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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #18

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.

Yi Watching

We've watched a lot of Yi Jianlian the last week and will watch the FIBA Asia Cup championship game 9 a.m. EDT Sunday. Yi will be matched up with the only NBA big man in the tournament, Iran's Hamed Ehadadi. Ehadadi, who plays (sparingly) for the Grizzlies, was the Olympics' leading rebounder and shot blocker and holds those same distinctions in the Asia Cup. We don't doubt Yi will score on Ehadadi who may be stronger but is nowhere near as mobile.

Our issue, after watching Yi match-up with former NBA journeyman Jackson Vroman of Lebanon (twice), is defense. Yi let Vroman, who last played for the Hornets, get inside on him multiple times in the two games China played against Lebanon. Vroman is a physically strong player, but he is hardly NBA-skilled. If the Nets are going to play a defensive-oriented game this season, Yi is going to have to step it up.

There's no doubt he's improved and some of his plays have been eye-opening. Near the end of the Lebanon game, he drove the lane and finished with a beautiful finger roll, then blocked a critical shot with his wrist. But as Lawrence Frank would say, it's still a process.

He lost the ball a few times underneath as well vs. Lebanon, but we attributed that to fatigue rather than a lack of strength. He has bulked up quite a bit but he's now played eight games in the last 10 days, 11 games in the last 19.

And Yi's commitment is not over. FIBA's Stankovic Basketball Continental Cup will be held from August 28 to 31 in the city of Kunshan. It's an exhibition series, but Chinese officials have said they expect Yi to play. The competition will be stronger there than in either the prelims vs Australia's NBL All-Stars or FIBA Asia.

The national teams from Angola, Australia, Turkey and host China will take part in the Cup, which was inaugurated in 2005 and played every year in China. The Turks will be represented by Hedo Turkoglu of the Raptors, Mehmet Okur of the Jazz and Ersan Ilyasova of the Bucks as well as Omer Asik, a top ranked European seven footer whose rights are held by the Bulls. Australia features Nathan Jawai of the Mavs. Andrew Bogut will not play for the Boomers, as the Aussie National Team is called.

Yi should then be returning to New Jersey sometime in early September.

What about Najera?

There's a lot of confusing information about whether Eduardo Najera will be playing for Mexico as early as Sunday night in Mexico City. Mexican press reports say Najera, who visited his hernia surgeon in Milwaukee on Wednesday, is back in the capital city and may play against the Argentine national team in an exhibition. This followed reports that he had to get permission from the Nets as well as a short term insurance policy that could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Najera certainly wants to play in the the FIBA Americas Cup which begins August 26 and runs through September 6. It's an important milestone for Mexican sports. If Mexico can finish in the top four, it will get an invite to the FIBA Worlds in Turkey next summer. It will be tough with Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico and Canada all fielding top teams but if Najera and the Pacers' Earl Watson play as planned, it's possible.

Grgurich Camp Assessments

The Nets sent three players—Chris Douglas-Roberts, Sean Williams and Terrence Williams to Tim Grgurich’s camp in Las Vegas earlier this month. Kiki Vandeweghe was there as well and gave him assessments to Ben Couch. They didn’t get a lot of attention, but we found them interesting.

We had CDR, who was very good, he showed once again that he really can score the basketball, and worked very hard. He’s really trying to expand his game, work on his ballhandling and outside shooting. You can see the work he’s put in over the summer.

Vandeweghe is a big fan of CDR’s. He was on Draft Night and has been since. He has confidence in his game and his work ethic. So while his response re: CDR was the shortest, that doesn’t mean much. The Nets have seen a lot of CDR. No introduction or reintroduction is needed.

Sean Williams showed great improvement over the last two years he was there – I go every year so I’ve seen him. Sean was one of the most athletic players there, and he showed his responsibility by being on time, by really focusing and by learning a lot. You could see Sean’s development through the week and he demonstrated his extreme athleticism. He was very, very impressive.

A reintroduction. We guess there’s a couple of ways of looking at this. On its face, the Nets seem happy with Swat’s work ethic and his general improvement. In fact, Vandeweghe’s praise was more effusive for Williams than for CDR. "He was very, very impressive". On the other hand, could the Nets be trying to inflate his trade value? We pretty much dismiss that and here’s why: Everything Williams did at the camp, he did in front reps from all 30 NBA teams. Whatever Vandeweghe said is not going to have as much impact as simple observation or, unfortunately, memory. Should we be hopeful? Been there, done that. We remain skeptical.

Terrence Williams, our No. 1 pick, was there also. He left a little early because he banged his knee (nothing serious), but for the time he was there, they played him at point guard, and he was outstanding. He showed the ability to run a basketball team, he was great on defense, he had a couple of great sequences. One of the best players there was J.R. Smith from Denver, who’s an outstanding offensive player, and (Terrence) played him very, very well, which is difficult for a rookie. I thought Terrence showed a lot of what he could become in the NBA. He handled the ball very well, he passed very well, he took very effective shots and he got to the basket. He’s a player the guys are really going to like to play with.

