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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #5

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Last Sunday, there was a lot of anticipation--and some anxiety--about the team's impending sale.  By 12:30 Wednesday, done deal. The closing triggered a number of other events. For one, proceeds from the $511 million bond sale in December were finally released, moving Barclays Center ahead. Maybe the biggest thing triggered  was the long-delayed realization among NBA pundits that Mikhail Prokhorov and Brooklyn are for real. By Friday, Avery Johnson, Mike Wilbon, Marc Stein and Jay Bayless were all suggesting LeBron James could be headed to New Jersey...and Brooklyn.

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.

Prokhorov's Perfect New York Pitch

Mikhail Prokhorov grew up in Moscow.  Big city, sure, but as anyone knows who visited there during the Soviet era (we did on several occasions), it wasn't New York.  And yet, Prokhorov seems to be made for New York.  Never was that clearer than the morning after the NBA Board of Governors approval of his bid to take over the Nets.  Rather than posting a statement of thanks on his personal blog, how about a video of him doing wheelies on his jet ski off the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, barely mentioning that bureaucratic business 10,000 miles away.  It was so cool, so full of studied disdain for convention and yes, so New York. It's been evident before, of course, but we now have mounting evidence of its richness.  (Our favorite example was his riposte to French authorities after being freed from jail after being held on suspicion of pimping: "The French elite is envious because they’re lagging behind in fashion, in life and in sex drive."  How can you not love that?)

Of course, you can only do that so often in New York before you become a target of the celebrity hunting tabloids, but we'll enjoy it while we can. We also note that the press conference to introduce him is being held in Manhattan...not Brooklyn, not East Rutherford. As Will Leitch of Deadspin and New York Magazine wrote Tuesday: "It's impossible to overstate how much Prokhorov is going to change our area sporting landscape; we really might have our new Steinbrenner. The journey begins today. Don't say you weren't warned."

New York, New York

I want to wake up in a city that never steeps...so low as the city's tabloids, politicians, strip clubs, restaurants, etc. have gone in groveling for LeBron.  GetLeBron.com?  Spare us.  We could go on and on and on, but Leitch does it better than we could.

At least, there is a sudden recognition that LeBron could move to Brooklyn via Newark.  The Daily News, originator of the GetLeBron.com promotion, had to play even-handed Saturday on its editoral page...noting James "can save franchises. The Knicks. The Nets. Heck, he could even step in to rescue "Law and Order."  And the mayor, one of the biggest supporters of Barclays Center, made certain he's playing it down the middle, too, saying saying he "would never pick sides" between the Knicks and Nets. We prefer NetLeBron.com to GetLeBron.com, by the way.

Meanwhile in Brooklyn

Is it possible the Nets could have to wait til 2012-13 to open the Barclays Center.  Maybe.  The schedule is going to be tight, according to an affadavit filed April 6 in Brooklyn Supreme Court by MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice president of Forest City Ratner.  It was filed in support of eviction proceedings then underway but now complete:

"Both the work that has already been performed and the work that is scheduled to begin in the near future are being performed in furtherance of construction of the Barclays Center arena which will be the first building in the project to be built.  The work has been and will be performed pursuant to an intricate coordination plan and a schedule that is intended to allow the Barclays Center to open in time for the 2012-13 National Basketball Association schedule, so that the Nets basketball team can relocate to Barclays Center for that season.  A halt on the project that delays the completion of the arena will have a severe adverse financial impact on the Forest City Ratner affiliate that owns the Nets basketball team, because the team is now incurring operating losses of approximately $35 million per year at its New Jersey venue, and a delay in construction of the arena of even just one or two months could force the team to continue to operate in New Jersey for an additional NBA season, and thus prolong its enormous losses."

