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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #5

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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 stuff into larger stories and blogs.

Court Victory = Court Victories?

The long Atlantic Yards saga continued this week, and while it may seem that the Appellate Court ruling is just another step in the process, it isn’t. It is by far the most significant court victory Bruce Ratner and the Empire State Development Corp. have achieved.

It opens the way for the ESDC to close the deal with Ratner and begin the eminent domain proceedings, condemning the property that Ratner doesn’t control in the arena "footprint". How quickly is the issue. The corporation could very well move soon and let the critics try to stop them.

There is still one other legal challenge out there, but it’s even less likely to win favor at the appellate Courts. Moreover, Ratner’s people told the Post that they believe property condemnation--and construction--can proceed while that case continues. The critics disagree. Of course, critics can file more lawsuits, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a court would put a hold on eminent domain while those cases wind it way through the legal process. There’s also another issue. Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn, the project’s most aggressive opponent, is not exactly flush with cash and each loss hurts its fund-raising efforts. It put out a call for donations immediately after the Appellate Court ruling.

So what does this mean for the on-court product? Short term not much, but long term Forest City Enterprises, Ratner’s corporate parent, and Brett Yormark, have said the Nets would become a highly profitable NBA team if Atlantic Yards gets built. Why? A couple of reasons:

First off, the Nets’ ownership would control the Barclays Center. The team wouldn’t be a tenant of the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Agency, as it now at the IZOD Center. Nor would it be a tenant of the Devils, as would be the case if the Nets moved to the Prudential Center in Newark. Not only does that mean the team gets to keep all the parking and concessions, etc., during basketball games. It also means the ownership will wind up with profits generated by the more than 220 open dates on the arena calendar. Arenas don’t make their profits on sporting events. They make them on concerts and family shows. With all the mass transit available under the Barclays Center, it wouldn’t be that hard to fill. Any losses the team might sustain would be made up by the arena’s profits…not to mention the profits from the 16 apartment and office towers that would make the rest of Atlantic Yards. The same people have invested in all three.

The other reason of course is that the ownership expects to be able to sell more seats, more suites, more sponsorships in Brooklyn for Nets games. The ruling may also boost the stock of Forest City Enterprises, which has been battered by the economy. The stock didn’t move after the ruling on Friday but much of its recent downward spiral was due to its decision to offer more stock, which dilutes the holdings of the current stock holders. The prospect of Atlantic Yards, its biggest development priority, moving forward can’t hurt. It will be interesting to see what happens Monday.

Short term, it will be interesting to see what the Nets will do in free agency or with Vince Carter come July. The team’s short term prospects are not good (although not much worse than a number of teams in the NBA) and they aren’t likely to make big investments and might be tempted to do a salary dump with Carter.

One thing is for certain: a ruling against the project would have been a major blow and could very well have led to the team being sold. As with any enterprise trying to sell, ownership would have gone on a cost-cutting spree to make the asset more attractive. That would have made the summer of 2004 look like a party. There was a report in the Daily News last summer that Ratner had been approached to sell his "basketball operations"—not the interest in the arena or the larger Atlantic Yards project. He declined.

Another point we found interesting: what Ratner told Charles V. Bagli of the New York Times. While there’s been a lot of coverage of the Nets’ "downsizing" and "value engineering" the Barclays Center, Ratner said Friday that no final decision has been made on the design. "He said he would decide within 60 days whether to keep the original design, by the architect Frank Gehry, or use another," wrote Bagli. And no one is saying that Gehry is off the project.

Of course, the next big step in the arena process is raising the $500 million needed to built it, part of which will have to come from the pockets of the Nets’ ownership group, and part from lenders, perhaps even other investors. Goldman Sachs and Barclays Bank are the lead investment bankers and Net officials say they are confident they can raise the money needed, even in this economic environment.

We shall see.

Odds Making

While everyone is looking forward to the NBA Draft Lottery, and the remote possibility that the Nets could move into one of the top three places, there’s also a greater chance that the team could move back to #12.

The Nets’ chances for getting one of those top three picks is 2.9%, or about 34-1. It works out to .08% chance of getting #1, .09% chance of getting #2 and 1.2% of getting #3. But if any of the three teams in back of the Nets move up, the Nets would drop back. In fact, there’s a 6.3% chance.

The way the lottery works, we’ll know quickly how well the Nets have fared. (In fact, one team official will already know long before the call begins--the Nets’ rep who’s been sitting in Conference room 3A where the ping pong balls are spun. He will have given up his cell phone or blackberry on entering the room, so he can’t let anyone know and ruin the drama.)

