In an eight-minute scrimmage in Brooklyn Nets training camp, all eyes key on the stars. Kevin Garnett barks at coaches about foul calls. Andrei Kirilenko darts around the floor looking for open spaces. Deron Williams sits on the sideline, unable to take part until the team is comfortable with his right ankle.
Among the tall trees of stardom, training camp invitee Gary Forbes attacks the basket, follows his shot, and draws a foul on a putback. He hits an open jumper in the right corner on the next possession. His aggression on the floor, even in a shortened training camp scrimmage, is palpable.
The Panamanian-born Forbes is one of four players at Nets camp without a guaranteed contract, and the only one with ties to Brooklyn. Forbes was raised in Bed-Stuy, graduating from Benjamin Banneker Academy with school records in points (1,512), rebounds (766), as well as blocked shots. Unlike any current Nets player, Forbes lives in the borough.
He wants another shot to play — anywhere — but in his heart, Brooklyn’s first.
“It’s amazing. It’d be a dream come true,” Forbes says of the opportunity to make the Brooklyn Nets. “Not a lot of people get to play for their home city, especially with the type of support that we have in Brooklyn, and the pride that Brooklyn has.”
The 28-year old Forbes has done this dance before. He’s a legitimate rotation player; he made the Denver Nuggets roster as a training camp invitee in 2010, where he averaged 5.2 points and 1.8 rebounds per game in 63 games. He bumped those numbers to 9.5 points and 4.0 rebounds in 11 starts, clocking in 22.8 minutes per start. He’s a shooter — hitting 34% of his threes over two seasons — but the team’s defense struggled with him on the floor in Denver, allowing almost seven more points per 100 possessions. Forbes played with the Raptors the following season again as a backup, averaging 6.6 points and 2.1 rebounds in 14.9 minutes per game. In Toronto, the team defense improved with him on the floor.
The Raptors then sent Forbes to Houston, where the Rockets cut him on the last day of the offseason. He ended up signing with the Zhejiang Lions of the Chinese Basketball Association. He thinks his play over his two NBA seasons warrants an NBA contract, but he didn’t dwell on it. “I was a little disappointed waiting around during the summer. I went to China, got my confidence back, was able to go out there and work on stuff on my game. I don’t think God would put me in any position that I can’t handle. So this is another opportunity.”
The odds are stacked well against him making the team out of camp. As we’ve detailed here before, the Nets already have fifteen guaranteed contracts, and it could cost them over $10 million just to sign an invitee. Forbes also missed the last two days of Duke practices with an undisclosed illness, losing a major portion of his time with the team.
But that doesn’t mean he’s gone for good. Though it’s far from guaranteed, Forbes will likely get invited to join the Springfield Armor, Brooklyn’s D-League affiliate. From there, the Nets (or any team) could offer him a one-year contract, or, if no team signs him before January 5th and the Nets have an open roster spot for whatever reason, the team can sign him to up to two ten-day contracts before they lose his exclusive rights.
He’ll weigh his options, most likely looking to join another NBA team before making his decision. He was, after all, a rotation player in the NBA. But Springfield is closer to the NBA than Zhejiang. If the other 29 teams decide to pass and he accepts the demotion, there’s a good chance the Nets could have their first Brooklyn-born player at some point this season.