We're calling this our "Get a Grip" special edition of our weekly Off-Season reports. Contrary to popular belief, the Nets did not go out of business on Wednesday with the team's failure to win a top three pick in the Lottery. There are things happening out there that haven't gotten a lot of attention or have been willfully ignored. Since we are here to remind and annoy, we delve into them.
So, we look at off-season issues like Gerald Wallace's extension and Dwightmare II; examine the Nets' chances at signing four Eastern European players ; identify our Draft Sleeper of the Week, one who we know the Nets are interested in; put a rest to rumors that Mikhail Prokhorov wants to be mayor of Moscow but warn his political ambitions have not been extinguished; link to some videos of Barclays Center we shot Wednesday; and offer a Final Note which be summed up in one word: patience.
Tough week out there with the loss in the lottery and pundits pronouncing the Nets on life support, perhaps even looking at another 12-70 season in Brooklyn. ESPN was particularly tough. Chad Ford called for Billy King to be fired for the Wallace trade, saying he was "flabbergasted" by it. He excoriated King for not being a "savvy negotiator" in the Wallace deal, claiming the Trail Blazers would have accepted a "mid- to late first round pick" for Wallace. Simmons said he wouldn't be surprised to see another team up the bid for Wallace to deprive the Nets of needed cap space. Simmons also said the Nets' moves the last year have not been governed by logic.
John Hollinger, in a chat, picked up the same theme, "The Nets are not bound by the constraints of logic; if they were they wouldn't have traded a lottery pick for three months of Gerald Wallace." He also suggested the Nets would, despite reports to the contrary, be willing to trade Deron Williams for Pau Gasol. "They have a new building opening and want to make a splash," he explained.
Even Irina Pavlova took a hit from Grantland's Chris Ryan and Rembert Browne in a podcast! Ryan described Pavlova as president of Mikhail Prokhorov's "OneTrix" sports "conglomerate" which he said is like "Spectre from the James Bond movies" and that in her untranslated message, Pavlova called on Prokhorov to "please point the ICBMs at Secaucus, New Jersey, and take out the NBA building." Browne said the message "scared" him and "I went straight to a bomb shelter I was so terrified."
Well, now that the smoke has cleared from the nuclear blast of Wednesday night, let's try to see where things stand what advantages the Nets have as they move into summer and what pitfalls could trip them up, starting with Gerald Wallace.
The basis for the attacks on King and the dire prognosis for the Nets starts with Wallace's future. The story line goes something like this: Wallace will opt out and possibly leave this summer, meaning the Nets gave up a lottery pick for a 17-game rental. This, the pundits suggest, shows the Nets front office doesn't know what it's doing.
First things first, Wallace has not opted out and may not. His contract has a year to run but he can decide by June 13 whether to opt out or not. Back in April, he said he would opt out, which was always seen as a possibility. But later on, King told reporters (twice) that the Nets are negotiating an extension with Wallace, a deal that would give him $30.4 million over three years. With the new CBA, those numbers are basically set in stone. Ford said he heard "rumbling" (singular) this week that the Nets might give Wallace $24 million over three IF he opts out. Does that makes sense when without opting out, Wallace can make $6 million more?
And let's remember what Wallace said on the day after the season ended, In comments to the media, he said he'd "love to stay" with the Nets, who have "great pieces" and that he feels good about the potential of the team if players are healthy as well as the potential of Brooklyn. Does that sound like a rental? Realistically, he can make more money with the Nets with the extension than he can anywhere else.
Like almost any signing, there would be positives and negatives to an extension. Here's big positive: HE IS A VERY GOOD BASKETBALL PLAYER, a point which tends to get lost in the weeping and gnashing of teeth over a lost lottery pick. Yes, he is 30 and yes, he has a lot of mileage but if you watched games after March 15, you know he plays the hardest-nosed basketball seen on the Nets since Jason Kidd left. Avery Johnson has said that Wallace and Green are in the top 10 of small forward combinations in the NBA. The Nets small forward combination prior to their arrival was the WORST in the NBA and they went through ten mediocre (at best!) small forwards between the Richard Jefferson and Gerald Wallace trades. We weren't crazy about the deal back in March either, but then we watched Wallace play.
Deron Williams also wanted Wallace. A week after the trade, D-Will said of Wallace in a BrooklynFans video, "Gerald Wallace is definitely going to help this team, help this organization. He's a great player, he's been a great player in this league for 11 years now. He's still relatively young and can help us in the future." [Emphasis added]. Keeping Williams is the Nets top priority and should be.
Williams wasn't alone, either. "He’s a veteran," Gerald Green told The Post in April. "A lot of the guys are young … Gerald’s been in the trenches. We all will listen to a guy like that who’s been through it all. It’s always good to have a player like that on your team, because you’ll be willing to listen."
