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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #13

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.

So where do we go from here?

It would appear that the Nets are overloaded at a couple of positions, underwhelming at others, or both.

Vince Carter and Devin Harris are set at the two guard positions, but who are their backups? Right now, Carter’s back-ups are a player unlikely to be on Opening Night roster, Maurice Ager, and an untested if interesting rookie, Chris Douglas-Roberts. Marcus Williams remains on the roster if only because the team can’t find someone to take him off their hands. He could back up both positions for the Nets…or some other team.

Meanwhile, upfront there is a logjam, much of it created during the off-season. We wonder what’s the difference between small forward Bobby Simmons and small forward Jarvis Hayes, other than one has $20 million in salary commitments and the other $2 million. Neither can be expected to play shooting guard although both think they can play some power forward. Both can shoot spot-up jumpers from long range.

Then, it gets really confusing. The Nets have one legitimate center, Brook Lopez who while looking great in the summer league is still a (barely) 20-year-old rookie. Josh Boone played some center last year but 1) he is undersized and better suited at the power forward, and 2) he is on the block as well. The Nets do have a legitimate center, when healthy, in Nenad Krstic, but they apparently don’t want him back in spite of Rod Thorn’s insistence it’s not over til it’s over. Most likely, he’ll be gone in a sign and trade. The assumption must be that they don’t think he can return to his 17 and 7 past. How they can expect to get value for him, if they don’t think he has real value?

Yi Jianlian and Ryan Anderson seem legitimate prospects at power forward, but neither is rugged and may be better suited to small forward (see above). Is Eduardo Najera a three or a four in the Nets' scheme? Don’t know yet. Has he ever scored 20 points in a single game during his 11 years in the NBA? More on Najera later. No. Stromile Swift anyone? Don’t laugh.

Sean Williams has no position, as is becoming increasingly evident. He may have had the best single game of any Net in the summer league, shutting down Michael Beasley. But just like last year, he was inconsistent. Don’t be surprised if he is traded.

Did we miss anyone? Yes, Trenton Hassell.

The Nets say they are not done. That’s a good thing, because right now this team would be a cellar dweller in the East with no more than 30 wins. Just our opinion, but we’re not even sure the front office would disagree.

So what else can they do?

Marcus Camby? It’s been rumored and re-rumored and re-rumored again. Do you think he’d be happy here and produce at that Defensive Player of the Year level? And this morning, Fred Kerber says the Nets' interest has cooled.

Andres Nocioni? Sure, get him. He’d be terrific, but it to has been rumored for weeks. What’s the likelihood of a long rumored trade going down with Nocioni having four years left on his deal? Again, Kerber says not much.

Keyon Dooling? He will remind you he has three kids. He isn’t taking $2.3 million, what they have left on their MLE after signing Najera. The Nets could always work something with KVH’s contract or the trade exception because they do want him. The 2010 rule would hurt the Nets chances with him. (More on that later).

J.R. Smith? The Nuggets say they will match what any other team offers him, so he would have to tell Denver he wants to come to New Jersey, the Nets would have to offer him better than $30 million and maybe a lot more over five and the Nuggets would have to go along with a sign-and-trade. Forget it.

A surprise? Bank on it.

Thinking Happy Thoughts

It’s only summer league, it’s only summer league, it’s only summer league, but damn, those guys looked good. The three draft choices and the Nets’ favorite summer league pick-up, Jaycee Carroll, all averaged double figures and each brought something to the table.

We expect the great Dumpy to give us his thoughts on the team…he was actually on hand with his NetsDaily press credentials. Here’s what we saw through the grainy video off

Brook Lopez needed to grab more rebounds and pick up fewer fouls…think about what his first few months in the league are going to be like with refs calling everything on him. Still, he is a legitimate 7’1", with great hands, good moves—with both hands and over both shoulders, and a nice shot out to 18-to-20 feet. Unlike most Net big men of recent vintage, he can hit some free throws too. And all this malarkey about his not being that athletic, based on his scores in the Orlando PreDraft camp? Take a look at those measurements again. His lane agility score was awful, true, but his vertical leap was the same as that supposed freak, DeAndre Jordan. And how agile do you need to be in the lane when you are as big as he is and have a 7’6" wingspan.

