NetsDaily Off-Season Report #12

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.

"If We So Choose"

That caveat got missed in a lot of the discussion surrounding Rod Thorn’s assertion that the Nets now have enough cap space to sign two max salary free agents next summer…"if we so choose". However, they were the four most important words he spoke.

The chances of the Nets signing two maxed out free agents next summer are somewhere between slim and none. For openers, it would be fiscally irresponsible. You don’t draft, trade and develop young players and then abandon or low-ball them because you spent all your money on free agents. You can’t do both unless you’re Chuck Dolan or Mark Cuban. (Mikhail Prokhorov, the Russian oligarch supposedly interested in the Nets, may be suffering from, in the words of a rival, "boredom and seven billion dollars in cash", but he’s denied the Sports Illustrated story.)

Go ahead, assume the Nets sign Lebron James and Chris Bosh, or Chris Bosh and Joe Johnson, whoever. That wipes out the cap space you’ve skimped and saved for.

What do you do in the summer of 2011, when Yi Jianlian’s comes up for his first contract. Assume he develops in the next two years.

You going to want to lose him, and his enhanced popularity, for nothing?

How about the summer of 2012, two years into the maxed-out contracts? It will be decision time for Brook Lopez and Courtney Lee. Then in 2013, it’s Devin Harris, who will be 29 years old and presumably at the peak of his career, and hopefully, Terrence Williams, too.

You want to abandon them?

And we haven’t even talked about Chris Douglas-Roberts (up for renewal in 2011) or the two picks in 2010. Even they would need to be paid during the term of the maxed-out contracts! Remember, those two contracts would extend through 2017.

This is about rebuilding, right?

There’s also the issue of the next collective bargaining agreement. The current agreement will expire following the 2010-11 season, but the League, aka the owners, has the option to extend it through the 2011-12 season if it wishes to. If so, the League must exercise its option to extend the agreement by December 15, 2010. Expect the owners to demand, and probably get, new concessions—things like shorter contracts, less expensive contracts, a harder cap, softer guarantees.

You want to have the last big contracts signed under the old CBA when the new one offers more flexibility, more advantages for the owners?

Of course, if Brooklyn goes through, the Nets would be, in the words of their CFO, "one of the most valuable teams" . But there are no guarantees of any sort associated with Brooklyn. Nor is there a guarantee that Bruce Ratner or Vincent Viola or whoever owns the team is going to be spending those profits wildly. The Nets also have a lot of debt, more as a percentage of equity than any other professional sports team.

Finally, the last team to sign two star free agents to maximum contracts in one off-season was the Orlando Magic who signed swingmen Grant Hill and Tracy McGrady in 2000. Each got $90 million over six years.

How’d that work out?

We don’t know what to expect, but we aren't very optimistic right now about this franchise. IF the Nets break ground in Brooklyn by Dec. 31, we will permit ourselves some optimism, but that is looking more and more questionable. If it fails, Brooklyn critics will rejoice (and not care one iota about the fate of the team). In that case, we have no idea what’s going to happen other than the team will be sold to someone.

Assuming all goes well, the most likely scenario, we believe, is that the Nets will try to sign one star to a maxed out contract and preserve the rest for their own young players. It’s the smart thing to do.

Expiring Contracts

So what about this off-season? They’re not spending. They don’t have the money. For whatever reason and we suspect it has more to do with a proposed sale than anything else.

How can you expect a team to add salary when it’s already laid off a quarter of its staff since September, asked the remaining staff to take unpaid "Friday furloughs" during the summer, fired its advance scout and one of its capologists, and forced its assistant coaches to take huge pay cuts?

That said, we think there are some possibilities out there using the wealth of the Nets’ expiring contracts in sign-and-trades, IF the Nets are willing to take on salary next season. That’s how sign-and-trades work. There are at least seven expiring contracts and as many as nine, depending on how you construe "expiring". Keyon Dooling isn’t an expiring contract because he has another year left after this one…but that final year is only partially guaranteed. Douglas-Roberts has a team option in his contract after 2009-10. And Eduardo Najera’s contract has all sorts of options, according to reports.

Here’s what the Nets have in terms of expirings…

Bobby Simmons - $11.24 million (includes a trade bonus following last year's trade)

Tony Battie - $6.61 million (includes a trade bonus following this year's trade)

Rafer Alston - $5.25 million

Trenton Hassell - $4.35 million

Keyon Dooling - $3.63 million (plus $500K guarantee in 2010-11)

Jarvis Hayes - $2.06 million

Josh Boone - $2.06 million (with qualifying offer of $2.99 million in 2010-11, which can be renounced by June 30.)

