NetsDaily Off-Season Report #14

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.

The Yao Effect

Adrian Wojnarowski writes Saturday about how Yao Ming’s surgery will not only deny the Rockets their best player, but will deny the NBA one of its biggest draws...as he says a "transformative" player, "basketball's most important NBA player since Michael Jordan".

He changed everything for the NBA and David Stern, for China and the Far East. Together, they all conspired to use him, wear him out and ultimately toss him aside. For years, the Rockets played him too many minutes, and China played him too many summers for the national team.

As the global game goes, he’s basketball’s most important player since Michael Jordan. He’s the reason the world’s most populated country grew smitten with the NBA. He’s the reason that the NBA makes hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Far East, why its American players were treated like rock stars in the Beijing Olympics.

A lot of NBA players and commentators treated Yao with disdain upon his arrival, an overhyped stiff they promised to embarrass. Truth be told, there was a racial element to the criticism. Perhaps they didn’t want to believe an Asian could become an NBA star. Perhaps they feared an impending wave of Chinese 7-footers to gobble up jobs. Whatever the genesis, the criticisms of Yao pushed beyond legitimate basketball doubts and were nasty and needlessly personal.

Perhaps, there’s never been a modern athlete with the burden that belonged to Yao.

Although Woj does not mention Yi Jianlian in his article, Yi now becomes the biggest Chinese draw in the NBA. There will be more pressure on him, starting with the FIBA Asia Games in Tiajin August 6-16 and continuing into the 2009-10 season. He is now the leader on Team China, having played with the national team for five years. He is also the NBA’s biggest Chinese star. You can bet the league office, suffering from a recession in the US, is hoping Yi is up to the challenge. NBA monthly revenues from China now regularly top North American revenues.

Anyone who has seen the Chinese media contingent at Nets' games—an entire row of seats in the press area—knows how big Yi is in his homeland…and what kind of daily pressures he faces. Forbes ranks Yi the third biggest celebrity in China this year, moving up a place in spite of his two disappointing seasons in the NBA. The ranking is based on a compilation of mentions in the Chinese media, combined with income, etc. So you get an idea of just how big Yi is in China consider this: Forbes ranks Madonna as America’s third biggest celebrity. Beyonce’, wife of Nets minority owner Jay-Z, is fourth. A solid season from Yi might vault him even higher. (You can almost guarantee him a starting spot in the All-Star game with Yao out!)

Yi has always been Yao’s kid brother, the youngster who can do what he wants without having to bear all those heavy responsibilities of being the first. Those days are at an end. The Nets can only hope that the pressure will push Yi, rather than slow him down.

Young Guns…with ‘Tudes

Terrence Williams didn’t make David Thorpe’s ESPN Summer League team, but Thorpe did say some nice things about the #11 pick, like he does everything well but shoot and he will look a lot better when his teammates are named Devin Harris and Brook Lopez.

Fred Kerber talked to someone with more bonafides than Thorpe about Williams—and Chris Douglas-Roberts--and came away with positive assessments, in spite of their not winning a game with the Sixer-Nets in Orlando.

The coach, wrote Kerber, "loved Terrence Williams - but threw up the first warning about the kid."

"I thought he was a very, very good player," the coach told Kerber. "The kid can do a lot. He gets to the rim, he can defend. His shot needs work but he'll find ways to get it done."

So was there a problem? The coach, said Kerber, thought he detected "a bit of an attitude" in the 6’6" swingman. That had also been a whisper leading up to the draft. The coach added a bad thing. "He channels it and it's no problem", he offered. Plus, this anonymous coach recalled how he thought Kenyon Martin had an attitude when he first saw him.

One more positive from "Coach X" re CDR. "Really liked him. Again, he's a kid who just finds a way. You don't think he will and next thing you know, he succeeds."

Okay, far be it from us to give up Kerber’s source, but could this coach "who saw all the Nets games" and "recalled" Kmart also be a former Nets assistant who had to watch all the Sixer-Nets games, being the new coach of the Sixers?

Speaking of attitude, Kerber also wrote that two other young Nets are viewed quite differently by other GM’s: "As for trade interest, we're told Josh Boone has his admirers around the league. Sean Williams is definitely another story."

