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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #9

We spend a lot of time on the Draft in this edition of NetsDaily's Off-Season Report, wonder as well if Johnson's hiring should be considered the (next-to-last) benefit of the Devin Harris for Jason Kidd trade, argue that the Nets did well with Johnson, compared to some of the others hiring new coaches, offer our Draft Sleeper of the Week, and warn that a top pick doesn't always mean a great player. We also try to read tea leaves on who the Nets liked in the group workouts, check out the help wanted pages at the NBA, get ready for some fisticuffs in Brooklyn and keep track of where individual Nets are sweating it out.

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 to mention our own reporting.

The Coach

So should we add Avery Johnson to the Nets' side of the ledger in the (still incomplete) calculus of the Jason Kidd trade?  Makes some sense.  Johnson reportedly was against the trade, then famously didn't get along with Kidd and was fired after his second straight first round exit.  Now, Johnson comes to New Jersey to be reunited with Devin Harris.  It appears the Kidd-for-Harris trade is going to define the second rebuilding of the Rod Thorn era just as the Marbury-for-Kidd trade defined the first one.

As of now, the Nets' take from the February 2008 trade includes Harris, Keyon Dooling ($3.3 million trade exception plus $3 million in cash), Courtney Lee (via Ryan Anderson, selected with the Mavs pick in 2008) and whoever the Nets take with the #27 pick in the June 24 draft. If Johnson wants to re-sign Trenton Hassell, add him to the mix. As for cap savings, it's hard to suggest the trade saved the team cap space this summer.  Kidd's contract ran out last summer.  The real savings came from the Jefferson and Vince Carter trades.  Their contracts, worth more than $33 million next year, form the basis of the Nets' cap space savings this summer...not Kidd's.

By now, everyone knows Johnson's positives and negatives, but considering what other teams have gotten in the coaching carousel this spring, the Nets have done pretty well.  Tom Thibodeau is indeed a great defensive coach, but of his 29 years of coaching college and professional basketball--including stints with six NBA teams, he has been a head coach for one of those years, at Salem State.  He is untested as a head coach.  If the Cavs hire Tom Izzo, they too will have a great coach, but one who has never played or coached a minute in the NBA.  Doug Collins is certainly a talent, but he passed on a number of opportunities over the years and the question has to be: how much is likely to leave on the court in this gig.  Finally, there's Larry Drew with the Hawks, who seems to have been hired more for his familiarity with the Atlanta roster and a willingness to become one of the NBA's lowest paid coaches.

Speaking of which, there seems to be some confusion as to how Johnson is going to be paid, and by which billionaire.  Tim MacMahon ESPN Dallas wrote this week that whatever the Nets are paying AJ will be deducted from the $4 million Mark Cuban still owes him for next season.  Dave D'Alessandro seems to suggest that the Nets aren't paying Johnson that much, that indeed Cuban is picking up most of the tab.  Johnson's contract, both agree, has the standard offset clause, which reduces the liability of the coach's old team by the amount he's paid by his new team. If indeed Dave D is correct, and Johnson works out, the next "Thank You, Cuban" chant could be in Russian since Mikhail Prokhorov will be saving some serious bucks. 

No guarantees in the Lottery...or Even the Top Four

We did an analysis of how well teams that picked in the top four have done in the past decade. While there are all-stars and an occasional future Hall of Famer, there are also busts and flame-outs.  The Nets have a great pick, but as the analysis shows, that doesn't always translate into great or even good players.

We went year by year, starting in 2000, looking at the top four in each draft, subjectively determining who was a success, measured by all-Star selection early on or some other criteria in recent years.  We also, again subjectively, name the best player in each draft.

2000 - Kenyon Martin, Stromile Swift, Darius Miles, Marcus Fizer.  Of those four, only one is still in the league: Martin.  He's also the only All-Star, named in 2004.  It's fair to call the rest of the group monumental busts.  Best player in that draft: Michael Redd, selected at #43.

2001 - Kwame Brown, Tyson Chandler, Pau Gasol, Eddy Curry.  The supposedly great big man draft produced only one great big man: Gasol.  He's also the only All-Star in that group, named in 2006, 2009 and 2010.  Of the others, only Chandler has had a couple of good years but he's been injury prone.  Best Player in the Draft: Gasol

2002 - Yao Ming, Jay Williams, Mike Dunleavy, Drew Gooden. Same thing here.  One all-star: Yao, named in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009, thanks in large part to China's vast fan base.  Williams is out ot the league, Dunleavy has never matched expectations and has been hurt.  Gooden seems likely to match or succeed the record for most teams played for.  Best Player in the Draft: Amare Stoudemire, selected at #9.

