For a full hour Monday night, season ticket holders and Nets' management discussed the state of the team at the Nets' practice facility in East Rutherford,. Nets' CEO Brett Yormark, President of Basketball Operations Rod Thorn and General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe fielded a variety of questions from about 100 fans.
Much of the discussion centered on on-court issues, but there were some as well about the move to Brooklyn as well as issues specific to the season ticket-holders.
Here’s some of the headlines…
--Thorn and Vandeweghe defended Lawrence Frank, citing player development this season. One ticket holder who said he has spoken to them privately about Frank in the past attacked the coach, claiming the team has never excelled under Frank and suggested rather than firing him, the Nets should retain him as an assistant. Thorn said he "respectfully disagreed", commending Frank as a "good coach". Both execs noted that Frank has done a good job in developing Brook Lopez and Devin Harris.
--In response to specific criticism of player development, Thorn stated that while the jury is still out on Josh Boone and Sean Williams, he disagreed with the ticket holder's suggestion that Antoine Wright had not developed under Frank. Wright, he said, had developed into a solid NBA player, if not a star, and that he had improved since he arrived in New Jersey. As for Marcus Williams, Thorn said, with a great deal of regret, that "all of us failed with Marcus Williams’ development"…"this was a kid I thought was tremendously talented". Vandeweghe noted that this year, the team has time to develop young players while in the past, they didn't.
--Both men talked about the need for balance between development and winning, noting you want young players to get a taste for winning, that you don't want them accepting losing, to get into bad habits. Bottom line: winning is an important part of player development.
Thorn said he believes the Nets' current problems are due in part to the two devastating losses the Nets suffered at the hands of the Celtics...who he called a "bad matchup". He said that he thinks the team is just getting over those losses.
--Thorn was non-committal about Sean Williams’ future. While saying Williams is in the "upper one or two percent" of NBA players in terms of athleticism, he noted that Williams "is 6’8 ½" in shoes" and thus not an NBA center. He said the hope is that Williams can develop as a power forward in the league, possibly learning how to guard NBA small forwards because of "his tremendous lateral quickness."
--Vandeweghe noted that the team puts a high priority on a player's personality. For example, he said both he and Thorn talk to draft prospects for an hour or more following their physical workouts. Each prospect is given a standard personality test, the Caliper Test for Personality Measurement.
--As to be expected, Thorn and Vandeweghe refused to discuss any impending trade negotiations, but said they engage in meaningful discussions daily. Thorn said Vandeweghe probably talks to more GM’s and other team personnel "than anyone in the league…he’s always on the phone." The Nets would not hesitate to make a move that is in the long term interest of the team, said Thorn, then quickly emphasizing "or in the short term interest".
--Thorn had high praise for his top players. He flatly stated that Harris "when he is healthy" is unguardable...implying that he might not be fully healthy. "When he has that 15 footer working…no one in the league can stay in front of him." As for Vince Carter, he said the team subscribes to a service that tracks player efficiency and Carter consistently shows up near the top of the list of most efficient shooting guards, behind only Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade. "Can’t say enough good things about Brook", Thorn said of Lopez, contending every couple of games he does something better. Vandeweghe added that NBA coaches and GM’s are always coming up to him to tell him how terrific Lopez is. Thorn’s best line on Lopez: "He’s 7 foot tall every day of the year."
--Thorn said Ryan Anderson "hasn’t shot as well as we anticipated since he’s been starting" that he shot better coming off the bench. Chris Douglas-Roberts needs to develop a 16- to 20-foot jumper, but added that he is "super competitive" and "very clever" on the court. The jury is still out on what kind of an NBA player he will be, however. Both Thorn and Vandeweghe admitted that CDR needs more confidence and that it’s tough for rookies who were the big man in college to adjust to the NBA, both in terms of the grind and their role. Thorn said that he believed if CDR played 32 minutes a game, he would score 12 to 16 points a game, but that isn’t possible.
--Thorn added that he loved what Yi Jianlian had done before he went down—that he "was becoming what we hoped he would" before he broke his pinky. He said that Yi is still learning to adjust "not just to the American game, but to the American culture".
--Stromile Swift should be back in New Jersey soon, that his mother’s long illness and death last week has drained him "emotionally and psychologically" and that this has been "a terrible year" for Swift. He noted that Swift's mother had been laid to rest Sunday. Still, he said he believed that Swift could help the team offensively and defensively.
--Thorn admitted that Nets are trying to get under the salary cap by 2010 to take advantage of the "unprecedented level of talent" that will be available, mentioning specifically Lebron James, Dwyane Wade, Amare Stoudemire and Kobe Bryant. He agreed that if Cleveland believes that James will leave in 2010, they will try to move him before the trade deadline next year "but how will they know…that’s the problem."
--Yormark insisted that in spite of "what you read in the papers", Brooklyn "is closer than it has ever been". He said that ground breaking would take place in "late spring or early summer"—which actually pushes back the date. In recent statements, the Nets have said ground-breaking would take place in the spring. He did not give a timetable for when the Barclays Center would open and admitted after a review by value engineers, "it might be smaller." He voiced optimism that the two remaining lawsuits would be resolved by March. He expressed optimism about obtaining financing for the arena, pointing out that the Yankees had recently obtained $300 million in stadium financing and the Mets had gotten financing on a $100 million offering "at very good rates" last week.
--Yormark added that the team is talking with NJ Transit about reinstituting the Port Authority bus to the IZOD Center and hopes something can be done by March. But he could not guarantee any resolution to the fans complaints.