NetsDaily Off-Season Report #18

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 data into larger stories and blogs.

Breaking Up is So Very Hard to Do.

Over the past several years, the Nets' off-season would break down this way: because the team had three players with huge contracts, the team was limited to 1) adding rookies, 2) adding one player—maybe two—using the MLE, and 3) then filling out the roster with vet minimum contracts or just a little above the vets minimum. The tyranny of the luxury tax threshold dictated the strategy.

In 2004-05, as we noted before, the Nets signed several marginal NBA players to minimum deals: Travis Best, Jabari Smith, Rodney Buford, Kyle Davis, Billy Thomas, Awvee Storey, and Jacque Vaughn.

In 2005-06, Scott Padgett, Lamond Murray and Linton Johnson III all had minimum deals or close to it. The next year, 2006-07, there was Mikki Moore and second round picks Mile Ilic and Hassan Adams. Then last year, Malik Allen, Darrell Armstrong, Eddie Gill were added.

This year, it’s different. The Nets have only one contract that pays more than $10 million, Vince Carter's, although Bobby Simmons is close at $9.9 million, and the team has yet to sign a player to a minimum deal. With 16 players already under contract, it’s a good possibility they won’t.

Instead, the team has gone with a new strategy: going young in particular but also getting players with manageable contracts that are also hopefully bargains. There are five players on the roster who are still on their rookie deals: Josh Boone, Yi Jianlian, Sean Williams, Brook Lopez and Ryan Anderson, plus Chris Douglas-Roberts. Although CDR, as a second rounder, is being paid the minimum, the Nets constructed his deal so that, like a first rounder, his first two years are guaranteed and the team has an option on the third. The Nets has never done that with a second rounder in the Rod Thorn era.

The payroll is essentially broken up into more manageable pieces, contracts that are more easily moved. There's some level of flexibility.

That doesn't mean the Nets are cutting back, as much as it looks like that. The team has actually added salary since last February 1, when the rebuilding began with the trade of Jason Collins and cash considerations to Memphis for Stromile Swift. In terms of guaranteed salary commitments, the Nets have acquired or signed players owed $111.5 million over the course of their contracts while sending away players who are guaranteed $71.5 million. Here's the breakdown.

Out:

Jason Collins, owed $6.2 million
Jason Kidd, owed $21.4 million
Richard Jefferson, owed $42.6 million
Marcus Williams, owed $1.3 million

Total: $71.5 million.

In:

Stromile Swift, owed $6.2 million
Devin Harris, owed $47 million
Trenton Hassell, owed $8.7 million
Maurice Ager, owed $1.0 million
Keith Van Horn (buyout), owed $500,000
Bobby Simmons, owed $20.5 million
Yi Jianlian, owed $3 million
Ryan Anderson (added pick from Kidd trade), $2.6 million
Chris Douglas-Roberts (guaranteed second year), $736,000
Eduardo Najera, owed $12 million
Jarvis Hayes, owed $1.9 million
Keyon Dooling, owed $7.4 million

Total: $111.5 million

As with any list like this, there are some footnotes, although none take away from the overall point.

--We’re speculating on the amount of KVH’s buyout although we doubt it’s more.

--We didn’t include money guaranteed Brook Lopez as an added commitment since the Nets were going to have a first round pick in any event. We also didn’t count CDR’s first year for the same reason…but we did add the guaranteed $736,000 in the second year of his deal. That was at the team’s discretion. We did add Anderson’s contract since he was taken with the Dallas pick from the Kidd trade.

--We’re using a $3 million figure for what Yi Jianlian is owed. That’s all the Nets are committed to right now. They are fully expected to extend his rookie contract through 2009-10 by October 15, adding another $3.2 to the commitments.

--Beat reporters wrote that Eduardo Najera has a four-year $12 million guarantee, but others are suggesting that only the first two years, at $6.25 million, is guaranteed with the remaining two years, at $5.75 million, is a team option exercisable in 2010-11. We’re going with the beat reporters’ numbers.

--We're also assuming a $500,000 buyout in Keyon Dooling's third year. It's been reported as a "pittance", which in NBA teams is about a half million dollars.

The overall point is that the Nets have dropped big salaries and limited long-term salaries except for the most critical players. The big difference is those manageable rookie deals and most of all, what could be a bargain basement deal for Devin Harris. He’s scheduled to make no more than $9.9 million a year over the next five years, through age 29. So if he reaches All-Star status in the East, he will be a very, very good deal.

Still, we think it's a mistake not to do deals with legitimate players that go beyond 2010-11, just to save money for a long shot chance on someone like a Lebron James or a Lebron James.

Why Yi Jianlian Is Like a Movie Star in China

One reason is that 15-foot jumper he hit from the wing with 28 seconds to go in the game against Germany. Whatever disappointment he may have caused was erased with the shot that put China in the medal round of the Olympics.