Time to start compiling a list of players the Nets passed on for Sean Williams who had attitude issues from day one and has never "channeled" them.

Deconstructing Thorn

We admit we’re not real good at this, Rod Thorn being a top flight poker player, but we decided to take a look at some of his latest comments and try to get a read on where things are going…and not going.

Putting aside his words, Thorn’s actions this summer offer a fairly straight forward view of the team, both on and off the court.

Assuming the Nets have a long term strategy, beyond "flexibility", it seems that it boils down to constructing a team of highly athletic, young players whose quickness will serve them well at both ends of the court and whose contracts won’t cause the bean counters at Forest City’s headquarters in Cleveland to gag.

"About three or four guys," Thorn told Dave D’Alessandro this week, when asked how many guys he has his eye on. "Three or four we'll monitor closely, and talk to agents to see what's happening. But not at a point where the agents feel they will get what they're asking for.

"If someone material can help us, we'll look at it. If the price is reasonably right. If it's someone like the guys we have, or if we can't say 'This guy will be a rotation player for us,' then I don't want to fool around with those guys."

Our take:

First, "about three or four" probably doesn’t mean five. And "rotation guy" doesn’t mean starter necessarily either. Although a couple of older guys names have made the Great Mentioners’ List (see below), we can’t see the Nets going for Joe Smith when they already have Tony Battie. Same is true of Melvin Ely, who is 31 and has suffered a big dropoff in his (previously limited) production. We also wonder if their long lost loves, Chris Wilcox and Sean May, are still the objects of their affections...they tried to acquire both of them multiple times. Both have had conditioning issues and neither has exactly wowed their former employers with their attitudes.

So who do WE think the Nets have interest in? D'Alessandro says Linas Kleiza is probably the "best candidate" of the group of power forwards out there, but adds that he and his agent think the market is "softer" than it really is and cautions "they're not in play" for top free agents like Kleiza. Still, considering how he mentioned Kleiza just before he quoted Thorn, we believe Dave D believes Kleiza is one of those "three or four". We hope so.

The others on our list, and we’re just speculating here, are Hakim Warrick, Drew Gooden and Ike Diogu. All are flawed but they’re all are under 30 and could blossom in the right situation. Yeah, they could make a move for a swingman like Matt Barnes, Jamario Moon or Rodney Carney or defensive specialist Ime Udoka, but we’d be surprised if they did.

Thorn also appears to be willing to go for more than one year under the right circumstances.

"Just to take a mediocre player for more than a one-year deal doesn't make any sense to me," he told Al Iannazzone. "If you can get somebody who can help you can, is a good player that's another thing. Just to take some mediocre player that may or may not play for you doesn't make any sense.

"I just don't want to sign a mediocre player who may or may not play. I want to know if we make a move for a guy or sign somebody he's going to play."

Alternatively, rather than try to deconstruct Thorn, we could just go to Dan Fegan’s list of clients and figure it out. The Nets favorite agent represented four team members last year—Mo Ager, Eduardo Najera, Jarvis Hayes and Yi. This year, Ager’s gone, but Rafer Alston, another Fegan client, replaces him. Of the free agents most often mentioned as Nets’ targets, Fegan reps Smith, Gooden and Ely. (Of course, we’ve heard grumbling that not everyone in the Nets’ front office is thrilled that one agent already represents a quarter of the roster...and with one more addition would represent a third.)

Marion Way

Which brings us to the strange and confusing case of Shawn Marion. D’Alessandro and Iannazzone offered different perspectives on the Nets' interest.

First D’Alessandro:

Speaking of fooling around, we're told the Nets tried to get into the bidding for Marion early in the game, and it was not a sign-and-trade scenario, either. They found a way to clear the decks by moving three contracts that added up to about $6-7 million, and use that as a jumpoff for a deal that would be slightly higher than what Shawn's getting in Dallas (6.3, 7.0, 7.7, 8.4, 9.0 over five, with an opt-out for 2013). Not interested, he said.

Then, Iannazzone:

Our understanding is things never really got that close with Shawn Marion. We're told his agent, who also represents Yi, Jarvis Hayes and Eduardo Najera, was searching for a home for Marion and - as we predicted a long time ago - asked the Nets if they wanted to add another Fegan client to their stable.