Sean Williams - $1.63 million (with team option of $2.05 million in 2010-11 if not exercised by October 31)

Chris Douglas Roberts - $736,420 (with team option of $854,389 for 2010-11 if not exercised by June 30)

Najera reportedly has a team option of $2.5 million in 2010-11 and $2.25 million in 2011-12, a savings of $1 million, if exercised by June 30. Those guarantees like Dooling's $500,000 guarantee would remain on the cap.

The problem, of course, is that the team sending out an expiring must be willing to take on a contract that is NOT expiring in return. Would the Nets want to do that considering their cap-and cash-hoarding mandates?

Who might they consider? Al Iannazzone thinks Marcus Camby of the Clippers ($9.65 million); Carl Landry of the Rockets ($3 million with a team option for another $3 million in 2010-11); Chuck Hayes, also of the Rockets ($1.76 million, then $1.94 million in 2010-11 and a team option for $2.10 million in 2011-12); or maybe small forward Travis Outlaw ($3.6 million) of the Blazers. Iannazzone also reported that Landry can be had for a draft pick. Not sure about that now, with Yao Ming likely sidelined for a year, if not longer. We also think that Camby may be off the table after the Clippers were able to dump Zach Randolph on the Grizzlies, alleviating the logjam upfront. How he would work with Lopez is yet another issue.

Still, we think it’s wise to sit back and wait til the music stops in free agency. It’s fast becoming musical chairs. Cap space is being used up fast and players who thought they were going to get big bucks may soon find themselves looking for a chair, a/k/a a one year deal at the MLE with an option for a second year. It may be wishful thinking, but we’re not alone in thinking that way.

Free Agent Candidates

We’ve been compiling a list of free agents the Nets may be interested in, reading the beat writers’ articles the way the CIA used to read speeches out of the Kremlin to see who’s up, who’s down.

Here’s the list of players mentioned by those great mentioners, Dave, Fred, Al and Julian (plus one or two we think might show up): Brandon Bass, Channing Frye, Chris Wilcox, Linas Kleiza, Hakim Warrick, Matt Barnes, Drew Gooden, Ike Diogu, Melvin Ely, Mikki Moore and Joe Smith. And we might note, there’s always Sean May and Boki Nachbar.

It could be that the Nets may not sign anyone til August or September. In this economy, there’ll be a lot of players still looking for a home then.

The Trade Exceptions

Kiki Vandeweghe was surprising excited about the trade exceptions the Nets got in the Vince Carter trade, twice bringing them up in a WFAN interview…without being asked.

The Nets learned last summer you can do a whole lot with them. They essentially sent a (relatively) small amount of cash to the Magic for Dooling and the $3.3 million trade exception obtained in the Jason Kidd trade.

What’s interesting is that when the Jason Kidd deal first went down, reports were that the Nets got two smaller TE’s. But they appealed to the league office, arguing there should only be one, larger exception. Since exceptions can’t be combined, it was to their advantage to have a larger one. We don’t understand enough about capology to know if they could try the same argument this summer.

In any case, Vandeweghe’s assertion that the TE’s are "REALLY valuable" makes us think they may have plans. The Nets have three exceptions: $1.26 million, expiring on July 22 and $3.75 million and $1.2 million, both expiring on June 25. The league permits teams to inflate their value by $100,000 each to facilitate trades.

Although they can’t be combined or used with a player, they can be used in conjunction with cash considerations, a draft pick or draft rights…and yes, we believe the Nets still retain the rights to Christian Drejer, even though he’s retired for European basketball. They can also be used to take a player off waivers.

The Other VC offers:

In light of what we know (and it’s by no means comprehensive), the Magic deal was probably the best deal the Nets were offered for VC and the $37.64 million he has left on his contract. The Magic needed Carter after Hedo Turkoglu rejected an informal offer the weekend before the draft…and VC is from Daytona Beach, a 30-minute drive from Orlando, making him a ticket draw.

Here’s what we know about some of the other proposed deals…all of which has been published. Not being in the room, we can’t vouch for its accuracy, just that they were reported.

--Carter and Boone to Houston for Tracy McGrady at the deadline. When McGrady heard the rumors, he immediately informed the media (not the team) that he was about to shut it down for the season. Deal ended.

