap relief, young talent and picks. The Nets got a tremendous amount of cap relief in the form of two pretty solid NBA players on expiring contracts in Rafter Alston and Tony Battie, along with a promising young player in Courtney Lee. Lee and the amount of flexibility probably offset the lack of picks in the deal. Ryan Anderson being included initially surprised me, but when you think about it in terms of leverage, a 3-for-1 meant the Nets would have had 16 guaranteed contracts – one over the limit, thusly necessitating a second player be moved. Considering Orlando’s roster and style of play, they (obviously) targeted Anderson. The Nets wanted Lee in the package, and thusly, Anderson became the linchpin to both teams getting what they wanted.

Would the Nets have preferred to keep him? Quite probably. He’s a great kid who showed some real flashes last season. But did they like him enough to sink the deal? Say it with me now: it’s a business.

NAS:  What did you think of the Terrence Williams pick?

With this being my first full-time, team-specific NBA season after a year at NBA.com, I was so immersed I had no idea what was happening in the college game outside of the Carolina-related info fellow alums tossed my way. (I heard good things about that Hansbrough kid. And Ed Davis. And … yeah, I’m just trying to find a way to say we won – again. Ha.) However, shortly after I resubscribed to Sports Illustrated, I did note the article on The Real T-Will and all his point-forward glory at U of L. Seemed interesting, and moreso when it appeared he’d be in our range. By the time his post-workout interview was complete, Williams was my tentative favorite based on the draft board and my own desire to be quoting him for an entire season.

From what I’ve gathered, the kid’s got an interesting game, and should see the majority of his minutes at the two or three while being capable of manning the point for a spell. Shot’s an early question mark, but he seems like one to discover other ways to earn minutes. I think his floor is somewhere around “journeyman defensive specialist” with the best-case being represented by … a good year from Andrei Kirilenko? Williams rebounds and passes well, and the athleticism and defensive potential are there. If his shot proves accurate enough to merit close coverage, he becomes an intriguing piece to the puzzle.

NAS:  Who would your opening day starting five be?

Based on past performance and importance of development, I’m going with … Harris, Lee, Hayes, Yi and Lopez. Harris, Lee and Lopez are gimmes. Yi gets the first crack at breaking through at the 4, while Hayes’ name has come up enough that I’m comfortable adding him in there at the 3. He was great off the bench last year, and it’ll be interesting to see if he’s similarly effective as a starter.

HeyPS This is the part where I’m hella glad you didn’t ask about the full rotation, because projecting the backups at 1, 2 and 3 are where this thing gets messy.

NAS:  Do you think the Nets are on the right track rebuilding wise?

I think it’s hard to argue otherwise. Of the teams that stand to have major cap space next season, the Nets have one of – if not the best – foundations a free-agent can build upon. There’s an All-Star point guard, an All-Rookie center poised for a strong sophomore campaign and several young, talented players with scads of potential, from Courtney to Yi to Terrence and … you get the point. Adding a superstar (or two?) to that mix would be real interesting.

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Thanks again to Ben Couch for taking the time out to let me bother him with some questions.  Of the three Nets' writers that I have interviewed, I really think this is the best one.  Thanks again Ben!