What goes on deep inside the Nets' War Room on Draft Night is rarely seen. Only once have cameras been permitted inside and just for a few minutes before the 2006 Draft.
The actual picks are broadcast internationally, but the machinations behind the scenes are well-kept secrets. The Raptors did open their War Room wide to cameras in 2006, but otherwise, fans have had to figure out what went on by piecing together those few shreds of intelligence that leak out...sometimes years later.
So what did happen over the last decade inside the team's War Room on past June nights? We try to pull together all the things that went right--and went wrong--in the Rod Thorn era.
All that said, here's our take on the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Nets got lucky (winning the lottery at 25-1 odds) and unlucky (the worst draft in the last 20 years). Then, during workouts, Kenyon Martin collapsed after three or four plays, an indicator that he was either unhappy about the prospect of playing for the woeful Nets or his leg was still not healed after serious surgery that winter. Never mind. The Nets took him anyway. In the second round, they go big as well, taking Soumalia Samake, one of the team's most forgettable players (now toiling in China). The teeth-gritting begins here. John Nash, the Nets outgoing GM, has said then chief scout Ed Stefanski argued that night for the Nets to take an Ohio State shooting guard named Michael Redd. He was shouted down.
No one knew it at the time, but this was the day the franchise turned around. That afternoon, Thorn and Jerry Colangelo agreed in principle to trading Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury. Then, that evening, Thorn took a risk. He picked Eddie Griffin, the troubled Seton Hall star, at #7, believing that Carroll Dawson of the Rockets coveted him. A phone call to Houston confirmed his belief and Thorn stayed on the phone with Dawson as Houston picked Richard Jefferson (#13), Jason Collins (#18) and Brandon Armstrong (#23) with the first round picks traded for Griffin. Somewhere between #18 and #23, the trade was announced to loud booing at Madison Square Garden, but two of the three proved to be great picks, with Jefferson and Collins going from reliable subs in their rookie year to five-year starters for conference and division champs. But it could have been oh so perfect. Thorn has admitted he considered taking Gilbert Arenas, the 19-year-old point guard from Arizona, instead of Armstrong. Arenas became an all-Star while Armstrong has been cut by teams in the NBA, Italian League and D-League. Moreover, Dawson reportedly wanted the Nets to agree to a swap of first rounders in 2002's draft, believing the Nets would be in the lottery. Instead, the Nets won 52 games and the Rockets wound up with the overall No. 1 pick, Yao Ming. No need to be greedy. Round two yielded fan favorite Brian Scalabrine.
The year of international intrigue. The Nets had had their eyes on Nenad Krstic, an 18-year-old seven-footer from Serbia, for more than a year. They worked out shooters galore, made it appear that players like Casey Jacobsen or Flip Murray would be taken. They never worked out Krstic. Picking at #24, they knew that they had better not tell anyone. Stefanski in fact has said only he and Thorn knew who they were going to take. Good thing they kept it quiet. Spurs' management had let it slip to the San Antonio Express-News that they were planning to take Krstic at #26. The Spurs were so upset they lost Krstic that they offered the Nets a trade that night, details of which have never been revealed. Oh yeah, the Nets took Tamar Slay at #54.
A top heavy draft no doubt but the Nets knew who they wanted from the beginning: Zoran Planinic. He was to be the next Croatian sensation at CAA and Kidd's backup. But after a solid summer league, his lack of English skills and on-court consistency doomed him to first Byron Scott's then Lawrence Frank's bench. The week before the draft, Chad Ford reported that nothing is ever certain in the draft, but the closest thing to certain was the Nets' love of Planinic at #22. He got a guarantee right after working out with the Nets and then feigned injury, foreclosing any further workouts. But picking Planinic wasn't the biggest blunder of that night. In the second round, the Nets took Kyle Korver with the 51th pick, then sold his rights to the Sixers for a pittance...$125,000. Why? Stefanski said the Nets simply didn't have the roster space. Oh well.