An introduction. Read closely the high praise Vandeweghe is ladling out: "outstanding"…"great on defense"…"great sequences"…"played him very very well", etc., etc., etc. The Nets are quite happy with their pick. More interesting to us has been the repeated discussion of using Twill at the point: He says he’s more comfortable there, Lawrence Frank has said it may wind up to be his natural NBA position and now Vandeweghe says he "outstanding" at the point, both on offense and defense. If he can indeed play the point at an NBA level, that would give the Nets four point guards, three of whom started a grand total of 163 games last season. Something’s got to give.

Community Roundup – Little Things Mean a Lot

The West Fresno Boys and Girls Club held a back-to-school night Wednesday at the club. Robin and Brook Lopez donated 50 backpacks filled with school supplies for children at the club.

On Tuesday, Devin Harris hosted his fourth annual basketball camp for approximately 350 underprivileged youth in the Milwaukee area. The camp will focus on fundamentals such as shooting, passing, dribbling, defense and rebounding as well as a daily educational element from Outlook University.

Eduardo Najera was joined Monday by Al Horford, Willie Green and Samuel Dalembert at the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders in Mexico City. The program uses the sport to create positive social change in education, health and awareness around the globe.

Great Mentioner Update

Although increasingly it looks like a fool’s errand, we’re still keeping track of possible free agents targets mentioned by those great mentioners, Dave, Fred, Al and Julian (plus a few we think might show up).

Glen "Big Baby" Davis, who a lot fans had hoped would join the Nets, signed with Boston. Joining him in Boston is Shelden Williams. Linas Kleiza signed with Olympiacos in Greece rather than deal with Denver and Joe Smith finally signed with the Hawks.

Still, here’s the list of the mentioned, with the prominent subtractions: Melvin Ely, Mikki Moore, Ime Udoka, and Rodney Carney

Kerber mentioned Moore again this week, and Rod Thorn said the Nets "might have interest" if and when they dump a contract. Also we went back over the beats’ blogs and were reminded that a couple of them suggested Carl Landry of the Rockets as a possible trade target…might be had for a pick, one suggested. No further mention although Houston is over the luxury tax and its two biggest ticket items, Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady, are going to spent all or most of the season in street clothes.

We’ve given up making suggestions on big men, but we’ve begun to think rather than go for another big, the Nets might be interested in some of shooters out there, like Flip Murray. If (we keep using that word) Yi is what he appears to be, and Battie can fill as well as he did in Orlando, the Nets might not need another big man. In fact, they may have too many.

And there’s always Gerald Green.

Call Us Crazy, but…

In spite of all that mentioning, there is increasingly little chance of a major (or maybe even a minor) deal going down this off-season and for the first time since he was named GM nine years ago, Rod Thorn is unlikely to use any of the team’s mid-level exception.

Still, we update just what the Nets have in terms of assets as the days dwindle down. You could also save it til the February trade deadline. We’ve gotten a few new details since the last time we did this a few weeks back.

Expiring Contracts:

The Nets have as many as nine contracts that can be considered expiring:

Bobby Simmons - $11.24 million (includes a trade bonus following last year’s trade)

Tony Battie - $6.61 million (includes a trade bonus following this year’s trade)

Rafer Alston - $5.25 million

Trenton Hassell - $4.35 million

Keyon Dooling - $3.63 million (plus $500K guarantee in 2010-11)

Jarvis Hayes - $2.06 million

Josh Boone - $2.06 million (with qualifying offer of $2.99 million in 2010-11, which can be renounced by June 30.)

Sean Williams - $1.63 million (with team option of $2.05 million in 2010-11 if not exercised by October 31)

Chris Douglas-Roberts - $736,420 (with team option of $854,389 for 2010-11 if not exercised by June 30)

Eduardo Najera reportedly has a team option of $2.5 million in 2010-11 and $2.25 million in 2011-12, a savings of $1 million, if exercised by June 30. Those guarantees like Dooling’s $500,000 guarantee would remain on the cap.

It’s highly doubtful that the Nets would give up some of those contracts unless forced to. In particular, the Hayes and Douglas-Roberts contracts are bargains for the Nets.

The problem, of course, is that the team sending out an expiring must be willing to take on a contract that is NOT expiring in return. Would the Nets want to do that considering their cap-and cash-hoarding mandates? Doubtful.

Draft Picks:

The Nets have four first round picks the next two years and two second round picks. No team has more first round picks in the next two years than the Nets...and both of the Nets' picks next year are unprotected, their own and the Mavs'. Minnesota, it's been reported, have three picks next year, but all three carry some protection and they owe their own 2010 pick to the Clippers.

Trade Exceptions:

$1,225,200 (Ryan Anderson) expires on June 25, 2010.
$3,763,525 (Vince Carter) expires on June 25, 2010.