Ryan Anderson was another athletic surprise. Monster dunks in each of the last two games proved that. And Fred Kerber hinted Saturday that Anderson was "physically immature" which suggests he is still growing, still filling out. He looked like he learned to shoot three’s in a basement, considering how flat his trajectory is, but a lot of them go in and a lot of them are from very, very far away, shocking his defenders. That may change in the National Basketball Association. Of the three picks, the Nets deserve the most credit for Anderson. Lopez at #10? Close to a no-brainer. Douglas-Roberts at #40? A true no-brainer. Anderson at #21 was deemed a reach. Not so anymore.

Chris Douglas-Roberts is indeed unorthodox…high dribble, herky-jerky style, not super athletic. But he gets the job done. As John Calipari noted, Memphis won 104 games in three years with him starting. He is physically and mentally tough, not backing down from a challenge and never, ever hinting that he is anything other than supremely confident. We don’t think it’s a front either. He IS supremely confident, even arrogant, and he will need that come November because his unorthodox style will be challenged on the court.

Pacer coach Jim O’Brien said the Nets may have had the best draft in the NBA this year. They certainly had the best summer league team.

Which brings us to Jaycee and Julius.

Jaycee Carroll was a surprise addition. He was the leading deep shooter in the NCAA last year with a 49.8% average (Both CDR and Anderson also shot better than 40% from the college three last season). Yes, he is undersized. Yes, he is not a point guard. Yes, he is 25 years old. Yes, Mario Chalmers owned him, and yes, he will be challenged to get time in the Rocky Mountain Revue with Marcus Williams and new signee Richard Roby joining the roster in Utah next weekend. Still, the Nets moved aggressively after the draft to grab him, then started him in the first game. He showed he could shoot, showed he was willing to take some hits on his way to the hoop and in the final game, showed he liked taking the big shot, hitting a three to give the Nets the lead against Indiana. He’ll very likely be in preseason camp…unless of course he’s in Raptor camp. Between gigs on the Nets’ Orlando and Salt Lake City roster, he’s playing for the Raps in Las Vegas.

Julius Hodge was very disappointing. This is a guy who burned up not just the Australian NBL, but the D-League last season, averaging a combined 24/7/5. He never seemed to get untracked and in spite of his versatility, he never seemed to find a position where he was comfortable. We hope he gets more of an opportunity in Salt Lake City, but wonder if he might start thinking of other opportunities.

Ager was hurt. Let’s move on.

Marcus Slaughter looked tough and blocked a few shots. He’s likely, we think, to be in East Rutherford as well. Will Conroy, the speedy D-League point guard, too.

More Summer League Action

Iran was supposed to play in China’s Stankovic Cup in Huangzhou starting next Thursday morning, but now it appears they won’t make it. Read on to find out where they'll be. So now comes word that Serbia, which does not have an Olympic gig, will replace them. That sets up a Krstic-Yi match-up. The two are already scheduled to play against each other just before the Olympics in Nanjing. Yi and Krstic will also now be going up against Andrei Kirilenko in the Huangzhou tourney, which runs from Thursday through Saturday

The Nets’ rookies will be in action starting a week from Monday in the Rocky Mountain Revue. Marcus Williams is expected to join the team, as is Richard Roby, the half-brother of Kenyon Martin. Roby, a 6’6" shooting guard, was seen as an early second round pick before breaking his hand in the Orlando Pre-Draft Camp. The hand is healed and he is hopeful of wearing a Nets’ uniform like his brother did, come November. Swift currently wears Kmart’s old #6, but who knows if it will be freed up again by training camp.

New Jersey's first game in Salt Lake City will be against Golden State (Anthony Randolph) on July 21 at 12:15 p.m., followed by a game against Utah (Kosta Koufos) on July 22 at 5 p.m. The Nets will play their third and final game in the Revue against Dallas (Gerald Green) on July 24 at 2:30 p.m.

Speaking of the Revue, the Nets will be witnesses to some interesting diplomatic maneuverings in Salt Lake City. The Iranian National Basketball Team will be playing in Salt Lake, but not against the Nets. The FIBA Asian Champs will go up against the Jazz and Mavs on July 19 and July 21.

Iran’s basketball officialdom, backed by the country’s leadership, called David Stern’s office recently and asked if they could get a summer league gig on their way to Beijing. Stern called the State Department to ask what he should do. State said people-to-people (or in this case, player-to-player) exchanges are great…do it.

Our Iranian sources (yes, we have Iranian sources at NetsDaily) say the government approved the plan at the highest levels in spite of some resistance from hard-liners. And they note, other Iranian teams, including its Olympic ping-pong team, are also in the US for exhibition matches.

