NetsDaily Off-Season Report #7

The draft is three weeks away, free agency a month. The Finals begin on Thursday. The end is in sight...the end of two years of waiting for Nets fans to see what the future holds.  New owner is in place, #3 pick secured, lots of cap space ready. Now it's crunchtime. We look first at some draft issues, like what Rod Thorn thinks of certain prospects, our latest Draft Sleeper...a Big Baby clone; what are the first impressions in East Rutherford about the Russian Revolution...plus a look at what the Nets got out of their trades of Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter, as of now. The real payoff starts now.

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...not to mention our own reporting.

Thorn on Cousins

We've read a lot about DeMarcus Cousins lately, including some positive comments from John Hollinger, ESPN's stats guru, and Ryan Blake, the NBA's deputy director of scouting.  We know the downside: the red flags of immaturity, anger management, etc.  But what gets lost in all this is what ROD THORN has to say.  We know he engages in spin from time to time, but when he speaks, what he says is going to be more interesting than Hollinger, Blake, John Calipari, Daniel Orton or some anonymous source. 

Thorn likes Cousins, period. Whether he will pick him is another matter, but his comments offer a very clear assessment, both before and after meeting him at the Pre-Draft Combine. 

In a conversation with Dave D'Alessandro before the Lottery, Thorn was talking about Evan Turner, when he asked rhetorically of the Ohio State swingman: "Is he the second-best player in the draft? I don’t know if you can say that. Who can be more talented than the kid from Kentucky (Cousins), a huge guy with great feet and hands?  "If he gets in the right situation, where demands are made of him, he’ll be really good. His body (6-11, 290) is just huge, and you might have to watch his weight. But real quick feet — in a short area, which is where guys like him work in, he’s quick. He rebounds the heck out of the ball at both ends, and he can finish. He’s not a big jumper, and he won’t play above the rim like Dwight Howard. But he can shoot it up to 20 feet. He’s a skilled player...Cousins is probably more center, but some think he can play power forward."

Then after the lottery and the Draft Combine, Thorn spoke about Cousins again, this time with Fred Kerber. He described Cousins' interview with the Nets in Chicago this way: "We were impressed in our meeting. He's not in tip-top condition but he certainly has time to get into shape." He later added that most big guys have high body fat, essentially dismissing concerns others have had.

Obviously, there are issues with Cousins, but primarily, we're told, they're basketball-related...issues with his weight and whether he can play away from the basket.

One other thing to note about Cousins and the Nets.  Gregg Polinsky, the team's scouting director, lives and works in Birmingham, Alabama, where he coached at the University of Alabama. He knows the state basketball scene.  Cousins is from Mobile, Alabama.  Polinsky may have better and longer term insight into Cousins the person, for better or worse, than most other NBA draftniks. 

By the way, here's what Thorn said about the other top prospects in that conversation...just for the record. Thorn was talking to Dave D about underclassmen, so they didn't discuss Wesley Johnson, the Syracuse senior, at the same length that he discussed the others.

--John Wall:

"No. 1, he has a gear that few people have. And he has an unusual size for it (6-4), to be that fast. And everyone you talk to says he’s a great kid -- no character issues with him. He competes. He plays better in the last five minutes
than the first five. He’s a gym rat. And he’s got a bunch of pluses beyond that. He’s not a great shooter, but guys get better. Point guard is obviously a critical position. He’s a good one."

--Evan Turner:

"I think he’s a combo type, and he can play some 3. But wherever he plays, if he’s going to be effective, he’s got to have the ball. He’s a big-time competitive kid -- not super quick or a great athlete, but a good athlete. He needs to
keep improving his shot, no doubt. But a competitive, leader-type guy.

--Derrick Favors:

"Favors’ game is ahead of him. He’s young, and he has big upside. He can rebound it right now. But he’s just starting to get an offensive game, and his shot looks fine from 15 feet. He’s about to turn 19. I like how every two weeks during the season, he got better."

--Wesley Johnson:

"Johnson is almost four years older than some of these other guys, so he’s more of a finished product."

--Al-Farouq Aminu:

"And then you have the kid from Wake Forest, a hell of a talent. I’m not even sure what he is. He’s real young and plays young, but he handles the ball better than all these guys. He can take it off the rim, bring it up, and pass it. So
they’re all close — you have to study and make a choice."

Would Thorn go for a power forward like Cousins or Favors in the draft instead of focusing on one in free agency. He could easily do both, wrote Kerber: "The Nets may also seek size in free agency, but the draft comes first. Do not 
discount Cousins because Lopez is in place. Thorn frequently notes how the Warriors drafted Nate Thurmond when they had a pretty fair center on the roster. His name was Wilt Chamberlain."  Of course, a free agent power forward might look at the Nets roster differently if it's loaded with young big men playing the same position they do.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

Tiny Gallon is a 6'10", 300-pound Big Baby clone with all that that entails.  He's big, he's energetic, light on his feet and did we mention big?  We did.

Gallon will work out next week for the Nets.  He worked out this week for the Knicks.  He described his game this way: "I’m like a pick-and-pop guy, and they’re looking for a guy who can shoot the three, a big man that can play inside." The Knicks who pick at #38 and #39--and did buy a first round pick last June--were reportedly impressed with Gallon.  "I’m just continuing to impress these coaches and I think I could be mid-first round to who knows?" Gallon said in response.  Gallon was on Dave D's list of prospects the Nets like, high on the list actually.  Draft Express has him going undrafted, NBADraft.net has him at #38 to the Knicks and ESPN has him going to the Nets at #27. 

First Impressions...Inside.

