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In Season One, Nets' New Armor Shines

May 11, 2012

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—In their first season as a one-to-one "hybrid" affiliate of the Nets, the Springfield Armor set a franchise record for wins, made its first playoff appearance and had three players called up to the NBA -- two to the Nets.



Two weeks apart, Dennis Horner and Jerry Smith each do a postgame interview as members of the Nets.

They answer directly, confidently, with resolve. They speak about opportunity and the future, about "firsts" and reinforced beliefs.

Each then slips out of the postgame locker room, further into the restricted area. Each returns. Each packs his shoes.



Horner and Smith were teammates at several points this season, the longest stretch 2 1/2 months; the most recent, on the All-NBA Development League Third Team after strong seasons with the Nets' one-to-one affiliate Springfield Armor.

And they weren't the only members of the Armor to earn recognition: teammates Jeff Foote (2nd Team) and JamesOn Curry (Honorable Mention) shared in the end-of-season awards; Smith additionally earned a spot on the All-Defensive Team. Foote, Curry and Smith represented the Armor in February's D-League All-Star Game; there in Orlando, guard L.D. Williams defended his Dunk Contest title. First-year coach Bob MacKinnon finished second in D-League Coach of the Year voting, leading the Armor to a franchise-record 29 victories and their first playoff appearance since joining the D-League in 2009.

"I'm sad it's over," says Nets General Manager of Minor League Operations Milton Lee. "I think, as Coach MacKinnon and I reflected a little, it was a great journey we were on. We talked about that at the beginning of the season: what we wanted to accomplish, the type of kids we wanted on the team; we never talked about wins and losses or playoff goals -- we kept talking about the journey. I think that's what the real basketball junkies enjoy. It's not always the final result so much as what goes on (on) the way to where you end up."

"I think from the players' point of view, they both accomplished and were given much more opportunity than they had anticipated. For anyone to think that a team that's averaged 10 wins a season for the previous two seasons could have three All-Stars, the Dunk Champion, four different Call-Ups, the league leader in assists, top rebounders and guys who get postseason awards, that wasn't really in people's plans before the season."



In a quirk of the NBA's lockout-shortened schedule, the D-League season begins by the time big-league Training Camp starts in December, offering the Nets a three-game look at the roster Lee and his staff had assembled. After two wins, they extend invites to three players: Curry, Horner and Smith. The trio earns praise from Nets coach Avery Johnson for the energy and competition they provide, but Smith and Curry are cut before the final preseason game, reassigned to Springfield after clearing waivers. Horner earns a non-guaranteed contract to start the season with the Nets.

Late additions to the Nets' frontcourt leave Horner with little playing time, and the team cuts him in January to create room for Larry Owens. Injuries create a need for another wing, and Owens -- then a member of the D-League's Tulsa 66ers --represents the first player in a four-man exploratory mission to fill minutes at the 3.

D-League rules allow any player to be called up to any NBA team, and the one position Springfield lacks NBA-ready talent is small forward; the team starts L.D. Williams, an uber-athletic 6-foot-4 guard, alongside Curry and Smith in the backcourt. Lee explains it's the scouts' jobs to be aware of league-wide talent, and until the rules change, teams will continue to pluck players off every roster.

After a two-week, seven-game trial, the Nets opt to waive Owens for veteran Keith Bogans. The ninth-year guard -- cut at the end of training camp by the Bulls after starting every 2011-12 game for them, including the playoffs -- plays five games in eight days before breaking his left ankle (also tearing his deltoid ligament) while attempting to contest a dunk by Pistons center Greg Monroe.

Forced to re-evaluate their options, the Nets again turn to the D-League, this time picking up Andre Emmett from the Reno Bighorns. Making his first NBA appearance in seven years, the former second-round pick sees limited action (7.5 minutes per game in six appearances) before his 10-day contract expires at the All-Star Break.



It is then the Armor's success affords the Nets an opportunity: with three players in the D-League All-Star Game, Lee and his staff get an up-close look at former first-round pick and NBA Dunk Contest Champion Gerald Green, representing the Los Angeles D-Fenders on the West Conference All-Star Team. Opening the game with a soaring alley-oop, Green's athleticism and refined shot selection are on full display. He earns recognition as the game's Most Valuable Player, tallying 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting (3-8 3Ps).


For the East, Smith starts alongside Foote, with Curry joining them off the bench and igniting a furious second-half comeback that nearly obliterates an eight-point deficit in the game's final 10 seconds. Yet Green steals the show, earning a trip to Houston for a one-on-one workout that ultimately results in the first of two 10-day contracts with the Nets; on March 18, they will guarantee him for the year. Cut by the Lakers in training camp, after two years out of the NBA, after time in Russia and in China, Green makes good on his potential -- with the D-League to thank.

"I just didn't wanna go overseas, you know?" Green says. "Overseas, it's just not my life, it's not my style. I don't speak the language, so it's hard to eat. Don't get me wrong -- it's a great opportunity; I had a great time in Russia and China, a great time over there. Those two countries are unbelievable.

"But I didn't dream of being overseas. I didn't work hard every day when I was little and dream of me playing in Russia; this has always been a dream of mine, to play in the NBA. So that's one thing: I didn't want to be so far. I feel like me being overseas, I was just lost, a lot of players would get in contact with me and then couldn't see me play. But me being in the D-League, being in the States, a lot of people could keep up with me, see my development and how I was doing, so that's part of the reason why I stayed."

The 26-year-old forward credits D-Fenders coach Eric Musselman with instilling confidence and boosting his drive with positive reinforcement ("You did this good, but do it better!"). A renewed focus on basketball as business enables Green to maintain a dedication to the craft he admittedly lacked during his initial NBA experience.

(Cont'd on Page 2)

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