Now, of course, Ms. Gilmartin was arguing for a quick eviction of Daniel Goldstein at the time and her warnings might have been a bit dire, but right now, we are looking at 26 months between this week's release of construction funds and a completion target of July 2012.  The NBA needs a four-month commissioning period to get the arena's various elements in shape, from concessions to heating and air conditioning (yes, air-conditioning will be needed if you're playing in May and June). The Prudential Center took 24 months between October 2005 and October 2007.  The Conseco arena in Indianapolis, designed by the same architects who are doing Barclays, took 26 months. 

Of course, there are differences. New York is New York which means unanticipated delays.  Part of the arena will be built on a platform over a rail yards. On the other hand, the construction industry has been on its heels and so the arena isn't likely to be faced with labor or material shortages.  Finally, say what you want about Bruce Ratner, the sportsman, but he does know how to build in Brooklyn.  He knows how to manage big projects, who to call to get things done, etc.

And in fact, there were encouraging signs last week that the arena will get done.  Standard & Poor's, the bond rating agency, said the outlook for the arena bonds is "stable," noting "The stable outlook reflects our view that construction will likely be completed as scheduled and within budget and that the arena will perform in line with our base case assumptions."

On Friday, there was new evidence of how the first stage of the arena--the demolition of buildings other than Goldstein's--is accelerating.  A construction update filed by Forest City Ratner calls for demolition in the next two weeks of three buildings--a former fire house, a former union headquarters and an abandoned industrial warehouse. In addition, the report states that demolition permits for three other buildings, including the one that formerly housed Freddy's Bar, are being sought in the next two weeks and as soon as they're issued, plans for the demolition will be announced.

In the meantime, the Nets home will be The Rock. If the Nets had played there this year, they would have been playing in the NBA's newest arena.  While not the state-of-the-art jewel Barclays Center is expected to be, it will be a vast improvement over the IZOD. (The NBA's newest arena opens in Orlando this October.)

The Other Brooklyn Story

If there was one story we thought was underplayed last week, it was the one about Prokhorov and Jay-Z meeting on the more active role the "global icon" wants to take with the Nets.  It's hard to tell how much of a stake Jay-Z owns, but it's no doubt tiny.  Originally, he was reported to have 1.47% of the team. After Prokhorov bought 80% of the team, that number is almost certainly smaller. 

Jay-Z didn't describe what that active role might entail but we can assume one responsibility Prokhorov would like him to take on is free agent recruiting. Jay isn't just friends with LeBron James. He is known, respected and held in awe by a lot of the players.  

We like the idea of combining Prokhorov's charm and resources with Jay-Z's style and Thorn's savvy.  Irrestible? We hope so.

TWill Dominates Top 10

The Nets have just released their Top 10 Plays video for 2009-10.  When you're 12-70, it can be difficult sorting things out for posterity.  Of the ten, Terrence Williams scores in five of them, two alley oops, two driving dunks and that three quarter court heave.  Top play?  The Brook Lopez tip in vs. Chicago with one-tenth of a second left?  Nope. It was Devin Harris diving four rows into the stands for a loose ball against Charlotte, the team's first win after 18 straight losses.  Appropriate.

CDR and the Hump Want Back...Who Wouldn't?

In an interview with Hardcore Sports Radio this week, Chris Douglas-Roberts said he "definitely" wants back with the Nets. The team holds an $854,000 third year option on his services and the front office is looking for every penny available for the free agent hunt. So who knows?

"I would like to come back and work everything out," he said with the slightest of pauses,suggesting some of the blame for this year rests with him. "Be part of a turnaround for the organization, but it's a business and nothing is guaranteed". One big reason is Prokhorov. "Our new owner he just got approved and ...I have a lot of faith in him.  Even if I am not with the Nets next year, I am pretty sure they are going to turn things around. Very interesting guy. He kind of reminds me of the Dos Equis guy in the beer commericals the interesting man. (We should have copyrighted that!)  He does a lot of things you wouldn't think an owner does"...like wheelies on jet skis in the Maldives.