The trade exception from the Marcus Williams deal, valued at $1.262 million, was used to facilitate the Carter trade. It would have expired on July 22 anyway. The Nets' record on trade exceptions is mixed. They have used most of the exceptions they’ve acquired in the Thorn era. Among the players they acquired using their trade exceptions were: Cliff Robinson, Marc Jackson, Elden Campbell and Keyon Dooling. (The Nets had planned to use a TE on Shareef Abdur-Rahim as well but once that deal fell through, they used it to acquire Jackson).

Mid-Level Exception:

The Nets still have all their $5.585 million MLE. The Nets have used at least part of the exception every year in the Thorn era. Players signed with the MLE, either full or partial, include: Aaron Williams, Todd MacCulloch, Alonzo Mourning, Rodney Rogers, Eric Williams, Jeff McInnis, Eddie House, Mile Ilic, Jamaal Magloire, Eduardo Najera and Chris Douglas Roberts. (CDR’s contract had to involve MLE money because it was a three year deal for a second round draft pick).

Lower-Level Exception:

The Nets do not have a lower level exception. It can only be used every two years and the Nets used it last year to sign Jarvis Hayes.

Luxury Tax Space:

The Nets are reportedly $17,000 under the cap and $12.22 million under the luxury tax. Next season, the Nets are committed to pay out $22.49 million to six players. Those numbers assume they exercise their options on Yi, Lopez, Lee and CDR, but don’t exercise options on Boone and Sean Williams plus pay out $3 million in guarantees, rather than full salaries, to Najera and Dooling. That payroll could be reduced by another $845,000 if the Nets decline to exercise an option on CDR, highly unlikely.

With a projected salary cap of between $50.4 million to $53.6 million in 2010-11, the Nets could have between $27.9 million and $31.1 million. (Of course, the Nets will also have to pay out salaries to two or three rookies, with salaries yet to be determined. The higher the picks in the first round, the higher the salary. If, for example, the Nets wound up with the #5 pick next June, the pick would earn a first year salary of around $3 million. A second pick at #20 would cost another $1.2 million or so. Both those numbers would have to subtracted from the salary cap. The Nets may also have a high second round pick.)

Numbers Please

Courtney Lee is sad enough as it is so we weren't that surprised when he switched uniform numbers this week. Someone most have told him of the not so illustrious history of the number he originally chose for his Nets’ career?

He’ll be wearing #6 come October. Last worn by Stromile Swift and Travis Best, it was most famously Kenyon Martin's number. But when the Nets infamous reversible jersey ad came out mid-week, he was pictured wearing #33. Among the Nets who have worn that number in the past: Yinka Dare, Stephon Marbury and Alonzo Mourning…three of the most unpopular Nets ever. Smart move, C-Lee.

Of course, maybe #33 is secretly taken and Lee was merely deferring to a veteran. The last Net to wear that number was Mikki Moore. (No, we're just speculating.)

Speaking of uniform numbers, it appears only Tony Battie is without one now. Rafer Alston will wear #1, Terrence Williams #8 and Lee #6. Battie, as noted previously, has worn #4 most of his career, both in college and the pro’s, but the Nets retired that number when Wendell Ladner died tragically in a 1975 plane crash. Battie did wear #40 one year in Boston. That’s available. No Net has worn #40 since Ron Cavenell played five games with it in 1989.

Of course, if as HoopsWorld suggests Battie is a buyout candidate, there may be no need to assign him a uniform number right now.

Where in the World is Courtney Lee?

And speaking of Lee, what's he up to, other than calling Dwight Howard to complain about his life?

We haven't seen much, but we have seen reports that he has helped out at two Florida camps for kids, one last week sponsored by the Magic and one this weekend run by his former teammate Adonal Foyle. TWill writes on his Twitter page that he has been talking to him and we suspect so have some other Nets. Moreover, Frank communicates every day with all his players, texting, calling, emailing.

As for Howard, how would you feel if your supposed best friend repeatedly--online, in interviews, on television--told everyone how bad you feel about a bad turn in your life? We suspect not good. Lee is not a very demonstrative personality. He told Dante and Galante, the Magic broadcasters, in March that he doesn't have a Facebook account, a MySpace account and didn't even know what Twitter is!?! He referred to it as "Tweeter"! We agree with Bobby Simmons. It's not that big a deal.

Final Note

One of our favorite stats is the elusive "5x5"--a single game where a player puts five or more in the scorecard boxes marked points, rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Last Net to do it was Derrick Coleman in January 1993 when he had 21, 10, 7, 5 and 5.

We figure the current Net with the best shot at replicating those numbers is Terrence Williams. Three times last season with Louisville, he came close. On November 23, vs. South Alabama, he came closest with 12 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, 5 steals and a block. Two other times, he didn't record any blocks, but did get five or more in each of the other four categories. We wish him the best of luck.