In a wide ranging discussion with season ticket-holders Saturday, GM Ed Stefanski said he would like to see Vince Carter return to the team, hopes the Nets can pick up an "athletic big man" in the draft, called Mikki Moore and Boki Nachbar's performances much better than expected or asked, admitted Richard Jefferson is still not 100 per cent, praised the bench while agreeing the starters "are not doing their job" and in general implied the team is willing to give the "Big Three" another chance next season.
Taking questions after an opening statement, Stefanski told the 50 or so ticket holders that he, like them, is disappointed in the way the team has played, but said as the team official charged with looking at "next year, as well as two, three, four years down the line" he remains an optimist.
Here are some of the highlights of the 45-minute session at the Nets All-Access Club:
On This Season and Next:
"I'd like to see us with the Big Three healthy", said Stefanski, adding that a healthy Krstic playing with Moore, Boone and a draft pick would give the Nets a lot of offensive power upfront.
He admitted what while the bench has been "terrific" with one of the league's best +/- ratings, the starters "are not doing their job closing out games". The Nets he noted were second in the league at holding leads with six minutes to go last season and are 26th or 27th this season.
Stefanski defended Carter from his critics saying it's "easy to say you want more" from Carter--"including me...I'm greedy"--sometimes "you have to get others to go up a notch...it's not always on Vince", adding that Carter is often "not just double-teamed but triple-teamed."
On Vince Carter:
"Personally, I would like to sign Vince Carter," said Stefanski. "He is one of the best players in the NBA." Stefanski said that if Carter opts out of his contract, no team can pay him more money than the Nets and only three teams have the money to sign him outright , but each has other issues that could intervene. Stefanski noted that Orlando has enough money but would "have to renounce the rights to Darko Milicic" to sign Carter...Charlotte "has all the money in the world", but they want to build a young team...Milwaukee has "all the money in the world, too, but they have Michael Redd". Carter could sign a mid level exception deal, starting at a little more than $5 million "but I can't see that happening". Stefanski also reiterated the Nets could do a sign-and-trade and admitted the Nets have done contingency planning for various scenarios.
Stefanski said that owner Bruce Ratner has given he and Rod Thorn permission to "go over the luxury tax" to sign Carter and other players next season. The owner took a lot of heat for not resigning Kenyon Martin, then was willing to add an even bigger salary with Vince Carter, Stefanski added. "I don't think anyone now believes Martin was a max-out player."
On Jason Kidd:
Kidd has had a "tremendous season" and that makes him and the organization believe that he will be worth what the Nets will pay him over the next two seasons--approximately $41 million. "We think he will give us what he is worth", he said.
On Richard Jefferson:
RJ hasn't been right the entire season, and that includes now, post-surgery. "He needs to get his timing and feeling back...it's not yet the same RJ". Stefanski in particular noted that Jefferson is not as explosive as he should be. Still, he is hopeful that before the regular season and playoffs are over, he will be fine.
On Nenad Krstic:
Everyone is "ecstatic" about Krstic's recovery and rehab, that only one tendon was effected and that he should be "100 per cent by June or July" but would not play even if the Nets got to the "last game of the year", meaning the NBA Finals. Stefanski said he was looking forward to next year to see what Krstic could do playing with Moore and Josh Boone.
On Jason Collins:
As Stefanski anticipated, many of the questions involved Collins' ineffectiveness. Collins, he said, "is hurting. His knees are really bothering him." He can only play 26 to 28 minutes a game, which Frank understands. In the off-season, "he's got to get healthier". Still, Stefanski defended Collins and noted that he leads the team in +/- ratings.
On Mikki Moore:
Stefanski called Moore "just outstanding", citing both his on-court performance and his work ethic. "He has played with nine teams so he could have had an attitude," said Stefanski, but he comes to work every day, adding Moore has tutored Josh Boone as well. The Nets GM admitted that "in all honesty", the Nets did not expect he would be as good as he has been. He noted that Moore himself suggested to Lawrence Frank that he do more "pick and pop" than the "pick and roll", citing his jump shooting. Frank challenged him to prove it "and he did". Without saying so directly, Stefanski strongly suggested the Nets would try to re-sign him.
On Boki Nachbar:
Nachbar, like Moore, has played better "than we thought or asked" exceeding the team's expectations. Stefanski said he first saw Nachbar play "when he was 15, 16 years old". The question was "is he tough enough to be an NBA player. Well, not only is he tough enough, he is good enough to be an NBA rotation player". He has become a threat from the outside and there are a lot of players in the NBA who he has "posterized".