We spoke and emailed with a number of insiders this week about what they're seeing at the Russian Revolution.  There are indications things are not so settled in terms of reporting lines of authority, with some overlap among the
basketball side, the business side and the Onexim side.  One insider said it's his impression that the big guy likes things "amorphous", that it gives him and his people an opportunity to see how people operate in a new situation.

Another said the transition will provide the team an opportunity to create a new face, but that it may take some time.  Certainly, the membership of the Chairman's Council, the five person board that runs the team, already reflects the Russian ownership change. It also includes some from the old ownership which after all still retains a 20% stake in the team, but it's now decidedly Muscovite.  Mikhail Prokhorov is principal owner and his two top Moscow aides, Dmitry Razumov, a 35-year-old Russian lawyer, and Christophe Charlier, a 38-year-old French banker, are also members of the board.  Charlier is listed as Chairman of the Board on the Nets website. The remaining two members of the Council are Bruce Ratner, who was both principal owner and chairman of the board, and Arthur J. Rabin, a member of the Ratner investment group.  An apparel manufacturer, Rabin has had business dealings with Beyonce' Knowles and her mother.  That would be Jay-Z's wife and mother-in-law. 

Speaking of Jay-Z, we're hearing that Jay-Z and Prokhorov would like to clearly establish Jay-Z's role within the Nets organization...and beyond as a minority investor. The billionaire and the rapper reportedly got along well in their meetings in New York last week.  They are both big fans of the Nets, but they are also successful businessmen ...meaning expect negotiations if this new partnership is going to get done...and work.

One insider, asked what his bottom line is for the new ownership, responded simply:

"They will run a tight ship...

"They will spend if it is worth it...

"They will not be taken advantage of..."

That last point may become an aspect of the coaching search.  Some of the candidates reportedly see Prokhorov as a big spender, a lavish spender, a spendthrift. That impression was created at least on the internet, by reports he was willing to give Mike Krzyzewski $12 to $15 million...and now the suggestion he might do the same to bring in Phil Jackson.  Not necessarily so, say insiders.  He is willing to spend if it is worth it, as noted, but for a a top flight NBA coach, the going rate is more like $6 or $7 million. 

Up until now, Prokhorov has been willing to spend to buy into the Nets, but bottom line (pun intended), we have yet to see how much he will spend on the team itself.  That could become evident on Draft Night.  Will he spend money to buy a pick?  Will he be willing to add cash to sweeten a Draft Day deal?  Paul Allen has spent $15 million the last six years on Blazers' first round picks.  Jim Dolan spent $3 million last year to buy one for the Knicks.

Then, of course, there will be free agents to sign and at what cost.  Beyond the top flight stars, how much will he be willing to pay for the next level players?  If he's smart, he'll avoid the mistake Mark Cuban made early on and be somewhat frugal. Why? Because you don't want to get the reputation of overspending.  It can mess up your salary structure.

Then, there are the other issues, beyond players. Here's a short list:

--How many assistant coaches get hired? The new coach and Thorn will hire them, but the front office will set the budget. The Nets had the fewest of any NBA team by the end of the season. Right now, under contract, they have John Loyer, who's still being paid mostly from his 76er contract; Roy Rogers, who may start to get offers as a big man coach after his success with Brook Lopez; Doug Overton, who handled the point guard and point forward types and also did some advance scouting; and Jim Sann, whose title is coaching associate.  He's a favorite of Devin Harris. Dave D has hinted that Overton is gone and noted that Loyer and Rogers will run the workouts in the absence of a head coach.  (Rich D'Alatri, strength and conditioning coach, has a built-in advantage. He holds a Expert Certification in Soviet Training that he received years ago from the Soviet Institute of Sport in Moscow.)

--Replenishing the "meat and potatoes" jobs in the front office.  The Nets lost their stats guy; their No. 2 capologist; advance scouts; even executive assistants in the Ratner cost-cutting spree.  How many of those will be replaced,  when and at what price?  Others in the front office have been forced to take pay cuts or forego raises. At the press conference, we asked Prokhorov how soon that part of rebuilding would be dealt with.  He answered it would all be dealt with this summer. We liked his sincerity and we hope so.  Some of those jobs are important to this summer's decision-making.

--What about player development?  Two years ago, the Nets participated in two summer leagues and sent players to other camps in California and Nevada. Last year, player development was not such a big priority.  Also, there's also the issue of the D-League.  The font office has seen what other top flight teams can do with their own D-League team, either through outright or hybrid ownership.  It's not a big financial issue...a few million dollars a year. 

Final Note

The final payoff for the Nets in their trades of the Big Three will become clear in the next few weeks.  Everyone knew that from the moment Jason Kidd was sent to Dallas, the Nets were in a rebuilding mode, all of it aimed at this summer. 

As of now, here's what the Nets have on their roster from the trades of Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter...Devin Harris, Keyon Dooling (via $3.3 million TE plus $3 million in cash, both from Mavs), Trenton Hassell, Courtney Lee (via Ryan Anderson), Yi Jianlian, Bobby Simmons, Chris Quinn (via Rafer Alston), Tony Battie and the #27 pick in the 2010 Draft. 

as of July, you can add whoever is taken with the Mavs' pick at #27 plus whoever is signed with the $25+ million in cap space the Nets accumulated in those deals. Until the cap space is used up in 2011-12--when Carter's contract ends, it's hard to say how well or poorly the Nets did in those three trades. We will know soon, however.

On the other hand, the Mavericks and Magic did not achieve their stated goals in doing the deals--winning it all--and the Bucks have long since forgotten RJ.  

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