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.
One Weird Off-Season
We just have to say this has been one weird off-season, made all the weirder with this week's announcement that the producer of "Gotta Dance" wants to turn the story of the NetSational Dancers into a Broadway show. Considering that Dori Berinstein started out as a Broadway producer, who are we to say it won't happen?
Why is that weird?
Imagine it's next year. The Nets are making their way through another season at the dreary old IZOD and suddenly they get cool again! Les Chic Nets! "Gotta Dance" is on Broadway and Queen Latifah's "Just Wright", about a Nets trainer, (Latifah) falling in love with a Nets player (Common) is in theatres! Okay, you're not seeing it? We understand.
As we've said, it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. For those not familar with the work of Charles Dickens, that's the opening line of "A Tale of Two Cities". Appropriate.
September in the Gym
With Yi Jianlian’s decision to bag playing for Team China in the Stankovic Cup, it appears that most if not all the Nets will be working out together by Labor Day. Sanctioned practices can't take place before October 1, but players can work out either individually or in groups anytime over the summer.
The Nets got a lot of value from gathering at the practice facility last season, when the team featured seven new faces. This year, barring another player move, there will be four: Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston, Tony Battie and Terrence Williams.
Just like Vince Carter did last summer, Devin Harris made the calls this time. And just like Carter, Harris appears destined for the team’s captaincy.
So who’s made the most of the summer? Insiders tell us it’s Yi (nicknamed the "Muscle Devil" by the Chinese media after his summer of working out on the West Coast) and Chris Douglas-Roberts who worked out on Long Island with Jerry Powell, perhaps the toughest of the pro trainers.
Twill on Board
We were kind of amused by all the fan concern over Terrence Williams’ association with the Knicks’ Nate Robinson earlier in the week. Twill was a passenger in Robinson’s care when he was pulled over and subsequently arrested for driving with a suspended license.
The concern appears to be rooted in reports that Williams slipped in the draft because of "character" concerns. ESPN’s Chad Ford had reported before the draft that some "red flags" had arisen in Williams’ background check. He did note that there was "nothing criminal to report", but described the issues as "high maintenance" and "chemistry problems". After the draft, he said Twill had "the talent of a top five pick" but added "he's an eccentric kid whose personality scared some teams away."
So what were these "issues" we heard so much about? Jonathan Givony of Draft Express laid them out in an interview with Williams at the Draft Media Day back in June. Givony asked about one "character" issue and one "personality" issue. The first related to Williams having fathered two children, the second being his supreme self-confidence which some see as his arrogance. Givony said some GM’s didn’t like him comparing his game to Lebron James. (Indeed, one hoops writer has described Williams’ as having "Lebron-like" athleticism.) Williams addressed both in the interview and complimented Givony on his "good question".
More importantly, he noted that you won’t "see my fingerprints in any police database". That clearly wasn't the case either time the Nets took a risk and drafted someone named Williams. Both Marcus (computer theft) and Sean (marijuana possession) had had fulsome discussions with judges before being drafted…and of course, Sean may have another soon.
Terrrence Williams’ Rookie Chronicles latest video blog combined with another Draft Media Day interview on Sirius Radio convinced us that the Nets were considering Duke’s Gerald Henderson at #11. Williams told Sirius that he anticipated being taken by Charlotte and we’re told reliably that right up to the pick, Henderson thought he was going to be a Net. Still, a Nets’ insider tells us Kiki Vandeweghe fell in love with Williams early in the season, that he thought the 6’6" guard/forward's game would better translate in the NBA than in the college ranks. And every sees "star" potential. TWill loves the limelight.
Alston Getting Credit
We’ve noted this week that fans and pundits are giving Alston long overdue credit for his role with the Magic last year. Many, including Stan Van Gundy, have noted the similarity between "Skip to My Lou" and Jason "White Chocolate" Williams, signed Thursday by the Magic. It’s as if the Magic were saying we need to replace not just Alston as a player but as a personality and a style. In doing so, several have noted how critical Alston was to Orlando. Alston was acquired from the Rockets not long after Jameer Nelson went down with a torn labrum in his shoulder. In the six games between Nelson’s injury and Alston’s arrival, the Magic went 3-3. In the first 20 games with Alston at the controls, they went 16-4.
