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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #3

Not much is happening on the basketball side, as the team prepares for the Draft and free agency.  But things are likely to get a lot more interesting starting next week...and extending through July.  Mikhail Prokhorov is expected to sit on the dais at the Draft Lottery...and bring his luck to the Nets.  Don't be surprised if you see him in a lot of other places too.  We take a look at what he's expected to do immediately, what the front office would like to see from him, discuss some new angles on Brooklyn, pick two lottery picks we think may jump into the top four and congratulate Terrence Williams on his fashion sense at the Kentucky Derby.

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 High Profile

Here's what to expect in the second week of May, after the last of the residents depart the Barclays Center footprint and the final signatures are affixed to various documents: a show, a really big show. 

Mikhail Prokhorov will arrive in the United States and we suspect in the days leading up to the Draft Lottery he'll be seen around New York, doing interviews with various media outlets, hitting the hot spots, filling the gossip pages.  His media relations people understand star power.  The Nets are likely to be the only NBA team whose biggest star is their owner.

More importantly, for fans, team insiders say he and the team will be rolling out a number of announcements to signal he's very serious about turning the franchise around.  It won't be all talk. As noted Friday, there will be signings of "basketball experts" from both the NBA and Russian basketball, announcements regarding the purchase of a D-League team and improvements to basketball operations. 

What's needed after Bruce Ratner's years of penny-pinching?  A whole laundry list of personnel and developmental help: things as simple as administrative hires: executive assistants for the front office; and as sophisticated as a Moneyball-style stats guy, more scouts to evaluate draft picks and free agents, etc.  Remember, the Nets cut their non-basketball staff by one-third last summer.  Coaching candidates and agents for top-tier players are going to want to know Prokhorov is serious about turning things around.  So he will need to make high-profile moves.  "60 Minutes" had a big effect, but in the NBA, big money talks. 

On the personnel side, insiders say the hiring of Andrei Vatutin, the 36-year-old president of CSKA Moscow is a "done deal" and Kiki Vandeweghe is "gone".  CSKA will compete in the Euroleague Final Four next weekend.  Once that's out of way, expect Vatutin to talk more openly about joining the team.  Known for his no-nonsense style in Europe-and incredible success, Vatutin will learn the NBA game from whoever is at the top of the team's basketball operations, whether it's Rod Thorn or someone else. As for Kiki, he's likely to find work.  He's twice proven he can get succeed at the first stage of rebuilding: dumping salary and picking up assets like young players, draft picks and cash.

Beyond Vatutin, expect to see a lot more of several other Europeans as Prokhorov moves in.  Irina Pavlova, who's president of the sports division at Onexim, Prokhorov's personal investment vehicle, will become more visible in the running of business affairs.  Although Russian, she's spent more than a decade in the United States and has been around the team for the last two months of the season.  Prokhorov's top executives, including Onexim CEO Dmitry Razumov and deputy CEO Christophe Charlier (who holds French nationality), have "very small parts" of the team-described as "management incentives" by one insider.

"These are your not typical owners," said a second insider. "Prokhorov and a group of four guys in their 40's (actually most are in their 30's) who have all the money in the world. Basketball will be a hobby to them. They don't care about spending or losing money as long as it is done right."

A third insider disagrees a bit.  "They expect to make money," he said. "They believe the projections about the arena."

Beyond all the positive vibes, people inside 390 Murray Hill Parkway in East Rutherford are hoping for some clarity about who will be in charge of their operations once things are settled.  So far, as one put it, "his people are tight lipped about what is going on." Another said, "we simply don't know" when asked for a breakdown of the hierarchy on the business side.

Also interesting is that Prokhorov's media push in the U.S. is coming at the same time he's pushing forward on a number of high-profile business moves in Russia.  Over the last nine  months, he's purchased an investment bank; a media company with significant online and television interests; a coal mining operation; Russia's top book seller, set up an "oligarch's bank" to finance debt-laden companies, and worked out an agreement to build a hybrid car to be called the "Eco" but known in Moscow by its nickname, the "Prokhoro-mobile".  In short, the mining mogul is diversifying, getting deeply into finance, the media and, oh yeah, American sports.

He's also been involved in two national controversies.  He is still pushing hard on the lack of coordination and lack of vision in Russian sports, warning that the 2014 Olympics in the Russian city of Sochi could be an international embarrassment for the host country.  More recently, he has called for changes in Russian labor laws, permitting companies to dump employees more easily.  He claimed current restrictions are stifling innovation.  Although he was heavily criticized for the statement, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin seemingly agreed with him.

Meanwhile in Brooklyn

Expect Prokhorov to have a larger and larger role in the arena.  One Nets' insider says he thinks the Russian billionaire will eventually gain control of Barclays Center as well as the team.  He holds 45 percent of the arena holding company, but has unspecified "consent rights".  And it's believed he controls the arena's "subordinated debt", giving him even more leverage.  Such debt permits the holder to take over a property if there is a default by the holder of the main debt.

You can expect that Prokhorov will make a highly publicized stop in Brooklyn in May once the properties have been "vacated".  There's no steel in the sky yet, but as noted, excavation has begun on the western edge of the arena footprint and most of the key infrastructure-the bigger water and sewer lines needed for Atlantic Yards-is in place. A letter of acceptance has been issued by the LIRR for temporary rail yard and Forest City Ratner has announced it will begin to work longer days and weekends to speed up work, starting with the infrastructure.  Also open is the Atlantic Terminal rail station which will link the Long Island Rail Road terminal and ten subway lines to the arena through a series of underground passageways.  The arena will ultimately have direct access to the subway lines…and the stop will be renamed "Barclays Center"…at a cost of $200,000 a year.

