On Saturday night in Milwaukee, Theo Pinson got his chance.
The night before, he had played 43 minutes in a G League game and came away with an impressive triple double –27/10/13— and a win in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. That’s about an hour and a half up I-41 from the FiServ Forum, where the Nets were playing. Easy commute. Playing another 27 minutes in the black-and-white, he scored six points, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out four assists.
After the game, he tweeted out his feelings.
Shaun Fein, the Player Development Coordinator for the Brooklyn Nets, didn’t tweet his excitement but he had to be very pleased. Fein is one of those staffers on the Nets whose title doesn’t fully describe their duties. He coordinates and manages the careers of the four Nets —two rookies and two two-ways— who’ve “commuted” between Brooklyn and Long Island this season.
As Tom Dowd, the Nets own beat writer, notes in his Insider column, that job is crucial in the Nets development scheme.
“Shaun Fein goes back and forth with those guys on assignments, so there’s a continuity and a voice,” said first-year Long Island head coach Will Weaver. “He’s been massively instrumental with how well things have gone with our two-way players and the rookies that have been assigned to us.”
Weaver knows. He did the same job last season. Fein is not some concierge/travel agent. He’s a basketball lifer, playing college ball at Georgia Tech, then a 10-year career in France (where he was briefly a teammate of Isaia Cordinier, the Nets stash acquired in the Jeremy Lin trade.) He initially joined the Nets as a video coordinator in 2016, not long after another French League vet, Kenny Atkinson, became Nets head coach.
“There’s days where he’ll go back and be part of a Brooklyn practice or be part of a Brooklyn game night, but it’s been a luxury, our relationship is strong having worked together for three years,” said Weaver. “It’s a nice resource to have on the bench, not only just as a coach, but someone who is never losing sight of those players.”
Or as Dzanan Musa noted to Dowd, “You have the piece of Brooklyn next to you all the time.”
Fein’s big challenge this summer was integrating Musa and Rodions Kurucs into the Nets organization after buyout issues with their European teams caused them to miss summer league. They were in Las Vegas anyway, working out with Fein and Weaver … as well as Pinson and others who wound up on the Long Island roster.
There was also time spent together at HSS Training Center after Summer League which gave the young Nets an advantage when their own training camp and then regular season began.
“You could tell when we went 4-0 (to start the season),” Pinson told Dowd. “We were clicking on different cylinders than other teams.”
The bigger issue, bigger than wins and losses at Nassau Coliseum and other G League arenas, is development and Kenny Atkinson says that’s worked too.
“Long Island is a valuable, valuable resource for us, and we’re going to use it,” said Atkinson. “We’re going to use it consistently, especially when we can’t practice or we have a full roster and those guys can’t get playing time. We’ll send them to Long Island because it’s an invaluable tool for us. It’s a good opportunity for those guys to get better.”
The Nets have also used Long Island to help Brooklyn players rehab. On Monday morning, Treveon Graham, who’s been out since October 19, was at the “Yes, We Can” training center in New Cassel, practicing with the G Leaguers. Fein, no doubt, was with him.
Not all the Long Island Nets practices are on the Island. They spend some time at HSS Training Center and on February 4 will play the Fort Wayne Mad Ants at Barclays Center. Start time is 11 a.m. Brooklyn plays Milwaukee that night.
For players like Musa —who’s currently rehabbing from a shoulder separation, the whole experience is valuable, particularly his and his teammates interactions with Fein.
“He’s a great coach, he’s a great mentor. Me and Rodi and Theo and Alan are very satisfied and very happy to have that kind of guy to help us out in multiple ways, especially when we finish games and we start a new game and he’s showing us the video, we feel like we’re in Brooklyn again.”