It doesn't get much worse than this. The team, in a cost-cutting mode, decided to sell their first round pick for $3 million. While the draft was weak, it did produce several decent players after the #22 pick, including Kevin Martin and Anderson Varejao. Thorn said the next day that he might have had second thoughts about the deal if J.R. Smith or Jameer Nelson had been available, but both were gone by #20. The Blazers took Viktor Khryapa, a 6'9" power forward from CSKA Moscow, owned by you-know-who. Now, six years later, after spending three years in the NBA and then returning to CSKA, there are reports Khryapa wants to return to the NBA, perhaps to a team now owned by the aforesaid you-know-who. Ironies abound. Then, in the second round at #51, the Nets took someone DraftExpress described the next day as one of three "steals of the draft": Christian Drejer. Drejer was seen as a highly skilled 6'10" point forward who had played for Billy Donovan at Florida then ran off in mid-season to Barcelona...and a $1 million contract. His skills, however, took a back seat to his emotional fragility, winning him the nickname, "El Enigma" in Spain and "il Depresso" in Italy. No translation necessary. Nets still hold his rights, but after a dismal 2005 summer league audition, Nets officials said simply that he was "not in our plans". After he scored 23 points against the Raptors in an NBA exhibition game in Rome in 2007, some Nets fans wondered if he wasn't work another look. Not long after, a long balky ankle got worse and he is out of the game. Reports of a comeback appear far-fetched.
The morning of the draft, the New York Post reported the Nets had decided that if Antoine Wright was available, they would grab him at #15. Wright, who the Nets had never worked out, was the consensus #12 pick in mock drafts. When the Raptors took Charlie Villaneuva, the Lakers took Andrew Bynum and the Magic took Fran Vasquez (who?), Wright became available, as did Gerald Green and Danny Granger. Granger had had minor knee surgery before the season and showed up at his workouts with swelling in the same knee. So with the Nets being so orthopedic-centric, the choice came down to Green or Wright. There were supporters in both camps that night in the War Room, but Wright was chosen. Why not a big? Because the Nets had already booked Lawrence Frank on a flight to Atlanta three days later to recruit Shareef Abdur-Rahim, believing correctly that they could persuade him to play for the mid-level exception. What fans didn't know til 2007 was that the Nets were frantically trying to buy an early second round pick that night so they could grab Monta Ellis, the Mississippi high school product who had dropped out of the first round because of his knee problems. They failed and Golden State took him at #40. So the Nets settled at #43 on Mile Ilic, not a great second prize. (The Blazers initially wanted Ilic in the Abdur-Rahim deal, but the Nets said no.)
Ever since the KMart trade in July 2004, the Nets knew they would have at least two picks in the 2006 draft, their own and the Clippers'. No picks were offered in as many trades as these two, at least according to press reports. If the Abdur-Rahim deal had gone through, the Nets' pick would have wound up in Portland. The Nets had also offered their own pick to the Bobcats in a luxury tax relief trade in February 2005 before getting a better offer from the Hornets, in the form of Boki Nachbar. Around the same time, they had offered to trade the Clipper pick back to its original owners for Chris Wilcox. No deal, said Elgin Baylor. To make matters worse, the Clippers' pick became less and less valuable as the Clippers rose in the standings. No longer would it be a lottery pick. Then, in the weeks before the draft, the team tried to move up, offering both picks to Seattle for the rights to the #10 pick and to the Hornets for the #12 pick, hoping to take Saer Sene or Hilton Armstrong of UConn. No deal. No deal. And even as the draft was ongoing, the Nets had another offer on the table that could have effected those picks: the Bulls were offering Luol Deng and their second pick in the first round (which turned into Thabo Sefolosha) for Richard Jefferson. The Nets wanted the Bulls' first pick (which turned into Tyrus Thomas) but the Bulls said no. Finally, after two years and one night of offering the picks, the Nets settled on Marcus Williams and Josh Boone, both apparent bargains that low in the first round. Williams, it's now known, was desperately being sought by the Raptors as the picks were called out. Hassan Adams, once thought of as a lottery pick, fell hard as well that night to #54 and yes, the Raptors thought of taking him too.