2003 - LeBron James, Darko Milicic, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh.  A great draft with the exception of Darko.  James, Anthony and Bosh named to the all-star team a combined 14 times. James has been MVP twice. Best Player in the Draft: James

2004 - Dwight Howard, Emeka Okafor, Ben Gordon, Shaun Livingston. None of the top three can be faulted, although Okafor hasn't produced as much as expected after his first year.  Livingston's horrific string of injuries has denied him any semblance of a career.  Howard and Gordon have been named to the all-star team a combined six times.  Howard has been Defensive Player of the Year twice and Gordon was named Sixth Man of the Year as a rookie.  Best Player in the Draft: Howard.

2005 - Andrew Bogut, Marvin Williams, Deron Williams, Chris Paul.  Bogut finally started to come into his own in his fifth season, making the All-NBA third team and All-Defensive second team.  Prior to that, he was seen as a disappointment, at least compared to the #3 and #4 picks. Marvin Williams is a decent player but nothing special enough to warrant where he was taken. Deron Williams and Paul, on the other hand, have made the all-Star game a total of five times and the All-NBA team a total of four times.  Best Player in the Draft: Deron Williams by a hair over Paul.

2006 - Andrea Bargnani, LaMarcus Aldridge, Adam Morrison, Tyrus Thomas.  Bargnani and Aldridge are decent player. Thomas is a head case and Morrison is a bust...but might have two rings by week's end. No all-star apperances for any of them, the only top four other than the current rookie class, not to have an All-Star.  Best Player in the Draft: Brandon Roy, selected at #6.

2007 - Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Al Horford, Mike Conley. Oden is very close to being declared a bust because of his numerous injuries and mediocre production when healthy.  Durant, on the other hand, looks to be a top 5 player. Horford is a solid contributor, Conley is trade bait. Durant and Horford both made the All-Star game for the first time in 2010.  Best Player in the Draft: Durant.

2008 - Derrick Rose, Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo, Russell Westbrook. Beasley is a talent but he's being marketed by the Heat because of his off-court issues, which are many and varied. The rest of the group are solid NBA players in a first round filled with solid NBA players.  Rose made the All-Star team in 2010.  Best Player in the Draft: Since we have a conflict of interest , we'll go with David Thorpe's selection: Brook Lopez, taken at #10. Heh-heh.

2009 - Blake Griffin, Hasheem Thabeet, James Harden, Tyreke Evans.  It's too early to say much, but when was the last time the overall #1 didn't play a minute and the overall #2 was assigned to the D-League? How about never. Harden played well in spurts but wasn't even the third best player at his position in the draft.  Best Player in the Draft: far. 

Bottom line: of the 40 players taken in the top four spots in the last decade, a little less than half are disappointments, due to either injury, off-court issues or simply a lack of NBA talent.  Maybe Oden and Griffin will recover and dominate.  Maybe Thabeet will find his way.  Maybe Beasley will get it together.  Marvin Williams is likely to muddle along, too, but the bottom line for him and too many of them is that more was expected.  On the other side of the ledger, there are anywhere from five to ten future Hall of Famers too.  And if you're looking for hope that a deep pick could turn into the best player in the draft, consider this: in the 1999 and 2000 drafts, the best players were taken at #58 (Manu Ginobili) and #43 (Michael Redd).  Hasn't happened since though.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

We prefer to look for players that rise late, rather than think players who are falling are "bargains".  Rarely works.  When a player drops precipitously, it usually means a physical or mental red flag.  The more they fall, the more like the flag is large and a very bright red. 

One fast-riser is Darington Hobson, the 6'7" swingman from New Mexico.  He's blessed with a high BBIQ and an ability to play three positions, starting with the point. As Ben Couch of the Nets staff pointed out, he did very well.  "Darington Hobson (New Mexico) also earned praise for taking advantage of situations where athleticism could be neutralized (READ: 'halfcourt sets'."  Others pointed out that the athleticism he "neutralized" was named Stanley Robinson of UConn, who he reportedly dominated. 

Hobson has someone from the Nets in his corner, Terrence Williams who he worked out with in Las Vegas last summer.  Hobson called Williams "the most down-to-earth, goofiest, funniest guy in the world." Couch noted that the two have kept in touch throughout the draft process, with "Williams recommending the Nets after a strong finish to his rookie season".

