The NBA's Russian Revolution begins this week...and for the next 10 days, expect a very different level of Nets' experience. From now til the Draft Lottery on May 18, it will be all Nets, all the time. The arrival of the snappy new Russian billionaire owner, basketball personnel announcements, a major motion picture featuring the Nets as a championship contender, all leading up the John Wall Sweepstakes. We're short of breath already! "It's all new," say the Nets. We say, it's time the past is relegated to the dustbin of history!
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.
Ten Days That Shook the Franchise
The Russian Revolution is about to begin. Over the next ten days, expect a rush of news, announcements and speculation, ending with the Draft Lottery on May 18.
Here's some of what we can expect:
--Monday, May 10: the Nets ownership group, headed by Bruce Ratner, will formally approve the sale of 80% of the team and 45% of Barclays Center to Mikhail Prokhorov's Onexim Sports & Entertainment Group. It will also approve the arena lease between Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment and the Empire State Development Corp.
--Tuesday, May 11: The NBA Board of Governors will formalize its approval of the ownership transfer, apparently by e-mail. The vote may very well be unanimous in spite of questions raised by Rep. William Pascrell (D-N.J.). With the vote, Prokhorov will achieve several milestones. He will be the first foreign owner of an NBA franchise and the first European and first Russian owner of any major US sports franchise. He will join Michael Jordan as the only NBA owners who can dunk.
--Wednesday, May 12: The actual sale will finally close. It's uncertain whether Prokhorov will be in New York for the closing, but no one would be surprised if he is.
Between then and the May 18 Draft Lottery, expect a number of print and television interviews with Prokhorov and some well-placed appearances around the city and in gossip columns; announcements of personnel moves (but not the coach) and an uptick in basketball news. To quote one Nets front office type, "We have to get back to being a basketball team rather than a business."
As for the D-League affiliation, it's one of several moves awaiting final word from Prokhorov. The plan was conceived in East Rutherford, not Moscow, and will be placed on Prokhorov's desk for approval. Rod Thorn has a long laundry list of similar initiatives awaiting Prokhorov's arrival.
Speaking of Thorn, most signs point to him being retained although two team insiders tell us there is no commitment or at least wasn't as of last week. As for who the Russian will bring with him, expect to hear a lot more about Team Prokhorov. Andrei Vatutin, the CSKA president who'll likely be tapped to be Thorn's No. 2, and Irina Pavlova, the US-based Onexim official who will handle the team's business affairs. If you want a sense of what a no-nonsense executive Vatutin is, take a look at this video of him after CSKA's loss in Paris at the Euroleague Final Four Friday. It's in Russian, but clearly this man is very upset. He does not like to lose in any language in any venue in any country.
We're told Arturas Karnishovas, the Rockets' director of international operations, is also still in the mix for a front office job. The Lithuanian starred first at Seton Hall, then in both the Euroleague and FIBA's international competitions. He lives in New Jersey.
Also expect some surprises. Insiders say Team Prokhorov have been notoriously tight-lipped while awaiting league approval. That should change this week.
Proud Product Placement
And don't forget: in the midst of all this, "Just Wright", the Queen Latifah movie, opens nationally on Friday, May 14. Perhaps prophetically, the cinematic Nets are a championship-bound team, which as Variety points out, "requires the pic's biggest suspension of disbelief."
When you go to your local theatre to watch "Just Wright"-and we know you will, keep your eyes peeled for the various cameos by all manner of Net types: Thorn, Tim Walsh and community relations director Leo Ehrline have speaking roles…as does Bobby Simmons. There's also the crowd of several hundred extras brought into the Izod last summer for the game scenes. We know you are. You know who you are.
And if you wondering how movies get made any more, take a look closer. Variety, the bible of the movie industry, has done a story on how many products found their way into the film…and how.
The NBA paired the pic with the New Jersey Nets, the team for which Common's pro-basketball character plays in the film.
