NetsDaily Off-Season Report #1

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.

First in a series of twenty four…it's a long, long time from April to November.

And the winner is...

We kept notes last summer on which writer predicted which record for the Nets this season. We wanted accountability come April!

As it turned out, three metropolitan area writers came very close to the Nets' 34-48 record, with two of them nailing it. Al Iannazzone of the Record and Mitch Lawrence of the Daily News both predicted the Nets would match last season's numbers. Dave D'Alessandro of the Star-Ledger was one off, predicting 35 wins.

Most of the national writers and beat writers around the country heavily discounted the Nets chances, with Chris Thomasson of Denver's Rocky Mountain News being the most pessimistic. His crystal ball foresaw a 17-win season. ("The Rocky" shut its doors two months ago. So much for predictive powers all around.) And let us not forget Ian Thomsen's Sports Illustrated piece that got the Nets riled up.

Also, in retrospect, we thought we would share what we thought was the most thoughtful Nets' preview, by Tim Chisholm of TSN, ESPN's Canadian cousin, and the least, by Charley Rosen of FOX Sports...and the Dark Side.

Is Vince Carter’s contract that bad?

Vince Carter has long been plagued by what he did in Toronto, even though he has now played almost as many games for the Nets (374) as he did for the Raptors (403).

There’s his reputation as "Wince Carter". Since joining the Nets—and sitting out two games because he had been placed on the disabled list just before the trade, he has missed 12 games, making him one of the most durable NBA players over the past five years. Only a handful of NBA stars have played in more games over the last five years.

Then, there’s the reputation that he isn’t a clutch player. Visual evidence (seeing with your own eyes) and statistical evidence (seeing through the eyes of the 82games.com stat geeks) suggests the opposite is true.

Now the latest is that his contract is horrrrrible, untradeable. Really? Where does his contract within in the NBA star system. He ranked 18th this season, at $15,200,000. Among those ahead of him: Allen Iverson at $21,937,500; Jermaine O’Neal at $21,352,500; Stephon Marbury at $19,862,275; Shawn Marion at $17,180,000; and Michael Redd, at $15,780,000. Anyone want to suggest he had a worse year that any of those guys? We didn’t think so.

How about those just behind him? There’s Andrei Kirilenko, at $15,080,312; Zach Randolph, at $14,666,666; Ben Wallace at $14,500,000; and Gilbert Arenas, at $14,500,000 and Richard Jefferson at $13,200,000. A number of these guys might be talented, but they can’t stay on the floor.

Wait you say, he is 32 years old and is owed $37.64 million over three years--$33.64 million in salary and a $4 million guarantee in the third year! Outrageous! Anyone want to suggest that the $38 million (rounded off) owed on Carter’s contract is a worse bargain than these rounded (and very round) numbers:

--the $96 million owed Gilbert Arenas;
--the $66 million owed Elton Brand;
--the $63 million owed Emeka Okafor;
--the $62 million owed Luol Deng;
--the $60 million owed Andrew Bogut;
--the $54 million owed Baron Davis;
--the $40 million owed Corey Maggette and Antawn Jamison;
--the $37 million owed Jose Calderon;
--the $35 million owed Michael Redd and Zach Randolph;
--the $34 million owed Chris Kaman and Andrei Kirilenko;
--the $32 million owed Kenyon Martin; or
--the $29 million owed Peja Stojakovic.

And we’re not talking about other smaller contracts that are even bigger disasters, like those of Eddy Curry or Mike Dunleavy or DeSagana Diop, etc., etc.

Carter averaged 20.8/5.1/4.7 (again) this season, numbers exceeded by Lebron James, Chris Paul, Dywane Wade, Kobe Bryant and Brandon Roy. Stevie Jackson came close, but didn’t exceed those numbers, and he missed 23 games, compared to two by VC. If the Nets had agreed to the trade offered by the Spurs at the deadline, how would the Western Conference playoffs look right now with a Big Three of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Vince Carter in San Antonio? Different. Gregg Popovich understood that.

Questions, Questions, Questions – International Intrigue Division

Yi Jianlian will be playing for Team China again this summer, this time in the FIBA Asia Games. Might others break up their summer for some foreign travel, to places like Mexico and China…and who might be coming back to the USA?

In 2004, the Rockets went to China with Yao Ming. Last year, the Bucks went to the Far East because the NBA thought Yi would still be playing in Milwaukee. Instead, they got Mandarin-speaking draft choice Joe Alexander. Not a reasonable facsimile and ticket sales suffered. No word yet on this year's China trip. Will the Nets be packing their bags for Beijing and Guangzhou this summer like they did for London and Paris last summer? Is that a good idea? And FYI, Yi wouldn't be the only draw. VC is very popular in China, too.

