NetsDaily Off-Season Report #3

Is it 'Melo-Drama II: the Sequel? We examine the Magic's finances...ugg-lee; repeat some things the guru of the CBA told a Nets fan about the availability of draft assets; think about front-loading 2011 free agent deals to preserve cap space;  wonder about how internal improvement alone could help the Nets; look at who's thinking about the 2012 Olympics and what one Net is doing about it; recount Deron Williams' highlight and record-filled season; examine how Mikhail Prokhorov measures coaching success; and find our Draft Sleeper of the Week in Japan. 

President Prokhorov???  Nah.

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, blogs, tweets...plus our own reporting.

Internal Improvement as the Road to Success?

With all the punditry and fan comment on the various ways the Nets could improve next season, here's one few discuss: internal improvement. We're not saying the Nets shouldn't be aggressive in seeking out free agents, making smart trades or drafting the best talent, but what we are saying is that the 2001-02 season could an interesting model for the Nets.The addition of an all-NBA point guard in his prime can have wondrous effects...on its own.

That was, of course, the season Jason Kidd joined the team and the season after the Nets had finished 26-52. Already you can start to see the parallels.  Other than Kidd that summer, the Nets didn't have a blockbuster off-season. They  added four rookies, two of them were rotation players: Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins; got Kerry Kittles back after a year-long microfracture rehab; and signed a couple of journeymen: Todd MacColluch and Anthony Johnson. They also declined to re-sign Stephen Jackson, which in retrospect was a big mistake.

The rest of the rotation was basically the same. Kenyon Martin and Keith Van Horn were coming off injury-filled years. Aaron Williams had scored a career high 10 points a game playing mostly center. Lucious Harris was as reviled as Travis Outlaw is now, particularly after his bad pass to Milt Palacio led to a buzzer beater vs. the Celtics.  No one predicted greatness.  Kidd himself set a goal of 40 wins. Surprise.

Could it happen again?  Anyone think the Nets would have failed to make the playoffs if Deron Williams had been with the Nets and healthy all year long?  And free of Jerry Sloan's constraints?  Point is great point guards make teammates better, make teams work together.  Harris became a fan favorite and Kidd kept finding him open.  Van Horn and Martin worked well.  MacColluch used his great hands and girth to be a more than acceptable NBA center.  Aaron Williams found a new role.  Jefferson and Collins brought defensive depth.

Does Outlaw improve the way Harris did? Could a signing of a 76er free agent like Thaddeus Young be as big off-season addition as Big Todd? Does Damion James come back from an injury to surprise with his defense and athleticism? Is Kris Humphries the rebirth of A-Train? Are there two rookies who can contribute immediately?  And should the Nets go for incremental changes this season knowing the 2011 Draft and Free Agency are both weak and their 2012 counterparts strong? We shall soon find out soon enough.

Apparently, we're not alone in thinking this.

Back Up the Front Loader

Christophe Charlier, the Nets chairman, had some interesting things to say to SportsPro magazine, out this week.  From a basketball perspective, the most interesting thing he had to say was about the Nets' plans to front-load contract offers to free agents, particularly restricted free agents whose teams have a week to match or lose the player. By making the offers as onerous as it can, a team with "resources", as Charlier characterized Mikhail Prokhorov's cash hoard, a big  advantage.

"At the same time, there are things you can do in terms of salaries," he's quoted as saying. "You are allowed to make upfront payments, so you can front-load the salaries in cash, which is something that we're prepared to do to recruit the right players."

First of all, that shouldn't surprise...although no one in the Nets has so clearly articulated it.  The Nets planned to front-load offer sheets to both Rudy Gay and Tyrus Thomas last summer, but both decided ahead of time that they wanted to stay home.

So how does it work?  A couple of ways.  The more traditional is to offer a huge payout upfront.  Teams can offer a "signing bonus" of up to 17.5% of the contract total upfront.  So if a contract is $50 million over five years, the signing bonus would be $8.75 million on signing day. A team can also offer to pay the first year of a contract on the day a player signs rather than on the 1st and 15th of the month. Structure the five-year, $50 million contract so that it's $10 million a year. Add that upfront money to the signing bonus and Voila! (Charlier is French), the player gets a big fat check for $18.75 million on signing, the $8.75 million bonus and first year's salary.  (Teams can also add a 12.5% trade bonus which doesn't add to what a player gets on signing but it does create another disincentive to match.)

A team can also structure a contract so there is a big first year salary, then declining salaries in subsequent years. It's becoming increasingly popular.  J.J. Redick is paid on a declining scale for example, but the declines are not that great. Depending on how much cap space a team has (and what the new CBA looks like), teams can offer a contract where the first year is substantially greater, saving money for the second year, say a year when there are bigger and better free agents available.  And yes, you can pay out a signing bonus based on that higher salary in the first year.

