So who are the players the Nets are reportedly looking at for the final roster spots this summer?
Robert Hite, who has already signed a partially guaranteed pact, Keith McLeod, Roger Mason and Anthony Roberson are the names most mentioned although there are reports Nets might want to take a chance on 39-year-old Darrell Armstrong if he decides he wants to leave Indiana. Similarly, the Nets supposedly are on James Posey's short list.
And of course, there is always Allan Houston, three years younger than Armstrong and working out daily.
One thing all of them have in common is that "all those guys think they're going to get more than the minimum" according to Rod Thorn, an indication that if that happens, it won't be with New Jersey. Other than Armstrong and Posey, who are unlikely to sign anywhere without a fully guaranteed deal, the rest are likely to get either non-guaranteed or partially guaranteed contracts. In a partially guaranteed deal, a small amount of money--usually in the low five figures--is paid upfront with the remainder guaranteed only if the player makes the team. There's nothing stopping the Nets from signing more than one as well, and letting them fight it out in training camp.
Of the four younger players, Hite would seem to have the inside track and in fact, he signed a partially guaranteed contract this week. The 6' 2" University of Miami product played well for the Nets in summer league, averaging 12 ppg on 46.7% shooting from downtown. Hite is the youngest of the group at 23 and may also be the strongest and most athletic as well, showing some ability to run the floor and finish with authority. The Heat dumped Hite after he was arrested for DUI on his way home from Dwyane Wade's 25th birthday party last year. Miami later regretted the move. The charges were dropped. Hite wasn't drunk. The breathalyzer was defective. .
McLeod's advantage is that he is the most experienced of the group. The 6' 2" Bowling Green product turns 28 in November and has started 88 NBA games. Although not the outside shooter the others are--his career average is a dismal 35.7% over 200 games, McLeod has experience running a team on the court and is almost certainly the best ball handler. Not polished but very quick and a player with a reputation as a very hard worker. Has played with Minnesota, Utah, Golden State and Indiana, where he finished up the season averaging 4.8 ppg and 1.9 apg last season. If the Nets want a backup point guard rather than an Eddie House replacement, McLeod offers more in that department than the others.
Mason fits one of Thorn's prerequisites. He is big. At 6' 5", Mason is the tallest of the four, with some bulk as well. Mason is a real combo guard. Other than foul-shooting, he does a number of things well enough. At the stripe, he is one of the league's top shooters. He has played with the Bulls, Raptors and Wizards. Last season, the 27-year-old saw limited action--less than 8 minutes per game--til Washington's injury woes game him a chance. In the playoffs, he made the most of his opportunity, averaging 6 ppg in 14 minutes and shooting well, both overall and from the arc. His best game came against the Nets at the end of February, when he scored 18 points off the bench, part of a three game stretch where he averaged 14 ppg. The Wiz are unlikely to resign him.
Roberson may be the most intriguing. Whippet-thin at 6' 2", he has been on the Nets' radar before. After playing under Billy Donovan at Florida, the 24-year-old Roberson opted for the draft in 2005. When he wasn't picked, the Nets called and invited him to the team's summer league camp. He accepted, but then switched gears and signed with the Grizzlies. He failed to make the Memphis roster and after a season in the D-League, got another tryout with the Warriors last fall. In seven preseason games, Roberson averaged 15.3 ppg on 56.0% shooting (42-for-75) overall; and 37.9% shooting (11-for-29) from downtown. Regular season brought reduced minutes in Golden State's crowded backcourt and by January, he was back in the D-League. Although Roberson played point for Donovan, feeding the likes of David Lee and former Net summer leaguers Matt Walsh and Christian Drejer, he is more of a shoot-first point guard.
Everyone knows what Armstrong can do...on and off the court. A great leader, a solid shooter, a presence in the locker room. But Armstrong wants a guaranteed contract and a place on a contender, neither of which is guaranteed with the Pacers. Larry Bird would like to trade him. "We're still talking about D.A. but if Darrell ain't going to be here we want to make sure we get him to the place he'd like to finish his career at," said Bird earlier this month. And Armstrong isn't so sure he wants to go back. "I've got to have a guaranteed contract just because of the way I play," he said. "Not only in games, but I also get after it in practice. I wouldn't mind coming back to Indiana. My issue is whether Jermaine O'Neal will be here. Will Jamaal Tinsley be here? I don't want to rebuild. I've rebuilt before."
The only non-guard who the Nets are reported to have interest in is Posey. Posey's agent has been quoted as saying the Nets have called about Posey and expressed some interest. At 6'7" and 220 pounds, Posey is a rugged defender who can fire away from deep, possessing a 35% career average from beyond the arc. He hit 117 three's last season for the Heat, five more than Boki Nachbar--whose minutes he no doubt would eat into. The 31-year-old had some problems with both Pat Riley and the law last season. Riley spoke publicly about his disappointment in Posey's conditioning and Posey had to agree to a plea bargain last week on reckless driving charges.