As Nets travel China, team has decisions to make

China NBA Nets Kings

Preseason officially kicked off this past week, with the Nets winning each of their first two exhibitions against Maccabi Tel Aviv and the Sacramento Kings. They’ve got four more games and under three weeks until the start of the regular season.

They’ve undergone an exhausting journey since Wednesday, flying from New Jersey to Shanghai to Beijing as a part of the NBA’s Global Games initiative. They’ve got plans to go sightseeing tomorrow, but the trip has left some players wanting to spend their time recuperating. “Man, I’m gonna be honest with you, I’m probably going to be sleeping,” Joe Johnson joked about the trip.

But for some, the journey isn’t about promoting the NBA’s global brand: it’s just about sticking around at all.

The Nets have 17 players on their preseason roster: 13 guaranteed, plus four players on training camp deals fighting for one of two roster spots: rookie forward Cory Jefferson, sophomore point guard and holdover from last season Jorge Gutierrez, journeyman center Jerome Jordan, and D-League mainstay forward Willie Reed. All 17 players made the 14-hour trip with the team to China. The Nets will have to trim their roster to 15 or under before the start of the season.

“It gives them a chance to showcase what they can do not only for us, for the Brooklyn Nets but for other teams as well,” Joe Johnson said Sunday morning. “Sometimes it may be a little unfortunate that some guys may not make this team, but you still get a chance to put your skills on display for other teams out there.”

Gutierrez is a living example of that: after being cut by the Nets in training camp last season, he spent much of the year in the D-League with a non-Nets affiliated roster, and the Nets ended up signing him near the end of the season.

The Nets don’t have to use the roster spots. The NBA requires teams to have at least 13 players, a number the Nets have already hit. Anything more is strictly additive, and the players they’re looking at aren’t expected to crack the rotation in a significant way. “To me, guys earn spots,” Nets general manager Billy King said Tuesday before the team’s preseason victory over Maccabi Tel Aviv. “It’s not something that’s given to them. We may only keep 14, we may only keep 13.”

If history is any indication, the Nets won’t make any significant decision until shortly before the season starts. They waived three players right before the beginning of last season, and that was when the team already had 15 guaranteed players and no real decisions to make. They won’t make any cuts while they’re halfway across the world.

There have been hints. Of the non-guaranteed players, only Jordan saw any playing time in the team’s first preseason game against NBA competition, with 15 effective minutes against the Sacramento Kings Sunday morning in Shanghai. The other three were the only active players to not see the floor. That could be an indication that a spot is Jordan’s to lose — even though head coach Lionel Hollins sat out with illness, the team was coached by Hollins’s close friend and assistant Paul Westphal, and it’s hard to imagine Westphal deviating from Hollins’s ideas in a preseason game.

Hollins played coy in training camp. “You have to talk to Billy about that. He’s the one in charge of contracts.”

King added that there’s no one specific trait he’s looking for to fill out his roster, other than they need to earn the spot. “They were all brought in for different things when they were brought here,” King said. “We can’t expect Jorge…to be a three-point shooter, that’s not what he does. Willie Reed, (it’s not) ‘we need him to get 20 points on the block,’ that’s not what he does. So they were all brought in for different reasons. We’ll look at it, and who fits with the best with our team is how we’ll make that decision.”