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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #23

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.

Moscow Nights at the IZOD?

Imagine, if you will, a secret plan to make the Nets the single wealthiest team in the NBA, vaulting them from their current penury. Now add in the possibility that this secret plan was hatched in Moscow!

Sounds too good to be true, and we have to agree. Indeed, Mikhail Prokhorov has a net worth that’s been estimated at anywhere between $10 and $15 billion (with a "b"). That makes him considerably wealthier than Mark Cuban and maybe even wealthier than Paul Allen. But it’s a long way from hope to reality.

First, this is a Nets’ proposition he’s considering, not the other way around. His spokesman has said that, publicly, on Russian television and to the Moscow print media. The spokesman gave no hint either way on what he’s likely to do. In spite of what Andrei Kirilenko has said, this doesn't appear to be a done deal…at all.

Then, too, it all seems so convenient. Bruce Ratner gets his approval from the Empire State Development Corp. within hours of the Prokhorov leak out of Moscow. Arena financing has always been the long pole in Ratner’s tent, without which nothing gets built. ESDC approval has always been a given. The critics’ litigation has always been nothing more than a delaying tactic. Everyone knows that, including the critics. They’re hoping lightning will strike at the Court of Appeals, but the court doesn’t often overturn unanimous decisions from the court below. And the ESDC and Ratner won 4-0 at that level.

Now, magically, a 6’9" angel appears at Ratner’s doorstep. Rather than scramble for financing here, there and everywhere, Ratner would suddenly get $700 million in one fell swoop from a basketball-obsessed Russian with more cash on hand than God! Prayers answered! In return, the Russian gets controlling interest in the team (presumably that of Ratner and his parent, Forest City Ratner) for $1.00 American. Does that also mean that Prokhorov inherits the $200 million in debt the Nets owe to J.P. Morgan Chase, Galatioto Sports Partners, and the NBA itself? It sure sounds that way. Good deal for Forest City, which has eaten the Nets losses for years. FCE owns 23 percent of the team, which has endured about $380 million in pretax net losses over the past five years, a lot of it in debt service. FCE would get guaranteed financing for its biggest project without the headache of having to repay all that debt.

And what of Barclays Center, the big prize in all this? Nets insiders said Ratner wants to keep control of the arena and lease it to the team’s new owners at an annual rate multiple times what the Nets are currently paying the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority. That way, Ratner gets a guaranteed income from the Nets plus proifts from non-sporting events at Barclays Center—the circuses, the family shows and, of course, the concerts. It appears that way, at least as it’s been reported in most media, US and Russian. Prokhorov reportedly won’t share in the arena ownership, but instead will get only the tax-exempt interest from the ESDC bonds used to build it. (That’s tax-exempt from U.S. taxes, not from Russian or other taxes, we might note.)

We know at least one other suitor for the Nets, minority investor Vincent Viola, has told Ratner he isn’t interested in buying the team unless he also gets control of the arena. It’s a bad deal otherwise. As one Nets insider noted, it’s analogous to what happened when Ratner bought the team back in 2004 and signed a long term TV deal with the YES Network. The network is owned in part by the team’s former investors. The Nets, the insider suggested, wound up getting considerably less money from YES than it would have in a more open bidding.

There are other issues as well. Ratner told the New York Observer that he is willing to put any arena financing funds into escrow until the litigation is resolved. Is Prokhorov willing to go along with that—tying up 7% of his net worth for an indeterminate period of time? Some have even questioned whether it’s legal.

Finally, Prokhorov's blog (Think the Russian version of Mark Cuban's Blog Maverick) makes no mention of his interest in the Nets.

What do we anticipate? That this will be the first in a series of moves and counter moves among current and prospective owners. Bottom line, we don’t believe Prokhorov is likely to agree to this deal, at least the way it’s being reported. He ain’t stupid. Maybe he winds up with an interest, maybe not.

Of course, the Nets certainly would become a better team with a mega-rich owner, whether it’s Prokhorov or Viola. And the team already has an international flavor that would be enhanced by a Russian owner. Yi Jianlian and Eduardo Najera are among the most marketable NBA players overseas, Yi in China and Najera in Mexico. Both have become even bigger draws lately. A Russian owner would add to the idea that the Nets are the world’s team. (We also think that the NBA would forgive all manner of sins by Prokhorov in order to expand its ownership cadre internationally…and we find it difficult to believe that Ratner wouldn’t have checked with David Stern before talking to Prokhorov.)

Moreover, Prokhorov is familiar with a number of NBA players from Russia and elsewhere in the former Soviet Union so he has a ready list of NBA advisors. Kikilenko says he knows him well and check out these highlights of a charity game he played in last January. He's wearing #23 and the (really) big guy you see is Arvydas Sabonis.

In any event, ownership issues have to be resolved soon. As the Star-Ledger reports, Ratner wants to tie up all the loose ends of ownership by the end of September. That’s a week and a half. Expect a lot of news…not all of it good.

TWill the Thrill

We should also be urging caution on the other news of the week, Dave D’Alessandro reporting that Terrence Williams may be the Nets "best player", that the 22-year-old is "tearing up the gym". Problem is that we cannot and will not urge caution. It’s been that kind of an off-season. We'll go with the flow and throw caution to the wind.

We’ve been intrigued by TWill for a while. He is a rare breed of NBA player. Keyon Dooling said the same thing this week to D'Alessandro. Dooling isn't given to exaggeration. He is one of the smartest players on the Nets (and we suspect in the entire NBA). So what he said bears repeating.