The NBA also recruited other teams like the Miami Heat, and Nets player Bobby Simmons, league announcers Marv Albert and Kenny Smith, and other NBA team players including the Orlando Magic's Dwight Howard and the Heat's Dwyane Wade.
Apparel-maker Izod, which typically doesn't tie-in with film productions, lent the film the Izod Center in New Jersey where the Nets compete. The company provided clothing to the cast, as did Nike, Under Armour and Tom Ford. Products by Lab Series Skincare for Men and Apple are also placed in the film, while Mercedes-Benz provided its pricey Maybach for Common to drive onscreen.
Naturally, the marketers also are stepping up to promote "Just Wright" through a series of events, and traditional and online ads. Partners helped promote the pic on ESPN during the network's coverage of the NBA playoffs.
Sounds like a Brett Yormark production...and in many ways, it is. He made the arrangements. Keep thinking, "global brand". This movie will be seen worldwide. Yormark is staying, by the way. He has a contract through 2013 "and he's very good," said a Nets insider. Can't complain about this one.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
We still think Oklahoma's Willie Warren will get picked higher than what the mock drafts are projecting-down about where the Nets will make their choice at #27 or #31. In fact, the 6'4" swingman has been dropped into those slots by several of the mock drafts.
Warren had a weird year. He decided against leaving OU a year ago, when he would have been a top 10 pick. Instead of earning $2 million in the NBA, he spent 2009-10 battling with his coach in Norman, getting a reputation as a selfish player and to make it all so much worse, having a disappointing year on the court. As Jonathan Givony of Draft Express writes, "His 2-point percentage is down 5%, his 3-point percentage is down 6%, his turnover rate has nearly doubled and his assists and scoring are only up slightly in turn."
There are countervailing arguments to all that. He battled a nagging ankle injury as well as mononucleosis and he has a lot of talent. The biggest reason to take him that low is what he showed a year ago when he played with Blake Griffin: an ability to play both guard positions and even a little at the three.
China Cuts Back on Yi Commitments
When the Chinese national basketball team arrived at training camp this week, Yi Jianlian and Yao Ming were absent. It's highly unlikely that Yao will play in the 2010 World Championships in Turkey this September, but Yi, the only NBA player from China, surely will. Yet, Chinese basketball has given him permission to rest up and even go back to the US for treatment.
Yi is resting his sore right shoulder which bothered him the last month or two of the season, according to Kiki Vandeweghe. Chinese basketball types seem cool with that. At some point, he will return to national team practices, but compared to the last few summers, he's not facing great pressure-in spite of his higher profile.
One reason may be that the 2008 Olympics were held in Beijing, as was the FIBA Asia Cup. The Worlds are held in Turkey in August and September. Still, you may recall the brouhaha last spring over whether Yi would play for his native Guangdong in the All-China Games.
The rest might help the still skinny "Muscle Devil". And if you think Yi is only a point of debate for Nets fans, check this out.
Keeping Up with Barclays Center
Barclays Center, the Nets' Brooklyn home, has set up both Facebook and Twitter pages in the last couple of weeks. Along with the center's website, the pages will be used to market the arena as it's being built, providing news related to the arena's construction among other things.
Prudential Center, the Nets' Newark home, already has both Facebook and Twitter pages.
Okay, let's assume the Nets do work out a deal with the Springfield Armor of the D-League. That would leave only the WNBA for Mikhail Prokhorov to conquer. Now, we read that the New York Liberty might be an orphan for the next three summers, as the Garden gets a renovation almost as expensive as the construction of the Barclays Center.
Richard Sandomir of the Times reports that the first two summers the Liberty may play in the Prudential Center, but Neil deMause of the Village Voice wonders about the 2012-13 season. Would it make sense, he asks, for the Liberty to move into Barclays Center? We ask would it make sense for Prokhorov to simply buy the Liberty away from Madison Square Garden.
You want a free agent recruiting too? How about multi-billionaire bachelor owner, assuming he still hasn't fallen in love by then.