Here's another, a series of Photoshopped movie posters available in China in which the countries athletes (and Michael Phelps) are portrayed as superheros.

Our favorites: "The Warlords", "The Beijing" and of course, "The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles".

Hopefully for his sake, none of his Net teammates order these.

On another Yi issue, we noted how Larry Krystowiak, the former Bucks coach, told HoopsWorld that the non-NBA demands on Yi were "insane". In discussing that, Thorn noted, "Our doctors said he was one of the best physical specimens of anybody on our team. He's young so I don't think (it will be a problem)."

"Best physical specimen?" We took that to mean that he is in great physical shape and that his body has little wear and tear. So even if he is, as rumored but never confirmed, two or three years older, it doesn't really matter. His body, NBA-wise, is still young. Rather have a 23-year-old without wear-and-tear than a 20-year-old with.

Jaycee Carroll to Europe.

Reading between the lines…and you didn’t have to read too closely, it appears the Nets were not that enamored with Jaycee Carroll’s immediate NBA prospects. Although Carroll averaged double figures for the Nets in both Orlando and Salt Lake City, press reports suggested that the only teams that invited him to training camp were the Raptors and Suns. Carroll played for the Raptors in Las Vegas, but didn’t have anywhere near the success he had with the Nets. There was no mention of a Net invite in any of the local stories or in the press release or email his agent sent out.

Carroll signed with Teramo of the Italian League for guaranteed dollars and with the hope of polishing his game as a combo guard overseas. He and his wife are expecting their first child before the season begins so no doubt he needs the money.

Training Camp Update.

Speaking of training camp, the Nets have asked the league office if they can open camp a few days earlier than other NBA teams because they have to head to Europe for early exhibition games with the Heat in London and Paris. You have to expect the team has already focused on several players and may have almost certainly secured some (unannounced) commitments.

Last year, the team announced their invites in mid-September, although the names of the first camp invites had been filtering out since the first week. The Nets normally have 20 players in camp. Right now, the team has 16 players, including Van Horn, under contract. The Nets have told season ticket holders they want to carry 14 players on opening night so they have some flexibility once the season starts.

Something's got to give.

Catanella Revisited.

Ken Catanella is the Nets' Coordinator of Statistical Analysis. Henry Abbott of TrueHoop interviewed him just before the draft. The interview got missed, we thought, in the buildup to the Nets' biggest draft in a decade. Re-reading it this week, we thought it would be a good thing to pull some of the more interesting quotes...just to show how detailed the Nets' scouting system gets prior to the draft. Surprised us.

"We chart, essentially, every game that every draft prospect has played on video, and we track just about every category you can imagine.

Q. Closing out the shooter, winning loose balls ... all that stuff?

All that and much, much more.

"I work with one of the best teams in the League, as far bouncing ideas off people. Lawrence Frank is from that Jeff Van Gundy, Pat Riley school that really values metrics, and thinks they are worth their time.

"Every team is dealing with the same player pool, and thanks to the luxury tax and salary cap we have very similar resources. So the little advantage we get from having a coaching staff that lends insight to how we gather information to assess players ... those are the types of advantages that can make a little difference...

"Lawrence Frank, for instance, will actually take us on the court, and walk us through a play. That way we can really understand what the player we get will be asked to do, and we can go and look for somebody who can do that."

Q. Some people seem to have a good ability to tell which college characteristics will translate well to the NBA, and which will not.

"We have a system for measuring those kinds of things. There are statistical measures. There are more than a handful of numerical components, where you can compare this or that to past generations. And the longer we do this, the more years of information in our system, the smarter that system gets.

"Some of our scouts get to see 120 college games a year, too, in person. They are working with a body of knowledge that most fans could never have."

Final Note.

Julius Hodge wrote this week in his Hoopshype blog that criticism of Chris Kaman is misplaced. Kaman, whose grandparents were German, is playing for the German Olympic Team. While no one has called him a traitor, there has been criticism. Hodge says he would do the same thing if he had the opportunity.

"I would love to play at the Olympic Games one day," he wrote. "If not with the United States, I would be open to playing for another country, just like Chris Kaman did. I don’t get how some people call him a traitor. What’s a player to do if he gets a chance to be at something as big as the Olympic Games? I don’t think you can pass on that. To me, as an athlete, it’s just a no-brainer."

While Kaman used the ancestral route to the German team, that's not the only way. John Robert Holden, point guard for the Russian National Team and hero of last year's European Championships, is an African-American who graduated from Bucknell. He got his Russian passport because he played for CSKA Moscow and now lives in the Russian capital.

Eight of the 12 players on the Nigerian National Team at the World Championships two years ago were US-born, as was the coach.

On the Nets' roster, other than Yi, Brook Lopez can claim an easy foreign connection. His father, Heriberto, was born in Cuba. It's not likely Brook or his brother would want to play for either of the Castro brothers', but things change.

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