"He's playing really well - a freak of nature athletically. In the moments I've watched, he's really unique. What you don't see from the great athletes is a high basketball IQ. But he has a nice floor game - a really nice floor game."

"He's very athletic," said Courtney Lee. "He's one of the guys who loves to pass the ball. He'll get it to you on time. Any scorer or any player who wants to be a threat loves to play a guy like that. Terrence definitely complements Devin (Harris), myself or any of the scorers on the team."

By "nice floor game", we believe Dooling is talking about his young teammate’s passing, ball-handling and leadership. Most of the highlights we’ve seen of his Louisville game focus on his incredible athleticism, producers taking delight in his dunking. One highlight reel we discovered recently is well worth a look. It’s lengthy and it shows him shooting, defending, driving and passing. It’s from Fandome.

What do we think his upside is? See the next paragraph.

As we’ve learned, the bond among Seattle players is strong. There’ve been stories of how Brandon Roy mentored the young TWill (now there’s the comparison we like!), how Nate Robinson helped him learn New York—including its traffic laws, and of pickup games with Jamal Crawford.

But the ties between TWill and the "other" Marcus Williams might be the closest. This Marcus Williams went to the University of Arizona, not Connecticut and was drafted by the Spurs, not the Nets. A bench warmer in San Antonio, MWill has worked hard to get to the NBA.

48 Minutes of Hell, the Spurs fansite, gives a little background on a close friendship between the two Williamses.

When the Spurs and Nets get together and Marcus Williams and Nets rookie Terrence Williams share a tighter than usual embrace, it’s not because they’re actually brothers. But the Williams’ did grow up together in the Seattle area, and Terrence actually moved in with Marcus’ family at one point. Because of that Marcus considers Terrence like a little brother. It’s kind of funny that when the two players hooked up in college during the 2006-07 season, Marcus was a star and Terrence was unheralded considering the fact that Marcus ended up being a second-round pick while Terrence went in the lotto.

Yi and Eddie

Yi will NOT be playing in the All-China Games the night of October 28, when the Nets will be playing the Timberwolves in Minnesota. Rod Thorn wants you to know that.

We weren't surprised in spite of the hype. When Yi signed with the Bucks in 2007, Milwaukee agreed to let him play in the Games…but the side deal was only between the Bucks and his old team, the Guangdong Southern Tigers. The agreement was only binding on the Bucks however and when they traded him to the Nets, the deal was no longer in force. Even the Chinese Basketball Association knew that, as we reported two weeks ago.

Moreover, a poll by one of China's biggest websites showed nearly half the fans thought Yi should stay in New Jersey, with only 24% believing he owed it to Guangdong to return for the Games. The site, Netease, suggested most of those who wanted him to return are from southern China and loyal fans of Guangdong. The rest believed the Nets had the right to force him to stay in New Jersey (20%) while the remainder (8%) don't care what he does.

The Nets, of course, told Najera he couldn’t play in the FIBA Americas Cup last month. The Nets didn’t want a recurrence of his sports hernia which has been slow to heal.

That hasn’t stopped Najera from planning for next summer and the Pan Am Games, the regional Olympics. They’re being played in Guadalajara, Mexico. Asked this week when he is likely to don the red and green of Team Mexico next, Najera responded: "It is likely that the next Pan American Games in Guadalajara, very likely."

National loyalty is a big deal for these guys.

Gilbert and Eddie

If you’re still kept up at night by the Nets’ decision to take Brandon Armstrong over Gilbert Arenas in the 2001 Draft, here’s an historical footnote to add to your agita. Arenas actually believed the Nets were going to take him at #23 that night and that he and Richard Jefferson would be reunited as teammates. They had played togehter at Arizona. Instead, the Nets took Armstrong and Arenas went eight places later, in the second round, to the Warriors.

Now here’s the juicy part. Arenas blamed Eddie Jordan, then the Nets assistant and later the Wizards head coach, for sabotaging him. It’s in a Q-and-A between Mike Prada of Bullets Forever, the Wizards’ fansite, and Mike Jones, the Washington Times beat writer:

Mike Prada: At one point, Gilbert mentioned that Eddie Jordan "didn't want him to be his leader," but at the same time, Gil himself shied away from being a leader in the past. How much truth do you think there is to the statement that Eddie didn't want Gil to lead?

Mike Jones: Gil said this went back to when he first got to Washington, but didn't want to further divulge, "because it's in the past". But, I've heard from multiple insiders that Eddie didn't want Gil in the first place, and that he wanted Kevin Ollie instead. I've been told that Gil was expecting to get drafted by New Jersey, but "an assistant" told them he wouldn't be a good fit for the offense, and Gil always believed that to be Eddie from what he heard. People close to Gil tell me that Gil quickly felt that Eddie didn't trust him, or appreciate him. So, whether it was real or imagined, he believed Eddie didn't want him leading his squad. This was before I was on the beat, so I don't know first-hand.

And all these years, we’ve been blaming Jerry West for recommending Armstrong to Thorn.

Final Note:

Okay, let’s say Prokhorov does buy the Nets. Does that mean, the team will change its name to the Brooklyn Nyets? And as one poster asks, would the cross river rivalry take on a decidely negative tone…you know…Nix vs. Nyets?

Our answer: We hope not...but then again, Brett Yormark is in charge of marketing.