We are now in the second half of the Nets off-season, closer to Opening Night at Barclays than closing night at Prudential. And after another solid week that saw Billy King and Bobby Marks fill out the bench, anticipation is building for the debut of the Brooklyn Nets.
We focus mostly on the signings (thus far), holding out hope for the first Russian Net. We take some educated guesses at whose ads might appear on a Nets uniform when they're permitted...will they be in black and white? We search for the best read on new Nets' real heights and offer some commentary on LinSanity's End.
The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
That's our read on the Nets off-season so far. Too often, pundits look at the individual signings, trades and picks. We'll do that too but at the same time we want to take a look at how there is a plan, that the signings were not made willy-nilly (although Willy would have gotten three years and $10 million). Billy King went into the off-season talking about how they wanted a team of versatile players so that Avery Johnson could have multiple choices when he looked down the bench. Mission accomplished. He also wanted better defenders. Seems he did well there, too.
There have been criticisms about how the Nets didn't really add that much to their roster, bringing back guys who hadn't won the last two years. But that fails to take note of how little the Nets veterans have played together. Deron Williams and Brook Lopez have played 17 games together over a season and a half. Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace have played 12 together. Gerald Wallace and Kris Humphries only 16, and Williams, Lopez, Wallace and Humphries have never played together.
That said, we grade the off-season acquisitions so far, starting at the top...
Deron Williams. A+. The off-season was going to be aces if he signed and he did. It justified King's (and Mikhail Prokhorov's) strategy of finding a superstar and building around him. It also gave Brooklyn a franchise player, a marquee player for Barclays Center. With the supporting cast gathered around him, D-Will should get a chance to shine again as a point guard. As he has said, he's never played with another like Joe Johnson.
Joe Johnson. A-. The only reason this grade doesn't match Deron's is that remaining contract, $89.2 million over four years, but those six straight all-star appearances help make us forget a bit. So does his defense and his clutch shooting and his low-maintenance personality. Moreover, the Nets got him for the basketball equivalent of trinkets and baubles: four expiring contracts, a sign-and-trade of a player they didn't intend to bring back and someone else's lottery protected pick. Atlanta wanted Marshon Brooks, wanted the Nets pick instead of the Rockets pick. Didn't get them. . Fun fact: No Net acquired in a trade had six straight all-star appearances. Jason Kidd had four, Vince Carter five on arrival.
Brook Lopez. A-. We considered dropping this to a B, but then we thought, well, he is going to the Most Improved Player this season, so let's keep it high. One Nets executive ruminated about Lopez after the JJ trade, thinking aloud about how having the best backcourt in the NBA was going to eliminate double-teams on Brook and if teams did choose that strategy, fine, D-Will and JJ could open things up. Did we expect to pay Lopez the max? Nope. But that question was taken off the table when both Charlotte and Portland indicated they might give him the max. The Nets would have maxed. The foot injuries are worrisome, but his twin brother had the same break on the same foot and he hasn't had a relapse.
Gerald Wallace. B. We're a bit concerned about a four year deal, but if it had been three we really wouldn't have cared. Players like Wallace do break down quicker than guys who play with less abandon, but again, he is the Swiss Army Knife of the Nets. He played, at one point or another in his 16 games as a Net, every position but center and played it on both ends of the Floor. We weren't sure about the trade, losing a top pick, but then we saw him play and he quickly became a favorite. His contract, four years and $40 million, breaks down at $9.7 million in the first year, and $10.1 million in each of the next three.
Kris Humphries. B. We expected the Hump to get $24 million over three years. He got $24 million over two. Why the difference? Because the Nets want him as a trade chip as well as a double-double machine. Easier to deal a guy to, say Orlando, come January if he will be an expiring at year's end. With the Nets increasing depth at the three and four, he's not likely to match his two year totals of 12.5 and 11, but if a guy is 27 years old and has averaged a double-double two straight years, he should get paid. His foray into reality TV hurt his market value, we're convinced.
Mirza Teletovic. A. You get a chance to add the Euroleague's top regular season scorer for $3 million? Sign us up. The Nets are very high on Teletovic, his deep shooting ability, his athleticism and his toughness. Versatility, apparently too. Avery Johnson said he plans to use Teletovic at the 5, spelling Lopez. He has some moves underneath. Nets PR staff are big fans already, noting how intelligent and articulate the Bosnian is. Shouldn't surprise. He was captain of his Euroleague team and is captain of the Bosnia National Team. Now he'll be a 26-year-old rookie fetching Cheeto's.
