On the evening of June 30th, 2022, NBA fans took to Twitter in disbelief at the league-altering news tweeted by Shams Charania. A tweet that would leave Nets fans in utter disbelief, “Utah is trading Royce O’Neale to Brooklyn for a first-round pick”.
Oh yeah, and that guy named Kevin Durant also requested a trade out of Brooklyn just one minute prior but that’s not really a big storyline, right?
Safe to say Royce O’Neale was traded to Brooklyn at a very unfortunate time. When news broke that the Nets would be sending out a 2023 first-round pick for Royce, fans were originally irate, not at Royce whatsoever because he has proven himself to be a meaningful rotation player in the past with Utah. Fans and NBA pundits were questioning why the Nets would be trading one of their limited first-round picks when it seemed like they were destined to undergo another painful rebuild.
Fast forward to preseason and Kevin Durant has ironed out his relationship with Nets governor Joe Tsai and Royce has already become a fan favorite in just two games, most notably for his grit, defensive prowess, floor spacing ability, calm demeanor, and love for the Brooklyn community in such a short time since he arrived.
Many have already labeled Royce as the “glue guy” or the role player that will keep the team together on both offense and defense. While their skill sets are different, he has been deemed the Bruce Brown replacement. With his ability to keep a defense honest with his jump shot, Royce seemingly plays the role better than Bruce Brown had simply because of his long-range shooting.
In exchange for O’Neale, the Nets sent Utah a 2023 first-round pick, the least of theirs, the Sixers, and the Rockets. The pick handed to Utah will most likely land in the mid to late 20’s.
The trade is a win for the Jazz as they are now looking at a very lengthy rebuild after trading both Donovan Mitchell and Rudy Gobert in separate transactions. Despite a cupboard full of first-round draft selections, their rebuild is going to take many years (accelerate that timeline if they land generational prospect Victor Wembanyama next year).
The trade is a win for the Nets because they get a win now player who will easily be one of their most important pieces outside of their big three. As a contender, a pick in the mid to late 20’s has a much lower probability of becoming an impact player compared to an already established starter. It’s worth the gamble in every situation.
Off the Court First Impressions
Royce was actively involved with his teammates and the Brooklyn community upon arrival. He spent his summer flying to Vegas to support the Nets summer league team, supporting the New York Liberty, making an appearance on Chris Carrino’s podcast, as well as participating in the Nets basketball academy with kids in the local community.
The event that demonstrated his true colors was when he visited Kean University to watch Kyrie Irving play in an exhibition game this summer. Having just participated in the Nets basketball academy that same morning, Royce crossed into New Jersey and was Kean University bound by night.
Why was this such a grand gesture? Amidst all the rumors and uncertainty of whether Brooklyn would be detonating their roster or be remaining contenders, Royce showed out for Irving, his teammate who many weren’t even confident would be calling Barclays Center his home on opening night.
As mentioned earlier, O’Neale is a glue guy. He’s one of the staples that hold the team together. He will not go viral for his highlights or make the lead story of ESPN anytime soon. There was one instance, however, that had sports fans talking about Royce.
During a basketball camp in his hometown of Killeen, Texas, he backed down his mom and dropped her to the floor in comedic fashion. No mothers of NBA players were harmed in this clip.
The word “culture” has been thrown around in bulk with the Nets over these past few years. Most notably by General Manager Sean Marks. Something seems truly different this time around regarding how players on the team seem to admire each other and respond to one another after both highlight plays and lowlights. Royce O’Neale is a large part of that evolving culture and it’s easy to see how he may have one of the best years of his career in Brooklyn.
The nickname “Rolls Royce” is fitting for O’Neale. Follow his life on Instagram for a few weeks and you’ll see his flashy outfits and love for fashion. Like a Rolls Royce, he has a flare and swagger to him. As much swagger and style as he has, he also comes off as very humble and family oriented.
Over the summer, Sean Marks mentioned how the team needed leaders who have bought into the direction they’re trying to point themselves in. Guys who are hungry, gritty, and play with a fiery passion and energy every night they tie their laces. With Royce O’Neale, Marks is getting a one-of-a-kind personality as well as a competitor who checks all of those boxes.