How it went down: a look back at the pursuit of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, from a recruiting call to a mutual decision to walk away.
On July 1, Lawrence Frank, Nets’ head coach and close personal friend of Shareef Abdur-Rahim, flies to Atlanta and at the stroke of midnight, knocks on the front door of the the Olympic gold medalist and All-Star, carrying an offer from the Nets. This was the Nets’ plan all along: use the remaining $5 million TE from the Kerry Kittles deal with the Clippers to secure a high-scoring big man. Oh what genius.
Frank had been an assistant coach in Vancouver when SAR played there and served as a groomsman in his wedding. Is there a better salesman? Sweet! The team also began negotiations with agents for two other free agent power forwards: Stromile Swift and Donyell Marshall.
The first problem is Portland GM John Nash. Thorn needs to work a sign-and-trade for SAR using the TE. The plan is for the Nets to agree to give Abdur-Rahim a six-year $38 million deal. The Nets would then trade a second round pick in 2006 to Portland. Sounds easy. No, says Nash, the Nets former GM. The Blazers decide to hold out for the rights to Ilic or the Nets’ first round draft choice in 2006. The Nets initially refuse the demand.
For nearly two weeks, negotiations continue. SAR wants to play so badly for the Nets he agrees to accept a smaller deal based on the MLE if a sign-and-trade can’t be worked out. The difference: nearly $10 million. In that case, Portland gets nothing. Ultimately, the Nets want SAR so badly they relent to Nash’s demand, agreeing on July 21 to give Portland their own first round pick, with multiple protections.
Swift signs a four-year deal with Houston for $20 million and Marshall signs a four year deal with Cleveland for about $16 millions. So there are no options beyond SAR. Still, the Nets feel great. Abdur-Rahim feels great. It’s all coming together. No, it’s not.
A week later, on July 28, Jeff McInnis agrees to sign with the Nets. He gets a two-year $7 million deal. It is the single worst free agent signing in the Thorn era. Nothing compares. The 6-foot-4, UNC product had indeed averaged 12.8 points, 5.1 assists and 2.1 rebounds in 76 games for the Cavs in 2004-05, but Paul Silas benched him at the end of the season even as the team struggled and then failed to make the playoffs. The Nets have now committed a big part of their MLE to McInnis, limiting their options further.
On August 1, the first day a deal can be made, the Nets make it official. They have signed Abdur-Rahim and McInnis, as long as the two pass their physicals. Uh-oh.
Abdur-Rahim agrees to buy a house in a gated Saddle River community where Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and their (then) wives live. A press conference is scheduled for Thursday, August 4. The two newest Nets and a recently re-signed Cliff Robinson will appear. YES plans to cover it live.
Chad Ford of ESPN goes so far as to say the Nets could be among the league’s top five in 2005-06 and adds, "I’m not sure anyone’s had a better summer than Rod Thorn".
Suddenly, during the YES broadcast of a Yankee game that Wednesday night, a curious banner crawls across the bottom of the screen. The press conference has been postponed. No reason is given.
Thursday, everything falls apart. Scar tissue discovered in Abdur-Rahim’s right knee is holding up the signing and trade, report the beat writers. The condition has never bothered him before, he says, but the Nets want to get another opinion or two before signing off on a six-year contract. Like Thorn, Abdur-Rahim remains hopeful that everything will work out.
The problem is hardly simple: At age 16, Abdur-Rahim had knee surgery. In the 13 intervening years, scar tissue built up. The Nets’ orthopedist warns the team that SAR’s knee might not last six years.
The Nets get a second and then a third opinion on the right knee. Doctors think SAR may already have arthritis in the knee. Although Thorn won’t discuss specifics of the problem, the new assessments do not made him any more optimistic the deal will get done.
By Saturday night, Abdur-Rahim is angry, telling the New York Post, "I don’t want to be a Net". On Monday, August 8, both sides issue statements that tempers have cooled and optimism reigns.
Finally, the next day, with the Nets’ trade exception hours away from expiring, the team decides it’s too risky. "We were anticipating adding Shareef to our roster," says Thorn. "However, during the course of his normal physical examination, some questions arose that gave us cause for concern. After consulting with several noted specialists, we feel that rescinding the trade is our best course of action. We will now look in other directions for ways to improve our team for the upcoming season."
The other "ways" turn into a trade with the Sixers. With six hours left before the TE turns into a frog, the Nets acquire Marc Jackson and $3 million in cash for the trade exception and the right to swap second round picks in the 2006 draft. A good deal on short notice, but a major disappointment.
"We are pleased to add Marc to our roster," said Thorn. "He is a solid frontcourt player who will add length, toughness and depth to our frontline rotation." He didn’t.
Both Aaron Goodwin, SAR’s agent and Thorn confirm a second offer had been put on the table. It included four guaranteed seasons, but that the last two years would be guaranteed if Abdur-Rahim showed "no significant problems" through the first three years of the contract.
"And if he played two years without a problem, the fifth year would be guaranteed," Thorn said. "Basically, he only had to show up."
As it turns out, that’s basically all he ever does in Sacramento.