NetsDaily Off-Season Report #6

Every Sunday, we’ll be updating the Nets’ off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, etc. to help take the edge off missing the playoffs, relying on the Nets’ beat reporters and others who have slipped interesting stuff into larger stories and blogs.

Rumors Abound

The off-season really doesn’t begin until the Draft Lottery. Historically, there are few if any player transactions in May, even though there is nothing to stop any of the 26 teams whose season has ended from making deals. It’s just that no one wants to make a deal before knowing the competitive landscape and no one knows the competitive landscape before the ping pong balls fly.

Rumors then rise and mostly fall. Carmelo Anthony, it looks like, will stay in Denver. We said as much last week. The possibility of either Boris Diaw or Leandro Barbosa coming to New Jersey seems just as remote. What we found interesting is that while "league sources" in Denver and Phoenix dismissed trade rumors to local reporters, a similarly identified source in Toronto called the possibility of the Raptors moving Andrea Bargnani "speculative at best". That amounts to a non-denial denial.

We expect a lot more rumors this week as GM’s, agents and prospective draftees gather in Orlando for PreDraft Camp. We also found it interesting that HoopsWorld this week reported Kiki Vandeweghe has a history of "stirring up" trade rumors and Vandeweghe admitted to NBA TV that "Rod (Thorn) puts up with my crazy ideas". Watch this space.

Subtle differences

If you compare the post-lottery statements of Vandeweghe and Thorn, you’ll find some subtle differences on who and what the Nets will pursue in the June 26 draft.

On what the team’s needs are in the draft:

Kiki: "I think shooting is always at a premium. Every team is looking for better shooting and every team is looking for better defense around the basket. And we're no different. But there are definitely areas we can improve in."

Rod: "This draft seems deep at the power forward and center positions, so we are in a good position to help ourselves in the areas that we have targeted."

On whether they’ll use all three picks:

Kiki: "The thing about it is I do think it’s a deep draft. We’ll be looking at a good player at 10 and at 21 and possibly at 40."

Rod: "Right now, it appears that we'll stay with at least the 10th pick and probably the 21st as well."

Euro-Stash?

What about that 40th pick? It appears to us that the Nets could go with a "Euro-Stash" strategy on that pick. Three times in the last six years, the team has drafted a foreign player and kept him overseas. Once, with first rounder Nenad Krstic, it worked. Twice with second rounders Christian Drejer and Mile Ilic, it failed. Last year, the Blazers and Spurs picked topflight foreign talent and let them ripen on the European vine. Spaniard Rudy Fernandez and Brazilian Tiago Splitter, taken late in the first round last year, would surely have been lottery picks this year.

The reason: you don’t want a lopsided roster, one with too many kids, particularly if you have been pushing player development and already have six players 25 or younger. "You don’t want to have too many young players or too many rookies on your team at any one time," said Vandeweghe. "I think there are lots of ways to do it. You can draft a foreign player. They can stay over for a year or two. So we’ll be looking at a lot of different combinations."

There’s a long list of foreign players who could fit that description. While Italy’s Danilo Gallinari and France’s Nicolas Batum will head straight to the NBA, others are under longer term European contracts and/or need another year or two overseas. Among them: projected first rounder 6-8, 220-pound Israeli small forward Omri Casspi plus second round projections Omer Asik, a 7-0, 220-pound power forward from Turkey and Nikola Pekovic, a 6-11, 243-pound power forward from Serbia who recently signed a long-term contract with a Greek team. The Nets have extensively scouted all three.

Be Prepared

Nothing seems out of the question, not trading the picks for a player, not combining the picks to move up, not stashing a player overseas, not using all three. Most likely? We think the Nets will be marketing the picks through Draft Night as a way of getting a more established player. As Thorn said, "Given that we have two first round selections as well as a second round pick, if something presented itself that we felt could really help us, then we might look to move either one or both of our picks." Vandeweghe wasn’t quite that specific, but noted everything is on the table, "And if that means utilizing your draft pick in a different manner then that’s what will happen."

And the Nets once again reiterated their long term philosophy of taking the best player available no matter when they pick. "I think you always want to make sure you get the best player regardless of position," said Vandeweghe. "So whoever's there in our view is the best player who can help the most I think that's where you go." Still, we find it hard to believe that the Nets would take a player like D.J. Augustin or Jerryd Bayless if they were the BPA at #10 and a few good big men were still in the Green Room.