Najera en Espanol

Eduardo Najera is getting plenty of love as he departs Denver. Aaron J. Lopez of the Rocky Mountain News wrote this in his blog on Saturday:

As both a Mexican-American and an NBA beat writer, I'm disappointed to see Eduardo Najera fly east to New Jersey as a free agent.

Not only was he was one of the most accommodating players in the Nuggets locker room, but he embraced his status as the only Mexican-born player currently in the NBA. I know the Nuggets are over the luxury tax, but they could have justified retaining Najera by considering it a continued investment in public relations with the Hispanic community. Ever since former coach Dan Issel lashed out at a Hispanic fan back in 2001, the Nuggets have done a good job making amends. Acquiring Najera in 2005 was the ultimate apology.

Not only was Najera an ambassador in the community, but he was the true definition of a team player, something the Nuggets lack far too often.

Najera can be expected to have a big role in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area’s Hispanic community as well. According to the New York City Planning Commission, Mexicans are among the city’s fastest growing ethnic communities, with estimates of its size ranging between 200,000 and 300,000, including both documented and undocumented.

The newest Net (a description always subject to change) has his own foundation, the Eduardo Najera Foundation for Latino Achievement, which provides college scholarships for outstanding Latino students facing barriers to their educations.

Najera set it up in 2004 after receiving letters and emails from Mexican-American students seeking help.

"Many families without immigration status, or even families with a legal immigration status, would call me asking for help," Najera told Latino Leaders magazine last year, specifically citing one he received from a young boy. "His father would not allow him to go to college because he had to go to work to help sustain his household. He sent me his school report card, which had very, very high marks. At that particular moment--I had not started the foundation yet, thus I did not know how to help him--but I must say that, that letter touched me very much."
In addition to his own funds, Najera has solicited money from companies who have hired him to endorse their products in Mexico…and there is no shortage of them. Najera makes more than a million and a half dollars a year in endorsements, according to the Denver Post.

Najera, who was born in Chihuahua and went to high school in San Antonio, has had endorsements over the years with Gatorade, Adidas, Telcel, Wonder Bread, Corona Extra and Stanford Financial Group.

The Post also reported he had local endorsement deals with Qwest and First Bank of Colorado and is among a long list of celebrities available for bilingual speaking engagements through Brooks International. The demand for his time is so intense he turns down endorsements if it's not a good fit.

"Now I'm more and more able to choose the best one for my image," Najera told the Post. "Financially, it's been great. I've made a lot of money. I love it. There's more to it than just making the money. It's given me a chance to travel the world and meet different people from all over the world."

And when the Nets have their next press conference, expect a crowd similar to the one that showed up for Yi, except this time, there’ll be Spanish speakers rather than Chinese speakers dominating the audience.

(Special note to Brett Yormark: Sunset Park, Brooklyn, might be a good place to focus your marketing. NYC Planning Commission says it’s becoming the city’s newest Chinatown and the home of many new Mexican immigrants.)

Yi's Fast Turnaround

Chinese basketball officials REALLY wanted Yi back in China to practice with Yao Ming, now that the Rockets’ center is back on the court. Yi left China last Sunday for New Jersey, arriving Tuesday morning. On Wednesday, he had his press conference in East Rutherford and then on Thursday, he was back in China.

That’s 14,000 miles in three days.

Final Note

We will miss Boki…and to be quite frank, don’t understand the Nets’ resistance to keeping him. He gave it up on a regular basis, even playing through a bad back in hopes of getting the team into the playoffs.

We find the Nets’ policy of not signing players for more than two years a bit rigid…and some of us are skeptical that it’s all about Lebron. We suspect it’s about cutting back on salary commitments just in case Brooklyn falls through and the team is put up for sale. Whenever any business with poor growth prospects starts cutting back on long-term commitments, selling assets, investors believe that company is "in play", meaning up for sale.

We await the final roster, but right now, we remain unconvinced this strategy is going work, basketball-wise. As Ian O’Connor writes in the Record, the most frightening scenario for an NBA executive is clearing out money under the salary cap and then finding nobody worthwhile to take it.

"That happened to Chicago, after Michael Jordan," Thorn said. "They had significant cap room and they tried to give it to Tracy McGrady, and they tried to give it to (Kevin) Garnett at different times and it didn't work.

"That's the misnomer about having cap space … . If you have a team that's just not very good, to think that you are going to get a top quality free agent is kind of pie in the sky."

Our feelings exactly.