NetsDaily Off-Season Report #8

If the guarded optimism surrounding the four-hour NBA bargaining session last week turns into a basis for a new CBA, the Nets and everyone else will have to start thinking about free agency sooner than expected.  We assume the Killer B's have been talking to ownership about where the discussions stand and how it will affect their plans for free agency.  So we do a small exercise about how many spots are likely to be open absent a trade.

We also look at a fan favorite as our Draft Sleeper of the Week: how the Knicks may follow the Nets' lead in the D-League--assuming their change in management doesn't change their plans; wonder whether in a Euro-heavy draft, we should be concerned by Billy King's record with overseas players, look at what the elevation of Sergei Kushchenko to the board of directors may mean and offer some advice on turning Knick fans into Nets fans.

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 and analysis.

A look at the roster

Let's assume for a minute there isn't a blockbuster trade before July 1, no CBA with an amnesty clause and two draft picks.  How many roster spots to the Nets have for free agents?

The team has eight players under contract for next season: Deron Williams, Jordan Farmar and Sundiata Gaines at the point; Anthony Morrow at shooting guard; Travis Outlaw and Damion James at the small forward; Brook Lopez and Johan Petro at center. Assume Kris Humphries and Billy King are serious about working a deal to bring him back.

That's nine, meaning six openings.

Who's likely to be considered from last year's group?  Probably Sasha Vujacic, maybe Brandan Wright, both of whom  have expressed a desire to return. Add one for the sake of argument.  We're only going to count one draft pick, the first rounder. The kid taken at #36 could be Springfield-bound.  Could be more but again for the sake of argument, we'll count one, which brings the number to 11.

So figure four roster spots open (again without a big trade).  We just don't know yet what the new CBA will look like. Nor do we know when one will be in place.  Where are the deficits?  Shooting guard right now looks like it needs immediate beefing up with only Morrow (who missed a third of the season) and maybe Vujacic. The Nets have two players at SF, but neither are likely to excite anyone unless D-Will succeeds in a big reclamation project with Outlaw or James breaks out. Backup power forward is another big need.  And none of those positions is likely to be filled in the Draft, not picking at #27 and #36.

Just an exercise for discussion.

Lockout Losers

Ric Bucher is reporting that the Nets assistants will be among the big losers if there's a lockout.  Under a stipulation in their contracts, they will not be paid if the NBA owners shut down the league on July 1. Other teams will be paying their assistants all or part of their contracts.  Spurs assistants will receive 75 percent of their salaries during the lockout and be reimbursed the missing 25 percent when a lockout ends, according to a source quoted by Bucher. The Grizzlies' assistants all have contracts that run out in July and so won't be paid. That's risky for Memphis, considering one of their bench guys, Dave Joerger, is viewed as one of the top assistants in the NBA.

Teams will not be allowed contact with their players or draft picks during a lockout, leaving the assistants little to do.  With regard to the lockout's effect on the draft, Chad Ford has said the prospect of a long lockout might keep teams away from players with maturity issues. With no organized program to keep them on the straight and narrow, there's a fear those players could regress.

Knicks following in Nets footsteps

When the Nets entered into a hybrid agreement with the Springfield Armor, that meant the Knicks would have to find a new D-League affiliate. They and the 76ers partnered with the Armor for two years.  Now, reports the Erie (PA) Times-News, the Knicks may enter into a hybrid relationship with the Erie BayHawks, currently a Cavaliers affiliate.

Like the Nets, the Knicks would run basketball operations for the BayHawks, hiring coaches and trainers, running the team out of the NBA team's home offices. The 76ers have not been heard from, but neither Rod Thorn nor Ed Stefanski seemed to be much interested in the D-League while with the Nets.  A hybrid relationship costs the NBA partner about a quarter million dollars a year.  So far only the Nets, with Springfield, and the Rockets, with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, have entered into hybrid relationships.  Two other NBA teams, the Spurs and Thunder, own their affiliates outright. Donnie Nelson, Mavericks GM, is the principal owner of the Mavs affiliate in Frisco, Texas.

Helping Out in Springfield

A tornado swept through Springfield, Mass on Wednesday, killing four.  The NBA, the Nets and their partner, the Springfield Armor, have begun the process of helping out victims, many of whom are staying temporarily at the Mass Mutual Center, the Armor's home court.