The Nets were looking for a big man, an athletic big man. They looked around at several prospects, appearing to be interested in players as diverse as Jason Smith of Colorado State, Sean Williams of Boston College, Josh McRoberts of Duke and even Glenn "Big Baby" Davis of LSU. They were apparently willing to trade it, too. The day before the draft, the Charlotte Observer reported that the Nets offered their pick and Nachbar to the Bobcats for former lottery pick Sean May…but Charlotte (thankfully) turned them down. According to the Observer, the ‘Cats while unhappy with May’s conditioning and record of injuries, weren’t willing to "give him away". The Nets and Pacers engaged in trade negotiations all through Draft Day, with New Jersey reportedly offering Jefferson, Collins and either Krstic or Marcus Williams for Jermaine O’Neal. By day’s end, however, the talks were described as "nothing concrete" and "fizzled". Pacer GM Larry Bird called it all "bogus". In the end, the Nets settled for Sean Williams and proclaimed him Kmart-like.
By now, the legend is that the Nets had no idea that Brook Lopez would fall to them…never in their wildest dreams. Uh, no. The day before the Draft, Kiki Vandeweghe told WFAN, "Brook Lopez is one of the guys you have to do due diligence on. I don’t think he gets to us but you have to do due diligence because I guarantee you there will be a situation where someone will be taken and you will say, wow, why did they take him and you have to be prepared, because two minutes before pick you will get a call asking ‘would you do this?’ and you have to think fast…" Indeed, someone (Larry Brown) did something that permitted the Nets to have a shot at Lopez. After the eighth pick, the Bobcats told Lopez’s agent he was their pick. Then, Brown begged Michael Jordan to take a point guard instead. Lopez sat down and D.J. Augustin stood up. Who would the Nets have taken if Lopez had gone to the Bobcats? Team officials have told us it would have been Jerryd Bayless of Arizona…in keeping with "best player available". Of course, the Nets traded Jefferson for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons earlier in the day…and the Nets came close to two other trades the day of the draft that would have affected the pick. ESPN’s Ford reported that afternoon the Nets were "deep" in negotiations with the Grizzlies to grab the #5 pick, offering Memphis the #10 and a future first round pick, presumably either theirs in 2009 or the Mavs’ 2010 pick, obtained in the Kidd trade. Ford reported the Nets were interested in Kevin Love and Danilo Gallinari, both of whom they believed (correctly) would be gone before #10. Earlier, Ford and Adrian Wojnarowski had both reported on another proposal. The Blazers had offered the Nets a deal in which either Mo Ager (Ford) or Trenton Hassell (Woj) would go to Portland along with the #10 pick in return for Steve Blake or Jarrett Jack and the Blazers’ #13 and #33 picks. And in another permutation, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express reported it was Marcus Williams and #10 for Jack and #13. At #21, the Nets admit they were stuck between Ryan Anderson and at least two other players, Courtney Lee and Chris Douglas-Roberts. They went with the bigger guy, tried to buy a pick to take CDR and failed, then got lucky. Who did they target at #40 before Douglas-Roberts fell to them. Chad Ford said they liked Damjan Rudez of Croatia, a 6'10" small forward...who didn't have such a great season in Europe the next year.
Before the draft, the Spurs approached the Nets with a proposal: they would take on Vince Carter's contract in return for Fabricio Oberto and Bruce Bowen (both with easy buyouts) as well as Kurt Thomas and Roger Mason Jr. They also wanted the Nets' first round pick at #11. The Nets countered by saying they would be willing to do the deal but wanted the draft rights to Tiago Splitter, the 7-footer who was this year's MVP in the Spanish League. The Spurs balked and turned to the Bucks and Jefferson. As the #11 pick approached, Terrence Williams and Gerald Henderson Jr. thought they knew where they were headed last June 25. Henderson, the Duke SG, was convinced he was going to the Nets and TWill thought he was headed for Charlotte one pick later. So convinced that Henderson told the media after being picked at #12 that he had been told that the Nets were going to take him. TWill had even mentioned the Charlotte Bobcats in a radio program a couple of days before the draft. Why the Nets went in the opposite direction has never been explained, but the trade of Vince Carter and Anderson for Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie may have been a big part of it. It's been speculated that Nets thought Williams could fill more of the roles they lost with the departure of Carter, most importantly as a passer, not a Henderson strength.
What happens this June 24? Who knows? And it's unlikely we will know much that night either.