The teams will be called in reverse order. So if a team now slated for the #12, #13, or #14 pick doesn’t show as the roll is called, that means they have moved up to the top three…and the Nets would automatically drop to #12. (There’s a remote chance that if two of the bottom three move up, the Nets could move back to #13 and if the three bottom three move into the top three, an infinitesimal chance the Nets could move back to #14.)

But if the Nets don’t show up at #11, that means they have moved into the top three. As the roll call reaches the top three, the process slows and the drama rises. Of course, once the #2 card is pulled from the envelope, we’ll know who will be suiting up Blake Griffin in October.

Looking Forward

With the NBA Draft Lottery in two days, we figured we would lay out the next few months’ schedule with between now and the opening of next season.

May 19 – NBA Draft Lottery, Secaucus, NJ (8 p.m. EDT)

May 27-31 – NBA Pre-Draft Camp, Chicago

June 6-8 – Reebok EuroCamp, Treviso, Italy

June 12-13 – Ten-Team Workout, Nets Training Facility, E. Rutherford, NJ

June 25 – NBA Draft, Madison Square Garden, New York, (7 p.m. EDT)

July 1 – Free Agent Negotiations Begin

July 6-10 – Orlando Summer League, Orlando, FL

July 8 – Free Agent Signings Begin

August 6-16 – FIBA Asia Championships, Tianjin, China

August – NBA Schedule Release

Draft Sleeper of the Week

When Chase Budinger comes to East Rutherford next month for the "mass workout", the locale will be familiar to him. Around this time last year, Budinger was thinking about entering the draft and made the rounds to guage his prospects. One of his stops was the Nets. At the time, Kiki Vandeweghe and Gregg Polinsky, then the Nets scouting director and now the director of player personnel, worked him out. Here’s what they had this to say about him:

"Budinger was more athletic than I thought. I watched Arizona five or six times this year, a couple times in person, and what he showed today was that he was a little bit more athletic. We ran a thing at the beginning where they had to make a move against no defense. We had the best dunking day I’ve ever seen and Budinger was one of the leaders. He can really jump, very quick, and his shot is different but it goes in."
--Vandeweghe

"Budinger’s a good athlete. He measured at almost 6’7 and can run the court. He does a good job of clearing himself to get the jump shot. I think depending on how you want to play, like an up and down style of play, he could be an effective NBA player."
--Gregg Polinsky

What has Budinger done to improve his status since last year? Mostly mature. The "coaching carousel" at Arizona didn’t help his prospects his freshman and sophomore seasons but last season, he proved he could step, playing small forward and point forward as well. He averaged 18 points along with 6.2 rebounds and 3.4 assists, shooting 40% from the arc. He also proved to be an iron man. In his final 15 games, Budinger missed only 19 minutes of action, playing five straight 40-minute games.

Right now, Budinger is all over the draft boards, with some putting him at the end of the lottery, others down in the 20’s.

Would Colangelo have hired Frank?

The Nets stuck with Lawrence Frank and the Raptors removed the interim label from Jay Triano’s title.

Considering what Raptor GM Bryan Colangelo said about Frank the day he hired Triano, one has to wonder if Colangelo would have hired Frank if the Nets had dumped him. In talking about taking chances on inexperienced coaches, here’s what Colangelo said:

"Do you think many people would have hired Lawrence Frank, who worked his way up from the video room, but he was hired (in New Jersey) and he's done a great job?" Colangelo said. "Coaches have to start somewhere. Whether it's Erik Spoelstra (in Miami) or Frank, who worked his way up, somebody had to believe in them."

Najera in Hot Water(s)

That would be the Mexican state of Aquascalientes or "Hot Waters" in Spanish. Eduardo Najera continues his traditional summertime routine of running basketball camps in his native land. Working with the Sports Institute of the central Mexican state, Najera will not only work with kids on basketball skills in clinics May 27-28. He’ll also speak out on a variety of social issues, from health awareness to programs that aim at preventing violence and addiction.

Najera is the namesake of Mexico’s national youth basketball league, which he has helped fund. He is the country’s lone representative in the NBA.

Google Trends

If you’re not familiar with Google Trends, give it a try. It tracks in graphic form, the frequency that internet users search whatever term you’re interested in and also gives you a summary of where, historically, those searches are coming from.

Try putting a few Nets-centric words into Google Trends and see what you get. Vince Carter is certainly a popular guy (except in certain quarters in Toronto). Where is he most popular? Not New Jersey or even the USA. Internet users in the Philippines are in love with Carter, it seems, from Google Trends. Devin Harris on the other hand is most popular in Wisconsin. Yi Jianlian? Do you have to ask? Well, yeah. Hong Kong is #1, but again the Philippines is #2! China is #7.

Final Note

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