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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #3

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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.

What's with this RJ-to-Toronto "idea"?

Dave D'Alessandro is usually not in the business of proposing trades. He's not Sam Smith. But he did so this weekend, suggesting that the Nets might be interested in sending Richard Jefferson to Toronto for Andrea Bargnani, Jorge Garbajosa and Joey Graham. He even talked to RJ about it. Beyond promising he would "kill" the Nets four times a year if they traded him inside the division, RJ did note that Raptor GM Bryan Colangelo has watched him since he played high school ball in Phoenix. HoopsWorld's Wendell Maxey also suggested Jefferson would be a good fit in Toronto. Hmm. Our suspicions grow.

So what's going on here? Is this a rumor or is Dave D just trying to fill his column with tasty tidbits for discussion on the nj.com board? The trade would essentially be a trade of a 27-year-old established NBA scorer for a 22-year-old prospect whose reputation is scarred because of unrealized high expectations. Garbajosa is coming off a serious ankle injury and has to be considered a big risk. Graham, taken with a pick acquired from the Nets in the Vince Carter deal, is as much a bust as Antoine Wright, taken just before him. Both are expiring contracts.

Bargnani is certainly interesting and he certainly would qualify under Kiki Vandeweghe's definition of "fallen angel", a young player with potential who has fallen out of favor. Dave D even suggested Kiki might be a good mentor for Bargnani! But the Nets would have to believe the Italian League star is the next Dirk Nowitzki. Of course, it would also add to the Nets' cap space down the road in case you-know-who entertained the notion of playing in you-know-where on a team partially owned by his best friend. It would make the team younger...and send a not-so-subtle message to Nenad Krstic. It already may have...

Throw in the Raptors' first round pick in 2009 and we'd consider it.

Barclays Center FAQ

The big news this week, of course, had nothing to do with draft picks or free agency or Jason Kidd's failing in Dallas. Instead, it had to do with where the Nets will be playing their home games once they leave the IZOD Center. There were rumors of talks between those supporting a move to Newark and Bruce Ratner, the Nets' owner. Ratner quickly squelched those and revved up his public relations machine to insist there is no change in plans...it's Brooklyn or bust.

So in the interest of trying to establish where things stand, we've put together some Frequently Asked Questions.

Q. Where do things stand?

A. On the ground, workers continue to demolish properties Bruce Ratner owns or controls, leaving those the State would have to buy. At the same time, prep work is underway for the movement of LIRR rail yards. The yards have to be moved east first. Then, a platform has to be built atop the old yards. Preliminary work, like building supports, has begun. Ratner owns or controls 85% of the property he needs for the entire project. He is still trying to buy out others even while the critics’ lawsuits are underway. But until the state gets court approval to condemn properties, he won't be able to put steel in the sky on the arena.

In court, Ratner has yet to lose, but the critics keep filing suits and appeals. Right now, they are pressing ahead on two key appeals, one to the New York State Court of Appeals on the project’s environmental review procedure and one to the US Supreme Court on the use of eminent domain (condemnation) for the benefit of a private landowner. Neither is seen by legal scholars as having much of a chance. Both should be decided by mid-summer, but if the US Supreme Court agrees to a full hearing on the critics’ case, a decision wouldn’t be handed down til early next year and even the prospect of a loss in the highest court would chill investment in the overall project.

In bank offices, Ratner needs financing, but mostly for the non-arena pieces of the project whose ultimate cost will probably exceed $6 billion. The arena will benefit from a lot of sweetheart arrangements that help Ratner, which is not untypical. The Prudential Center was the beneficiary of an even better deal from the City of Newark. Critics charge that the public benefits to be derived from the overall project, like the thousands of affordable and low-rent apartments, are being delayed and may even be cancelled, leaving giant holes in the ground. Ratner denies that vigorously and says the whole project with its 50+ story "Miss Brooklyn" office tower, its 6,000+ apartments, signature hotel, and arena will all get done by 2018. His investment banker, Goldman Sachs, says they expect a financing package will get done by the third quarter and Ratner has just received commitments, mainly from European banks, for $1.3 billion worth of construction elsewhere.

In City Hall and the State House, Ratner retains the support of key players, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor David Paterson, as well as the Republican leader of the State Senate and the Democratic leader of the State Assembly. Bloomberg believes projects like Atlantic Yards, with its potential for making Brooklyn a new downtown, are necessary if New York is going to compete with other world financial centers. Paterson said this week he expects the Nets will move to Brooklyn. The Nets will need all the support they can get. They are going back to the state and city for more subsidies, maybe as much as $100+ million, according to the CEO of Forest City.