On Friday, the Armor began an online auction to benefit tornado victims. All proceeds from the auction will go to the Red Cross to assist in relief efforts. Up for bid: season tickets, game-worn Armor basketball shorts, a pair of game-worn shoes autographed by Scottie Reynolds, a team jersey autographed by all members of the 2010-2011 squad, a team hat signed by coach Dee Brown, and other memorabilia. The Nets have contributed a Brook Lopez autographed basketball shoe, while the NBA has provided a basketball signed by Dikembe Mutombo.

Damion steps out

Damion James is back in Nacogdouches, Texas, his hometown, having a good time with the locals and someone not so local.  He ran the Damion James Classic, a camp and competition for local youth then spent some time on stage at a local club, Da Mazerati, with Slim Thug, the Houston-born rapper. (Before watching, note the audio has some issues unrelated to the quality of the music.)

Draft Sleeper of the Week - MarShon Brooks

No player in the draft has captured more Nets' fan enthusiasm than MarShon Brooks, the 6'5" shooting guard from Providence...at least among those players who might be there at #27. 

There are a number of reasons not to like Brooks as a prospect.  At 22 ...23 not long after the start of the season... he's one of the older players in the draft.  He has a reputation as being selfish: a black hole on offense, and worse on defense. His teams have never won. At a thin 6'5", he might be too small for the pro game where he's likely to get pushed around a bit more than in the Big East.  Besides, the Nets have Anthony Morrow.

Then again...

At 22 and with four years experience, he's just the kind of guy who Billy King has talked about taking, a wing with  three or four years experience who can step into the rotation.  He is a scorer, period,with a scorer's mentality. He was second in the nation, putting up almost 25 points a game (and in the toughest conference).  Not to mention that his 52 points vs. Notre Dame are the most ever in a Big East game.  Yes, he's 6'5" but has a 7'1" wingspan and teams pay strength and conditioning coaches a lot of money to bulk up their young players.

That's why a lot of draftniks think he has the most upside of any players in the 2011 Draft, mainly because of that scorers' mentality...and as was shown in the Pre-Draft combine, Brooks is one of the best athletes in the draft. With a 38½-inch vertical, a 10.74-second time in lane agility and a 3.09-second three-quarter court sprint, he surprised people.  That vertical, in fact, is an inch and a half higher than Terrence Williams and Damion James scored in their respective combine measurements.

The most optimistic0 evaluation of Brooks comes from Tim Grover of ATTACK Athletics in Chicago, where the combine was held.  As he told Chad Ford, "There's a little bit of Kobe in him, isn't there?"  But players with even "a little bit of Kobe in them" don't last til #27.  Ford has already moved him from the second round to #19 and he keeps rising. 

Jersey connection?  He's been working out at Real Gymm in Keyport, on the Raritan Bayshore. That's the best we can do...for the moment. He's scheduled to be in this week for a workout.

And if you're looking for something to sum up what to like and dislike about Brooks, there's this about his 52-point performance from the Providence Journal:

And when did he know he had something special going on?

"I looked up when I had 49 and it said I had just broken the Big East record," he said.

"And what went through your mind?" he was asked.

"I’m hot," he said.

We love it.

International Draft Deficit

One area where the Draft is strong this year --and one area where Billy King did not do well in Philly-- is overseas picks.

Kate Fagan of the Philadelphia Inquirer lists who the 76ers took in recent years.  While she doesn't mention who took them, they were all taken on King's watch.

The Sixers' overseas draftees include Marko Milic, Jiri Welsch, Paccelis Morlende, Petteri Koponen, and Kyrylo Fesenko. In the 2006 draft, the Sixers selected Thabo Sefolosha with the No. 13 pick -- Sefolosha currently starts for the Oklahoma City Thunder -- but immediately traded his rights to the Chicago Bulls for Rodney Carney.

The Sixers' international drafting record is about as impressive as a Ford Pinto. That is to say, it's not at all impressive.