The negatives to extending a 30-year-old player who plays with reckless abandon for three years? They're self-evident. It's a concern. So are a lot of things. It seems to fall into the category of acceptable risk. Williams obviously thinks so. So do King, Johnson and Prokhorov.
Moving on to the (specious) argument that Wallace could have been signed as a free agent without a trade... Sure, it could have happened, but it would have been highly unlikely. First off, It's always easier to woo a player you talks to everyday. Besides, Wallace himself admitted he hadn't been thinking about the Nets before the trade.
"I really don’t know much about the organization other than I know they recently got new owners," Wallace said on arrival in New Jersey. "When you’re out in the Western Conference, you really don’t pay much attention to the Eastern Conference." Two team insiders note that Wallace is the product of a small Alabama town and a player who's never played in a top 20 market. It might have been difficult to sell him (and his family) on the idea of playing and living in New York. The short time he's spent in the area gives them a chance to show off advantages he might not have considered from afar, they argue. One insider said he thought the chances of the Nets landing Wallace in free agency were five percent or less.
Indeed they have wooed him and the wooing went all the way to the top. When Mikhail Prokhorov was in town back in April, he met privately with three Nets players--Williams, Wallace and Brook Lopez. How'd it go with Wallace? We weren't in the suite, but we were right outside as he entered and left. We saw Billy King immediately afterwards and he was beaming, talking about how well the two men had gotten along. Could mean nothing, but it's a bad thing to have the owner make a special effort to persuade you of the value of staying put.
On the money side, if the Nets had gone after Wallace in free agency, they wouldn't have had the option of extending him as a free agent. They wouldn't have had his Bird Rights either. Moreover, the trade helped them in another way. Wallace's salary next season if he gets an extension (or changes his mind and doesn't opt out) will be $9.5 million. But because of the way the trade was structured, his salary's net effect on the team's' cap space would be much less than $9.5 million. The Nets were able to dump Shawne Williams' $3.15 million contract on Portland. So the net effect is that Wallace may cost the Nets a little more than $6 million. (You can add the loss of the sixth pick as well if you want: When the Nets lost the pick in the lottery, a $2.55 million cap hold disappeared from their cap space.)
Yeah, it would have been great to have a lottery pick and considering that most pundits are saying there's not much difference between #2 and #6, whoever they chose could have been very good, but Wallace IS very good right now. He was an All-Star and an All-Defense first team two years ago, with no major injury in the two intervening years. His numbers did decline in Portland but rebounded in New Jersey. His defense was particularly terrific.
Will the Nets wind up without a first round pick on June 28 now that they have left the Lottery? We doubt it. The Nets will likely make a trade or two that day. They have $3 million in Prokhorov's cash available. King said it clearly the other night, that if there's a player they like, they will go after him. In fact, there are rumblings that discussions with other teams have already begun. A lot of teams are looking to dump their picks. King also has a good track record with low picks. He got a top 10 pick last June at #25 in a weak draft. While in Philly, he drafted Kyle Korver, Willie Green and Lou Williams after #40 and signed an undrafted Raja Bell as a rookie.
D-Will to Win?
The big question, of course, is will Williams leave? He might, but he would be leaving $27 million on the table if he did. He would also be leaving millions more in marketing opportunities. He certainly wants to win and the Nets are trying to put together a contender built around him, Wallace and Lopez. Will those pieces be enough to keep him around? We've already hashed and re-hashed those arguments. We don't know. He says he doesn't either and wants the Nets to show him what they've got. His uncertainty, of course, makes it harder to get others lined up. But everyone would like to see this get done fast, Williams included.
And let's not forget, Sam Amick's story last month that noted, "Williams' preference, however, is for the Nets to improve the roster sufficiently enough that he can feel good about staying put rather than fear a repeat of this season, when they finished 22-44." Dallas? "There's no longevity there."
If he does leave, it will be as close to an unmitigated disaster as is possible for an NBA team (other than hiring Isiah Thomas as GM). The Nets will no doubt "reassess" their options, try to recoup and spin, spin, spin, but it's unlikely they would not be able to put a contender on the floor in Brooklyn next October. Not only would the Nets have lost Williams and all the assets used to acquire him. It would send a message to the rest of the NBA that he had no faith in the Nets ownership and management to build a winner, billion dollar arena or not, $27 million or not. The front office admits one of its biggest fears is that the first images of Barclays Center will be of empty seats, just as they were at CitiField.
Fine. If that happens, the pundits can have their way with the Nets and no doubt they will. We're sure they've filed away this video of King talking point blank to camera after the Lottery: "We’re going to re-sign Gerald Wallace. We’re going to re-sign Deron Williams." Bold statement. Good Luck, Billy.
Dwighmare II or III or IV