We tried, oh how we tried, to use others' mock drafts to figure out the prevailing wisdom--or at least the conventional wisdom--on who the Nets would take. We ransacked nearly 50 mocks and came up with no big surprises. Draftniks think the Nets will take a big man, probably DeAndre Jordan or maybe Anthony Randolph at #10, and Marreese Speights at #21. Our list is probably already outdated...and it will be a while before we do it again.

Back to the Future, Part I?

Is it time for what Fred Kerber has called the Nets’ "annual pursuit" of Jannero Pargo? In 2005, 2006 and 2007, the Nets talked to the 6’3" combo guard who’s played for the Lakers, Raptors, Bulls and Hornets. They came closest to signing him last year. Considering the 28-year-old just had his best year and is reportedly opting out of his Hornet contract, can we expect to see the Nets go after him again? Pargo has let it be known what he wants: a multiple year deal. He made $1.8 million last season.

"I feel like with every player, you want longevity," Pargo told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "Hopefully, I can get something longer than two years. I would like to come back with the Hornets for a long time."

But will the Hornets go for that? He averaged 10.2 points in the postseason and 8.1 during the regular season.

And what about Keyon Dooling? The Nets liked the athletic Dooling so much in 2005 that they sent Lawrence Frank to his doorstop with a contract offer. Dooling strongly considered the Nets, but stayed in Florida with the Magic. Now his contract is up and the Orlando Sentinel says he is looking to sign another three-year contract. He just finished a three-year deal that paid him about $3.5 million a season.

Dooling has four young daughters and whether he would want to move north to be Devin Harris’ backup is questionable.

How hard the Nets pursue a back up point should give you a hint of how much they want to dump Marcus Williams.

Back to the Future, Part II?

We wonder if the Nets will harken back to an old deal as a model to help them solve the Nenad Krstic dilemma. The Nets, it would appear, are reluctant to invest a lot of money in Krstic's reconstructed knee, considering just how bad it--and he--looked last season. Signing him to the $2.8 million qualifying offer is risky for both sides. if Krstic doesn't return to his old form, then he will be stuck with limited prospects after one low-paying season. If he does start to look like the 17-and-7 player he was in 2006, then the Nets will be faced with having to compete on a level playing field with 29 other teams in 2009 since Krstic would be an unresticted free agent then.

What's the old deal we're talking about? Think Shareef Abdur-Rahim and the summer of 2005. SAR was supposed to get a six-year $38 million sign-and-trade deal, with the Nets sending their first round pick in 2006 to Portland. (That pick became Josh Boone).

The Nets balked when their orthopedists discovered scar tissue building up inside SAR's left knee from a 12-year-old operation. They feared that it would ultimately become a problem. They were right. SAR was out all this season after surgery on that same left knee.

So the Nets withdrew their original offer and tried to substitute a new one. Under that new deal, which SAR ultimately rejected, the Nets would have fully guaranteed the first four years of the deal. If SAR had "no significant problems" with the knee during the first two years of the contract, the fifth year would be guaranteed. If he had no problems in the third year, the sixth year would also be guaranteed. Defining "significant problems" apparently was an issue. Thorn said the Nets set the bar low. "Basically, he only had to show up", he said at the time. SAR's agent, Aaron Goodwin, said it was based on "performance" and he couldn't agree.

The restructed deal would have guaranteed Adbur-Rahim about $24 million over four years, starting with a salary of around $5.1 millon and escalating to around $6.6 million in the fourth year. Since SAR didn't have a "significant problem" til this past season--the third year of the proposed deal, that fifth year would have been guaranteed at about $7.1 million. That would have given him a total of more than $30 million. In the end, he agreed to a $29 million contract over five years with the Kings.

No doubt, Krstic's knee is not the issue SAR's was--he's younger, the surgery is more recent and everyone says his knee is now structurally fine. Also, the Nets should have a lot better insight. After it, it was Dr. David Altchek who both advised the Nets on SAR's knee and repaired Krstic's ACL. The years and numbers for a Krstic deal could well be different from those proposed for SAR, but we wouldn't be surprised if something structured like that was put on the table come July 1.

Fallen Angel

If anyone fits Vandeweghe’s description of a "fallen angel", it’s Julius Hodge. Hodge, a native New Yorker who was named for a certain skywalking former Net, has been quietly working out with the Nets in New Jersey, hoping for a summer league gig.

