Twice a year, we do a report card on the front office's latest moves...once at the beginning of the season, once after the trade deadline. It's that time of the year again and after Thursday's roller-coaster ride, it may not be a good time to assess, but we have no choice.
Bottom line, this has been a difficult off-season, made even worse by Brook Lopez's broken foot. The Nets have , as Brent Barry said, put all hteir rubles in one basket, the one marked, "Dwight Howard." That's constrained them and hurt them in their push for other free agents. At the end of the day, if you're a risk taker, you're all in with the strategy. If not, bite your fingernails.
One thing we've learned over the years as we graded different moves, F''s can become A's, and alas, A's can become F's as time goes by. So here goes, from beginning to end...
July 14, 2010 - King hired by Mikhail Prokhorov (A-). Let's just call that the overall grade for King and Marks. King's getting a lot of credit, deservedly so, for the Deron Williams trade, and took a lot of heat for the Carmelo Fiasco. But the two of them did a lot of other things in his first seven months on the job, most of it good. There was the trade for Sasha Vujacic, the Springfield Armor hybrid deal and major upgrade to the team's infrastructure, from building up basketball operations to pushing for a state of the art locker room facility. Takes some time.
July 19, 2010 - Named Sam Mitchell, Larry Krystkowiak, John Loyer, Popeye Jones and Tom Barrise assistant coaches (A). One thing we like about Billy and Bobby is that there is no reluctance to spend Mikhail Prokhorov's money. By adding assistant coaches and scouts and a team chef, etc.,etc, they have shown a wilingness to get the most out of the boss's cash hoard. It's going to be a continuing theme here.
July 26, 2010 - Named Bobby Marks assistant general manager (A). Marks is a Nets lifer, going from intern to assistant GM. Here's another theme: Rewarding loyalty. Marks played a lesser role under Thorn, but pulled off some neat tricks, like getting two draft picks for Marcus Williams as he headed out the door.
August 7, 2010 - Signed forward Sean May to veteran's minimum deal, with $100,000 guaranteed (B). Why such a high grade for the signing of a guy who never suited up? Again, it's about spending money. This signing signaled that the Nets, who hadn't given out a partial guarantee in three years ($25,000 to Robert Hite), were willing to compete even for the smallest pieces. Waived September 7 after an injury.
August 11, 2010 - Traded guard Courtney Lee to the Houston Rockets in a four-team deal that yielded forward Troy Murphy from the Indiana Pacers (C-). Seemed like a good idea at the time. Lee wanted out and Murphy looked like just the kind of player the Nets could use: a stat-stuffing 6'11" power forward who, to make things all the better, was the 13th New Jersey native to play for the New Jersey Nets (and maybe the last). It cost the Nets cap space and Murphy never fit it after a series of injuries. It did ultimately give Kris Humphries a shot.
September 10, 2010 - Signed Joe Smith to a veterans' minimum contract (D). Smith was supposed to mentor Derrick Favors and give the Nets some minutes at PF. After starting the first two games of the season, it became obvious he had little to nothing left.
September 10, 2010 - Hired Milton Lee director of basketball operations (A). Lee had been brought on by his college chum and Prokhorov deputy CEO Christophe Charlier even before the Russians bought the team. Another example of how the team is spending money. Lee, former intern to the 1992 Dream Team and basketball junkie, is handling the interface between technology and basketball, working with Patrick Spurgin, the team's new video coordinator, statistical consultants and Barclays Center architects...then, the Armor move.
September 15, 2010 - Signed Stephen Graham to a two-year, partially guaranteed deal (C). Graham got $450,000 upfront this season and $100,000 upfront for next season. A coach's favorite wherever he's played, he's given the Nets minutes and again showed the Nets are willing to work deals even with vets' minimum guys.
September 15, 2010 - Signed Doug Overton as player development coach (A). More coaches, more development. We don't know the details about how he's doing things, but he is a tough guy, something a number of young players have shown to need.
September 29, 2010 - Waived forward Andre Brown (B). Published report noted that the Nets made an example of his lack of toughness in training camp and quickly dispatched him a an example.
October 6, 2010 - Waived guard Eddie Gill (C). Thus ended Gill's eighth tenure with the Nets, which has to be an NBA record...if anyone would keep such records.
October 19, 2010 - Exercised the contract options on guard Terrence Williams and center Brook Lopez through 2011-12 (C and A). The Nets front office at this point were not enamored of T-Will but still held out hope they could make it work. With the added year, he had additional trade value.
October 22, 2010 - Waived center Brian Zoubek (C). We had hoped another Jersey guy would make the team and are surprised he hasn't played since being cut.
November 11, 2010 - Nets announce that they have agreed to a hybrid relationship with the Springfield Armor of the D-League (A+). When word first came that Prokhorov wanted to upgrade basketball operations, one of the early ideas floated by Marks was a takeover of the Nets' D-League affiliate, the Springfield Armor. The proposal languished for a time, but got done. For $250,000, the Nets get operational control of the Armor. They hire and pay coaches, a GM and select the players. At the time, the Nets were one of two teams in the NBA with such a relationship. That number has mushroomed since.
