We're doing something a little different this week, devoting most of the Off-Season Report to a single subject, the Nets development strategy. It's the under-the-radar aspect of the Nets attempt to fulfill Mikhail Prokhorov's championship challenge. It's how the Spurs do it.
Beyond that, we look at some fun stats that Deron Williams rung up this year, which have gotten little attention, suggested a Mr Irrelevant candidate if Nets are able to retrieve the last pick in the Draft and offer a link to Kris Humphries latest joke at Kim Kardashian's expense. Keep em coming, Kris.
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.
It's all about development
Lot of talk this off-season about free agency and why not? Eleven players on this year's roster and the Nets have more cap space than any of their 29 counterparts. Not to mention, they have the richest owner in sports as their owner. But this summer is also about development. It's not as sexy or free agency or big trades but it's important and as any Nets executive will tell you, focusing on the D, for development, in the League got them Gerald Green.
After years of doing development piecemeal, the Nets now have a development strategy, one that goes from building their affiliate relationship with the Armor to increasing their use of iPad technology for everything from playbooks to customized off-season training regimens. It's unlikely to get them a superstar, but it gives them opportunities and as they re-invent themselves in Brooklyn helps them present a new face to NBA players and their agents.
Architect of the development strategy is Bobby Marks, who admits Mikhail Prokhorov's cash has been a big help. When Prokhorov bought the team in May 2010, the team had three assistant coaches and three full-time scouts. Now the Nets have six assistants plus two others who work in Springfield but are on the Nets payroll. The team also has a total of nine scouts, not all of whom are full-time but can be called into service. And they have access to his bank account.
"Having the money to do it is huge," says Marks, who notes the Armor costs the team $300,000 a year and next week's free agent mini-camp will cost $20,000. It's not much in terms of NBA payroll. The cost of the Armor, for example, is less than what Jordan Williams, who benefited from his time in Springfield, got paid this year. But it's an expenditure that didn't get approved until Prokhorov took over.
Also "huge", one of Marks' favorite words, is the potential for integrating the components into a strategy, a process that's still evolving. The Nets are still discovering synergies among the different elements of the strategy.
Take the team's first mini-free agent camp that will run May 21 through 23, with morning and evening sessions the first two days and a morning session on the third. In the past, the Nets would work out free agent prospects in small groups, without much if any publicity.
"We saw success with the D-League experiment, finding the hidden gem in Gerald (Green)," said Marks explaining one reason why the Nets decided to organize a camp. "If we can find two or three making summer league, some to camp, we'll be happy." He added that by scheduling the camp this far in advance of the summer league, it helps the Nets planning their roster out, getting good players and not filling in the roster at the last minute.
The camp is not so much about finding a diamond in the rough, but rather a gemstone...a player who can fill out the end of the bench or if they get lucky, a rotation player like Green. Mostly though it is, as Marks says, about finding players for the team's summer league entry in Orlando this July or training camp in October, other elements of the development strategy. And as an added benefit, it could help Milton Lee gather information for the D-League Draft in November. Mini-camp is a "filter" for the summer league and training camp rosters as well as the Armor's One element of the development strategy helps the other.
On the other side of the ledger, the Nets are giving priority to the Armor players who they think could make the jump, with minimal development help. Jeff Foote, the Armor's all-D-League center, and Dennis Horner, who was twice called up by the Nets, have accepted invitations to play in the summer league and L.D. Williams, the Armor's two-time D-League dunk champ, may as well. (The Armor's two coaches, Bob MacKinnon and Chris Carrawell, will be a part of the mini-camp as well as the mass draft workout.)
"We've made a commitment to Foote," says Marks, noting that the Nets didn't get a chance to take a look at him, unlike Horner and Jerry Smith. Armor Coach Bob MacKinnon has said that Foote could, with help, develop into a player with a 10 or 12 year NBA career.
"I've had a great coaching staff and a great experience," said Foote in mid-season. "I've had offers to go back over internationally, but I'm just learning too much here and enjoying the system."
Beyond Foote who was all-D-League center and Williams, the dunk contest winner, the Nets will have the D-League's Defensive Player, Stefhon Hannah, a 6'1" point guard, and the league's Rookie of the Year, Edwin Ubiles, a 6'6" swingman.
They're also bringing in free agents who played in Europe during the lockout. One is Ben Hansbrough, Tyler's 6'3" point guard brother --and 2011 Big East Player of the Year-- who agreed to play for the Nets in last year's summer league before the lockout intervened and he headed to Europe. He's arriving with a better resume' than Dennis Horner did last season. Horner was cut by teams in Belgium and Cyprus and became one of the top players to the D-League. So there's some evidence it works.