In interviews, Hobson comes across as fairly down-to-earth himself.

Trying to Read Between the Lines

Tom Barrise and Bobby Marks had big roles in the NBA groups workouts this week and Gregg Polinsky made himself available for interviews.  Listening to Barrise and Polinsky on, a couple of things came across. Maybe it's spin, but there were some interetsing comments.  They seemed to like the aforementioned Hobson; Gani Lawal, the 6'9" power forward from Georgia Tech; Thomas Heurtel, the 6'3" point guard from France; and Brian Zoubek, the 7'1" center from Duke.  Not saying they'll draft any of them, but they seemed to catch the attention of the Nets' brain trust. 

A couple of years ago, we thought we noticed some interest in Jaycee Caroll, the undersized shooting guard from Utah State.  Indeed, the Nets tried to buy a late pick to take him and when that didn't work out, they invited him to the summer league.  (If the Nets want to buy a second round pick this year, it will be pricey.  Chris Sheridan of ESPN reports they are going for $1.5 million.  That's ten times what the Nets got in 2002 for the rights to Kyle Korver, a real bargain for the 76ers.)

Help Wanted

We were intrigued by this help wanted ad on the NBA's teamwork online site, the league's employment site. It's for "Executive Assistant/Office Manager to the President - New Jersey Nets/Onexim Sports and Entertainment (New York, NY)" It's accompanied by a logo from Onexim not the Nets.  Irina Pavlova is the president of Onexim Sports and Entertainment. Her main job, it's been reported, is to be Mikhail Prokhorov's liaison with Forest City Ratner on the construction of Barclays Center.  It's also been reported that she's building a team and opening an office for Onexim in midtown Manhattan.  This looks to be one of the first hires. Standards are high: the assistant must be fluent in Russian as well as English.

What we were wondering is this: is she also "President" of the Nets.  The ad makes it appear that way.  In the Nets complicated management structure, Prokhorov is "principal owner", Christophe Charlier, the French banker who is deputy CEO of the Moscow-based Onexim Group, is "chairman of the board" of the team.  Both those titles were held by Bruce Ratner before May 13. Brett Yormark is "Chief Executive Officer" of Nets Basketball and "President, & CEO, Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment", the arena management company.  Rod Thorn is listed as "President" of the Nets, but that has been considered short-hand for "President of Basketball Operations".  Pavlova doesn't appear on the front office roster which has been twice updated in recent weeks, once to include Prokhorov and Charlier and once to add Avery Johnson. One thing is for certain: while Yormark and Thorn remain in East Rutherford, Pavlova will be presiding over an office in midtown.

FYI, it does appear that Prokhorov will be at the Johnson press conference on Tuesday.  He flies in from Moscow Saturday, then heads to Boston for the Finals Sunday to meet with Johnson.  We expect ABC will want at least some access to him so we'll be watching.

Boxing at Barclays

The Daily News ran an article Saturday on Bob Arum, the now 78-year-old boxing promoter and his plans for the near and distant future.  In the latter category, Arum talked about how he wants to bring boxing back to Brooklyn, specifically the Barclays Center. Barry Baum, Yormark's press spokesman (officially, Vice President of Business & Entertainment Communications), didn't comment on Arum's plans but admitted, ""We've had conversations with numerous boxing promoters given our interest in bringing boxing back to Brooklyn. We think boxing at the Barclays Center makes great sense."

The Nets have talked about a wide variety of events that could fill the 220 dates it has open, including boxing...and even UFC matches.  In the marketing analysis for Barclays Center, issued last fall, a consulting company discussed everything from indoor lacrosse and arena football to "non-tenant" events like "wrestling, rodeos, monster truck shows, motocross races, extreme sports, figure skating, and tennis."  It didn't mention boxing for some reason.  Off course, the Nets have already contracted with a college sports booking agency to lure NCAA basketball games away from the Garden to Barclays.  Still, the very optimistic analysis projected no more than 20 to 30 sporting events beyond the Nets in Brooklyn every year.

Final Note

David Thorpe of ESPN reports that two Nets are working out this month at his Pro Training Center in Clearwater, FL.  Yi Jianlian who normally works out in L.A. is already on hand and Courtney Lee is headed there.  It's that time of year for NBA players: moving from rest and recovery to individualized workout regimens aimed at improving skill sets. Yi has already said he wants to work on his defense, rebounding and getting open.

Oh yeah, one other thing: Hey Tony, we always liked Bobby Bacala better anyway.