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 second round of the playoffs, relying on the Nets’ beat reporters and others who have slipped interesting stuff into larger stories, blogs and tweets...plus our own reporting.
It seems the off-season is winding down early, with the roster set unless Billy King gets itchy fingers and starts punching that well-worn touch screen on his iPhone. So, this week we focus on the press conference and some fun facts about the players who will be joining the Nets, all six of them, including a final bling count, that is what they and the other Nets have won already as individuals and as members of a team. We note the singular importance of the Andrei Kirilenko signing and offer Ken Berger's stinging commentary on those who think there was a side deal between Russian owner and Russian player. We also talk about the growing proxy war between the Nets and Knicks, the latest battle being on Long Island, and some video.
Random (and some not so random) thoughts about Thursday's press conference
It was a great event and what made it a great event was how open it was. After the press conference ended, the several hundred season ticket holders who had been in the stands joined the 175 media on the arena floor, mingling, talking and taking pictures with the players, team officials and Mikhail Prokhorov. (We thought it ironic that no one asked to have their picture taken with everyone's agent, Jeff Schwartz, on such a grand occasion, although we were tempted.)
Our favorite moment was when a trio of fans posed with Prokhorov and one of them exclaimed, "thank you for changing my childhood!" (That would be you, Zev!) Prokhorov in fact posed more than once with fans. In a lot of ways, he was the star of the show.
But there were other moments: a Brooklyn teacher thanking Bruce Ratner for persevering and getting Barclays Center built; JET doing "the jet" with three fans in the Nets store, all adorned in JET jerseys (We know, it was you again, Zev!); watching the surprised look on the three ex-Celtics' faces when Prokhorov mounted the stage ... they didn't know either! Outside, fathers fed water bottles to pre-K kids in black-and-white. There was Tyshawn and Toko, who spend a lot of time at the PNY Center, driving over to watch and interact with fans, but only on the periphery. They were careful not to be seen as stealing anyone's thunder.
It's a credit to the often under-appreciated "All-Access" theme Brett Yormark instituted a decade ago: putting fans, particularly those with season tickets, up close with players, coaches, etc. to an extent you don't often see replicated around the league and you will NEVER see at a Knicks event. James Dolan mingle with fans? Talk to reporters?? Disengage from his posse??? What???? Ultimately, that has an effect. Prokhorov may not be in New York as often as some would like, but when he shows up, it's meaningful ... and fun.
There was also basketball talk everywhere. We spent a few minutes with Prokhorov casually talking hoops. He likes the idea of putting Paul Pierce and Andrei Kirilenko on the floor together and is a fan of the Shaun Livingston signing. He and his righthand man --and ONEXIM CEO-- Dmitry Razumov believe Jason Terry is far from done and expect a big season from him. Of course, the two of them are thrilled with the off-season, starting with the Jason Kidd hire.
Outside on entrance plaza, under the Oculus (it's now capitalized, the Nets point out, to distinguish it from other oculi), the 100-degree heat did little to deter the good cheer. Both inside and out, the atmosphere could best be described as joyous. And why not? More than a few made the contrast with being a Nets fan during 12-70. Or as one long-time team official put it while surveying the scene, "Never in my wildest dreams..."
Andrei Kirilenko's distinction
A lot of the punditry on Andrei Kirilenko has been devoted to conspiracy theories about a side deal between him and MIkhail Prokhorov. As we noted last week, the pundits and their sources in envious front offices everywhere got nothing.
But there's something else out there that none of the pundits and writers have picked up: Kirilenko is the biggest free agent signing by the Nets ... ever. Other than Alonzo Mourning's signing, after his kidney disease diagnosis, the Nets had ever signed a free agent with AK-47's resume. Of course, they re-signed Jason Kidd and Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson and more recently Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, but all those guys were already on the team.
Some research shows that the last (semi-) big free agent signed outright by New Jersey or Brooklyn was Armen Gilliam, signed August 11, 1993, after being cut a week earlier by the 76ers. That will tell you all you need to know about the Nets' past lure. They tried to sign a lot of free agents and often had the cap space, like in the summer of 2010 when they targeted LeBron James ... and wound up with Travis Outlaw.
For the record, Kirilenko has been an All-Star in 2004, a two-time European player of the year, and three-time all-Defensive team member.
As for the conspiracy theory, Ken Berger put a lot of it to rest by doing some reporting on the issue Friday...
"The notion that the Nets did anything untoward to land Kirilenko is something that can only be entertained if you dislike facts. Kirilenko opted out of a contract that would've paid him $10 million in Minnesota next season and went shopping for a multiyear deal paying him in excess of $9 million per season. By mid-July, there were still no takers. The free-agent market had dried up.
"'Their ask was crazy,' one team executive said of Kirilenko's salary demands during free agency."