The Nets have quietly updated the Barclays Center website, in particular providing details on the arena entrances…each of which will be named for the arena's "founding partners".  These "partners" will be featured prominently in distinct branded "neighborhoods" within the arena.

There'll be the ADT Plaza, named for ADT Security Services on Flatbush Avenue, and the EmblemHealth Entrance on Atlantic.  Some sponsors will have their own retail shops in the arena…with access on the two streets that border the arena:  Haier will have an electronics and appliance store accessible from the arena and the street.  Jones Soda will have two shops-a "soda stoop" and a "soda shoppe".  There will be the Bar MGM Grand, the main sports bar in the arena and the Highpoint Solutions Chairman's Club, a more exclusive watering hole. The team store will be sponsored by IZOD.  The upper bowl will be named for Metro PCS. And whenever the arena is closed off with acoustic curtains for smaller events, like theatrical performances, small venue concerts, music festivals, boxing events and comedy acts, it will be called the Cushman & Wakefield Theater. The Nets will grant PNY, the   Brooklyn-based computer storage firm, extensive advertising presence at the arena, including LED signage on the exterior marquee and courtside signage visible on television broadcasts. PNY will also be the presenting sponsors of the team’s mascot. 

One big selling point for sponsors: visual access to both the arena and the Nets practice facility which will be inside Barclays.  Because it will be below-grade, the facility will be visible to places like the Jones Soda Stoop, where presumably you'll be able to watch the team work out while sipping cola.  As noted previously, the facility will be visible as well from Atlantic Avenue.

Newark Nets?

We found it mildly interesting last week when suddenly seemed to switch hands.  The former website of the Newark (California) Nets volleyball club, it suddenly was listed as "pending renewal" with all traces of the volleyball team scrubbed from the site.  

It would of course be smart for the Nets to get ahold of the website and trademark the "Newark Nets" name, if only to protect themselves from poaching.  As of Friday, the trademark was still available.  Go for it.

It Won't Be Binary

So much of the off-season discussions have centered on who the Nets will take with their picks, who will they target in free agency with all their cap space and Prokhorov's money.

It's not likely to be that simple.  In fact, it's probably going to be a summer filled with all manner of permutations, some of which aren't even blips on the radar yet.  The situation is indeed volatile: nine teams have at least $15 million in cap space, five teams have  multiple picks in the first round, seven teams have none…and perhaps more importantly, most NBA teams have mounting financial losses.  So there'll be a lot of maneuvering over the next few months.  Expect to learn about a lot of new wrinkles in the collective bargaining agreement.

Here's a few predictions we'll make, some of which have been out there already.

--If the Timberwolves get the first pick on May 18, expect Dan Fegan, agent extraordinaire, to be out there in rumor land.  Fegan, the hardest of the hardline agents, represents both John Wall and Ricky Rubio.  Fegan wants Rubio somewhere other than Minnesota. So expect him to push that agenda.  Where does Fegan want Rubio?  Hint: bright lights, big city.  Fegan, you might recall, represents three of the six players likely to return next year for the Nets: Courtney Lee, Yi Jianlian and Kris Humphries…plus Jarvis Hayes.

--Miami will dump Michael Beasley.  After a series of articles on how the Heat are willing to dump him for nothing-to gain more salary cap space, you would have expected Pat Riley to say something…like "we still have faith in Michael" or  "we see Michael as a valuable asset."  Instead, there's been nothing.  Silence.

--At least two first round picks will be sold.  The Hawks are reportedly marketing the #24 pick and with so many teams hurting financially, the calculus is too tempting.  If a team sells a pick for $3 million, they get the cash in hand and won't have to pay a guaranteed $3 million or more in salary over the next several years.  Would the Nets buy a higher pick than #27?  Maybe but if they do, it cuts into their free agency cache.

Draft Sleepers of the Week

If you don't even want to consider the Nets drafting at #4, stop reading.  This week's sleepers are two guys we expect to climb in the mock drafts between now and June 24, with both getting close or moving into the top four.

Greg Monroe of Georgetown and Donatas Motiejunas of Lithuania and Benetton Treviso are big guys: Monroe is 6'10", Montiejunas is 7'0". Monroe is more of a 4 or 5, Motiejunas is that classic Euro 4 or 4.  Both are also players with one quality that teams appreciate more and more as they closer and closer to making that final decision: basketball IQ.  In particular, both are excellent passers.  Neither are great athletes.

While Monroe may be more NBA-ready, Motiejunas may have the greater long term potential.  Think Brad Miller for Monroe, Tony Kukoc for Motiejunas.

Final Note

Terrence Williams may be from Seattle, but on Saturday he stood at Louisville's Churchill Downs for the singing of "My Old Kentucky Home".  The Louisville Cardinal flew back to his college roots and the Kentucky Derby, tweeting about the experience and posting pictures of him in the grandstand.  All we can say is that if you took a Barbie backpack to high school, you surely can get away with a paisley shirt/bow tie combination...and he did.  If you can't take fashion chances at the Derby, where else can you take them?