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.
A Little Yi Before the Olympic Onslaught.
By the time some of you read this, the most watched basketball game in history will have been decided. Team USA and Team China play at 10:15 a.m. Sunday on NBC. NBC has a special Olympic Basketball Channel, which you have to localize to get listings and channels.
With Yi Jianlian the only current Net in the Olympics, we will be focusing on the 7-footer til China is eliminated,whether that's at the end of the preliminary round next weekend or in the medal round.
First off, here is the Chinese team schedule for the preliminary round, starting with Sunday's game vs. Team USA.
Sunday, August 10 - 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon - USA vs. China
Tuesday, August 12 - 4:30 a.m. - 6:30 a.m. - China vs. Spain
Thursday, August 14 - 2:30 a.m. - 4:30 a.m. - Angola vs. China
Saturday, August 16 - 8:00 a.m. - 10:00 a.m. - China vs. Germany
Monday, August 18 - 2:30 a.m. - 4:30 a.m. – Greece vs. China
So looking at the schedule, Yi will be working against NBA big men in three of those five games. Beyond the US big men, he and Yao will be matched up with Spain’s Pau Gasol and Jorge Garbajosa and Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman. Yao thinks Yi can handle Nowitzki: "Yi
has improved tremendously and he can limit Nowitzki. And I can take care of Kaman." No predictions on Dwight Howard, however.
To get to the next round, China will have to make the top four of Group B, not an easy task. Yao called it the "Death Pool". Otherwise, their Olympics end on August 18.
We recently got a translation of Yi's comments to Chinese television the day of the trade with the Bucks. Yi spent most of the interview taling Olympics back then, but here's what an appreciative Yi said of the Nets.
"I have high expectations to play for New Jersey. It will be a new team, a new atmosphere, and a new beginning for me," he said, adding "the Nets worked hard to get me and I feel honored.
"They play a fast tempo and are younger, I think I can be part of the rotation in no time."
A statistical note on Yi. There has been some question about whether he is a legitimate seven-footer. At Milwaukee's training camp last year, Yi measured in at 6'11.25" without shoes, 7'0.5" with shoes, with a 7'4" wingspan and a 38.1" max vertical. He also had a team best and freakishly low 3.4% body fat.
Compare that to Brook Lopez, measured at the Orlando PreDraft Camp. Lopez is also 6'11.25" without shoes, 7'0.5" with shoes, but his wingspan is an inch and a half longer, at 7'5.5"...about the same as Sean Williams. The big differences are in max vertical and body fat.
Yi's 38.1" max is eight inches better than Lopez's and his body fat, of 3.4%, is way below Lopez's 6.3%...maybe too far.
Want to know where Yi's vertical leap would have matched up in this year's draft class? About the same as (fellow Mandarin speaker) Joe Alexander, billed as hyper athletic because of his 38.5" vertical. That's a mere five inches better than Yi.
No wonder his former Team China--and NBA veteran--coach Del Harris calls him the most athletic seven footer in the league.
Other Net Olympic Connections.
Yi is the only current Net playing in Beijing, as noted, but two former Net point guards will also be on hand in Beijing. One of course is Jason Kidd who will handle the point for Team USA. The other is Zoran Planinic, who is starting point guard for Croatia. During the winter, Planinic plays for Spanish league powerhouse Tau Ceramica in Vitoria, Spain.
We're kind of amused by all this talk of top players like Lebron James and Kobe Bryant ready to go overseas if offered $40 to $50 million a season. Stephon Marbury might have to play in Italy, as he once fantasized but even Stephon knows he isn't in their class (OK, maybe he doesn't). But we don't think there is a chance that either of the two best players in the world will be getting work permits stamped on the other side of the pond any time soon.
We think there is something else going on here: the first salvos in the next contract talks between the NBA and the Players' Association. The current contract runs out June 30, 2011, unless the owners decide to extend it a year, which they almost certainly will. It's been increasingly clear who won the last talks: the owners. Take a look at the "reasonable" salary packages being offered this off-season and the large number of players who are returning to their original teams...not to mention the fear of the luxury tax by all but a handful of NBA owners. Roster stability and the cheapest possible contracts are exactly what the owners always want.