Eduardo Najera had made some noises earlier in the season about playing for, or working out with, the Mexican National Team in the FIBA Americas Cup. It's being held in Mexico City and Mexicali at the end of August. No doubt, his rehab from hernia surgery will play a role in any decision, but it’s hard to believe he won’t be there. He is the only Mexican in the NBA and is the namesake and primary sponsor of the Mexican youth basketball program. Team USA won't be participating. It's guaranteed a spot in the 2010 World Championships because of its Olympic gold medal.

Looking forward to the World Championships in the summer of 2010, we wonder if Devin Harris will get an invite to Team USA a year from now…and whether he would accept. Not all the Olympic team members will be returning for the Worlds, which will be held in Turkey. In the summer of 2007, he scrimmaged against Team USA as part of the USA Select Team, a group of aspiring Olympians.

Boki Nachbar’s contract with Dinamo Moscow is running out. It’s unlikely Dinamo will want to continue to pay out the big bucks they agreed to give him last summer (when oil was $147 a barrel and Russia was swimming in it.) Like all NBA free agents, and Boki is one, negotiations can begin on July 1. The Nets still hold his Bird Rights, meaning they can sign him without digging into the MLE. He spoke with Kiki Vandeweghe at the EuroCup tournament earlier this month…and the Nets do seem interested. Both Michelle Beadle of YES and Al Iannazzone of the Record (and YES) have reported that. How much would the Nets be willing to pay him? Last year, he said, "I want to be one of those players who stays," but he was also honest: He wanted a contract that paid him an average of $4 million with more than two years guaranteed. He didn’t get one. Najera did. (How’d that work out?) Hard to believe the Nets will offer Nachbar much more than what he got before he left: $2.5 million a year, in spite of his solid showing in Russia. How many years? Another good question. Here’s yet another: if the Nets can’t dump Bobby Simmons’ contract, do they have a need for him?

NBA Fit

Back in November, the NBA produced a series of reports for NBA TV on how the league's rookies had prepared for the draft in grueling workouts around the country. The reports also featured a couple of the rookies working with their teams' strength and conditioning coaches after the draft.

The videos are now on YouTube and feature Brook Lopez (and twin brother Robin) working out before the draft and Ryan Anderson working out with the Nets' Rich Daltri afterwards. (Chris Douglas-Roberts also makes a grunting cameo in one as well.)

Among the highlights: Brook and Robin's older brother Alex describing the differences between the twins' personalities (there are some) and Anderson's pride in being able to prove people wrong over and over again. The videos also show Daltri running a couple of drills he believes help the Nets' big men improve their strength and lateral quickness.

Jason Thompson, the Rider center turned Sacramento forward, is also featured, as is Derrick Rose. They can found here, here, and here. They're long and bit repetitive but worth viewing.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

And now for a segue’ from our international questions to our first Draft Sleeper Pick of the Week, who happens to be Lithuanian. Donatas Motiejunas, a 7’0" point forward who if he comes out and Ricky Rubio doesn't would be the youngest player in the draft. He's a month older than Rubio. The Nets didn’t draft high schoolers when available in the Rod Thorn era, but they did draft a young Euro once and it worked out. In 2002, the Nets selected Nenad Krstic, the youngest player in that draft at 18. They knew he would have to spend another year in Serbia...he had to spend two. Motiejunas is about the same weight Krstic was back then, a rail thin 220 pounds on a 7-foot frame. But unlike Krstic back then, Motiejunas doesn’t have any contractual obligations, says his agent. No buyouts, no year to wait, no muss, no fuss. What kind of player is he? ESPN’s Chad Ford has him as a late lottery pick. Think a (very) young Toni Kukoc, Ford reports after talking to GM’s. P.J. Carlesimo used the same analogy when calling the Nike Hoops Summit last weekend. Motiejunas had 21 points and 8 rebounds in the World's unexpected victory over Team USA. But Kukoc, like Krstic, bided his time in Europe after being drafted by the Bulls. If Motiejunas comes out, his agent would presumably want him to join an NBA club this summer…and make some real money. That would make him a big risk for a team like the Nets. He'd need a year just to bulk up, then skills development work. It might be a smart long term move, but short term, you couldn’t expect much. Ford has him at #14 in his ESPN mock draft.

By the way, one of our final sleeper picks last summer was a kid named Ryan Anderson. Thought you'd like to know.

What's Going on Here?

Forest City Enterprises is Bruce Ratner's parent company and the biggest shareholder in the Nets.

Its stock has more than doubled in a little more than two weeks, better than 4% alone on Friday. It has gone from $3.41 on March 30 to $8.57 on Friday…that’s a 151% increase in 14 trading days. It got as high as $8.97 Friday before dropping back a bit late. We believe that’s the highest it’s been, intraday, since December. The whole market is going up, but not 151% in 14 trading days.