Not good indeed. The 76ers international scout during that period was Danko Cvjeticanin, a Croatian who starred with Drazen Petrovic on that nation's (and Yugoslavia's) great teams in the 1980's and 1990's. Cvjeticanin is now the Nets'  international scout, having been brought in by King on arrival last July.  He's one of nine scouts on the roster.  Next week, he and Gregg Polinsky, director of player personnel and chief scout, will travel to Treviso for the adidas EuroCamp.  We wish Cvjeticanin better luck with the Nets.  Mikhail Prokhorov will demand it.

Enter Kushchenko

The elevation of Sergei Kushchenko from informal adviser on Nets' matters to corporate director is likely more than a birthday present from Prokhorov to one of closest aides and friends.  Kushchenko is one or Europe's premier sports managers.  He ran CSKA Moscow for eight years (eight Russian championships, two Euroleague championships and four straight visits to the Euroleague championship game). Now, in addition to his position as Nets director, he's still  Prokhorov's chief sports advisor and executive director of the Russian Biathlon Union, which the Nets owner heads in his spare time. 

Kushchenko is too valuable an asset to sit on the sidelines.  One possibility: Prokhorov is talking about spending a lot of time on his new political party and Kushchenko's role may be to fill the gap. His people deny there's any connection. No matter. He knows the NBA...David Stern sent him a birthday greetings...and anyone who's watched he and Prokhorov engage in animated discussions  (most of the animation by Kushchenko) in the owner's box during Nets games knows he has opinions.

Is the Nets front office in trouble.? No indication of that, but he is likely to be a very active director and he has connections. (Note this, by the way: when Kushchenko took his biathlon team to the world championships in the US last winter, he invited Scottie Pippen to join them.)

He will automatically become the most basketball savvy director on the board. We're told it consists of Prokhorov's four reps: Christophe Charlier, chairman and No. 3 at Prokhorov's Onexim Group; Irina Pavlova, who runs Prokhorov's US sports holdings; Todd D. Schafer, his US lawyer; and Kushchenko; as well as Bruce Ratner's three reps: Ratner himself; Arthur Rabin, a retired New York apparel manufacturer; and Gary Lieberman, a New York hedge fund manager. Rabin and Lieberman are long time Nets investors.  We know there used to be a Basketball Operations Committee within the board. If there still is, that's where Kushchenko would be most welcome.

Neither Prokhorov, whose title is principal owner, nor his No. 2 at Onexim Group, Dmitry Razumov, are members of the board. That's reportedly to insulate Onexim and its interlocking set of subsidiaries from any legal liabilities of the Nets and vice-versa.

Final Thought

The Knicks' decision to dump Donnie Walsh is probably not going to change many Knick fans into Nets fans...at least not immediately. But there is an arrogance on the part of Knicks ownership and management that could over the long run provide a big opportunity for the Nets. Knick fans' loyalty has long been taken for granted by Knick ownership.  It's almost as if they're saying to fans, "What are you going to do...root for the Nets?"  

Well?

With aggressive marketing (and counter-marketing) campaigns, the Nets could position themselves as a more fan-friendly franchise, one that doesn't surprise fans with a 49% average rise in ticket prices or a sudden change in general managers or whatever other atrocity the Dolans perpetrate next. 

Even without a big new campaign, the Nets can make some in-roads simply by continuing to keep their execs and players available to the ever-expanding media. Jim Dolan hasn't sat down with Knick writers in three years and don't him to do one now!  Mikhail Prokhorov has had two brunches with Nets beat writers even though he lives in Moscow! He's done email interviews, including one with the team's leading blog (that would be us). Can anyone even imagine Dolan doing that? 

Even little things can have an effect in this regard.  Stefan Bondy blogged this week that Billy King is making himself available to beat writers after draft workouts, something the Knicks have declined to do. All Access has to be more than a slogan.

There's little things as well directed at Brooklyn, which is not a bunch of hipsters complaining about the proliferation of sports bars.  As we've noted, the Nets see Brooklyn as a petrie dish where their globalization plans can be tested.  It's not an accident that the team annually has Hispanic, Russian and Chinese cultural nights when Spanish, Russian and Chinese are, after English, the three most spoken languages in Brooklyn (and probably Queens too).  We also found it interesting that Barry Baum, the Barclays Center veep for communications, escorted an El Diario reporter around the construction site just after the Daily News and before the Times.

The buzz is growing and between now and December, the arena is going to have both its facade and roof up. Its opening will be a New York "event", maybe even a national one.  Be patient.

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