Reggie Evans. C+. With the signing of Humphries and Teletovic, we don't see how many minutes Evans will get. Add the possibility of Andrei Kirilenko and Nazr Mohammed (see below) who can both play PF, we're a big mystified. He certainly can rebound and box out and flop, but he can nothing on offense...nothing. He'll be around for three years, at $5.1 million total. Would have liked to have kept the $3 million TE intact. Not a bad signing.
Jerry Stackhouse. C. He's 37 years old and says this is his last year. Word is that he is good in the locker room (although the NBPA probably won't be putting him in a "solidarity" promotion after he said Jeremy Lin was overpaid). Stack has been telling people since last year that he would be on the Nets bench this coming season. He has a good relationship with Avery Johnson.
Keith Bogans. B-. Let's assume he's completely healed from his fractured ankle and torn deltoid ligament. As long as he is, he will be a solid defender and good three point shooter, not quite Bruce Bowen, more like Raja Bell. We can't forget that he started 108 straight games for the Bulls two years ago, from preseason through the Eastern Conference Finals. Playing for Tom Thibodeau. The Bulls did dump him, but he could easily be a diamond in the rough, again if healthy.
C.J. Watson. B+. Sign a healthy 28-year-old who averaged 10 and 4 for the team with the NBA's best record for the vets minimum? You've had a good day. The Nets did Sunday, two days after the Bulls waived him in a salary cutting move. Watson filled in admirably for Derrick Rose in the regular season, starting 25 games, less so in the playoffs, but it was a tough task and everyone knew it. His overall field goal percentage was under 40% but his three point shooting was near 40%. Deep shooting should continue to be a Nets strength. A point guard rotation of Williams, Watson and Tyshawn Taylor seems a better mix than Williams, Jordan Farmar and Sundiata Gaines.
Nazr Mohammed. C. We are penciling Mohammed in, considering that he is likely to be signed this weekend. This is our most worrisome signing, not because he don't like Mohammed. The guy has a winning pedigree: two NCAA championships at Kentucky and an NBA ring with the Spurs in 2005. He got to the Finals this year with the Thunder. Our problem is that back-up center should have been a higher priority. Lopez's foot injuries (plural) should have demanded it. Maybe it got lost in the Dwightmare, but it's a little alarming that the back-up center is 34 years old without many offensive skills.
Tyshawn Taylor. A-. For the 41st pick in the draft, this kid was a steal. He wins. He plays big in big games. He played big for St. Anthony's in Jersey City when they went 32-0 to win the New Jersey state championship and top high school ranking in the U.S. He played big for Team USA when they won the Under 19 World Championship in New Zealand the next year and he played big, even if Kansas didn't win, in the NCAA championship game. He was the highest scoring rookie in the Orlando Summer League. He can shoot from deep, he can pass and he can defend. He has an attitude. Good. Point guards should.
Toko Shengelia. A+. Toko is a great story. It's not often that the #54 pick becomes a fan favorite, but so far he has. Will he play a lot when summer turns to fall? Probably not, but then he wasn't supposed to play in the summer league. His agent got his European team to clear him and convinced the Nets to let him play. In practices and games, he wowed the coaching staff and he's expected to sign this week. He likens himself to a "taller Manu Ginobili," also taken in the 50's. Probably not going to work out that well, but so far, so good.
Andrei Kirilenko. A+ (IF it happens). Here's what we know and can report: Andrei Kirilenko says he is considering joining the Brooklyn Nets, knowing all they can offer him is the veterans minimum. That's a big start. If he chooses the Nets, he would be sacrificing money no matter where he winds up. Last year, CSKA Moscow signed him to a three-year, $12 million deal with NBA "out's" each July. The vets minimum would be worth a little more than $1.3 million, so he would lose money even if he picked the Nets over CSKA. A couple of NBA teams with more cap space than the Nets are reportedly interested in him as well. Why would he do it? Presumably because of his relationship with Mikhail Prokhorov and Deron Williams, who we shouldn't forget was Andrei and Masha Kirilenko'ss guest on Deron and Amy's tour of Moscow. He's said in the past that he's made a lot of money in the NBA, at least $92 million in salary. With endorsements, that number is probably in nine figures.
What's the strength of that team (plus Marshon Brooks)? Its versatility. There's a lot of deep shooters on that team as well, at every position. There are some good defenders as well, in Williams, Johnson, Wallace (and Kirilenko?). They can run. They are about the lowest maintenance team around. What's the weakness? They lack depth up front, unless they get Kirilenko. Their interior defense leaves a LOT to be desired, again unless they get Kirilenko. A number of players need the ball to excel. There will be a period of adjustment. Chemistry.
