NetsDaily Off-Season Report #11

We're going to be alright. At least alright. Maybe more than alright. Maybe a LOT more than alright!

Last time we posted an Off-Season Report, this week was seen as perhaps the most important in franchise history! Moving into a new building in a new city, word was the Nets had to hit a home run, a three pointer, a Hail Mary or whatever other sports analogy suits you. Scary stuff.

Now, they're looking good, really good and could get better.

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.

The week in review

When last we wrote an Off-Season Report, a whole week ago, things were different. The Nets and their GM were being castigated. Gerald Wallace had been traded for a lottery pick, meaning in the minds of many a pundit (particularly the draftniks) that Billy King had traded a lottery pick for a 16-game "rental".

Deron Williams was being heavily wooed by his hometown Dallas. The same pundits suggested that if D-Will left, oh boy, the Nets would have lost great young talent like Derrick Favors for nothing and Barclays Center would be an empty shell of an arena. Mavs fans had set up websites and "twitter bombs" to recruit Williams.

Writers never tired of pointing out the team had only four players under contract for next season, three of them bench players. The Dwightmare was the subject of an e-Book, but not talks. Mikhail Prokhorov? He's no Mark Cuban, went the conventional wisdom ... especially in Dallas.

Bottom line, King should be fired, said Chad Ford and Bill Simmons. His moves were illogical and confusing to John Hollinger. It was the most important week in franchise history and fear stalked the empty corridors of 390 Meadowlands Parkway, the East Rutherford offices of Nets basketball operations.Of so we were led to believe.

By Friday, Billy King was being touted as Executive of the Year and was within one move, the acquisition of Dwight Howard, of having one of the greatest weeks any GM has ever had, on the scale of Danny Ainge in 2008 and Pat Riley in 2010.

In the short expanse of four days, he re-signed Wallace, a veteran, a recent All-Star, and a leader; traded the basketball equivalent of trinkets and baubles (five bench players and someone else's lottery-protected pick) for Joe Johnson, who has been an All-Star six straight years. Then, with those out of the way, King ensured that the team's franchise player would remain a Net for the next five years and in process put together arguably the NBA's best backcourt. At the edges, he added Reggie Evans and Mirza Teletovic, and of course continued to pursue Howard while trying to recruit backups like Derek Fisher and Marcus Camby.

His golden touch even applied to draft picks from the Republic of Georgia. He agreed to let Toko Shengalia join the summer league and within days, Avery Johnson was literally shaking his head in amazement.

He owned the back page on both New York tabloids for two days running as well as a place on the front page of the Times! Page Six chronicled where he's staying while working his magic, where he's partying while celebrating each master stroke and what's next for the King of Brooklyn! Who owns New York? asked columnists like Mike Lupica, Mike Vaccaro and Harvey Araton. Heady, heady stuff.

Perhaps his greatest achievement was that he was able to convince Williams, who said he's all about winning, that a team that hasn't been to the playoffs in five years, that's suffered some of the worst luck of any NBA franchise, stood a better chance at a championship than the one who won it all last year! Really? Moreover, by the end of the week, most people agreed with him!

Yeah, yeah, Wallace at four years and $40 million was probably above market price and Johnson's contract may very well be the second worst in the NBA, with four years and a whopping $90 million left. Mirza Tele-who got what? We've heard the complaints and they have some validity except in the context of the Nets move to Brooklyn. This was the time to overpay, when putting an attractive competitive team on the floor was critical and when the more onerous parts of the CBA hadn't kicked in.

The Nets feared they could replicate the Mets experience with CitiField. They would move into a bright, shiny new venue and the first image would be of empty seats. Not good. The team's ownership was committed to not letting that happen. Mikhail Prokhorov dispatched Dmitry Razumov, his No. 2, his CEO, to New York to work with King and master capologist (and NBA executive rising star) Bobby Marks. According to one minority owner, Razumov worked 24 straight hours leading up to D-Will's decision.

Why not overpay now? We know the salary cap weenies are wringing their hands about babe-in-the-woods Russian owner getting capped out into infinity. For Prokhorov, whose fortune grew more than $70 million this week, this is about investment as much as is is about basketball. And everyone should realize he knows about investing...

His executives smile and nod when they're asked about the rising valuations of NBA teams, about how the Hornets and Grizzlies, who play in the two smallest NBA markets, are under contract to be sold for about $335 million each. No arena. Just the team. Prokhorov paid $260 million for 80% of the Nets and 45% of the arena in 2010. While other contenders were telling Bruce Ratner they had to check with their bankers, Prokhorov's people were asking, where do we wire the money?

if the Hornets and Grizzlies are worth $335 million, what are the Nets worth two years after Prokhorov bought them? They are about to move into a billion dollar arena in the biggest market in the world with an improving roster and the glitter of Jay-Z and Beyonce' just down the bench from the players. Conservatively, conservatively, you would think his investment has doubled. Shortly after Prokhorov bought the team, he said he expected 1) the Nets to win the NBA championship and 2) his investment in the Nets, Barclays Center, etc. grow to $1 billion, both by 2015. Back then, people laughed. Not now.

So getting Wallace to sign and trading for Johnson's contract made it easier for Williams to commit, which made it easier to get Howard to hold fast on his trade demands, which pushed the team to the front and back pages and as an added benefit pushed the Knicks off them. Tickets got sold. Buzz got generated. Paying the extra millions it took to do all that, and being willing to live with the consequences down the road, is smart business. The guy isn't worth 15 or 20 or 25 billion dollars because he has a nice smile.