Kirilenko, according to reports, was in a bad place. Timberwolves GM Flip Sanders wasn't going to help him on sign-and-trades and there was less and less cap space out there. So he signed a deal that he can opt out of next June. As to what he's got left, the 32-year-old set a career mark for shooting percentage (50.7 percent) last season and had his best scoring and rebounding numbers since 2005-06. Same with steals.
We wished he was there Thursday, but he had commitments in St. Tropez on the French Riviera. (We wish we did.) In any event, expect a media conference call with him soon.
Some fun accounting on career milestones coming up for both the newest acquisitions and those who've been on the roster for a while.
--Paul Pierce is 979 points shy of 25,000 points. He is already 20th on the all-time scoring list. When he scores his 348th point this season, he will move ahead of Allen Iverson and when he gets his 795th, he'll pass Patrick Ewing. Only 17 players have scored 25,000 points in their NBA career.
--Kevin Garnett is only five points shy of Reggie Miller for 14th place on the all-time scoring list and 339 behind Alex English. He can also surpass 2,000 blocks this season. He's only 30 short. Garnett is already the only player in NBA history to reach at least 25,000 points, 10,000 rebounds, 5,000 assists, 1,500 steals and 1,500 blocks in his career
--Jason Terry is closing in on 2,000 three-pointers. He's 89 short, so he has a chance. Once he gets his 78th three, he will move past his coach, Jason Kidd, into third place behind Ray Allen and Reggie Miller all-time. They are the only other players with 2,000 three-pointers in league history. Right behind Terry in fifth place is Pierce. Something a bit surprising to us: Terry is 48th all-time in steals. In fact, with the acquisition of Pierce, Garnett and Terry, the Nets have three of the top 50 all time.
--Andrei Kirilenko is within reach of his 10,000th point. He is 798 points shy.
--Joe Johnson is 71 three-pointers shy of 1,500. He made 148 last season. When he gets to 1,454, 25 three's from now, he will jump into the top 20 all-time, giving the Nets three of the top 20 three point shooters of all time and three of the top 11 active. Terry and Pierce are the No. 2 and 3 three-point shooters active.
--Deron Williams is 189 three pointers short of 1,000. Is that doable? He had 169 last year and Jason Kidd has spoken about having him play more off-ball.
A couple of other stats points
Pierce's continued high production could portend a similar career close for Johnson. Pierce is four years older than Johnson but still producing at a high level. Everyone always talks about what an albatross Johnson's contract is, and it certainly is huge, but if he can produce at Pierce's level when he's 35 and and the end of his contract, it won't be that onerous.
Also, although Pierce had a terrible first round against the Knicks, at least shooting-wise, his two teammates were among the playoff leaders. Garnett's 13.7 rebounds per game were the playoffs league high and Terry's 44.1 percent from deep ranked 13th. Pierce also played 42.5 minutes per game in the playoffs. You can bet Kidd will want to avoid that.
King on the trade talks Draft Night
In his interview with Ian Eagle and Jim Spanarkel, Billy King spoke about the sequence of events on Draft Night that led to the Celtitcs trade. There were some new details. Here's what he said...
"Danny and I started talking back and forth. Then, Bobby Marks and their assistant GM wre talking back and we were really focused on Paul Pierce. I think as we got close to a deal for Paul, we said, pretty much, we'll do this. So I said, 'What about Garnett? Danny said, Nah, I don't think there's anything on your roster that can do it. So, I kept throwing things at him and kept adding and then I guess it was Draft day, the night before the Draft, I pretty much know that there's a deal there. So, we got to decide do we want to do this. Spoke with ownership and we agreed and I called Danny and said, 'We're in."
"So, he said 'Let me talk to my ownership' and he said, 'we're in. Now, you got to talk to Kevin.' And that became Draft Night and that's when I put Jason and Deron on the task and said, 'Now it's your job.' They started texting back and forth and I was on the phone with his management (Andy Miller) and the first part of the draft we weren't really involved in because we were really trying to get Kevin on board. So I guess we found out that Kevin was on board when, about four or five picks before we selected, we found out we had Kevin."
Prokhorov flies in, flies out
One of the great things about Prokhorov's appearance was this: he flew back and forth to Moscow, 9,332 miles, in one day, arriving not long before the press conference and leaving not long after. He did have time for lunch as Page Six reported. Quite the guest list...
Brooklyn transplants Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce were spotted having lunch at Catch in the Meatpacking District with Mikhail Prokhorov after their Barclays Center press conference Thursday. The billionaire NBA owner flew in from Russia for the occasion. Also spotted was Prok’s right-hand man Dmitry Razumov, Barclays Center owner Bruce Ratner, Nets coach Jason Kidd and GM Billy King. Rounding out the group was team CEO Brett Yormark, Pierce’s agent Jeff Schwartz, WME Sports and Entertainment head Jill Smoller and Nets investor Artie Rabin. Jason Terry, the third Celtics player to come to Brooklyn, was earlier spotted stocking up on Nets gear at a team store.