On the basketball court, Ratner is still saying the team will arrive in Brooklyn during 2010-2011 season, but that is a very tight schedule..and probably unlikely Assuming he does break ground on the arena this summer as planned, it would take more than two years to complete the arena, barring more delays. The Nets lease on the IZOD Center is already extended through 2012 and it’s unlikely the NJSEA will kick them out.

Q. What about Newark?

A. On its face, the Prudential Center looks like a good deal, but the problem is that
the Nets would have to share revenues with the Devils’ ownership. That isn’t going to erase the Nets’ $40 million annual loss. Yes, the Nets could be "partnered" with the Devils ownership and other New Jersey financiers, but that would no doubt require complicated financing arrangements since the Nets already have by far the highest debt-to-value ratio in the NBA and perhaps all of professional sports. This is not a good time for complicated financial arrangements.

Forest City Enterprises, Ratner’s parent company, has been eating most of the team’s losses and said again last month they would do the same for this year. They’d want some of that back in any sale. Still, Brett Yormark, the Nets’ CEO, said that the team's other investors are on board for Brooklyn and a "capital call, a request for more money to staunch losses, will be "fully funded", meaning the other investors are prepared to kick in new money as well. Why? Because the Brooklyn arena promises to be a big money maker. The most successful sports franchises own their own arenas. Look at Madison Square Garden and the Knicks. The Nets won’t own the arena outright, but will on completion sell it to the state for $1.00 and then get it back under a long term lease, lease payments being based on arena revenue. It’s a sweet deal.

As for a temporary move from the worst venue in the NBA (IZOD) to the newest arena in the NHL (Prudential), the Nets didn't want to do it in the past. Now with rumors of a move hurting their Brooklyn plans, there's NO WAY they would do it. And again, there are financial reasons. During the final years of their lease at the IZOD, the Nets agreed to pay the NJSEA a penalty if they moved from the IZOD to any location other one in Brooklyn or Queens (??). This year that penalty is $12 million. It declines every year until the end of the lease in 2012. In addition, the Nets have invested millions in upgrading the IZOD Center, installing things like the two LED Zippers, new courtside luxury boxes, new clubrooms for high rollers and corporations. All that would be wasted.

And note this: it is in the interest of Devils owner Jeff Vanderbeek to denigrate the Brooklyn arena. If it is completed, it is likely to be the most iconic sports arena in the country. It would be the same distance from Manhattan as the Prudential Center. The Garden, the IZOD Center, Barclays Center and the Prudential Center would all be competing for the same sports and entertainment dollars. If he could get the Nets to move to the Prudential Center, he would be killing off two of those competing venues: Barclays Center and the IZOD Center. Without the Nets one wouldn’t exist and the other wouldn’t have single sports tenant, making it much more likely to be torn down. Moreover, keep in the back of your mind the possibility that the ownership of the Islanders might want to move west to Brooklyn—it’s been discussed-- if they can’t get Nassau County to go along with their real estate project, not a good thing for the Devils.

Q. What could be the worst case scenario?

A. Ratner gives up and sells the team to the highest bidder…no matter where they’re located. If either of the key court decisions go against him or if the economy really goes in the tank and Forest City wants to stop throwing good money after bad, he could be forced to sell. Some might say, Great! But there is no guarantee the highest bidder would come from New York or New Jersey. A lot of cities would like to have an NBA team. As John Brennan in the Record noted recently, "Cities such as Las Vegas, Kansas City and Anaheim would be interested in the Nets". He also argued the NBA could be "loath to lose one of its two New York-area franchises to a smaller market." Yet, the league keeps approving the movement of teams to smaller markets, the Sonics’ move from thriving Seattle to Oklahoma City being the latest example. In that case, the move was predicated on Seattle’s decision not to help build a new arena.

Q. What’s next?

A. Ratner is on a public relations push. The Daily News op-ed was just the first wave. In the next few weeks to months, expect the following:

--The Nets will open a new Barclays Center showroom in Ratner’s New York Times building with a big splash. The showroom will offer corporate clients a chance to design their own luxury suites with Frank Gehry, the arena’s architect.

--At the same time, the Nets can be expected to announce a roster of international sponsors to go along with the Barclays Bank. Yormark is just back from Europe and says he has commitments. He will again say he is selling the arena as an iconic destination, not just a sports venue, in part to distinguish it from the Prudential Center.