--Carter to San Antonio for Fabricio Oberto, Bruce Bowen, George Hill and Roger Mason Jr. at the deadline. Tim Duncan, like McGrady, went public to kill this deal A close second to the ultimate Magic deal. However, the Oberto and Bowen contracts can be dumped with small guarantees this summer, giving the Nets quicker salary relief.

--Carter and two first round picks to Portland for Raef LaFrentz and Frye at the deadline. A salary dump of the first magnitude. The Nets wouldn’t even have had to pay all of LaFrentz’s salary. Eighty percent of it was paid by insurance after he suffered a season-ending injury last season. Frye’s contract expired at season’s end. We don’t know enough about why this went down, like which side proposed it.

--Carter to Cleveland for Ben Wallace, Sasha Pavlovic and J.J. Hickson last month. A little more complicated since no one knows whether Wallace will retire, as he suggested in June, or how much of a buyout he would accept. Pavlovic, first player to leave Cavs practices all year long, has a small guarantee. The Nets liked Hickson before last year’s draft but he’s not as developed as Lee.

--Carter to Orlando for Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and J.J. Redick last month. The original deal offered by the Magic. Thorn refused it, demanding Courtney Lee. The Magic countered with a demand that Ryan Anderson be included. Done deal.

A note on how much Carter is owed. You may have seen three figures: $33.64 million over the next two years, $52.57 million over the next three or $37.64 million guaranteed. The third figure is the most accurate. Carter’s contract indeed has three years left at $52.57 million, but only $37.64 million is guaranteed. The third year is partially guaranteed for $4,000,000 if he’s waived before June 30, 2011.

Thanks to Al Iannazzone

…For clearing up the Harris trade rumor of last week, the one where a Minneapolis Star-Tribune writer suggested the Nets were willing to send Harris, Yi and the #11 to the Wolves for Al Jefferson (still recovering from his ACL surgery) and the #5, used for Ricky Rubio. Thorn wouldn’t comment on it when asked by a season ticket holder on the STH conference call.

Al explains:

Also, we hear the Timberwolves thought the Nets were totally blowing things up and asked if they could have Devin Harris for the No. 5 pick last week. The Nets asked for Al Jefferson and the 5 for Harris and the 11. Not sure which came first, but you get the picture.

The Nets would have taken Jonny Flynn had Minnesota said yes, but the Wolves wanted no part. Not sure if it went to the next step where Yi Jianlian was thrown in, as reported.

But the Nets weren't blowing up things. They're just going in a different direction. They're trying to get younger, give their young guys more of a chance to develop and clear enough money to be in position to do something next summer.

Rod/Kiki Quotes

Transcribed some of the interviews Thorn and Vandeweghe did on WFAN, conference call, etc. Used some on news side. Figured we would post them for posterity's sake.

Thorn on Yi (conference call)

Yi has been working out since a week after the season with one of the top trainers in America, trying to get stronger upper body wise. I saw him in the gym today. He's 10 pounds bigger, MUCH more definition in his chest and arms. Our feeling is that as he gets stronger, particularly in his upper body, it will help him defend his position better and it will also help his offense, make it much more difficult to knock him off balance. Yi has terrific athletic ability. There's no reason if he gets stronger and contines to have that same great attitude that he shouldnt be a viable NBA player.

Thorn on Williams (WFAN)

"We liked his versatility. He can play different positions — he’s an excellent passer, a great defender. He really is a talented kid. We had some other players there that we were looking at, but when it came down to it, why not take this kid — he’s got a huge upside … He’s not a finished product as a shooter … He’s got a huge hand, Mike, and he can really handle the ball, and we’ll see, but we were very happy to get him."

Thorn on Rubio (WFAN)

He is a guy who has extraordinary court sense, Mike. He sees things before they happen. Remember Wayne Gretzky?..in hockey, he could see things that were going to happen before they happened. This kid has that kind of ability to do that which not many people have.

Right now, he's a reluctant shooter. I think his shot is not broken. I think he's got a chance to be a good shooter. Body wise, he's got a ways to go. Defensively, he steals teh ball, but he's gonna have a hard time keeping people in front of him.

I think it depends (how good he will be in the NBA) To me, he's a guy who plays a lot better with good players around him that he can help make better, like the Spanish national team with all those good players they have.