Mraks also admits that the Nets are focusing so much attention (and money, about $20,000 in Prokhrorov's cash) on the mini-camp because the Nets understand they may not have a first round pick this year. Their own pick, unless it's top three, goes to Portland as part of the Gerald Wallace trade. Their hopes for the Rockets lottery-protected pick evaporated when Houston couldn't win a game at season's end. So they're left with the #57 pick and possibly the #60 pick if the Lakers agree to accept $250,000 for it.
"Normally, this time of the year, we get caught up in the draft, our main focus is on the draft, and the back end (of development) doesn't get the attention," admitted Marks. "So with the potential of not having a first round pick, we looked at the mini-camp."
That doesn't mean the Nets won't focus on the draft, but if they don't get a top three pick --Marks thinks they will-- they will be focusing on that pick (or two) at the end of the second round and what they might be able to acquire at the end of the first or beginning of the second by tapping into ownership's bank account.
To that end, the Nets will be co-hosting, along with Houston, the NBA's first mass workout of the off-season next weekend. To be held at the PNY Center, the workout will feature 44 players, mostly second round and "borderline" first round picks.
"This is the fourth year we are doing it," Marks notes. "It just gets bigger and bigger. For the first time, all 30 teams will be there."
It's midway between the Portsmouth Invitational (mainly for second rounders) and the Pre-Draft Combine (for first rounders) and the only camp where a player can show his stuff five on five. It's a golden opportunity for both the prospects and the NBA teams, each of whom pay $2,000 to cover the costs the Nets incur in flying prospects in, feeding them and housing them.
But the Nets get advantages in running the camp beyond the good will engendered. "First of all, we have a D-League team, and a good portion of these guys are going to be there," notes Marks. "Our coaches are running everything on the court. They will get a good feel from them (the prospects) on court and their personalities. Also, we have the first crack on interviews."
In a deep draft, like 2009, as many as 70 or 75 percent of the prospects at the workout will get drafted and more than a handful making it to the first round. The prospect most likely to get first round attention this year is 19-year-old French guard Evan Fournier, who the Nets and Rockets both scouted several times. Typical of the top picks in past workouts, he's been projected as high as the late teens, but some put him at the top of the second.
There will be two groups working out on Saturday, two groups on Sunday in an operation the Nets organize. The good will engendered by the workouts can't be underestimated either. "The exposure is good, it's easy to get to. Teams have comfort level with us. So for us, it's good to do, but a lot of work."
Once the mass workout is over, the individual workouts will start. Marks said, the Nets will "probably bring in some first round prospects" even if they don't come away with a top three pick.
"We'll bring in some guys, but we already know a lot . We have scouting reports from our scouts and will have the medical data from the Chicago Pre-Draft Combine. If there is an opportunity, we'll be ready.," he said when asked if the Nets might buy a pick. "Our scouts do a great job if there's a guy who we have targeted in the 20's and he hasn't been taken when you get to the 40's, thats when you go in."
Having a deep pockets owner is indeed an advantage in development, says Marks. "Knowing that you have it, its a great asset." As an example, he cited Draft Night last year. The Nets were willing to pay out $1.5 million for Bojan Bogdanovic's draft rights even though they knew he would play in Europe for another year. The Nets didn't have to give up one of their own picks, a real luxury.
"He plays in a good league," said Marks. "He did well. We monitored his progress. We have great feel for it. Billy will see him. I think the exposure has helped him. If he hadn't signed that contract just before the draft, he would have gone in the 20's. This year, he'd be in teens." Now, if the Nets want to help him buy out his deal in Turkey, they can put up $525,000.
Money can help in other, less visible ways. Once the draft is over, the Nets can --and have-- offer signing bonuses to free agents who weren't taken through 60 picks or to others who may have other offers. The Nets paid out $100,000 to Sean May as a signing bonus in 2010. It didn't work out because May got hurt, but it shows what the Nets are ready to do.
There are other more subtle aspects to the development strategy. Milton Lee will once again this year held run the Pre-Draft Combine in Chicago, something he's done for seven straight years and something King and Marks encourage him to do. Last year, he recruited John Loyer to help him. This year, Popeye Jones may join him.
Technology is yet another advantage the Nets think they have. Take their iPads. Avery Johnson, a big fan of technology, pushed the Nets to make the tablet a key part of basketball operations. it's not just the playbook that's now hosted on the iPad. There's video and updates on other aspects of team operations.