Not a lot of teams have that kind of money sitting around to match offers like that. The Nets do...and now we know they're willing to spend it.

Magic Math

Otis Smith says he is not trading Dwight Howard, but he or his successor is going to have to do something and soon. A quick look at the Magic salary situation on ShamSports shows a team headed for a financial train wreck in two years.  Only the Lakers have more committed to players in 2012-13. Unless they find takers, they will owe 10 players more than $75 million...and that figure doesn't count what they would need to pay Ryan Anderson should they decide to keep him. It's $17+ million over the current cap and $5 million over the current luxury tax. No one expects the cap or luxury tax level to go up. Far more likely to go down...and with fewer exceptions.

The Magic owe $20.8 million to Gilbert Arenas in 2012-13 (and $22.3 million the next season); and if he stays, $19.5 million to Dwight Howard; plus $11.8 million to Jameer Nelson (a player option); $6.2 million to J.J. Redick; $4 million to Brandon Bass (player option); $3.5 million to Chris Duhon; $2.6 million to Quentin Richardson.

The Lakers have $91 million committed in 2012-13, but they win championships and have a huge local TV contract to pay their big salaries. Even profligate teams like the Knicks and Mavericks have only $44 million committed. As for the Nets, they've got $37.9 million, including Deron Williams option year at $17.8 million.

Draft Picks for Howard?

Add the Nets' 2012 first round pick to the cache of trade assets the Nets could use to trade for Dwight Howard or anyone else. We'd always thought (and read) that a team cannot trade its own first round pick two years in a row. Not so, tweets Larry Coon, the CBA wizard at ESPN.  In response to a query from Henry Sanchez, a regular on NetsDaily, Coon explained why the pick can be dealt.  "Rule looks forward only and says teams can't at any point in time, be without any future 1st round pick in consecutive years," tweeted Coon. He summed it all up with a simple "Yes" when Sanchez asked if the Nets' own pick in 2012 was available for trade purposes. That's because the Nets already have the Lakers' first round pick in this year's draft from the Terrence Williams trade. The Nets also have the Rockets' first round pick in the 2012 draft, lottery protected, from the T-Will trade. That trade looks better and better every day.

Olympic Dreams

Deron Williams has said he would like to go for gold again at the 2012 London Olympics, having won his first in Beijing three years ago.  Only his balky wrist kept him off the World Championship squad last year.  Brook Lopez obviously wants to play as well. His bout with mono required him to leave Team USA training camp last summer. Johan Petro might play for France. Sasha Vujacic won't play for Slovenia. He and the basketball federation have been locked in a feud for years.

There's another possibility as well. Ben Uzoh has been seen working on his jumper at the PNY Center in recent days.  No doubt he's interested in returning to the Nets, but his next time in uniform may not be with the Nets or even in the NBA. He could be playing in the green-and-white colors of Team Nigeria at FIBA Afrobasket. African national teams will gather in Madagascar off the east coast of Africa in August to determine who gets an Olympic berth in London.

Uzoh's parents emigrated from Nigeria before settling in San Antonio, where Ben was born.  Back in March, Uzoh expressed an interest in playing for Team Nigeria, one of Africa's top teams.  In an interview with FIBA Africa while the Nets were playing at London's O2 Arena, the Olympic basketball venue, Uzoh was asked if he planned to play in Afrobasket.

"Yeah I have to see if I can do it," said the 6'3" point guard. "But I want to represent the country, my family, and my last name so I'm definitively working on that."

Sixteen countries will participate to the Afrobasket in two venues in the Madagascar capital of Antananarivo from August 17 to 28.

Tallying Up the D-Will Highlights

At season's end, Gary Sussman and his able staff laid out team and individual highlights.  We separated out some of D-Will's...and added a couple ourselves. Some we had heard or seen before, but not all of them. One surprise to us: Williams surpassed Jason Kidd on a number of historic Net stat lines.

• Deron Williams is one of only three players in the NBA this season to average a points/assists double-double. Williams ended 2010-11 averaging 20.1 points and 10.3 assists in 65 total games, 12 with New Jersey. The other two are Steve Nash, 14.7 points and 11.4 rebounds and Rajon Rondo, 10.6 points and 11.2 assists. Williams is the only NBA player this season to average 20 points and 10 assists.  The only other 20-10 players this season averaged 20 points and 10 rebounds. Kidd never had a 20-10 season and never averaged 10.0 assists per game as a Net, coming closest in 2001-02 at 9.9. He has two seasons where he averaged 10 assists per game with the Suns.

• Deron Williams had a career-high tying 21 assists vs. the Timberwolves on April 5. That marked his fifth career 20+ assist game and his first as a Net. The only other active player to have a 20+ assist game for two different teams is Andre Miller, who had one for Cleveland (December 15, 2001) and one for Denver (December 8, 2006). Kidd never had a 20 assist game for the Nets, although he had a 25 assist game while with the Suns.

