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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #2

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 data into larger stories and blogs.

Deconstructing Thorn

Rod ThornTrying to parse Rod Thorn’s 45-minute meeting with beat reporters was difficult enough for those there, let alone for those of us who weren’t. But we’ll give it a shot anyway.

We don’t believe Thorn intends to sit on the current roster. It makes no sense, not for someone as competitive as Thorn and not with more assets than he has had in a long, long time, in terms of draft picks, young talent, expiring contracts, cap space, trade exceptions plus the usual mid level and low level exceptions. He didn’t set the table just to display a happy meal.

As Thorn said, quite clearly, "We’ll look to obviously make some changes." He might be "comfortable" if the Nets return Richard Jefferson and Vince Carter, but Thorn isn’t about "comfort".

The poker-playing Thorn wasn’t about to dis anyone on his roster. He didn’t need to. He didn’t want to. He had already met with each of the Nets’ 14 players and told them what he thought four days before the media availability. What good would it have done to publicly diminish the trade value of anyone from Vince Carter to Mo Ager?

What he did talk about was team needs, particularly paint protection and deep shooting, even if Boki Nachbar stays, which looks less and less likely.

"We had a major problem on the defensive end of the court this year, not being able to guard the basket and not being able to keep wing players in front of us as well as you need to. That combination is tough. It’s tough to be very good defensively if you don’t do either of those and we did not do either of those."

"I think even with Boki we need one other guy who can make a jump shot because we struggled a lot of nights when teams zoned us or loaded up on the strong side," he noted.

One other telling point in the talk was that the Nets aren’t about to spend a lot of money this off-season.

"We have to do a better job at identifying the guys who are certainly more than minimum but they’re not huge outlays of money who can help us," he said, apparently without prompting. "We don’t want to be a luxury tax paying team unless we can sign somebody that you know is going to make a big significant difference. So what we have to do is identify around the edges some people that can come in and help us in spots that we need some help."

Although Thorn didn’t apologize like his coach did, the "we" he said needed to do "a better job identifying players" are named Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe.

What’s the bottom line? Here’s our guess.

The two weeks beginning with the draft on June 26 is critical to the franchise future and we wouldn’t be surprised to see a complete roster revamp.

The Nets’ draft strategy, at least under Thorn and Ed Stefanski, has in recent years been two fold: try to combine picks or offer money to get a higher pick and go for the best player available…with a bias towards size. (For a more thorough analysis, see Dumpy’s historical look at the Nets’ draft biases.)

Assuming the Nets don’t move up in the draft lottery on May 20, they will be left with #10 and #21 in the first round and #40 in the second. The Nets tried to move up in 2006 to take Hilton Armstrong or even Saer Sene. They thought they had a deal with the Sonics for #10, but Seattle turned them down. A year earlier, they tried to trade up in the second round to take Monta Ellis, but they couldn’t work that one out either and the Warriors took Ellis at #40.

Moving up is difficult. Once you’re in the lottery, it gets harder. Houston parlayed its three picks, at #13, #18 and #23 in 2001 to secure #7 from the Nets and take Eddie Griffin. That’s the most recent success we can think of, if you can call that outcome a success. So, truth be told, it’s not likely. Besides, Thorn noted that he thought the Nets could get some immediate help at #10, that a number of good players have been taken at #10. (He might have said "around #10" since the last seven years results have been mixed at #10, with only Andrew Bynum, Caron Butler and Joe Johnson being solid picks at that position.) He also called the draft "deep", an indication he thinks there is value to be had at #21 as well.

So what’s likely to be on the table when the Nets pick at #10? A raw, teenaged big man, much like Bynum…or Sean Williams: DeAndre Jordan of Texas A&M, Anthony Randolph of LSU, JaVale McGhee of Nevada, Marreese Speights of Florida, and Alexis Ajinca of France are all between 18 or 20, all hyper-athletic, all raw. Jordan probably has the most potential, McGhee and Speights the most developed skills, Ajinca, the most experience. It’s unlikely the most complete big men, Brook Lopez of Stanford and Kevin Love, will still be available. (Special obligatory note about an advantage Lopez has: his full name is Brooklyn Lopez.)

