Nets Have Options in Krstic Negotiations

Rod Thorn said Friday the Nets intend to take the full week to decide whether to match the Thunder’s offer sheet for Nenad Krstic. They won’t get the offer sheet til Monday. Offer sheets must have all the contract details. All that's been reported is that it's $4.8 million, $5.2 million and $5.6 million over three years, with the first year pro-rated. That means Krstic will only be paid a percentage of that $4.8 million depending on when he joins an NBA team, whether it’s the Thunder of the Nets. Right now, that would mean a commitment of about $3.5 million this season since the season will be roughly one-third over by the time the Nets make a decision.

What's not known is whether the offer sheet contains options, team or player; buyout provisions; performance bonuses, signing bonuses, etc., etc. Any of those could effect the Nets' decision. (Since Krstic is buying out his Russian League contract, any NBA team that signs him can give him $500,000 towards the buyout.)

Moreover, offer sheets are not contracts and things can change. Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe know all about offer sheets, contracts and sign-and-trade deals.

Back in 2004, the Nuggets—that would be Vandeweghe—told the Nets—that would be Thorn—they were prepared to load up an offer sheet for Kenyon Martin. It would include all sorts of onerous provisions the Nuggets hoped would scare the Nets off, including a signing bonus up front, a trade bonus at the back, and a requirement that the first year’s salary be paid immediately. If the Nets had matched, they would have had to pay Kmart $23 million upfront. Thorn's response was send it along. Vandeweghe didn't, instead preferring the certainty of a sign-and-trade. It was all chronicled recently by the Rocky Mountain News, which said bottom line, "the Nuggets blinked".

The Nets decided to retain Krstic’s rights when he signed with Triumph Moscow this summer for a reason. They didn't have to but decided to carry Krstic's $2.7 million qualifying offer on their salary cap. If an NBA team wanted him, they didn't want to lose him for nothing. They had invested a lot in him, just as they had with KMart.

As shown in the Kmart example, once a player signs an offer sheet, things change. That’s why Martin never actually signed a sheet. The Nets and Nuggets can’t do a deal outside the offer. They can't demand a pick in return for an agreement to let Krstic go.

BUT if the three parties—the Nets, Thunder and Krstic—agree, the offer sheet can be rescinded at anytime during the seven-day period and then talks can start in earnest. The question is what would be the Thunder’s interest in doing that. If they thought the Nets would match, they might rescind.

In that case, there’s a number of possibilities. For example, one sign-and-trade could involve OKC's second round pick. An OKC second round pick will be the 31st pick and with only a minimal amounts of smarts could be a better than a late first round pick, since teams don't have to be commit to a two-year contract. And the Nets don't have a second rounder this season. (There are some indications the Thunder might owe the pick to the Suns, however.)

They could also ask for DeVon Hardin's draft rights. A teammate of Ryan Anderson's at Cal, he was drafted at #50 by the Thunder in June. Hardin is a 6'11" hyper-athletic big man with a 7'3" wingspan. The Nets worked him out in 2007 and 2008 and gave indications they liked him. After the Thunder picked him, they asked him to go to Europe to get some experience. He was headed for Turkey when he suffered a stress fracture in his leg. He's expected to get clearance to play in the next few weeks. The Nets would not have to sign him immediately.

Then, there are players on the Thunder roster the Nets could be interested in: Chris Wilcox, who they have long coveted; Joe Smith, a solid veteran presence; Earl Watson, a potential third point guard/swing man. Watson has two years remaining. Wilcox and Smith have expiring contracts.

The simplest thing would be for the Nets to dump someone on the roster and match the offer. The Nets could make a trade this week—a 2-for-1 or a 3-for-2. That way, they could drop below 15 roster spots and maybe even reduce their payroll. Even if they don't, the Nets, unlike a lot of teams, don’t have to worry about the luxury tax. They’re $9 million under the tax threshold.

The Nets will be patient. Expect to see rumors fly. Here’s one we predict early in the process: with Lebron James hinting he will re-sign with the Cavs this summer, does that mean the Nets don’t need to conserve as much money as they once thought they did?

One big question is Krstic’s state of health. Hard to tell how extensively the Nets scouted Krstic in Russia. He didn't play that well if you look at the stat sheets, but it was a bad team and a bad situation. He was playing before 2,000 people at most in a grubby suburb of Moscow. The team also had money problems, as do a lot of Russian teams. He played well enough this summer in the FIBA Europe Qualifying Tournament and the Nets did have scouts there. Krstic has also expressed a great deal of bitterness at the Nets’ rehab program, saying it made him regress, not improve last year. The Nets aggressively defended their program, but chalked up Krstic’s anger to his frustration of not getting back to his previous form…and losing tens of millions of dollars in the process.

If he has returned to top form, or appears to be close to returning, he's a bargain. He was averaging 17 and 7 and had two games of 25+ the week before he went down. He is only 25 years old. But is he a bargain for the Nets? That is the biggest question and OKC's GM Sam Presti knows it. Could he, Brook, Lopez, Yi Jianlian, Josh Boone and Ryan Anderson, etc., etc. co-exist upfront? Is there room? Will the addition of the talented but admittedly injury-prone Krstic slow the development of those guys, particularly Lopez? Is he worth it? That has to be the bottom line for the Nets.

It would seem doubtful that Krstic will ever wear a Nets uniform again, but the Thunder offer may have forced the front office’s hand on any pending deals.

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