clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Nets Off-Season Report #2

Things are picking up in Netsland. With Brooklyn now looking inevitable as the leading critic rides off into the sunset, his saddlebags loaded with cash, the transfer of ownership to Mikhail Prokhorov is finally, really, truly imminent.  We take a look at the lay of the land in Brooklyn, what to expect on the ground and in the front office as a result, examine what a summer without free agent signings might look like, recount TWill's season summary, identify the Nets' not-so-secret weapon, and suggest an alternate view of reality at the end of Bruce Ratner's tenure as Nets owner.

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.

Not with a bang, but with a whimper

In one fell swoop, over a 48-hour period, the biggest impediment to a change in team ownership disappeared. Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corp. made deals with all the remaining residents and businesses in the Atlantic Yards footprint, giving the state "vacant possession" of the arena property by May 7.

Under the teams of the agreement between Bruce Ratner and Mikhail Prokhorov, "vacant possession" of the arena site triggers a number of agreements.   The arena holding company, 55% by Ratner (and his investors) and 45% by Prokhorov, will lease the property from the state for 37 years and agree to make payments in lieu of taxes. The Nets will agree to stay in the arena for 37 years.  In addition, certain financial agreements among the parties take effect and vast amounts of money must be transferred. (The NBA has said all those financial arrangements have all been agreed to.)  Then, Prokhorov’s request for approval will be submitted to the NBA Board of Governors, who will vote on it either by email or conference call…we’ve seen both reported. 

Last week, Ratner began excavating the foundation for the billion dollar arena on the property the ESDC already controls.  Once Daniel Goldstein has left his condominium unit at 636 Pacific Street—and he has to leave no later than May 7, the building will be prepped for demolition and quickly torn down.  The building occupies southern half of the arena site and Goldstein’s unit sits at about where the Barclays Center scoreboard will be hung.

Why so quick?  The arena has a tight construction schedule.  According to filings made by Forest City Ratner in this week’s eviction hearings, Barclays Center must be completed by July 2012 to be accepted by the NBA for the 2012-13 season.  The reason: there’s a four-month "commissioning" of the arena that’s required of every new facility.  During that time, everything from security measures to concessions are checked out to ensure it’s ready.  After this shakedown, Barclays Center will no doubt be site for opening acts not associated with basketball.  Just as Giants/Jets Stadium will be formally opened by Bon Jovi, expect Barclays Center to be opened by a certain rapper who grew up in Brooklyn’s Marcy Homes.  As Jay-Z said at the ground breaking, if that’s not the case, "something’s wrong".

So the Nets have 26 months to get the job done.  That’s about what the arena architects projected—24 to 28 months--when they released the most recent, and presumably final, design drawings.  It should be noted that the Giants/Jets Stadium was completed four months early.  With so little other major construction in the metropolitan area, there were no delays associated with materials or labor shortages.  So what will the site look like come July when free agents might be visiting?  There won’t be steel-in-the-sky, but there will be a lot of activity.

Legal Loose Ends  

With the departure of Goldstein, what's the status of the various lawsuits left behind, many of which Goldstein's Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn helped move into the courts?

They constitute "legal loose ends", as a New York Law Journal reporter wrote, and are not likely to stall the project.  Even some of the critics--and even Goldstein's own lawyer thinks there is little hope. As part of his $3 million deal with Forest City Ratner, Goldstein has to withdraw from any legal action against Atlantic Yards and promise not to start any new litigation.

There are currently three appeals and one new lawsuit on the docket. The new lawsuit, which has a hearing scheduled for May 12, is the most affected by last week's agreements.  Three of the plaintiffs in that case, including Goldstein, made deals with Ratner and like Goldstein, they are expected to withdraw.  One is Freddy's Bar, who settled before Goldstein.  The other is the owner of two residential properties in the footprint, who settled the day before.  It's uncertain whether the fourth plaintiff will carry on.  Even before this week, the case was viewed as a longshot.

Goldstein’s attorney, Michael Rikon, says of the remaining legal cases,“They could be absolutely correct, but I don’t think they’ll prevail. That’s what happens when there’s a multitude of challenges... Judges just say, ‘This has been litigated so many times.’”

The Luckiest Man in the World?

Let’s hope so.  As David Stern said, there is a "fair chance" Mikhail Prokhorov will be sitting on the Draft Lottery dias in beautiful downtown Secaucus May 18.  We would expect the next round of "Mikky Fever", as Dave D’Alessandro calls it, right around then. 

Each team gets to have two reps at the draft…one is on the dias, but the other is the person closest to the action.  That rep is the one who goes into the room with the ping pong ball machine at NBA Studios to observe the process.  He or she cannot communicate with the outside world until after the order is announced to the TV audience.  In 2000, when the Nets won the lottery, coming from seven places back, then-owner Lewis Katz was sitting on the dias but minority partner Finn Wentworth was in the back room. 