Kris Humphries meanwhile looks like he will opt in come June 30, deciding he wants to stay on with the team.  Depending on what the roster looks like come October, he may not get the time he did this year, but he will get $3.2 million and that's nothing to turn away from.  CDR and Humphries are smart guys. CDR said at one point in the season that he was reading everything he could on the then-prospective owner. Humphries spoke about the team's bright future as well, referencing Prokhorov.  They understood what Prokhorov could mean to the franchise. And so you have to wonder, how many other NBA players are doing the same thing, reading up on the big Russian...and what that could mean for free agency. Nothing bad.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

We've had some luck in the past with our Draft Sleepers. At one point or another in the 2008 off-season, we looked at Ryan Anderson, Courtney Lee and Douglas-Roberts as potential picks.  So considering what's happening Tuesday, here's our Sleeper for this week...John Wall.  Yeah, we know no one is sleeping on him, but he's where the attention will be focused on Tuesday. So, we wanted to look smart when the Nets win the overall #1 pick.  It's written in the stars, you know. 

Rather than lay out what we think, we defer to Rod Thorn, as relayed to Dave D'Alessandro: "No. 1, he has a gear that few people have. And he has an unusual size for it (6-4), to be that fast. And everyone you talk to says he’s a great kid -- no character issues with him. He competes. He plays better in the last five minutes than the first five. He’s a gym rat. And he’s got a bunch of pluses beyond that. He’s not a great shooter, but guys get better. Point guard is obviously a critical position. He’s a good one."

The one thing that stood out ot us in that appraisal is the comment,"plays better in the last five minutes than the first five". Sound like anyone who played with the Nets in recent years, now in Dallas?

Anticipation...Is Making Us Wait

So what to expect on Tuesday, just before the start of the Celtics-Magic game?  The real action of course takes place back stage at the NBA TV studios in Secaucus. but you won't see the ping pong ball selection process live or on tape.  It takes place almost an hour before the TV camera's turn on in the big studio.

What you'll see on ESPN will go like this: after the announcers discuss who's likely to go No. 1, NBA Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver will slowly draw cards with team logos from large white envelopes. It will go in reverse order..."the 14th pick in the NBA Draft goes to...", etc.  Watch to see if there are any changes in the order.  If a team isn't where it's listed, that means it's moved up to the top three.  Don't worry, the announcers will notice if you don't.  Once the fourth pick has been called, the anxiety level will reach the first in a series of crescendos.  If things work the way they have in the past, there will be an excruciatingly long commercial break, where Nets nuns will rub their rosaries, Nets monks with spin their prayer wheels, Nets nerds will hold on tight to their good luck pieces and we will find new ways to hide the fact that we are slowly curling into the fetal position.

Coming out of the break, if tradition holds, the representatives of the top three teams will be standing at center stage and then in reverse order again, even slower and on a split screen, it will be 3, 2, 1 with a slight pause between 3 and 2. This being television, that scenario could change, but it's been this way for a while.  The winning rep will be asked who his team will pick. Normally, they don't say.  This year that could change.

Final Note

The New Jersey Nets...It's a women's thing. Former Google Russia exec Irina Pavlova was appointed this week as president of Onexim Sports and Entertainment--Prokhorov's US holding company. In that role, she'll handle business affairs for the franchise. As noted, she's the daughter of a Soviet diplomat who grew up in Washington and Moscow and holds an MBA from Stanford. We don't know where she fits in the team hierarchy vis a vis Brett Yormark, but among her duties will be coordinating the construction of Barclays Center with Forest City Ratner.  The three executives she's likely to be dealing with in Brooklyn are also women: Joanne Minieri, president of FCRC; MaryAnne Gilmartin, executive vice-president; and Jane Marshall, senior vice president, the latter two having primary responsibility for the arena.  In spite of all the hype about Prokhorov and beautiful women, Pavlova's appointment shouldn't be surprising. He likes women in management as well as on the dance floor.  Both his chief financial officer and his deputy chief financial officer are women.  Same holds true for Bruce Ratner as well...well not the rep for night clubbing.  His CFO is a woman too.