November 26, 2010 - Nets dispatch Terrence Williams to the Springfield Armor (B). After being warned for two years that this could be his fate, Williams is finally shipped out to the D-League. You can blame him or Avery Johnson or King, but the bottom line is that it showed a level of seriousness about discipline and his performance--he averaged a triple double--helped improve his trade value.
December 15, 2010 - In a three-team deal, traded Terrence Williams, Joe Smith, the Warriors' second-round pick in 2011 and the Bulls' second-round pick 2012 for Sasha Vujacic , the Lakers' 2011 first-round pick, protected 1-18, and the Rockets' 2012 first round pick, protected 1-14 (A). The Nets initial priority in this deal was dumping Williams. In the first version, Williams was going to the Lakers, then the deal expanded when L.A. balked. Williams spent the season at the end of the Rockets' bench with 25 DNP-CD's while Vujacic, freed from Phil Jackson's doghouse, average 11, 3 and 2 as the Nets sixth man.
February 1, 2011 - Signed guard Orien Greene to a 10-day contract (A). Again a high grade for a minor move because of what it says about the change in the team's operating principles. Greene was the Nets' first 10-day contract since Donnell Harvey in 2005. That's six years. They hadn't called up a D-Leaguer in years either.
February 21, 2011 - The Nets six-month long pursuit of Carmelo Anthony ends as he is traded to the Knicks (F). Yes, we know they needed a superstar. Yes, it showed a different, never-say-die mindset, but as of 10:59 a.m. Wednesday, this looked like an epic fail. The owner thought the team has lost three to five games because of the distraction, a key rookie's development was hindered, relationships were tattered, the owner's reputation, one of the team's key assets, was heavily tarnished and the Knicks were salivating about using Brooklyn-born 'Melo to thwart the Nets' influence in Brooklyn. Then again...
February 23, 2011 - Traded Devin Harris, Derrick Favors, two first-round picks and $3 million in cash considerations to the Utah Jazz for guard Deron Williams (A+). Can we give someone more than one "+" sign? One western conference executive gave it 10 extra "+" signs and virtually every pundit called it the best trade of the deadline. There's been some sniping about how the deal could turn into an "F" if he doesn't resign with the Nets. Suffice it to say that in a matter of hours the Nets got a better player than the one they had been pursuing for six months...at half the price.
February 23, 2011 - Traded forward Troy Murphy and a second-round pick to the Golden State Warriors for forward Brandan Wright and center Dan Gadzuric (D). This one was about recovery. If Wright in particular shows he's worthy of keeping...he's a restricted free agent...then the Nets did well and we'll give them the same grade John Hollinger did, a B+. If not, drop the grade to a D and move on. He did and we did.
February 28, 2011 - Signed Sundiata Gaines to his first 10-day contract (B). The Nets needed a back-up guard after Williams headed home for his son's birth. Gaines, home in Queens after a fling in Europe, was available and had a passport to travel to Toronto. After two 10-day deals, the Nets signed him to a two year guaranteed contract on March 19 following a series of solid performances. The first Jazz alumni to join the Nets after D-Will's arrival.
March 31, 2011 - Waived Quinton Ross and sign Mario West to a 10-day (C-). It was surprising how long Ross lasted on the Nets' roster after coming over from Washington in the Yi Jianlian salary dump. Meaningless deal even after the Nets sign West for the rest of the year on April 10 following D-Will's decision to sit out the last week of the season. West wanted to come back for training camp, but lockout interfered and he signed a contract in Italy without an "NBA out".
May 1, 2011 - Nets take over the Springfield Armor and go about hiring key personnel.(A) Milton Lee becomes Nets' director of minor league basketball operations; Bob MacKinnon, Jr., whose dad was GM and coach of the Nets, becomes head coach of the Armor and Chris Carrawell, a favorite of Coach K at Duke, is named his assistant. The proof is in the (Christmas) pudding. One of the Armor's draft picks becomes a Net.
June 27, 2011 - Picked JaJuan Johnson of Purdue at #27, then traded his rights and their 2014 second rounder to the Celtics for the rights to MarShon Brooks of Providence, taken at the Nets' request two spots earlier (A); traded their 2013 second rounder and $1.5 million in cash to the Timberwolves for the draft rights to Bojan Bogdanovic, taken at #31 by the Heat and then traded to Minnesota (B); drafted Jordan Williams at #36 (D+). Brooks looks like a steal that late, an athletic, aggressive shooting guard. Bogdanovic, despite inconsistency and a messy contract in Turkey, has first round talent. Jordan Williams arrived in camp out of shape, then fell victim to dehydration. Headed for Springfield...and we don't mean the Hall of Fame.
December 6, 2011 - Announced the hiring of P.J. Carlesimo and Mario Elie as Avery Johnson's top assistants (A). Carlesimo took Seton Hall to the NCAA Finals, coached three NBA teams and assisted Gregg Popovich with the Spurs. Elie was lead assistant with the Kings. They replace Sam Mitchell, who was reassigned to scouting; Larry Krystkowiak, who took a job with the University of Utah; and John Loyer, who rejoined Lawrence Frank with the Pistons. All in all, at least an even swap, maybe even an upgrade.