By raising the spectre of a massive exodus to Europe, the highest paid players in the NBA are trying to level what they see as an lop-sided playing field and they're doing it at just the right time, during the Olympics, when they have the biggest stage. They're suggesting unless the CBA is adjusted so they can get paid their "true market value", they will go elsewhere. The players and their agents think the current agreement puts too many restrictions on contracts, particularly for top players. What better way to change that than first suggest that there is someone out there willing to pay them $40 million or $50 million a year and then agree it would be worth leaving home to take it. Kobe even said he would beat up a teammate who didn't accept that level of loot. (Shaq, your cue.)
There are only a few problems with this line of thinking. NO European team has offered anyone anywhere near $40 million or $50 million a year. It's a number that suddenly plopped down in the middle of the conversation about mid-level players (including two Nets) moving to Europe. It is as likely a confection lovingly put together by an agent as it is a real number.
There are other problems as well. Take a look at the Euroleague arenas and TV contracts. You think that these facilities and contracts are going to sustain multiple big name players cavorting in places like Rome, Milan, Moscow, and Madrid? One reason the NBA likes China as a growth market is that new arenas, like the Wukesong Olympic Arena in Beijing and the Venetian Arena in Macao, where Team USA played exhibition games, are NBA-ready. European arenas are band boxes. Teams would have build a whole new network of arenas. Not going to happen. Basketball is a secondary sport in Europe.
Also, the Euro is not going to climb against the dollar forever. On Friday, the Euro suffered its biggest one-day drop against the dollar in six years. A little more parity between the two currencies and those $40 million and $50 million contracts suddenly start looking like NBA $20 million contracts.
Their Best Games.
The Nets have signed or traded for five new players this off-season. So we figured we would find their best efforts last season on NBA TV and post the links. There's Yi Jianlian's 29-point effort vs. the Bobcats, Bobby Simmons' 24 points against the Knicks, Keyon Dooling's 19 points against the Spurs, matched by Eduardo Najera's similar effort against that same San Antonio team as well as Jarvis Hayes' 29 points vs. the Hornets. We like Yi's all-around game against Charlotte, Hayes' automatic shooting performance against New Orleans, and Najera's great clutch pass against the Spurs to beat the defending world champs.
2004 vs. 2008.
What's rebuilding, what's retooling and what's giving up? The Nets contend they are not rebuilding, but retooling, although some execs have been caught using the "R" word. Some suggest what's going on this season is similar to what took place during the summer of 2004, which started with the decisions to dump Kenyon Martin, Kerry Kittles and Lucious Harris.
Things might be bad, but they aren't THAT bad.
We believe the Nets are cutting costs, but if they were really dumping salary, you would see a situation similar to 2004, when they signed Rodney Buford, Travis Best, Jabari Smith, Awvee Storey, Jacque Vaughn and Kyle Davis (remember him?) to minimum deals, then added Billy Thomas, Kaniel Dickens, Jerome Moiso and Donnell Harvey during the season, all to vet minimum deals or 10-day contracts. Only Vaughn remains in the NBA. They also sold the first round pick that year, passing some valuable NBA players, starting with Kevin Martin and Anderson Varejao.
The Nets have yet to sign a minimum salary player this summer...unless you count Chris Douglas-Roberts...more on his deal later. Hayes was signed to the LLE, Najera to most of the MLE, Dooling for $3.3 million, using all of a trade exception (that Rod Thorn smartly and presciently constructed during the Kidd trade negotiations). They didn't sell off any of their picks and in fact Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe have said they tried to move up at the end of the first round to get CDR and tried to acquire a second round pick to get Jaycee Carroll. They also signed CDR to a three-year deal (third year a team option) when all they had to do was give him a non-guranteed one year deal as a second rounder.
Finally, the Nets also constructed Keith Van Horn's contract in such a way to make it available for use in a trade that would bring in more salary. Rather than simply waiving him after a suitable interval following the Kidd tarde, they agreed to pay him a six figure buyout so they could extend his contract until October, giving them more time and flexibility to make a deal for him.
This isn't 2004.
By now, we can all recite the dates that former Nets return for the first time to the Meadowlands: Marcus Williams on November 1, Kidd on December 19, Richard Jefferson on February 3 and March 30. Yi and Yao will battle for a Super Bowl-sized audience times two on on December 22 while the Lopez twins, Brook and Robin, face off on November 4 with the Suns and new Newark developer Shaquille O'Neal come into town.
Who are we missing? Here's who: Twin. Jason Collins makes his return on December 5 when his Minnesota Timberwolves arrive.