NetsDaily Off-Season Report #6

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.

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.

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.

Crash Course

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

Adrian Wojnarowski and Chris Broussard are veterans of the Dwighmare. So we paid attention when both seemed to say that Williams' decision to stay is binary: if the Nets get Howard, he stays. If not, he goes. Williams later shot down the idea that he has made any decision. His decision to shoot it down so publicly had some effect but since the conventional wisdom has long been no Howard, no Williams, some simply dismissed it.

But let's take this a little further. Why did this news suddenly wind up on the front page of the world's most popular sports site (Yahoo!) and the world's most popular cable channel (ESPN) within hours of each other? Who's pushing this agenda and why?

It would seem someone in Howard's camp wants this done now or "right now", as Broussard put it. The door swings open on Draft Night for a deal, which seemingly would be difficult to put together. But just as King is the master of the Draft Night deal, he has more experience in putting together mutli-team deals than anyone in the NBA.Teams play their GMs to be more creative than random fans, either alone or in a community. Never dismiss the possibility that a few properly placed phone calls could lead to a big unexpected deal. So assume this can happen.

But suppose the Nets' ardor for Howard is not what it once was, before his left the Nets at the altar, without even a call or text message; before his back surgery laid him low. Word is that Howard now regrets his decision to opt in for another year. Of course, he does. The whole mess hurt his popularity, his marketability and exposed him, once again, as immature, incapable of commitment. Word is also out there that he is doing well in rehabbing from major back surgery and will be ready for training camp. Certainly possible.

But why rush in? Is it to the Nets' advantage to move now? Not without a thorough examination of both his medical/rehab records and his commitment. NBA history is filled with players whose careers were cut short by bad backs. Brad Daugherty, Larry Bird, Larry Johnson all were lesser players in the years following back surgery. We hope for the best with Dwight, but waiting seems not only the prudent course from a medical standpoint but from a competitive standpoint. The Magic would like to get this done fast. So would Howard's camp but the Nets will have more assets for use closer to training camp. So we may wait...again.

Ilyasova, Bogdanovic, Teletovic, Kirilenko

The Eastern Europe Quartet. Where do the Nets stand with each? We give it a try.

Ersan Ilyasova. 6'10" power forward with a Turkish passport. The Nets and Ilyasova have mutual interest in each other. He is unrestricted. He is young, depending on what story you read either 25, 27 or 28. He is tough. He can rebound and shoot. He almost certainly be expensive. He appears to be the Nets top priority at power forward and upgrading power forward is their top priority. The Nets are also pushing their brand in Turkey, a hoops hotbed.

Bojan Bogdanovic. 6'8" swingman. It has become quite clear that the Nets want the Bogjam broken and the 23-year-old in the NBA next season. Their chief international scout said so in an interview with a Croatian website. King wasn't as specific but said he had a good talk with Bogdanovic and hopes his contract can be resolved. Bogdanovic recently said, "Of course I would love to play in the NBA, but I'm young and I still have time," noting that he awaits word on talks between the Nets and Fenerbahce.

Mirza Teletovic, 6'9" power forward. When word broke on Twitter that Brooklyn might be a good match for the Euroleague's top regular season scorer, team insiders were quick to note he is "really good" and "intriguing."
Like Bogdanovic, Teletovic can shoot the three and work the post very well. He is also a work class athlete. What he is not is a good rebounder, but he is only 26. We're not sure how much he wants the Nets, but they like him.

Andrei Kirilenko, 6'9" combo forward. Before Williams flew to Moscow to vacation with the Kirilenkos, AK-47 listed the Jazz as his top NBA priority and gently denied a rumor that he had a deal in place with the Nets. After D-Will left, Kirilenko said his top two priorities were the Jazz AND the Nets. And we shouldn't make too much of Williams visit to Moscow. Nope, not us. He could be expensive.

Of course, there's no way the Nets will have enough cap flexibility and roster space at forward to sign Wallace, Green, Ilyasova, Bogdanovic and Kirilenko. Our bets are that unless Milwaukee blows Ilyasova away with an offer, he'll come to New York; that AK-47 will be a difficult negotiation, but not as difficult as the one with Fenerbahce over Bogdanovic. Teletovic we simply don't know enough about. He's said he won't address his NBA plans until after the Spanish League playoffs end which could be next week. One thing that seems to escape the pessimists is that all these guys to one extent or another have expressed their interest, mostly in public statements, in joining the Nets. That is progress.