Most of the diners are well known to Nets fans. Rabin is on the Nets board of directors and has courtside seats near Amy Williams and family. Smoller works with Garnett. In 2010, she negotiated a multiyear, multimillion-dollar deal for Garnett with Chinese shoe company Anta rather than him renewing a deal with his longtime sponsor Adidas.
Final bling count
All-Star games: 36 by six players (Garnett 15, Pierce 10, Johnson 6, Williams 3, Lopez and Kirilenko 1 each); NBA championships: 3 (Garnett, Pierce and Terry one each); All-NBA selections: 16 (Garnett 9, Pierce 4, Williams 2, Johnson 1); All-Defensive team: 15 (Garnett 12, Kirilenko 3); Olympic medals: 4 (Williams 2 golds, Garnett a gold, Kirilenko a bronze); Regular season MVP: 1 (Garnett); Finals MVP: 1 (Pierce); All-Star Game MVP: 1 (Garnett); Defensive Player of the Year: 1 (Garnett); Sixth Man of the Year: 1 (Terry); Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award: 1 (Garnett); Euroleague MVP: 1 (Kirilenko); FIBA Eurobasket MVP: 1 (Kirilenko); FIBA Europe Player of the Year: 2 (Kirilenko); Euroleague Defensive Player of the Year: 1 (Kirilenko); All-Rookie Team: 7 (Garnett, Pierce, Williams, Johnson, Lopez, Terry, Kirilenko)
Reggie Evans and Tyshawn Taylor have gold medals in the FIBA Under-21 and Under-19 world championships. Also, Terry and Mason Plumlee have NCAA championship rings. And we aren't even talking about Jason Kidd's bling!
The next Nets-Knicks proxy war: the Nassau Coliseum competition
The latest competition between the Nets and Knicks is taking place out on Long Island as Barclays Center and Madison Square Garden await Nassau County's verdict on which won will be chosen to renovate Nassau Coliseum at a cost of nearly a quarter billion dollars. Asked about how Ratner thinks it's going, he called the competition "evenly matched" and wouldn't venture a guess on which way country officials are leaning. A decision is expected in August.
One thing that the two sides are pushing in their presentations is the sports, particularly minor league sports. MSG is suggesting the Coliseum could be home to their D-League team, which is now the Erie Bayhawks. Barclays is talking about minor league hockey as a tenant, but not a D-League team. The Nets arrangement with the owners of the Springfield Armor has another season to run. Of course, Ratner is promising six Islander games at the Coliseum if his side wins.
The point is that this is a proxy war for the Nets and Knicks ownership and it's being fought everywhere. Billboard Magazine just announced its top grossing arenas in the world. The 02 Arena in London tops the list, with Barclays Center second. The Garden ranks fourth, and the Staples Center in Los Angeles is sixth. (Of course, it should be noted that the Garden has been closed the last two summers and again this summer for renovations.)
The Nets press conference of course was in your face, as well. Paul Pierce deliberately left the Knicks off the list of legitimate contenders for the Eastern Conference crown and Prokhorov made it more personal when he noted that James Dolan has to be watching the Nets.
What used to be gentlemanly is getting ugly. The Nets reacted strongly to leaked reports that the Garden might try to stop the Islanders from playing in their old stomping grounds. The Garden doesn't have that right, Ratner responded.
As the off-season goes on, expect more and more word about the Nets and Knicks battling on various fronts. And trust us, the Nets are not done trying to turn Knicks fans into Nets fans.
Mirza Teletovic meets boyhood goal
While the Nets were celebrating the addition of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry, Mirza Teletovic was working with US officials in Srebrenica, site of the killing of 8,000 men and boys. He was headliner at a camp for young people at a nearby lake resort.
He was asked about the importance of goals and here's what he told the youngsters.
"With hard work and faith in success, all dreams can come true. As an eleven year old, I attended a camp like this one, they asked me - what do you wanna be when you grow up? He said that my dream is playing in the NBA. I worked a lot, practiced and believed in himself. Today I play in the strongest league in the planet."
There had been rumors this week that two of Europe's top teams were trying to lure him back to the continent with contracts larger than the one he has with the Nets. But three league sources told NetsDaily Teletovic doesn't have an "out" to let him talk with European teams, nor has he asked for one. His comments in Bosnia would seem to indicate he's happy in Brooklyn.
Then, of course, there was our (okay, my) appearance in front of Dex Henry's camera. It has already had an effect on my life. As we (okay, me) were settling in on the 7:45 p.m. train out of Penn Station Friday night, an otherwise normal looking man sees us (okay, me) and shouts out, "Net Income!," as he walks down the aisle. He then does a 180 and stops, extending his hand in gratitude while noting he had "seen the video."
We (okay, me) were deeply ambivalent. Damn you, Dex! Celebrity is a bitch!