--Ratner will unveil a new design for the Atlantic Yards. He has said Gehry is working on a new master plan. Expect it to be a bit more modest, but nowhere near enough to satisify the critics.

On the other side, the critics will continue to file lawsuits and appeals, but they know the big cases are already in the pipeline.

--The State Court of Appeals case will be heard in July. The Supreme Court not long after that will decide whether to grant "cert" on the appeal of the eminent domain suit, meaning it will either certify the case for a full hearing or let the lower court ruling, which was a unanimous ruling against the critics, stand.

Q. Any one source where this is discussed objectively? It’s pretty confusing.

A. The best stuff lately has been by John Brennan in the Record. He seems unaffected by the Ratner PR machine or Jersey-centric ethic.

Q. What’s the bottom line?

A. By training camp, a lot of the uncertainty should be past. Financing will or will not be set. Court cases will likely to have come down. Shovels will be in the ground or not.

Oh, that Rod!

Think this quote from Rod Thorn in the Sunday Star-Ledger is just a bit sarcastic?

"Oh, I don’t want to say he did us a favor,’’ Thorn said, referring to Jason Kidd. ‘‘You know me: I was very — on a lot of levels — very upset at the time. But yes, it’s worked out well. Dallas said it worked out great for them, didn’t they? I read where (Mark) Cuban said he’d do the deal 100 times out of 100. And it’s worked out fine for us. So everyone seems happy.’’

Except maybe Avery Johnson.

Speaking of Kidd, the Dallas papers can't get enough of the post-season post-mortem, with Randy Galloway of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and ESPN Radio writing a tongue-in-cheek column accepting some responsibility for the trade; Jeff Caplan of the same paper and Eddie Sefko of the Dallas Morning News handing out grades to all the players--of the four ex-Nets, Wright got the highest grades; columnist David Moore's describing the new coach's most important attribute of the Mavs' next coach: dealing with Kidd. Some things never change.

One place where Kidd is a non-person...virtual Brooklyn. The Atlantic Yards website has pages and pages of material on Ratner's plans for Brooklyn, what the Barclays Center will look like. Since February, all references and photographs of Kidd have been excised...in spite of Kidd's promotion of the arena and visits to Ratner-promoted events in Brooklyn. Now, the topper: architectural renderings of the Barclays Center have been scrubbed. The giant image of Kidd that floated on the scoreboard above mid-court is gone, replaced by...

NetsDaily Draft Sleeper of the Week

Victor Claver of Spain. The Nets have scouted him...more than once. He surprised a lot of people by putting his name on the early entry list and he could still remove it. A combo forward who is listed at 6'10" by FIBA, but 6'11" by ESPN, Claver is not currently part of the conversation assessing athletic 19-year-old big men and is projected as an early second rounder. In fact, Chad Ford of ESPN projects him at #40...where the Nets pick. Still, compare his numbers last summer in the FIBA U19 Tournament in Serbia with those of DeAndre Jordan and Donte Greene, both of whom are seen as potential lottery picks. Claver averaged 17.6/8.6/2.4 for Spain. Jordan averaged 5.3/2.7/0.0 and Greene 4.3/1.5/0.4 for Team USA.

Mocking the Mocks

Most of the mock drafts haven't been updated since the early entry deadline and we're all hopeful the ping pong balls fall just the right way. Still, they're always of interest, especially when your team has three picks, including one in the lottery. Jordan, the Texas A&M seven-footer is still the leading prospect. ESPN, ProBasketball News, About.com, and Draft Express all have him going to the Nets at #10. MSNBC says they'll go for Russell Westbrook of UCLA while College Hoops reports it's likely to be Anthony Russell of LSU. Both NBADraft.net and Draft Review project Nicholas Batum of France.

Other players the mocks have the Nets taking include Brandon Rush of Kansas, Ryan Anderson of Cal, Jason Thompson of Rider, Richard Hendricks of Alabama, Robin Lopez of Stanford, Chris Douglas-Roberts of Memphis, Donte Greene of Syracuse, Sonny Weems of Arkansas, Wayne Ellinton and Ty Lawson of North Carolina, Kosta Koufos of Ohio State and Omri Casspi of Israel who Kiki Vandeweghe would have watched in the Euroleague Final Four this weekend.

And yes, one more time, it's very early.

Final Note

No more excuses for Lawrence Frank. He's no longer the youngest coach in the NBA, a distinction he has held since taking over as head coach four plus years ago. Erik Spoelstra, who is the son of a former Nets executive, became Heat coach this week. He's 69 days younger than Nets coach.