No Mayor Prokhorov

Rumors circulated throughout Moscow Friday that Mikhail Prokhorov would run for mayor of Moscow in the 2015 elections. While he finished fourth in the Russian presidential election on March 4. the native Muscovite finished second in the presidential race inside the Moscow region. But alas, the mayoral rumor turned out to be false when his press office said it could not confirm it.

Still, on Monday, Prokhorov is likely to make a formal announcement that he is returning to politics. He is meeting with his political advisers and then announce plans which many believe will include a new political party to rival Vladimir Putin's United Russia. By the way, we love this picture of Prokhorov sitting across from Putin after the election.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

Is it possible for a player to be slated as a lottery prospect after his sophomore year and then in no one's mock drafts, not even in the second round, a year later? It's happened before and it's happened this year as well, and the Nets are interested in the player in question.

Twice during the recent Nets Draft Combine, Tony Mitchell took a pass in the open court and flushed it with a reverse dunk. Both times, Nets scouts thought it was the right play, not showboating. The 6'6" Alabama swingman with a 39" vertical was probably the most talented player at the two-day combine and one the Nets have their eye on, but may wind up in the second round because problems dealing with his coach at 'Bama.

The 22-year-old had been projected as a mid-first round pick, possibly even lottery after his sophomore year, when he averaged 15 and 7. After being suspended following an altercation with his coach in mid-season, he dropped off some mock drafts. Still, the Nets are interested because of that raw talent. It's how you find late second round sleepers: take a risk on a skilled player who may not have all the prerequisites, including emotional. for success in the NBA.

"It was just me being over-competitive," explained Mitchell to Fred Kerber at the combine when asked why he was suspended. "I hate losing, and losing got to me. I wanted my team to do better, and it cost us in the end. I apologize for what I did."

His coach never detailed what led to his suspension, saying only it was an accumulation of things.

A video tour of Barclays Center

We got into Barclays Center on Wednesday afternoon just before the Lottery. Access was limited but we took some images which we tweeted out Wednesday and Thursday.

We also shot some short (and very basic) videos with our FlipCam and posted them to YouTube. Here are some links:

--The Practice Court. As you can see, its basic outline is complete. In this video, you can also see that it will be visible from 1) the main entrance, 2) the sidewalk on Atantic Avenue and 3) the Calvin Klein VIP Entrance. As we noted, here's what Pacers' practice court, designed by the same architects, Ellerbe Becket, looks like. The dimensions appear to be similar.

--The Main Entrance: From the inside, it will look out on to the Entrance Plaza and the Transit Connection, 162 feet across the plaza, and in on to the Main Concourse and the Practice Court and the street level Platform that overlooks the arena floor 25 feet below.

--The Bowl: From the good seats, you can see the grand sweep of the arena, now 75% complete. The tight, basketball-centric sightlines put fans closer than in most arenas. It will be enhanced by the "black box" theatrical lighting on the ceiling.

--The Vault: It's an open area now, but the Jay-Z designed supersuites will have 11 large, private suites at an annual price of $550,000 (with a three year commitment.The team will enter through a tunnel between the Vault and the Calvin Klein Courtside Club and just below the Legends Lounge, all of them for suite owners.

--The Prokhorov SuperSuite: We've been up in a couple of times, but now tours of the center court, owner's box are limited. The visitors Wednesday included a top NBA agent and the owners of the Golden State Warriors, looking for ideas to take home to San Francisco where they will soon build their own arena. (That could be them up there now.) It's an ideal vantage point. Just above the suite are two bands that encircle the arena. They are the arena's LED screens. They're covered with protective material. The Daktronics scoreboard gets hoisted to the roof in July.

--The Arena Floor: Workmen were putting the finishing touches (literally) on the floor Wednesday. It covers the outline of the hockey pad. Event-specific platforms like the court and the ice rink will be placed on top of the floor. The ice rink system will be the last major arena element installed before opening night.

And if you're still nostalgic for Prudential Center, here's the last minute of the New Jersey Nets final home game we also recorded.

Final Note

The Lottery certainly was a disappointment, particularly since the Nets along with the Bobcats were seen as the night's biggest losers. Well, that night they certainly were, but all the extrapolations about how it could lead to another 12-70 season are a bit over the top. What happened on Wednesday is part of the process. What matters is who will be running out of that center tunnel at Barclays in late October or early November. So be patient and read NetsDaily every day.
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