How soon and How

in a chat Friday, Larry Coon, the capologist, talked about the Dwight Howard trade talks. He thinks that a trade is likely to happen soon, like in the next few days (or by implication) not for a while. Coon, who has repeatedly said he believes Howard will wind up in his preferred location, Brooklyn, argued logic would dictate things go down in a hurry.. "I would think it will happen pretty quickly. Teams & players need to figure out what they’re doing, and free agency officially begins in five days."

Sam Amick reported earlier Friday that the Nets might set a deadline (ultimatum?) for the Magic to say yes or they will wait unitl December when free agents signed this summer can be traded. That would leave Orlando with a choice of trying to trade Howard to a team he doesn't want to play for and won't resign with, or worse, lead to an ugly reality when training camp opens.

Coon also suggested a scenario for how it would go down:

"It would be possible for the Nets to sign-and-trade Humphries and Lopez, along with most of their other free agents, in separate, parallel deals that would bring back both Howard and Turkoglu. Orlando would want Humphries to go to a third team. The Magic would get Lopez, Brooks, draft picks, and whatever they get from the third team. They would also get multiple players who were primarily thrown in to make the trades legal, but who would be on three-year deals with just one year guaranteed, so they’d be like ending contracts. In doing so, the Magic would be unloading Hedo’s bad contract along with Dwight."

The Nets showed this week they are willing to manipulate the cap, sign and trade their free agents, pay luxury taxes as high as $20+ million a year over five years, etc. to do what it takes. Will Howard be a Net? Don't know. But tell me Nets fans, how many of you thought during the 12-70 debacle that within two years one of the NBA's top three players would be demanding a trade to your team? THAT is one hell of an accomplishment!

Loco for Toko

We really don't want to get ahead of ourselves on Tornike "Toko" Shengelia, but we just wanted to note two things about the Georgian forward:

1) The last time Billy King bought a late first round pick from Rod Thorn was the 2003 Draft when the Sixers bought the #51 pick from the Nets and used it to select a shooter out of Creighton named Kyle Korver. History repeats in reverse?

2) Whenever someone is stuck with a pick in the late 50's, you'll hear them say, Hey, Manu Ginobili went at #57. Shengelia, who's been compared with Andres Nocioni due to his hard-nose, high-energy game, politely told reporters this week that no, he sees himself as a "taller Manu Ginobili." Just saying, that's all.

The silence of Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson has been notably quiet since the Nets traded for him. No public comments, no tweets, nothing. What should we take from that? Probably nothing. Joe Johnson is the strong, silent type. Vince Cellini of NBA TV tweeted about what to expect from Joe on the day of the Nets trade: "Spent an entire season covering and traveling with the Hawks and Joe Johnson never said a word to me. Not hello, you suck..nothing. #pals4evr"

That's just him. He's not the top dog, the vocal leader. He is what he is: a very, very good basketball player. As Chris Webber said on NBA TV Friday, "Joe Johnson, I'm not mad at him taking all that money that he took but I never thought he was a No. 1 guy. In saying all of that, this back court is about to be scary. I'm talking about being soo scary..."

Now, he doesn't have to be the "No. 1" guy. Deron Willams is. If the Nets land Dwight Howard, he won't even be the No. 2 guy. Which is a good thing. He won't be defined by his monster contract, but more what he does on the court. He won't face the pressure. Yeah, he will be in New York, but there's value in the anonymity the big city brings. D-Will understood that.

Here's a recent interview he did with something called Young Hollywood. The reporter does a pretty good job of bringing him out of his shell but this is not your typical NBA personality.

Finally a fun fact about Johnson. The Nets have never traded for a player who'd been selected as an All-Star six times. Not Jason Kidd (four appearances), not Vince Carter (five). Forget the $90 million he's owed. Prokhorov has.

They're playing basketball

Put aside your free agent fantasies for a minute. The Nets will actually be playing basketball this week, competitive basketball.

First, the Orlando AirTran Summer League Schedule:

Monday, July 9, 11 a.m. - Magic

Tuesday, July 10, 5 p.m. - Celtics

Wednesday, July 11, 3 p.m. - 76ers

Thursday, July 12, 1 p.m. - Thunder

Friday, July 13, 3 p.m. - Pacers

Also, Deron Williams will be playing for Team USA this week. On Thursday, Team USA plays Dominican Republic (Al Horford and Francisco Garcia) in an exhibition game at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.

Both will be on NBA TV and you can buy an online subscription to all the Orlando and Las Vegas summer league contests at NBA.com

Final Note

If Billy King does get Dwight Howard, he is not just the leading candidate for Executive of the Year. He will have ascended into basketball heaven. He will also be vindicated. Even if John Hollinger and Chad Ford didn't think he and Bobby Marks didn't have a plan, they did. They knew going in (and said so) that their biggest weapon in free agency was "money." Didn't hurt in the draft either. Both Toko Shengelia and Tyshawn Taylor were taken with purchased picks.

But it went beyond the cash. They knew they could manipulate the cap, even under the restrictive rules of the post-lockout CBA. Even little things now make sense. The free agent mini-camp was a nice idea. Now we can see that they were auditioning former lottery picks and others for vets minimum jobs at the end of the bench. Hang onto Damion James after a season-ending injury? Why? Because he can be useful in a sign-and-trade, etc. Not to mention the Mirza Manuever, making even astute capologist John Hollinger think they'd just played themselves out of the Dwightmare. Heh, heh.

A lesson for the future. GMs make a lot of mistakes. So do assistant GMs, but at the end of the day, there's a reason why teams hire only 30 or 60 of them to do jobs that pay millions of dollars. They know the CBA, can be creative with it and have to make tough decisions that pundits can't even imagine.

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