Most recently, strength and conditioning coach Jeremy Bettles developed customized off-season regimens for each of the Nets players, including instructional videos.
"In the past, we'd give each player a big thick book on strength and conditioning and then the day after everybody left, we'd find copies sitting in players' lockers. Bettles recreated it and put it on each players' iPad. It's all right there on iPad with video. Each player has a customized off-season workout program."
The Nets have also revamped its scouting database so that everything about draft prospects and NBA players --
contracts, injuries, salaries, videos, news items -- is online, password-protected, for King to view, whether he's in his office or in an Istanbul hotel room. It was, Marks said, developed specifically for the Nets.
"If Billy wants to look at a player, he can log into the system. It's all there," he added. The technology also attracts top-flight entry-level young employees. "It's not about taping ankles."
Then, there's Barclays Center and what the Nets promise will be state-of-the-art basketball technology.
"Even if players don't get it yet, we've got great feed back form their agents," said Marks. "There'll be the practice court where players will be able to warm up and top-of-the-line technology will be everywhere, from coaches' offices to the iPads. It's the hidden city of the NBA."
For those who think winning is all about big stars, take a look at the Spurs' roster. Tim Duncan was the overall #1, but Manu Ginobili was taken at #57, Matt Bonner at #45, DeJuan Blair at #37, Tony Parker and Tiago Splitter at #28. Gary Neal was found in Europe after a troubled past in college. Danny Green, taken at #46, was cut by the Cavaliers and had two D-League stints. Boris Diaw and Stephen Jackson were dumped by their last team.
(In this regard, we also recommend Ben Couch's analysis of the Nets' success with the D-League this season.)
Deron Williams Fun Facts
We've mentioned a few of these before, but thought we would put them all in one place.
--Through the end of the regular season, Deron Williams was one of two players who played more than 2,500 minutes this season, 504 in Europe, 1,999 in the NBA. Kevin Durant played 2,546, all in the NBA.
--Williams was the first player since 1968 to have league-high single game numbers in points (57) and assists (20). Wilt Chamberlain did it last and before this season was the ONLY player in league history to do that.
--Williams is the only player in basketball history to ever score 50 points in a single game in European and NBA play in a single season, 50 for Besiktas vs. Goettingen in EuroChallenge play and 57 for the Nets vs. Charlotte. (It's entirely possible that no other player has ever done that.)
Draft Sleeper of the Week
We're going to assume the Nets get the 60th pick from the Lakers so the Nets can get Mr. Irrelevant in the Draft and we have a candidate: Robbie Hummel, the 6'8" small forward out of Purdue. Hummel came out of high school with an NBA future. He was a prize for the Boilermakers, then went through an unbelievable streak of bad luck.
Here's how Gregg Doyel of CBS Sports described it recently.
If you follow college basketball much, you've probably heard about Hummel's right knee. He tore the ACL late in his junior season, then rehabbed for nine months. He returned in time for the first practice of his senior season ... and tore the right ACL again. He redshirted the 2010-11 season. Before the knee injuries as a junior and senior, Hummel had suffered a broken vertebra as a sophomore, missing five games before finishing the season in a back brace. He wasn't the same player he'd been, but he was good enough to lead Purdue to the 2009 Big Ten tournament title, collecting MVP honors in his back brace.
In his last game as a senior, he looked like he had regained some of his potential. He scored 26 points, making 9 of 13 shots. He had grabbed nine rebounds, handed out three assists, blocked a shot, all against Thomas Robinson, the NCAA Player of the Year.
Hummel can shoot from deep and is blessed with a great basketball IQ and a knowledge of his limitations. He may not even be drafted but he has intangibles.
On a side note found it interesting this week when we learned that three of the most interesting prospects coming to the mass workout have international ties. Evan Fournier, of course, is French (with a French father and Moroccan mother). Scott Machado of Iona is American-born but has played for Brazil in international competition and Kris Joseph of Syracuse and that new hoops hotbed, Canada. Don't laugh.There two Canadian-born players selected in last year's Draft.
Kris Humphries (no relation to Kris Joseph) has switched his focus from basketball to some unfinished business, that is, his relationship with Kim Kardashian. Humphries has not relented from his position that without an apology from his ex, he will keep pushing for video taped depositions and a televised divorce trial.
He's also embarked on a public relations campaign that makes fun of the ridiculous notion that he deserves as much hate as he's gotten around the league. In a profanity laden video produced by Funny or Die, Hump talks to two potential public relations agents who think they can help him.