From D’Alessandro’s account, it seemed the Nets were being very aggressive. "Moving three contracts" is not an afternoon’s folly. That means negotiating at least two and probably three separate deals involving veteran players with contracts big enough to create space—and no doubt adding draft choices to sweeten the deal. Remember no team has more first round picks the next two years than the Nets.

From Iannazzone’s account, it appears that Fegan approached the Nets with an offer of interest, which the Nets dismissed. From D’Alessandro’s, it appears that the Nets made the first moves, then got a turndown.

We usually go with the most detailed story when trying to determine the most likely scenario, but we don’t have a clue beyond what has been written. We would sure like to know which players and which picks were offered.

Like a deal for Carlos Boozer, a deal for Shawn Marion would have made next season very interesting. And no, we don’t think we’ve heard the last of mutual interest between Boozer and the Nets. The Jazz aren’t getting what they want for Boozer and we continue to promote the NetsDaily Formula for moving stars and superstars: teams rarely wind up with equal value when they deal a big ticket player. Instead, it’s a menu of expiring contracts, young players, draft picks, cash considerations and trade exceptions. The more you get, the better the deal.

One thing we have a hard time figuring out though: Why would the Nets offer Marion "slightly more" than the $38.4 million the Mavs signed him for less than a two weeks after dumping Vince Carter who is owed $37.4 million. Yes, we know one deal is over six years, the other over three, but Marion is only 17 months younger than VC.

Speaking of Trade Exceptions…Again

Iannazzone, who has long kept track of salary cap minutia, reported this week: "The Nets don't have three trade exceptions after all. They only have two. The one they got in the Marcus Williams' deal last July went to Orlando in the big deal. The Nets got back two trade exceptions for $3.76 mill and $1.22 mill that they have until June 25, 2010 to use."

We saw this week how that $3.76 million TE could factor into a Boozer trade scenario not involving the Nets, that the Nets would become a third team in a complicated arrangement (ask Bobby Marks for the details, not us) that could send the 6’10" Jazz PF to Miami where he has a house. In return, the Nets would presumably get a player who makes less than the value of the TE. We’d like to nominate the Heat’s Dorell Wright as that player, by the way. He’ll make $2,887,165 next season. Fallen angel, etc.

TE’s, as noted before, can’t be combined with a player, but can be used with cash, with draft picks or unused draft rights to acquire a player. They can also be used to grab a player off waivers and in a pinch, $100,000 can be added to their value for trade purposes.

Great Mentioner Update II

We’re keeping track possible free agents targets mentioned by those great mentioners, Dave, Fred, Al and Julian (plus a few we think might show up).

Since last week, the list has shrunk…Boki Nachbar has decided to sign with a Turkish team. Moreover, things happen fast at this point in the off-season. Marquis Daniels got mentioned one day, by Kerber, and was off the list the next, headed for Boston.

Still, here’s the list, with the aforementioned subtraction: Chris Wilcox, Linas Kleiza, Hakim Warrick, Matt Barnes, Drew Gooden, Ike Diogu, Melvin Ely, Mikki Moore, Joe Smith, Jamario Moon, Ime Udoka, and Rodney Carney

And we still note, there’s always Sean May but it looks like he’s headed for the Kings.

Final Note

We remain fully amused by the Lebrongate matter. You know the one where some kid from Xavier dunked on The King at this camp and then James’ protectors, aka the Knights of Nike (or is it the other way around?), seized mini-cam video of the momentous event.

We like it for two reasons. It reminds everyone of the two occasions during last year’s playoffs when Courtney Lee rose above James and slammed one home. But more importantly, it reminds everyone of the manner in which Devin Harris brushed off being styled by Stuart Tanner last year in London. In that incident, you may recall, the London streetballer made Harris look ill on two plays while his brother operated a mini-cam. Four million YouTube hits later, Harris looks better because of the grace with which he handled it, interminably talking and joking about it with countless reporters. (Of course, Harris did tell Michelle Beadle that Tanner "definitely doesn’t want to see me again"…and said it with a very, very straight face.)

There is word that Nike is trying to figure out a way to get out from under all the bad publicity. Good Luck. We are now all witnesses to stupidity.

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