One thing a couple of writers have noted is that like Williams, Alston plays younger than than his 31 years, a good thing for the Nets, whether keep him or trade him this season. The Nets can package Alston and Battie in multi-player deals starting Tuesday, 60 days after the Carter trade.
New Sponsors and China's Team
In his interview with Ben Couch, Brett Yormark made a big point of noting that the team will roll out the names of ten new sponsors soon. Well, anyone who watched Yormark on CNBC last week knows a few of their names. An accompanying graphic that rolled during the interview noted that the team has signed several new sponsors and named them: LTJ Arthur, a French "homewear and beachwear" company; Zappos, an online retailer specializing in shoes; Hotelplanner.com, an online group travel planner that caters to businesses, and MetroPCS, a mobile phone company whose sponsorship deal was announced last spring. (If you don’t think those sponsors were happy to see their names on CNBC, think again.)
We also found some other interesting tidbits in Yormark’s interviews with CNBC’s Darren Rovell and the Nets’ Ben Couch. Yormark noted Yao Ming’s injury—and Yi’s rising profile in China—are likely to get the Nets on TV more in the world’s most populous nation. Last year, all but 20 Nets games were broadcast in China. That’s led to the Nets pushing to sign up more sponsors on the far side of the Pacific. We anticipate the Nets will soon announce at least one more Chinese sponsor to go along with Sina.com, the big internet service provider; Nike China; Peak, the sportswear retailer, and Haier, the appliance company who has committed to a Brooklyn sponsorship as well.
Indeed, Nets are taking full advantage of Yi’s popularity. Yormark spent 10 days in Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai, banging on the doors of 30 Chinese companies. Harris (who admitted before last year’s European trip that he had never been overseas) went to China twice this summer, once for Adidas, once for the NBA. Brook Lopez accompanied Harris on the Adidas trip. Even Jaclyn Sabol, the "Jac-o-all-Nets", judged a dance contest in Shanghai.
If Yi has as big a year as the Nets expect--and Vandeweghe has told team insiders "you won’t believe the improvement in Yi", the Nets could become China’s team and yes, Yi could become a starter in the All-Star game. (We're also fascinated by Net fans' criticism of Yi after his 11-point, 11-rebound game vs. Iran. It was as if what he did in the previous seven games didn't count. We didn't see anyone criticize the Nets for taking Terrence Williams because he had a miserable Final Four game--five points on 1-of-7 shooting vs. Michigan State.
Lawrence Frank is lucky he isn’t Team China’s coach. We’ve been scanning the Chinese headlines looking for Yi news (with the help of Google Translator) and instead have found a tidal wave of animosity toward Gou Shiqiang following China’s 18-point loss to Iran last weekend. The big complaint was that he hadn’t used Yi well, that he had him hang out on the perimeter and take jumpers, hoping to draw out Iran’s seven foot Hamed Ehadadi. Sound familiar?
More than 60 per cent of Chinese polled in a national survey blamed Guo and not Yi or any other Chinese player for the FIBA Asia Cup loss. (Sixty percent of 1.3 billion people is 780 million. That’s more than have ever criticized Frank.)
Here’s a sampling:
"Guo is the sinner behind the loss. He had no idea to make changes and made some big mistakes in the first half of the match," said sports.sina.com.
"It's Guo's first major tournament and it's a total loss for him," said sports.sohu.com. "He has so much to learn from the coaches of Asian opponents as well as coaches in the NBA."
"We have Asia's best players, Yi Jianlian and Wang Zhizhi in the center. But we never played as a unit in this tournament," said Titan, China’s leading sports newspaper. "This is the only team without any tactics in the sport's history."
Said Oriental Sports Daily. "If we continue to play this way, our men's basketball team will have no hope at all at the World Championships. It's just the start of a slump if basketball's governing body keeps its trust in Guo."