Who’ll be in the back room this time?  Jay-Z?  Prokhorov’s No. 2, Dmitry Razumov? Rod Thorn?  We nominate Beyonce’.  If you’re planning to pull any hanky-panky with the ping-pongs, you’ll need a diversion.  One of the Nets’ beat writers will be in the room as well to report on what happened as the balls fell.  By the way should the Nets win the lottery, we want a ticket to the after-party.  If a guy can drop $18,000 for lunch at Nello’s in Manhattan, imagine the tab for a Draft Lottery Party!

Everyone by now knows the Nets’ chances…1 in 4.  But as Prokhorov told 60 Minutes’ Steve Kroft, "Luck is a part of any business.  Miracles happen."

Draft Sleeper of the Week

We are beginning to think Luke Babbitt is destined for the Nets.  Dave D suggested in his last mail bag that the front office may have some interest in the 6’9" Nevada forward. All the draftniks are slotting him between at the bottom of the first round in their mock drafts.  DraftExpress has him at #25, NBADraft at #26 and ESPN right at #27, where the Nets pick.

Some see him as a Troy Murphy clone, a good shooting, tough rebounding big, but one who’s also a bit slow and may be a tweener.  Still he shot better than 40% from downtown during his two seasons at Nevada and better than 90% from the line.  In case you haven’t noticed, the Nets finished next to last in three point shooting this season. 

Staying Home

Amar’e Stoudemire is talking to the Suns about a contract extension which can be signed any time between now and June 30.  Judging from comments by the Suns’ and Stoudemire’s camp, a deal looks probable. 

So what happens if all or most of the top-tier free agents decide to stay home?  It could happen.  Yes, Chris Bosh might bolt Toronto, but even that’s not certain.  LeBron James and Dywane Wade keep saying nice things about Cleveland and Miami, with Wade essentially telling Chicago fans this week, "Forget it". Beyond the "Big Three", Carlos Boozer and the Jazz are now sweet on each other again.  Joe Johnson, who doesn’t get a lot of endorsement money, would make $25 million less if he signed with a team other than Atlanta. How’s he going to make up that difference?  Memphis keeps saying it will match any offer for Rudy GayDavid Lee?  Top-tier, but by no means a max player.

What would that mean for the Nets?  Both Prokhorov and Thorn have said they see rebuilding as a two-year process.  Two years, of course, gets them to Brooklyn.  You know they had better be a championship contender by then…after all the pain, suffering and frustration the move has entailed. 

Overall, the Nets are in the best position to deal with stay-at-home free agency.  Why? They have flexibility.

--They have solid young players in Devin Harris, Brook Lopez, Terrence Williams and Courtney Lee. Plus there’s always Yi Jianlian.  Two of those young players, Harris and Lopez, man the most difficult positions to fill. Two other players, Chris Douglas-Roberts and Kris Humphries, could return as well.  Harris is 27. The rest are between 22 and 25 and all but Harris and Humphries are on rookie contracts.

--They have nine picks in the next three drafts.  If they score the overall #1 pick in the draft, they automatically get a "transformational" player in John Wall and don’t have to wait for free agency.  The off-season would already be a qualified success.

--They don’t have to spend all their money this summer. They can go into the 2010-11 season with a lot of cap space, giving them more flexibility in making trades right up to the deadline. Right now, the Nets have seven players under contract, if you include CDR and Humphries, making roughly $24 million.  Add two first-round picks and you’re close to $30 million for nine players.  Under the CBA, the minimum payroll is 75% of the salary cap.  So the Nets would need to add at least $12 million in contracts. What they might do if no prime free agents are available is offer one- or two-year deals to the next-level free agents…perhaps at higher salaries.  They won’t be alone.  The prospect of a new, tighter CBA in 2011-12 is going to push teams into tough negotiations.

--They can model themselves after the Blazers or Thunder and prioritize development of their young players. Other than Yi, Humphries and CDR, all the young Nets and this year’s first-round picks will be under contract through at least 2012-13.  That’s Harris, Lopez, Lee, Williams and whoever they take in the first round June 24. Neither of the Blazers nor Thunder have made big free agent acquisitions in their rebuilding. Instead, they've made some smart trades and lesser free agent signings to bolster their young rosters with veterans.

--And they have Prokhorov’s checkbook.  As noted before in this space, the NBA’s richest owner, Portland’s Paul Allen, has spent $15 million over the last six years buying  five first-round picks.  The Blazers wound up with Rudy Fernandez, Nicolas Batum, Sergio Rodriguez and a top-flight European point guard, Petteri Koponen, as a result of those transactions. Cash can be added as a sweetener to move up in the draft as well or in trades.  Prokhorov has as much money as Allen.