So our bet is the Nets take one of the kids. We also doubt the Nets will use all three picks. Three times in the past six years the Nets have taken a European player and stashed them overseas: Nenad Krstic in 2002, Christian Drejer in 2004 and Mile Ilic in 2005. Don’t be surprised if they do that again, even with the 21st pick. Think Ante Tomic, Nikola Pekovic or Victor Claver.

Does the choice of a "Sean Williams clone" mean Williams is superfluous, aka trade bait? Could be, depending on what happens four days later.

On July 1, lots of options open, literally and figuratively. Stromile Swift has a player option which he is not likely to act on. Nenad Krstic can start fielding offers from anyone…and by the way, that doesn’t necessarily mean just the NBA. He could get offers from a Euroleague. Whether those offers are real or not is another issue. And Keith Van Horn can be traded starting July 1. With an option that reportedly doesn’t come due til October, that gives the Nets four months to include him in a deal. Van Horn has the best kind of expiring contract: one that is large enough to make deals work (apparently $3.75 million after July 1) and with a buyout that can be paid by having the Nets provide "cash considerations" as a sweetener.

More intriguing is what Jermaine O’Neal and Elton Brand (and to a lesser degree, Shawn Marion) do. All can opt out of their contracts. O’Neal would be giving up two years and $44.3 million; Brand one year and $16.4 million; Marion one year and $17.2 million. Sounds crazy to give up that money, but Carter did exactly that last season. Also, O’Neal and Brand are coming off injury-plagued seasons. Will the prospect of a longer deal with less money in the first year appeal to a player newly attuned to job security? It might. That could change everything. Instead of being an arms-length transaction, a sign-and-trade arrangement is usually one-sided. The team awaiting the player’s signature has the advantage. The star player’s former team is looking to salvage what it can: cap space, draft choices and a young player or two. It’s what the Nets wanted and got in the Jason Kidd deal.

The Nets’ interest in Jermaine O’Neal is well-known. They talked with the Pacers about a trade last year…and that interest apparently never went away. The only other real suitor last summer, the Lakers, have found their big man (men). Dave D’Alessandro has reported the Nets don’t seem overly concerned about O’Neal’s knee(s). The Pacers on the other hand would like to get rid of him, at least the front office would.

You think Thorn might have been thinking wistfully about O’Neal when he said this last Monday: "I think we need to be more physical near the rim, challenge more than we have and just be a better presence." Remember, a healthy O’Neal was always a candidate for the All-Defensive Team. Even this year, when rehabbing a bad knee, he averaged 2.2 blocks per game.

If either O’Neal or Brand wants to switch teams, and the Nets are one of those teams they would want to play for, there are lot of ways to work out a deal, with or without Richard Jefferson but perhaps with Marcus Williams and/or Sean Williams. That’s all pure speculation, by the way.

On the Krstic front, the Nets are likely to be looking at a competing offer that same week. If another team is willing to offer him more than an MLE-sized deal, it can do what the Nuggets (Vandeweghe) did with Kenyon Martin: load up the offer sheet in such a way that the Nets won’t match it. But there are other issues here as well. How many years would a team offer the admittedly injury-prone Krstic? Those over the cap can only offer up to the MLE, around $6 million. Would any team over the cap be willing to offer him four or five years guaranteed? Last year, not a single NBA team gave a player an MLE contract with more than two years fully guaranteed. The Kings gave Mikki Moore two years fully guaranteed and a third year partially guaranteed. And is any team under the cap going to risk going over it to sign Krstic? The question of course is what is the Nets’ cut-off number for a match? $4 million, $5 million, $6 million and for how many years guaranteed? Three? Four? Five? It’s likely to be very confusing.

And if the Nets can’t get someone like O’Neal or Brand, won’t match an offer for Krstic, will they overpay for Desagana Diop? It’s hard to imagine them losing both Krstic and Diop and not coming up with another proven big man. Even with a top pick, that would be a disaster.