Thorn on rationale behind Carter move (WFAN)

"Our feeling was we’re going to be a 30-40 win team. We’ve got Carter who’s obviously a star, a great player, 32 years old. And our feeling was, let’s clear cap space if we can get a young player who we feel can be a good player. And this deal came along two days ago and we talked about it for a day and ended up doing it. We like Courtney Lee a lot. We think he’s another good athletic player who defends and passes. So now in Harris, Williams and Lee, we’ve got three wing-type players who are interchangeable almost. I think Orlando — they may or may not re-sign Turkoglu — so I think they felt some pressure to get a guy who can make plays at the end of the game like Vince can. So it may be what puts them over the top, but we’re in a different spot."

Thorn on the backcourt (WFAN)

"Harris is going to play a lot … And we picked up Skip to My Lou in the deal, who’s still a very good player. And we’ve got Williams who can play point and Dooling who can play point. We’ve got a bunch of guys who can play — other than Alston who’s just a point guard — we’ve got a bunch of guys who can play two positions, and Williams can play three."

Vandeweghe on rationale behind Carter move (WFAN)

its part of our process.

There's a couple of things that go into this. Really, we had to take a hard look at ourselves. And say were we headed to be a championship team. Is this where we were going because that's where we wanted to go. And that's where we need to get for our fans because our fans deserve the best and we're trying to get there as quickly as possible.

So to us this move created a ton of salary space an additional $17 million that you can spend on free agents if that's your direction next year and possibly this year.

It's a lot of flexibility. We got a great young player in Courtney Lee out of the deal. Rafer Alston is a very good player. He's a starter on a championship level team. Tony Battie, long time pro, going to be great back up to Brook Lopez. So we got some players out of this. This is a flexibility move. It allows us to move in a lot of different directions. And we talked about last night, now you get at least the opportunity to see how good you are. You get additional flexibility. And we're going to go forward. We're not done yet.

Sometimes, teams do things for just for economic reasons. If you look at this deal, that's not it. You got an additional player who's real good.

Kiki on Ryan Anderson:

Did we fight to keep Ryan Anderson, of course we did. We didn't want to put Ryan Anderson in that deal. We like Ryan Anderson. We think he's a good young player who has bright future in this league. We were sorry to see him go. I think if at the end of the day, had vince been five years younger, this deal would never have happened. But for where we're going and when we believe we're going to be good, over the next…maybe in a year or so, you had to look at this type of a deal and it was unfortunate that we had to lose Ryan, but we got a need position for us in Courtney Lee. There was a little bit of duplication with Yi and Najera and Bobby Simmons, Tony Battie, You had a lot of big guys there. Did you want to lose him of course not. Did you want to add a good young player at the wing. Yeah you did. So this deal sorta did make sense. We fought to keep him. We're sorry to see him go, and really wish him well.

Vandeweghe on what's left to do (WFAN)

You look at our team and you say this is not our finished product. So you've got to continue to improve whether that means we continue to improve internally or…we have a lot of expiring contracts, we have a lot of young pieces that people like, we have a lot of really good players. And whether you mix and match in a different way, whether you add free agents. We have a lot of flexibility. I mentioned the trade exceptions. Those are very valuable right now. We have some extra draft picks in the future that we've stockpiled. So to me, you've got a lot of different ways to improve. And we've just got to find the right way and we have to do it as quickly as possible.

Finally, after transcribing all that, we realized that a lot of it was available on Sports Radio Interviews, which transcribes interviews around the country. It usually takes a couple of days, but it’s worth the wait. Bookmark it. We did.

A Happier Yi

Yi wrote something in his blog Saturday that interested us. He told his Chinese readers that it was "good to be home!" He meant New Jersey. The blog in general was very upbeat, with him writing about how happy he has been and how pleased he was to be recognized by fans. (Not a lot of other Chinese seven-footers in Bergen County, Yi.)

Yi was very much a homebody last season, admitting he didn’t even get to the Mall when his parents came to see him. Thorn and Vandeweghe both spoke about how much of a cultural adjustment he had to make last season. (We wondered if they meant from Milwaukee to New Jersey as well as China to New Jersey.)

He also ventured into the city to play a game of streetball at Hunter College, scoring 23 points and looking "solid", said Bounce Magazine. But the most fascinating thing was this: Beat writers remarked about his self-confidence, even how much louder he spoke than last year, where his voice was sometimes barely audible.

On such a thin reed is our confidence built.

Final Note

We’ve already reported that Maurice Ager will be joining Ryan Anderson on the Orlando Magic summer league entry. Two other players from last year’s summer league squads have also found homes. Jaycee Carroll, fresh off a solid season in Italy, will be playing for the Hornets’ entry and Marcus Williams, cut in March by the Warriors, is playing with Hasheem Thabeet and the Grizzlies.

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