December 8, 2011 - Called up Dennis Horner, JamesOn Curry, Jerry Smith from the Armor for training camp (A). Because the Armor uses the same playbook as the Nets, the three call-ups jumped right in during practices. Another advantage of the Nets' (Bobby Marks) D-League strategy.
December 13, 2011 - Signed Shelden Williams to one-year vets minimum deal (C-). After failing in their pursuits of Tyson Chandler and Nene Hilario, the Nets make their first free agent signing that of a draft bust turned journeyman. Whether Nets dawdled or weren't willing to overspend or waited vainly for Otis Smith to act, they wound up with a lesser prize. Williams wasn't a bad choice, but he wasn't what they had hoped for. Of course, if they get Dwight Howard, who cares.
December 14, 2011 - Magic let those teams pursuing Dwight Howard know they're gong to try to convince him to stay in Orlando (I). The news permits the Nets to starting putting their cap space to use. The night before, Nene re-signs with the Nuggets.
December 15, 2011 - Waived Travis Outlaw under the amnesty clause in the new CBA (C). Can you give a better grade for dumping a bad signing even if it wasn't yours? What's done is done. Outlaw, signed by Rod Thorn, was a poster boy for bad contracts during the lockout, his $35 million deal never justified by his performance. Kings picked up Outlaw for $3 million over four years, meaning the Nets only have to pay Outlaw $16 million instead of $28 milion remaining on his deal.
December 15, 2011 - Signed Shawne Williams to a two-year, $6.1 million contract, $3 million guaranteed in 2011-12 with a $3.1 million player option in the second year (B). Not a bad pick, particularly since the Knicks expected to keep him, but when it's your best move, ugh. Williams has a number of positives, a 6'9" stretch forward with a 7'3" wingspan and a deadly three point stroke who's still only 25 years old. On the other hand if he picks up his dribble, don't expect much. Still, he could exceed expectations, given needed minutes. After all, he's only 25. He also has two drug arrests, although there's no indication he's still at risk.
December 15, 2011 - Signed Ime Udoka to a training camp contract (C). He becomes the last player cut a week later. A defensive specialist, there was no room for him after the Nets signed DeShawn Stevenson.
December 20, 2011 - Re-signed Kris Humphries to a one-year, $8 million contract (A-) Part of the team's strategy to retain flexibility in hopes the Dwight Howard negotiations start up again. He may be the most hated NBA player because of his ill-fated, 72-day marriage to Kim Kardashian, but he is beloved by Nets fans for his blue collar game. Averaged a double-double for the year, and 14 and 14 after Deron Williams joined the team. Short rebounding help even before Brook Lopez went down, Humphries' signing helped Avery Johnson breathe a sigh of relief.
December 22, 2011 - Waived Stephen Graham (B). Graham filled in admirably at a number of positions in 2010-11 but he also ranked near the bottom of every NBA deep stats ranking. Nets had to decide whether to release him or keep him at $1.1 million. They decided to release him, knowing at that point that Lopez's foot was broken and they might need as much cap space as they can find.
December 22, 2011 - Traded their second rounder in 2015 to the Jazz for Mehmet Okur (A+). Hours after it's announced that Brook Lopez had broken his foot, Billy King turns around and gets Okur, one of Deron Williams' top targets in Utah. Although a bit pricey at $10.8 million following two major injuries, he's reported to be back at 100% and played well in Turkey this fall. As an expiring contract. Bottom line whether traded or not in March: Okur with Deron Williams is better than Okur with anyone else. Could be the best addition of the off-season and someone they might keep around.
December 23, 2011 - Signed DeShawn Stevenson to a one-year $2.5 million contract (B+). The Okur trade and Stevenson signing are orchestrated so that the Nets reach the salary cap with the Okur trade. That permits them to sign a player under the $2.5 million "mini-MLE," which they do with Stevenson. Along with Jordan Farmar, the only Net with a championship ring, having been a big part of the Mavericks' run to the 2011 NBA championship. A solid defender, a clutch shooter and a tough player all around, he was recommended by Deron Williams, just as Shawne Williams and Mehmet Okur were. What's the risk? Virtually none. What's the upside? A veteran player who knows how to win and can push young players.
December 24, 2011 - By releasing Ime Udoka, the Nets make room for Dennis Horner (B). Horner went undrafted out of North Carolina State in 2010, then after a year overseas in Belgium and Cyrpus, he went to the D-League National Tryouts and caught the attention of Armor GM Milton Lee. He was drafted in the third round by the Armor and in three games showed he had the BBIQ, if not the athleticism or skills of an NBA player. A favorite of his teammates.
The Nets are now in hot pursuit of Dwight Howard. If it works, the Killer B's will be heroes. If it doesn't, well, there are other rewarding careers. But we, and apparently Mikhail Prokhorov, agree it's worth the risk and we will King and Marks all the best.