• After Jordan Farmar dished out a career-high 17 assists at Washington on March 20, the Nets had three players who tallied at least 17 assists in a game this season. Devin Harris did it against the Nuggets on January 31 and Deron Williams did it three times. No other team in NBA history has had three players with 17-or-more assists in the same season.

• Deron Williams tallied 13 points and a season-high tying 18 assists vs. Phoenix on February 28 to become only the fifth active player in the NBA to record a double-double in each of his first five games with a new team after being acquired via trade or free agency. Below are the other four active players to achieve this feat and the teams they accomplished it with:
--Kevin Garnett (6 games) – via trade (Boston Celtics)
--Al Jefferson (5 games) – via trade (Minnesota Timberwolves)
--Shaquille O’Neal (8 games) – Free Agent Signee (Los Angeles Lakers)
--Zach Randolph (7 games) – via trade (New York Knicks)

• After tallying 17 assists on February 26 at Houston and 18 vs. Phoenix on February 28, Deron Williams is now the third player in Nets history to have 16+ assists in consecutive games. Surprisingly, neither one is named Kidd. Devin Devin Harris had 16 at Milwaukee on January 29 & 18 vs. Denver on January 31. Kenny Anderson had 17 vs. San Antonio on December 4, 1992 and 16 at Miami the next night.

• Deron Williams is the first Nets player in NBA franchise history (starting in 1976-77) to record a double-double in each of his first five games as a Net.

• Deron Williams recorded 24 points, 16 assists and zero turnovers as a member of the Jazz vs. the Pacers on December 1. Only 23 times in NBA history has a player tallied 20+ points, 15+ assists and 0 turnovers… Williams has now done it twice.

• After dishing out 18 assists vs. Toronto on March 5, Deron Williams became only the third player in NBA history with 10+ assists in five consecutive games with a new team. Mark Jackson did it five straight games with Toronto (2000) and Norm Nixon did it seven straight games with the Los Angeles Clippers (1983).

The State of Hoops

It's New Jersey Hoops Spring.  The NBA may be leaving in 17 months for "Baller's Paradise", uh, Barclays Center, but due to an extraordinary confluence of events--including the renovation of Madison Square Garden, Newark and its suburbs will be the scene of a lot of basketball stuff this spring.

Already, the NCAA Eastern Regionals were held at Prudential Center (and were the best attended regionals in the tournament). Next weekend, the NBA will hold a pre-draft group workout at the Nets' PNY Center in East Rutherford.  On May 17, the NBA Draft Lottery will return to NBA TV Studios in Secaucus. The WNBA's New York Liberty will begin the first of three seasons away from the Garden starting June 11. Then, on June 23, the most high profile event, the NBA Draft, will descend on "The Rock".

Joe Favorito, a sports marketing and communications consultant, writes the Draft will shine a big spotlight on the Nets' temporary home. "That can lead not just to strong word of mouth, but also to a second look next season when the Nets are back for year two, or maybe that fan decides to venture across for a Seton Hall game, or maybe for a show."

Draft Sleeper of the Week

Jeremy Tyler is probably the most intriguing figure in this year's draft. Two years ago, he was a high school junior in San Diego averaging nearly 29 points a game and looking like the top pick in the 2011 draft.  At 6'11", Tyler was the nation's top ranked junior in many polls, his post moves being compared to a young Hakeem Oljawon. He had already committed to Louisville. Then, suddenly, with the advice of some high-powered sneaker types, he dropped out of high school and announced he was off to Israel, where he would earn $140,000 to play professional ball.

It turned out to be a disastrous choice. In the 10 games Tyler played for Maccabi Haifa, Tyler averaged only 2.1 points and 1.9 rebounds in 7.6 minutes and exhibited an attitude that made DeMarcus Cousins look like a choir boy.  At one point, he stopped playing in a game at halftime because he wasn't getting the minutes he thought he deserved.  Then, suddenly, he simply packed up his bags and headed back to the US.

It looked like his chances for an NBA career had been severely set back. Then just as suddenly, he showed up this season in Tokyo, of all places, playing for the Tokyo Apache in the Japanese League.  Before the league shut down following Japan's earthquake and tsunami, Tyler averaged 9.9 points and 6.1 rebounds coming off the bench...and received accolades for his change in attitude. The big reason: he played for former Spurs coach Bob Hill who was a tough taskmaster.

