By JJ Beale
The story of the NetsGC franchise up to this point is short yet eventful. There has been plenty of roster turnover and teams that have fallen short of the ultimate goal of bringing a championship back to Brooklyn. Yet, Head Coach and GM Ivan Curtiss seems to have found the right formula not only for this season, but for many years to come.
At the heart of this new-look NetsGC team are two grizzled veterans: Connor “Shotz” Rodrigues and Alex “Steez” Bernstein. With multiple seasons under their belt in a NetsGC uniform, the two have formed a bond beyond the basketball court while propelling the franchise to sustained success for the first time in team history. The road to get there, however, has been anything but easy.
“I was on the Kings and I got sent to the Blazers and I knew they weren’t keeping me. I knew I was going to get traded again. There were a bunch of teams I thought I was going to, but the Nets were never one. Just out of nowhere I got here,” said Rodrigues. In the All-Star center’s first year with Brooklyn, Rodrigues propelled NetsGC to a Cinderella run as the fourth seed to the Eastern Conference Finals. Teaming up with MVP candidate Choc, Rodrigues quickly established himself as an anchor and reliable veteran presence.
A year later, Brooklyn retooled in the draft with a lock in Streetz and a veteran power forward in Steez. “When I first came to Brooklyn I knew what I wanted to do with the team in my own way. Once I arrived in Brooklyn, things were different the years before… I just knew it was very fragile and they (Connor and Curt) wanted to try and change it a little bit.” said Bernstein.
The arrival of Steez marked a new chapter in the early story of NetsGC, something that Rodrigues noticed right away, “It’s been great. We’ve always been on the same page. We both know each other and what we want out of our games and how to complement each other.” Bernstein noticed a similar trend, “We know what we want out of each other and we know how to get the best play out of each other. Shotz and I don’t really get into it because if one of us messes up we take accountability.” Building an environment of constant communication and constructive criticism was an essential piece to building “ The Brooklyn Way”. While the 2022 season had its ups and downs, Brooklyn continued to stay the course and trust the culture that was being built.
Head Coach and GM Ivan Curtiss was paramount when making roster decisions in rebuilding the team. Making it a point to bring in veteran presence as well as making sure the team came together both on and off the court. This attention to detail and personnel has not gone unnoticed by his players, “I love Curt… the biggest thing about Curt is that he looks out for you. He’s always told me stuff I didn’t want to hear, stuff I needed to hear, he always keeps it real with me,” said Rodrigues, “He’s always looking out for me… that’s the biggest thing. I don’t think every single coach in this league does that for their players.”
“Curt’s been amazing… I owe him a lot for taking a chance on me and that’s why I always give him my all,” said Bernstein, “It’s always family over 2K… Curt will always be one of the big advocates for making sure you’re ok mentally and the family is good. It’s something pretty rare to find in this league.”
Taking care of players off the court has created a culture that thrived in Brooklyn this season. With the arrival of hometown lottery pick Greens, NetsGC was a consistent contender throughout the 3v3 and 5v5 season. While Rodrigues was on the sideline for the 3v3 season, he stayed engaged in scrimmages as well as watching film. When the 5v5 season came around, it was the All-Star center’s time to shine.
Except, NetsGC struggled in THE TIPOFF, the first tournament of the 5v5 2K regular season. After going 2-4 and failing to reach bracket play, NetsGC turned to their two seasoned veterans for a solution. “Right after THE TIPOFF I threw it out there in our chat saying ‘I’m down to switch, let’s just try it… it might work it might not’… we tried it this year and this lineup, there’s been a lot of struggles getting adjusted to it.” said Rodrigues.
“When you have a point guard of Greens’ caliber, you have to get him going. I knew that I could help this kid out… because he has a playstyle like one of my former point guards and when I played center we were playing really well,” said Bernstein. “It was definitely a gamble but we were willing to as a team end the season saying ‘at least we tried something’ if THE TURN would’ve gone absolutely terrible and we went 0-6 at least I could die on my sword… rather than just being average and seeing what happened.” said Bernstein.
The two veterans willing to step up and put their egos aside for the success of the team is a testament to the culture being built in Brooklyn. While NetsGC ultimately fell short in the playoffs and failed to bring home a championship, the team has never been in a better position than right now. Hometown hero Greens is a leading candidate for the Rookie of the Year, NetsGC reached the upper bracket finals of two tournaments for the first time in team history, and Brooklyn secured playoff spots in both 3v3 and 5v5 play.
The next step for this up-and-coming team? Bringing home that first illusive banner. Something they have had their eyes set on for years now, “Ultimately, if I can bring home some hardware for the Nets, you’re set in history forever… I want something in stone that shows NetsGC did this in this year and this is the group of guys we did it with. That’s the kind of history I want to set here,” said Bernstein.
That’s The Brooklyn Way.