Andre Roberson has barely played since 2018. Now he gets to play defense for a Nets team that badly needs it

Kristian Winfield, New York Daily News
·5 min read

LOS ANGELES — Andre Roberson wasn’t ready to give up on his dream.

As the days, weeks and months went by without an NBA call or contract offer, Roberson knew he had to stay the course: be professional and stay ready. His patience was rewarded with a contract with a Brooklyn Nets team in dire need of his services as one of the league’s best defensive stoppers.

“I knew at some point, a door, an opportunity would open, whether it be this season or next season, so I was just gonna stay in shape as best I can,” Roberson said before practice on Saturday. “Obviously with the crazy protocols and stuff, that’s what I did. Thank God the Nets called. I mean, I had some traction with other teams, but nothing really stuck.”

The dream wasn’t only Roberson’s. It was also a vision of Spencer Dinwiddie, the Nets injured playmaker who has a son, Elijah, with Roberson’s sister, Arielle. Roberson has ties to a number of Nets stars who have history in Oklahoma City, including Kevin Durant, James Harden, Jeff Green and Timothe Luwawu- Cabarrot.

“We had a little communication during free agency but kind of outside of that, it kinda just happened,” said Robertson. “I kinda bring my talents to New York, I guess. You know, Spencer’s been talking about it for a couple years now, but finally we made it happen.”

Patience is nothing new for Roberson. He ruptured his patellar tendon in 2017, but setbacks kept him off the floor longer than he expected. The first setback, he said, occurred during the initial surgery, where doctors had to go in and remove a suture. The next setback, he explained, was an avulsion fracture on his patellar bone, where the tendon wasn’t healthy enough to supply blood to strengthen that bone. The last part, he said, was an irritation with his scar tissue.

Roberson’s injuries, and setbacks, cost him half the 2017-18 season, the entire 2018-19 season and all but seven Orlando bubble games last season. Then his three-year, $30 million contract extension came to an end, and Roberson became a free agent.

He had interest from a few teams, but nothing ever materialized. Without a team to call home, Roberson said he bounced back and forth between a few gyms in Oklahoma City and visiting his family in San Antonio, getting workouts down South as well.

Nets head coach Steve Nash usually holds off on inserting players into the rotation until he’s had an opportunity to assess their level of conditioning.

“I feel pretty great, honestly,” Roberson said. “Obviously nothing compares to the in-game conditioning, so you’ve almost got to throw yourself to the wolves in a sense. Just get out there and play, but it was hard for me to even get 5-on-5 out and about and be safe at the same time.”

Roberson is known for his talents on the defensive end. He’s a 6-7 wing with a 6-11 wingspan who was named NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2017. But he also picked up a reputation as a liability on offense due to a three-point stroke that has failed at the NBA level. Roberson is a career 25% three-point shooter, and on a team with so many superstar playmakers, the ability to knock down threes is crucial. If you can’t, it makes it easier for the defense to send a double, knowing they won’t have to rotate as hard to close out on a non-shooter.

The Nets’ Bruce Brown, however, has bucked that trend. Known mostly for his defense, Brown is shooting just 17% from three-point range but has found other ways to contribute on offense, including a floater that has become consistent, and a penchant for crashing the offensive glass. Brown has also played a small-ball five role that Roberson believes he can play as well.

“I’ve kind of incorporated that when (the Thunder played against the Warriors in the playoffs), so I would be a 4 man, 5 man, pick and pop, pick and roll, be the transition guy to the other side or roll for the clean dunk if they’re gonna be occupied with everybody on the wings, which kind of makes everybody’s job easier,” he said. “Honestly, having three guys on the same team, it’s gonna be pretty easy, because one of those guys is gonna draw two and the rest, somebody’s gonna be open. So just find an open spot and spacing, game’s gonna be pretty easy. I think it’s just more so finding the timing and chemistry and camaraderie with the guys, that’s gonna be the biggest challenge for us.”

And as for the defensive end, well, joining the Nets makes his life better there, too.

“Well, for me, My job’s a lot easier this year knowing that three of the best guys in the league are on one team that I don’t have to guard, so that’ll be pretty fun,” he said. “But at the same time, it’s a well-rounded team. We jell pretty easily. Obviously they don’t have that many games and (are) still trying to figure out rotations and chemistry, but the way the team is unified is pretty impressive in a short amount of time.”