FCE owns 23% of the Nets and a big chunk of Atlantic Yards. We doubt this is happening because investors think the Nets are going to get the overall #1 pick in the lottery. Similarly, we cannot imagine it happening if those investors, several of whom are big institutional investors, think Atlantic Yards is dead, considering it's the only major project FCE is moving during the recession.

You know the old adage: buy on the rumor, sell on the news. What’s the rumor?

The Wonders of the Non-Guaranteed Contract

Remember two years ago when on the eve of the regular season opener, the Nets traded Mile Ilic and Bernard Robinson plus cash to the Hornets for David Wesley? Probably not. Other than the principals, no one cared.

But the deal showed the value of the partially guaranteed contract. The Nets were able to make that deal, to get under the luxury tax, because Wesley’s contract was not fully guaranteed. He was scheduled to earn $1.75 million, enough to match Ilic and Robinson’s numbers, but he was only guaranteed $250,000 if waived before the start of the season. The Nets were only too happy to waive him the day after the trade, pay him the guarantee and save some money and cap space. They had to give the Hornets some cash for the privilege, but getting under the luxury tax made it a smart move, financially and otherwise.

There are, scattered around the league, a number of contracts like Wesley’s, contracts that can be traded for, then bought out at a fraction of their cost. There are non-guaranteed as well as partially guaranteed deals. And in each case, the drop-dead date for the deals comes after the June 25 draft and before the start of the next season.

Imagine, for example, the Nets wanted to trade Sean Williams’contract for a draft pick. They’d need, in almost any scenario, to bring back a contract of nearly equal size as well as the pick. But if the returning contract is non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed, they could waive the player before it becomes fully guaranteed, saving money…and roster space.

How many of these contracts are out there? We did some research on the Storytellers’ salary page (the most complete we’ve found) and here’s the lists, first the non-guaranteed deals and then the partially guaranteed.

The non-guaranteed, with the amount owed, the date by which a decision must be made and the team holding the contract, in order of amount:

Steve Blake - $4.00M - 06/30 - Trailblazers
Travis Outlaw - $3.60M - 06/30 - Trailblazers
Dominic McGuire - $825K - 06/30 - Wizards
Anthony Roberson - $855K - 07/10 - Bulls
Tarence Kinsey - $855K - 07/29 - Cavaliers
Darnell Jackson - $736K - 06/30 - Cavaliers
Mike Taylor - $736K - 07/31 - Clippers

Most of these players won’t be dumped. Blake and Outlaw might be traded on Draft Night, but McGuire, Jackson and Taylor are all bargains for their respective teams. Outlaw could also be extended. That leaves Roberson, the former Florida Gator, and the much-traveled Tarance Kinsey.

Here’s the list of partially guaranteed, in order of the potential savings to the team that acquires the player and then waives him:

Steve Nash - $6.50M out of $13.13M - 06/30 – Suns ($6.63M)
Greg Buckner - $1.06M out of 4.08M + $1.06 out of 4.28M - 06/30 – Grizzlies ($6.24M)
Jerry Stackhouse - $2.00M out of $7.25M - 08/10 – Mavericks ($5.25M)
Matt Harpring - $2.50M out of $6.5M - 06/30 – Jazz ($4.00M)
Aleksandar Pavlovic - $1.5M out of $4.5M - 06/30 – Cavaliers ($3.00M)
Chucky Atkins - $760K out of $3.48M - 06/30 – Thunder ($2.72M)
Bruce Bowen - $2.00M out of $4.00M - 08/01 -- Spurs ($2.00M)
Fabricio Oberto - $1.90M out of $3.8M - 07/01 – Spurs ($1.90M)
Patrick O'Bryant - $500K out of 855K - 06/30 – Raptors ($355K)

Nash will be offered an extension, but the rest look like prime candidates for Draft Night deals. Remember, the Spurs were offering Bowen and Oberto as part of the trade deadline discussions re Carter.

(We included Harpring on this list. His deal provides that his final year will be guaranteed if he met certain career goals. We don’t know the details.)

Final Note

We're rooting equally hard for Devin Harris to win the Most Improved Player Award and the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award. He's one of five players nominated for the NBA's "good guy" award by the pro basketball writers and this month was presented the league's Community Assist Award for "his ongoing philanthropic and charitable work." Harris has been active in helping children through his 34 Ways to Assist Foundation, helping out Big Brothers, Big Sisters and the Make-a-Wish Foundation.

The Nets have been blessed to have some of the most generous athletes in the New York area. Last year, as we noted at the time, Carter and Richard Jefferson gave millions of dollars to set up a drug treatment facility in Daytona Beach, FL and an athletic facility at the University of Arizona...without much recognition in the New York area.

Also nominated are Bruce Bowen, Ben Gordon, Dwight Howard and Dikembe Mutombo, who won the award in 2001. The winner will be announced sometime during the playoffs. Same with the MIP.

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