Compare that to the Knicks’ bet-the-franchise stratedy.  If they walk away from free agency on July 15 without a LeBron, DWade or even Bosh, what will they have to show for their slash and burn moves.  Who’s their point guard?  Who’s their center?  If they lose Lee, is a core of Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler and Toney Douglas going to cut it with their fans? How do you fill out that roster?  It won’t be through the draft.  They have no first round pick and two second round picks this year; a first round pick in 2011 that might have to be swapped with the Rockets but no second round pick; and only a second round pick guaranteed in 2012. 

According to a team official, the Knicks sold just over 2,200 new full-season tickets for 2010-11 in six weeks, mainly because of the prospect that LeBron will be wearing orange and blue come July. Last year, it took six months to sell that many.

Refunds anyone?

On a side note, there is one sleeper team out there in the free agent mix: the Mavericks.  Yes, they are over the salary cap and yes, they are going to pay a huge luxury tax.  But Mark Cuban and Donnie Nelson have a nice little time-bomb in Erick Dampier’s contract.  The contract, you see, is scheduled to pay Dampier $16.3 million next season, but, and here’s the genius part, it contains a team option.  Unlike most team options, which have to be exercised on June 30, Dampier’s has an exercise date of July 11.  So if a max player wants to play for Dallas, and that does have many positives, he can ask his agent to arrange a sign-and-trade for Dampier.  As long as his team agrees—and suitable other pieces can be swapped, the player can get very close to a max contract, and his old team gets cap space by waiving Dampier by July 11.  Sweet.

TWill Sums It For Us

We didn't give enough attention to Terrence Williams' end-of-season discussion on "Rookie Chronicles".  It's quite rich in insight and kind of sad in one respect...he writes about the losing go so bad that after games he would go home and play video games just to get a sense of winning.  There's other good stuff on how Bobby Simmons helped him through it, the team's spirited practices, tweets gone wrong, etc. 

In the end, though, we thought this summed things up pretty well:

"After this season of struggle, I found out that I can actually play basketball in this league. The average lifespan of an NBA player is 4 ½ years. That’s why making it to this league is a huge thing! But staying and playing well is a whole other story. In the last two months I proved that I can do both. By getting time and gaining my confidence in the NBA, I was actually able to show what I can do. Once you find out you can play in this league and gain confidence, it seems like the things that got you to the league are easier to showcase. I’m going to use my same game that got me here, as far as passing, scoring, rebounding and playing D. I’m just going to show it on a bigger stage."

Ruling the World through Rap

Brett Yormark often says he thinks the move to Brooklyn will enhance the Nets as a "global brand", noting the Nets have "a Russian owner", "a Chinese player" and a "British bank" as its biggest sponsor.  But beyond that, and maybe just as important, they have Jay-Z.

A simple Google search of the terms, "Jay-Z" and "New Jersey Nets", yields 128,000 hits. An image search of the same terms gets you another 119,000 hits. The connection is solid.  And a lot of those hits are coming from sites written in Dutch, German, and French.

Jay-Z is not just a "cultural icon" as he was described at the ground breaking.  He is an international icon.  His Blueprint 3 Tour takes him to Europe in June and July.  He’s scheduled to perform in England, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland and Scotland.  He is almost as popular in Europe as he is here and a visit to his website features the Barclays Center ground breaking. 

Final Note

This may not be a popular position, but hear us out.  As Bruce Ratner fades into the sunset, he is being hammered by fans, pundits, etc.  He is a "cheap-skate" and a "penny pincher", and was "in it for the real estate", none of which we can disagree with.  But let’s remember that the Nets had payrolls in the NBA’s top seven during the 2006-07 and 2007-08 seasons and he and Forest City have accumulated massive debt along the way. There’s plenty of blame to go around for what went wrong. As with a lot of unpopular figures, Ratner’s final legacy won’t be written soon.

The Nets will be moving into an iconic arena in New York City (yes, Brooklyn is part of New York, in spite of what the arena critics believe), one that will be the most expensive ever built anywhere.  That is not a bad thing.  He has sold the team to one of the world’s richest men, who will wipe out the team’s debt and spend money not just on players but on things that attract players.  And there is that Jay-Z thing.  That was Ratner, too.

We’re not saying he was a great owner, but what we are saying is that if fans are starting to see the shape of things to come, he deserves some respect, if not love, for writing the first draft of the future. Just something to consider.

In that same vein, we would like to leave you with some comments from veteran Brooklyn journalist Dennis Holt on the biggest tragedy, from his perspective, of the last six years.

"The approach followed by the project’s opponents was a take-no-prisoners one, winner take all. The opponents did not attempt to bargain with the developers on anything — number of buildings, where they will be located, building heights, the size of the open space, schools and other public amenities ... nothing...

"The lawsuit gambits failed, and there is no record of anyone suggesting a change in direction. It sounds playground-snotty, but the community gets what it deserves."