Guo, in true Frank style, placed the blame on himself. "It's not the fault of players or the coaching team. I'm the head coach and I take all the responsibility." (Who knew that what Frank has been doing the last couple of years is nothing more than jiantao, Maoist self-criticism?)
In any event, expect a big Chinese TV audience, if not a big crowd, for the Yi-Hadadi rematch at the IZOD Feb. 21…assuming Ehadadi even plays for the Grizz that night.
Great Mentioner Update
Althouugh we don't now why, 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).
No new names were posted on any of those blogs this week and none of the old names got subtracted.
So, in our boredom, we've identifid a few "fallen angels" out there, who might even sign for a non-guaranteed deal come September: Gerald Green, the 6'8" swingman who's failed with Boston, Houston and Dallas but did win the Slam Dunk Contest; Rashard McCants, the 6'4" Carolina ballhog, er...sharpshooter, who the Nets were interested in before the 2005 draft; Johan Petro, the French 7-footer who had the best game of his career against the Nets; Morris Almond, who would annually tear up the D-League after being sent down by the Jazz--and who may wind up in Knicks' camp; and finally Sash Pavlovic, who the Nets tried to trade for five years ago. They're all between the ages of 23 and 25.
With two foreign players, the Nets are about in the middle of NBA teams in terms of international representation. But if Eduardo Najera competes in the FIBA Americas Cup, the Nets will be in the front rank of teams whose players are competing overseas this summer. This summer is particularly busy as teams compete in regional FIBA tournaments, hoping to make the FIBA World Cup next year and the London Olympics in 2012. No fewer than 40 NBA players—about one in 10—will have played in a FIBA-sanctioned tournament by summer’s end. Another 46 players who could have played for national teams opted out. Two, the Mavs’ Dirk Nowitzki of Germany and Jose Juan Berea of Puerto Rico, were forced out. NBA teams are supposed to give their players the opportunity to play in FIBA tournaments, but can force a player to stay home if he is injured or recuperating from an injury—a highly subjective definition. (We still don’t know if the Nets have given their permission to Najera, who is recuperating from sports hernia surgery last March.)
We surveyed the rosters of FIBA tournaments in Europe, the Americas, Asia, Africa, and Oceania and broke down the number of NBA players who could have played this summer and how many actually did. Teams like Argentina that previously were able to rely on maximum participation by their NBA players couldn’t this summer. Meanwhile, second rank teams like the Dominican Republic that had limited NBA participation in the past suddenly became regional powers as top players joined their rosters. That could become a problem for Argentina in its attempt to qualify for the Worlds. The Americas Cup this summer is quite competive. Team USA isn't competing in Puerto Rico. It got a bye after winning the Olympic Gold Medal in Beijing.
Here’s a breakdown of who’s playing and who’s not by national team. It includes several cases where Americans have gained dual citizenship permitting them to don the uniform of another country.
Argentina (1/6) = Playing: Luis Scola, Houston Rockets. Not Playing: Manu Ginobili, San Antonio Spurs; Andres Nocioni, Sacramento Kings; Fabricio Oberto, Washington Wizards; Carlos Delfino, Milwaukee Bucks; Walter Herrmann.
Australia (1/3) = Playing: Nathan Jawai, Toronto Raptors; Not Playing: Andrew Bogut, Milwaukee Bucks; David Andersen, Houston Rockets.
Brazil (2/3) = Playing: Leandrinho Barbosa, Anderson Varejao. Not Playing: Nene.
Cameroon (0/1) = Not Playing: Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Milwaukee Bucks.
Canada (0/4) = Not Playing: Joel Anthony, Miami Heat; Samuel Dalembert, Philadelphia 76ers; Jamaal Magloire, Miami Heat; Steve Nash, Phoenix Suns.
China (2/3) = Playing: Yi Jianlian, New Jersey Nets; Sun Yue, Los Angeles Lakers. Not Playing: Yao Ming, Houston Rocktets.
Congo (0/2) = Dikembe Mutombo, Houston Rockets; Didier "DJ" Ilunga-Mbenga, Los Angeles Lakers.
Croatia (1/1) = Playing: Roko-Leni Ukic, Milwaukee Bucks.