Lower paid free agents come into play as well. Names are being tossed around are names the Nets have been interested in previously: Mickael Pietrus, who could be the back up small forward if Nachbar departs; and Roger Mason, the combo guard who the Nets wooed last summer and who could provide defense and decent shooting. Both would fit into that salary range between vets minimum and MLE, with Pietrus much close to the top end of that scale.

And forget signing aging veterans this off-season. The Nets are going young. No more Jamaal Magloire, Marc Jackson, Robert "Tractor" Traylor, Jeff McInnis, Scott Padgett, Malik Allen, Lamond Murray, etc., etc. Combine Vandeweghe’s comments about finding "fallen angels"—young players who others have given up on—with Thorn’s comments about the league "getting younger" and the need to develop players better and you can see a strategy shift.

Like we said, that’s just our guess.

Emergency Room

Spare us the sight of VC on crutches. Too depressing. The Nets didn’t put a timeframe on Carter’s recovery and rehab other than to say he would be on crutches for "several weeks" and that he would be ready for training camp. His next public appearance at the Nets practice facility is set for August 4 – 8. That’s when his camp opens for Jersey area kids.

And Thorn did more than hint that the Devin Harris we saw after the trade wasn’t completely healthy, which is both good and bad. The good news is that the kid could be better than we think after some off-season r-and-r. The bad news is that Harris is just a bit injury-prone. Thorn said, "he had two ankle sprains" that hurt his lateral movement on defense. Two?

Kiki’s European Vocation

After scanning the rosters of the Euroleague Final Four, we found very few draft prospects for this year’s draft and those we did find are highly unlikely to see action on Europe’s biggest hoops stage. The only real possibility: Omri Casspi, the 6'8", 19-year-old combo forward from Maccabi Tel Aviv. So who’s Kiki looking at while in Madrid? There are a few free agents who could join the NBA next season. CSKA's Ramunas Siskauskas, a 6'6" swingman who can play little point, is probably the best overall player outside the NBA. He's 29 years old. His teammate, David Andersen is seven-foot Australian center who has said he wants to try the NBA next season. His rights are held by Atlanta who took him at #37 in the 2002 draft. Anyone wanting him would have to acquire those rights from the Hawks. Then there’s always Zoran Planinic, who plays for Tau Ceramica.

Kiki could take in the Euroleague Nike International Junior Tournament, also in Madrid that weekend. It features eight teams, all from countries rich in basketball tradition (Croatia, Israel, Lithuania, Serbia and Spain). The players are all under 18, meaning they're at least a year away from being eligible for the NBA Draft. Top prospects? Three big men Dejan Musli, a 7'1" Serb, Tomislav Zubcic, a 6'11" Croat, and Donatas Motiejunas, another 7-footer from Lithuania. Zubcic is 18 while Musli and Motiejunas are 17. Krstic was first scouted by Ed Stefanski at the same age in a similar tournament. No doubt, Rob Meurs, the Nets international scout, will have a full report ready.

NetsDaily Draft Sleeper of the Week

Why not? This week's sleeper is Keith Brumbaugh, the 6'10" swingman out of Hillsborough Community College in Florida. Brumbaugh was Mr. Basketball in Florida in 2005, the best player to come out of the Daytona Beach area since Carter. (Carter won the local newspaper's Volusia County Player of the Year twice; Brumbaugh won it three times.) Then, his career spiraled out of control, being arrested six times in 26 months. He finally got it together this season, playing his first ever college games, averaging 34.0 ppg for HCC and making the Junior College All-American team. He will be facing a tough time in Orlando at the NBA pre-draft camp. It'll be interesting.

A Final Thought

Net fans may not be enamored of Lawrence Frank, but Chris Bosh thinks he's a hell of a defensive coach. Talking about how Stan Van Gundy has made his life difficult in the Raptor-Magic series, Bosh said this to Toronto's National Post:

"Him and [New Jersey coach] Lawrence Frank," Bosh said of coaches that draw up good plans to guard him. "They're great defensive coaches. They have some good schemes on me."