On Eddie House:
The Nets wanted a shooter and House is that shooter. "We wanted an offensive position guy" and got more, he said, praising House's locker room demeanor and leadership. He reiterated that House will be out three to four weeks and that the concussion was so severe that House has no recollection of making the two free throws he was awarded after the David Harrison foul. "Maybe we should give Jason Collins and Josh Boone concussions before they take foul shots", he joked. Stefanski disagreed with Thorn's assessment that the foul should have been a flagrant, saying it's what happens when "a 5'11" guy gets hit by a 7-foot, 250-pounder."
On Cliff Robinson:
He has slowed down. "He IS 40 years old," said Stefanski. The Nets were badly hurt by his drug suspension during last May's playoff series. Particularly, he said that the loss of Robinson hurt Krstic's play because Robinson "had his back". The Nets will evaluate his play the last 10 games of the season and playoffs before making a decision on whether to bring him back.
On Marcus Williams:
The Nets had him rated as high as 10th on their draft war room board and "never thought he would fall to 22". They fully believed he would be gone by 14. "We have had glimpses" of what he could become, said Stefanski, which he said was "a very good NBA player". He cited the two games where Williams put up 21 and 18 points in a quarter, but added that to become that very good player had to play better defense and watch his weight.
On Josh Boone:
Calling himself a "big Josh Boone fan", Stefanski said he was "very high on him after his freshman year, high on him after his sophomore year and not so high on him after his atrocious junior year". The Nets saw him as a player who can "run, catch and shoot" and any big man who can do that in the Nets' system "can fall into 8 points a game". Stefanski admitted that he had questioned Boone "harshly" about his "atrocious season" and Boone promised that if the Nets picked him, "he would go after every rebound". He has kept that promise, Stefanski said, while knocking wood. Boone, he said, is always around the basket and that his ability to just get his hands on the ball going for offensive rebounds "is a big help". Boone needs to get stronger, said Stefanski and strength and conditioning coach Rich Dalatri is pleased with his progress, even after his torn labrum caused him to miss all of the summer, preseason and the first month of the regular season.
On Hassan Adams:
"I'm a Hassan Adams guy", Stefanski said. "I don't know what his NBA position is. I don't even know if he has an NBA position, but he will knock your head off and I like guys like that." Stefanski added however that Adams makes a lot of rookie mistakes and "has to work real hard this summer on his offense" if he is going to get bigger minutes. "He needs a better shot".
On Mile Ilic:
Stefanski sounded the least optimistic discussing Ilic, calling him a "project" and worse, an "experiment". Critical to his success, said Stefanski, is what he can do in the summer league and preseason. He has made progress in getting stronger, he noted, but questioned whether he can "pick up the pace" of the game.
On Antoine Wright:
After being reminded that he hadn't discussed Wright, Stefanski noted that Wright had been hitting his shot a lot better in the last few games (and this was before the Sixer game).
On the NBA Draft:
Stefanski once again said the team was looking at "athletic big men" in the draft but could not discuss the prospects because league rules prohibit it, listing the various GM's who had been fined for doing so by the league in recent weeks. He said he had been in China looking at "an athletic big man" but wouldn't even mention Yi Jianlian by name.
Stefanski said he was not discouraged by the fact that the Nets have only one pick, a first rounder, this season, compared to three last season. He said if the team already is integrating several younger players into the system. However, he said that if the team "really wanted someone" in the second round, they could try to acquire a pick by buying one. He also revealed that the team "tried like hell" to buy a second round pick in the 2005 draft, because they wanted to take Monta Ellis. The Nets had the 43rd pick in that draft, taking Ilic. The Warriors took the high-scoring guard with the 40th pick. Stefanski also said the draft is so deep that the Nets might able to find talent in those who are left undrafted.
The Nets' GM also disclosed why the Nets sold the rights to Kyle Korver to the Sixers on Draft Night 2003. "We didn't have a roster position" and that it had nothing to do with Korver's talent, just that the there was no room on the roster for him. "Obviously, we would like to have Kyle Korver right now."
Stefanski also said that he has used his overseas travels to scout free agents as well as draft prospects on foreign rosters. He said that the success Toronto has had with Jorge Garbajosa, Anthony Parker and Jose Calderon "did not surprise us" and that the Nets couldn't have signed Garbajosa or Parker because of financial reasons. The Nets did however look at a foreign big man before trading for Moore, he admitted, but declined to say who. (It is known that the Nets worked out Maceo Baston of Maccabi Tel Aviv last summer before he signed with the Pacers.)