Who got away? Start with Dwight Howard, but they're not done...and won't deny they are. The manner in which some of the key contracts were configured (Lopez, Humphries) makes them more palpable (and easier to move) than they would have been in sign and trades. Chris Mannix tweeted this week that the Magic strategy may be to watch Lopez intently through January 15. while fielding other offers and trying to see if Howard can be forced to play.
Gerald Green also got away. As we noted last week, he was the victim of rules that limited the Nets ability to retain him. They also made a commitment early to Teletovic, who we learned they' had been talking to for a a year. That commitment limited their options with Green even further. If they could have, would they have given Green the same deal Indiana gave him, three years at $10 million, which is the same deal the Nets ultimately gave Teletovic? Maybe, but reading tea leaves, we can't be too sure.
Anyone who's watched European basketball knows that advertising is everywhere. The uniform ads are only the most visible part. Deron Williams jersey in Turkey featured a gas company but the team name also carried the name of the same gas company. His contract was paid in part by the gas company. Teletovic played for a team in the Basque region of Spain. It's listed on the home page of the (Turkish Airlines) Euroleague as Caja Laboral, which is the name of bank that sponsors the team in return for naming rights for the team. In the past, it's been known as Tau Ceramica, among others.
So permitting a 2" x 2" patch on the upper right of the jersey, as the NBA Board of Governors did this week, seems tame, particularly since that's where the Nets wore their 35th anniversary patch last season. An ad will replace a patch celebrating the team's departure from New Jersey. Eh.
Who will the Brooklyn Nets get to lease that space on D-Will's NBA jersey? Start the betting with Barclays, which already has the naming rights for the arena and is also a sponsor of the team. They could do a tie-in with any of their Barclays Center partners, like Coca-Cola, or Sony or Haier, the latter two Japanese and Chinese companies. PNY has sponsored the Nets training facility and has had their logo plastered on practice jerseys.
But be sure of one thing. The Nets WILL have those ads. Let's not forget who was president of NASCAR when they festooned driver's jackets with as many logos as could be fit. Brett Yormark.
"Obviously, it’s a league decision, but as someone who spent seven years at NASCAR, I know the value of putting a brand on the playing field and the uniform, so it is certainly something I would support," said Brett Yormark back in March. "You can monetize this in ways you can’t monetize any other kind of marketing inventory. And, of course, we’re in the No. 1 market in the country, so ..."
Scared of Heights
It's always been one of the great questions about basketball prospects. How tall are they REALLY. We've always gone with the height listed on NBA rosters, but doing some investigation have found some disparities. If there is nothing official, we've consulted Draft Express excellent database and used the height listed in shoes. (Until they play in bare feet, we consider that measurement pretty worthless.)
So that said, how tall are some of the newest Nets really?
Toko Shengelia has been reported at 6'8", 6'9" and 6'10." He was measured at 6'9.5" in shoes and 6'8" in bare feet when he worked out for NBA teams at the adidas Eurocamp. So we're giving him the benefit of the doubt and going with 6'10". We've told he doesn't "look" 6'10". We understand but you can't fool those guys at adidas. Besides, 6'9.5" is how the NBA Draft graphics listed him and his Euroleague number is 2.07 meters which is 6'9.475".
Tyshawn Taylor is almost universally list at 6'3", but at the Pre-Draft Combine, he checked in at 6'4" in shoes, 6'2.75" in bare feet.
Ilkan Karaman, the Nets #57 pick who'll be staying in Turkey, measured out, also at the Eurocamp. at 6'9.5" in shoes, 6'8.5" in bare feet.
Mirza Teletovic isn't in the Draft Express database. He was eligible to be drafted in 2007 but wasn't taken in either round. The Euroleague listed him at 2.06 meters, which works out to a smidgen over 6'9".
From a historical perspective, we'd like to note that RIchard Jefferson's 6'7" height was in bare feet. In shoes, he was 6'8.5".
As we watched LinSanity end this week, at least in New York, we found ourselves stunned at the shameless sour grapes commentary by many Knick pundits and commentators: He can't use his left hand, his legs will never be able to withstand a 100 game season (as if the Knicks will make the FINALS!), he's frail, etc.
Maybe it's us, but this kid is 23 years old and far more likely to improve rather than deteriorate. He's not perfect, but if someone can name an undrafted rookie who stepped onto the court and led his woeful team on phenomenal run the captured the WORLD, we'd be happy to reconsider our belief that he's not done because he's no longer a Knick.
We're not a Knicks fan site, but what we witnessed this week is what the Knicks are all about: denial.