Vandeweghe took a chance on Hodge in 2005 when he was Nuggets’ GM. ACC player of the year at NC State, Hodge had stayed four years to fulfill a promise he made his mother to get his degree. His draft stock dropped as a result. Most mock drafts had him going in the early second round that year, but Kiki took him at #20, at the end of a long line of swingmen: Antoine Wright, Gerald Greene, Danny Granger, Joey Graham and Hakim Warrick.

He didn’t work out in his first run-through, averaging less than one point a game and spending most of the year in the D-League. Then in April, he was shot three times in a drive-by on I-76 after leaving a Denver strip club. Not the best kind of publicity if you’re trying to impress the bosses.

After being an add-on in a trade to the Bucks, Hodge was cut and starting making the minor league and overseas circuits. It looks like he’s improved his game and his character…while seeing the world.

"What happened to me in Denver made me smarter as a player and as a person," Hodge told the Raleigh News & Observer this week. "I probably wasn't associating with the right people. I should have been staying around the team veterans like Marcus Camby.

"It helped me grow. One thing you learn is life is more than about those 48 minutes on the basketball court. You should always strive to live life to the fullest. You need to be a good person."

In the past year, the basketball vagabond played for two teams in Italy, one in Australia and one in the D-League. He didn’t stay very long in Italy--the living arrangements were substandard, he says. In Australia, he became a cult hero in only 12 games with the Adelaide 36ers, drawing new fans to the game. Adelaide in fact is holding a roster spot for him, reports the Adelaide Advertiser. In 12 games, he averaged 24.6 points, 9.1 rebounds and led the league with 5.9 assists a game. In three of those games, he had a triple double.

Better yet, his bosses in Adelaide loved him. "Not only is he a great player, but one of the friendliest and most approachable players we've had at our club," said Paul Bauer, operations manager for the 36ers.

After returning to the US, he put up similar numbers with the Albuquerque Thunderbirds in 16 D-League games -- 23.7 points, 8.3 rebounds and 6.0 assists – showing his numbers down under weren’t a fluke.

For Hodge, a shot with the Nets would keep him close to family in Harlem--and give Kiki a chance at a do-over.

Boki Time

No official word on whether Boki Nachbar will play this summer for Slovenia's National Team in the FIBA Olympic Qualifier Tournament in Greece. Boki is currently one of the 25 candidates for the team, reports Simon Licen, FIBA's representative in Slovenia. In an email, Licen writes that next Thursday, May 29, Slovenia's coach Ales Pipan will narrow the list to 15 players. The team will then start training in earnest. Nachbar was in his hometown of Koper last week.

Slovenia will start with a series of exhibition games--"friendlies" in international parlance--on June 27, when they will meet Croatia, says Simon. In the pre-tournament period, they will play seven games, then begin their pursuit of an Olympic berth in Athens on July 15 against Canada. If they qualify--and if all their NBA players show up, they should--it will be on to Beijing for the Olympics, which begin August 8. Depending on how far they go, Nachbar could still be playing the first weekend in September.

His agent is opposed to his playing, but Nachbar is feeling the patriotic pull. He declined the nation's invitation to the FIBA European championships last summer. The issue this year, other than recovering from his back injury, is his contract. Nachbar can begin contract talks July 1, while in training camp...high in the Slovenian Alps. In addition to Nachbar, the other Slovenians in the NBA are the Lakers' Sasha Vujacic, the Raptors' Rasho Nesterovic and Primoz Brezec and the Kings' Beno Udrih. Another Slovenian, Goran Drasic, is likely to be drafted in June.

NetsDaily Draft Sleeper of the Week

While everyone is focusing on Kansas State's Michael Beasley, we think Bill Walker, his Wildcat running mate, deserves some attention. In spite of a torn ACL in high school, Walker was seen as a lottery pick and more. His dunking reminded people of Vince Carter. He had star written all over him. Then in January of last year he tore the ACL in his other knee. That just about ended his lottery prospects and most mock drafts have him going in the second round. In fact, RealGM has the Nets taking him at #40.

Now Chad Ford in ESPN says Walker is looking like his old self and should not be dismissed as a has been at age 21. Walker tells Ford he is back dunking and talks about the pride he has in his defense.

Final Note

A shout-out to our Chinese comrades in hoops. HoopChina and VC15.cn both link their sites to NetsDaily, with HoopChina regularly translating our material in Chinese for the masses of Nets fans on the other side of the world. Thanks, we appreciate it. We also offer our condolences to those who died or are homeless in the Chengdu earthquake.

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