As a 19-year-old American who played overseas, Tyler is automatically eligible for this year's draft. His stock is all over the place, from mid-first round to end of the second. NBADraft.net has had him as the Nets' first round pick for a couple of weeks on its mock draft. The front office may get a look at him next weekend. He's still on the fence about joining the big group workout at PNY Center. If he does, he's likely to be the headliner.  If they're interested, the Nets can rely on two trusted sources of information on Tyler. The team has good relations with Maccabi Haifa. The Nets, remember, played Maccabi in the Prudential Center pre-season opener last October. And Avery Johnson played two plus years under Hill at San Antonio.

Normally, Tyler's not the kind of kid you'd want to invest in...and considering the Nets record with head cases, it's got to be a huge red flag. (The Nets took Sean Williams even after he declined to take the NBA psychological test.) But one advantage of having the Springfield Armor as your farm team is an ability to let a young, immature player develop down on the farm. Whoever the Nets draft will work this summer (lockout permitting) with the D-League team's coaches both in the summer league and in training camp.  A low first round pick or early second rounder (the Nets have both) could spend time there developing his game, knowing he's following Johnson's game plans on offense and defense.

Prokhorov Changes Coaches...in Russia

Until recently, Wolfgang  Pichler was the "worst enemy" of the Russian Biathlon Union, according to Russian sports sites. After the 2009 doping scandals in which former world champion Ekaterina Iourieva and two others were banned for two years and Russia's national team was forced to withdraw from the World Cup, Pichler, then Sweden's coach  denounced Russian biathlon, and the system itself, called it "thoroughly rotten".  On Friday, Mikhail Prokhorov hired him as the Russian women's biathlon team's head coach.

"I'm going to Russia, because I believe in the new leadership of the Russian Biathlon Union," said Pichler of  Prokhorov, president of the Russian Biathlon Union, and Sergei Kushchenko, his chief sports advisor.  "I see they have the desire to build a new system that will win without doping. As a coach I have the expertise to determine who achieves success only because of his work and talent, and someone tries to cheat. And if I did not believe that in Russia everything will be clean, I would not agree to the proposal of the RRF."

The Russian women’s biathlon team has been without a coach since their failure at the world championships held in Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia this past March. At the championships, Anatoly Hovantsev was fired right in the middle of the relay race, the final event in the women's program! No need to finish the race...you're done!  In explaining the circumstances, Prokhorov has said he's willing to fire people who don't meet his requirements, citing his dismissal of Kiki Vandeweghe.

"I am ready to accept full responsibility and all criticism," said Prokhorov.  Avery Johnson is NOT in any trouble with Team Prokhorov, but the whole scenario shows the Nets' owner is willing to make moves quickly and without sentimentality towards high-profile hires or without any bitterness towards former critics.

President Prokhorov?

Meanwhile, Prokhorov has rejected rumors he is planning to go into politics. "Is that a joke? Is it still April 1?" Prokhorov said when he was asked this week if he intended to head a Russian opposition party. "I like what I do now. I have never gone into politics, and don’t want to," he added. On Monday, a Russian daily wrote that Prokhorov had been offered the head of the Right Cause (Pravoe Delo) political party.

Prokhorov has been the center of controversy in recent weeks.  He wants to change the Russian labor code and is using his position as the chair of a committee on economic reforms to push the idea that the work force need not be limited to a 40-hour work week. Both President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have publicly said his plan won't fly.  He's still pushing.

Meanwhile Back in Brooklyn...

Amidst news that yet a third sports bar is planned opposite Barclays Center, a long-awaited documentary about the struggle of local landowners and tenants to stop the arena and Atlantic Yards has debuted at the Brooklyn Film Festival. "The Battle for Brooklyn", which as the New York Observer notes had as much trouble getting funding as the project itself.  An earlier version of this item confused "The Battle for Brooklyn" with an earlier documentary, "Brooklyn Matters".

What's the difference between the two? The Observer: "unlike Brooklyn Matters, this doc appears to be less of a polemic meant to sway the public against Ratner and the Nets than a swan song for a battle lost. Maybe they could screen it on the Barclays Centre Plaza when it opens next year."

 

Final Note: Chris Charlier and The "Other" Brooklyn Rapper

We've written about Brooklyn-born John Forte before. He's the former Fugees producer and friend of Christophe Charlier who was pardoned by former President Bush in 2008. He had been serving a 14-year prison sentence. Forte was jailed on charges related to a 2000 drug arrest. He was found guilty of carrying $1.4 million in cocaine. Charlier, who went to school with Forte at Exeter in New Hampshire, bankrolled a Russian tour for his friend and now Forte has his first album, based on the tour. Dubbed "From Brooklyn to Russia With Love!", the tour saw Forte travel to Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Ekaterinburg as well as cities along the Trans-Siberia Railway in Siberia.

Errata

"Errata" is Latin for we screwed up. Last week, we reported the Nets practice facility would have digital signs scattered around the court, signs that could change with the coach's mood.  Alas, we misread some materials we found on the web. The signs are graphic and vinyl. Better than black and white, but not digital.

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