Dominican Republic (3/3) = Playing: Charlie Villanueva, Detroit Pistons; Al Horford, Atlanta Hawks; Francisco Garcia, Sacramento Kings.
France (4/10) = Playing: Nicolas Batum, Portland Trail Blazers; Boris Diaw, Charlotte Bobcats; Ian Mahinmi, San Antonio Spurs; Tony Parker, San Antonio Spurs; Ronny Turiaf, Golden State Warriors. Not Playing: Alexis Ajinca, Charlotte Bobcats; Johan Petro, Oklahoma City Thunder; Mickael Pietrus, Orlando Magic; Yakhouba Diawara, Miami Heat; Rodrigue Beaubois, Dallas Mavericks.
Germany (0/2) = Not Playing: Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks; Chris Kaman, Los Angeles Clippers.
Georgia (1/1) = Playing: Zaza Pachulia, Atlanta Hawks.
Great Britain (0/3) = Not Playing: Luol Deng, Chicago Bulls; Kelenna Azubuike, Golden State Warriors; Ben Gordon, Detroit Pistons.
Greece (1/1) = Playing: Kosta Koufos, Utah Jazz.
Iran (1/1) = Playing: Hamed Ehadadi, Memphis Grizzlies.
Isreal (1/1) = Playing: Omri Casspi, Sacramento Kings.
Italy (2/3) = Playing: Andrea Bargnani, Toronto Raptors; Marco Belinelli, Golden State Warriors. Not-Playing: Danilo Gallinari, New York Knicks.
Latvia (1/1) = Playing: Andris Biedrins, Golden State Warriors.
Lithuania (0/2) = Not Playing: Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Cleveland Cavaliers; Darius Songaila, Minnesota Timberwolves.
Mexico (2/2) = Playing: Eduardo Najera, New Jersey Nets; Earl Watson, Indiana Pacers.
New Zealand (0/1) = Not Playing: Sean Marks, Phoenix Suns
Netherlands (1/2) = Playing: Francisco Elson, Milwaukee Bucks; Not Playing: Dan Gadzuric, Milwaukee Bucks.
Poland (1/1) = Playing: Marcin Gortat, Orlando Magic.
Puerto Rico (0/1) = Not Playing: Jose Juan Barea, Dallas Mavericks.
Russia (0/1) = Not Playing: Andrei Kirilenko, Utah Jazz.
Senegal (0/3) = Not Playing: DeSagana Diop, Charlotte Bobcats; Mouhammed "Saer" Sene, Oklahoma City Thunder; Cheikh Samb, Detroit Pistons.
Serbia (1/6) = Playing: Nenad Krstic, Oklahoma City Thunder. Not playing: Marko Jaric, Memphis Grizzlies; Darko Milicic, New York Knicks; Aleksandar Pavlovic, Cleveland Cavaliers; Vladimir Radmanovic, Charlotte Bobcats; Predrag "Peja" Stojakovic, New Orleans Hornets.
Slovenia (4/5) = Playing: Primoz Brezec, Philadelphia 76ers; Goran Dragic, Phoenix Suns; Beno Udrih, Sacramento Kings; Sasha Vujacic, Los Angeles Lakers. Not Playing: Radoslav "Rasho" Nesterovic, Toronto Raptors.
Spain (4/6) = Rudy Fernandez, Portland Trail Blazers; Pau Gasol, Los Angeles Lakers; Marc Gasol, Memphis Grizzlies; Ricky Rubio, Minnesota Timberwolves. Not Playing: Jose Manuel Calderon, Toronto Raptors; Sergio Rodriguez, Sacramento Kings.
Sweden (1/1) = Playing: Jonas Jerebko, Detroit Pistons.
Turkey (3/3) = Playing: Mehmet Okur, Utah Jazz, Hidayet "Hedo" Turkoglu, Toronto Raptors; Ersan Ilyasova, Milwaukee Bucks.
Ukraine (2/2) = Playing: Kyrylo Fesenko, Utah Jazz; Oleksy Pecherov, Minnesota Timberwolves.
Virgin Islands (0/1) = Not Playing: Raja Bell, Charlotte Bobcats.