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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #11

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Special Breathless Edition.  What's more likely to be more newsy?  Last week, with the Draft and Rod Thorn's impending resignation or next week with free agency and pursuit of LeBron James, et al.  We're going with...next week. With each passing day, it seems the Nets chances of landing a big free agent grow, maybe even the "best of the best" as the Big Russian calls him.  We look at it all, as well as the Draft, including the Nets' "third round" picks; Damion James' promise and what's up in Brooklyn, actually what's down.

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.

Where to begin? 

Our first thought when we read the news about Rod Thorn?  This will give Brett Yormark a chance to add "New General Manager" to his "It's All New" checklist!!

Well, that and a lot of memories: where we were when we heard about the Jason Kidd trade, the Kenyon Martin trade, the Vince Carter trade, the Shareef Abdur-Rahim contract issues, etc., the Brook Lopez draft.

Like every GM, he had his successes and failures...and oh, how that man can spin.  Bottom line: he will leave the franchise in much better shape than when he arrived. 

One other thing: Rod Thorn made the best draft pick (Michael Jordan) and the best trade (Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury) in the last 30 years.   Now, it looks like he wants to finish off his career with the greatest free agent signing ever.  It would make for the perfect trifecta. 

On the debate over whether Thorn left because of business or family concerns, we tend to go with the latter, based on what we were hearing from Nets insiders as recently as Wednesday.  But are these two explanations mutually exclusive?  If you're being pressed by your family to give it up and settle down in Naples, FL, and your boss is offering you $1 million less than what you're currently making, both things could factor into your final decision.

There will be plenty of enconiums over the next couple of weeks.  For now, let's just say best wishes.

Who's Next?

It's hard to tell who Mikhail Prokhorov will choose to run the team during the rebuilding effort.  There is some assumption that Prokhorov will rely on Thorn for a recommendation.  We're not sure that's completely accurate.  Thorn will be consulted, we assume, but he is not Prokhorov's long-term advisor on NBA matters.  Sergey Kushchenko, the former head of CSKA Moscow and now director of the Russian Biathlon Union, holds that position, we're led to believe. It was Kushchenko who checked out NBA franchises before Prokhorov first looked into the Knicks, then the Nets.

Who might Kushchenko like? Three years ago, he tried to hire Maurizio Gherardini, the GM of Benetton Treviso, to run CSKA Moscow.  Gherardini decided on the NBA instead and became assistant GM of the Raptors.  

Doug Smith of the Toronto Star reports Saturday that it's unlikely that Raptor GM Bryan Colangelo would stand in Gherardini's way.  Of course, Bryan might have a conflict of interest.

In spite of the bad blood (described so well by Dave D'Alessandro) between Thorn and Jerry Colangelo, understand  this: Prokhorov was interested in hiring Bryan's father to be his president of basketball operations during the winter. We were told that Colangelo wanted an enormous amount of money, more than double Thorn's quite generous salary, to take the job.  With incentives, we were told it could have reached $50 million over three years. Nothing ever came of it, but we were told things between Prokhorov and Thorn weren't settled til May.

We have to assume that Prokhorov would want this done soon.  On that issue, we're getting some mixed signals.  There's some indications  that the process is already underway, others that it's not.  Prokhorov has had nothing but good press since he took over.  This is his first crisis.  Best if he moves forward quickly. Have no doubt: the Nets biggest asset in this hunt is Prokhorov himself. If he is tarnished, agents and free agents will notice.

Bottom line: there are six seats on the Ohio-bound Gulfstream G550. Five of them are likely to be filled by Prokhorov; Jay-Z; Thorn; Avery Johnson; and Ellen Pinchuk, Prokhorov's press person, advisor and translator.  You'd want the new guy to fill up that last seat on July 1, wouldn't you?

The French Connection

Why are the Nets first line at the LeBron Beg Fest 2010?  We aren't reading too much into it, but that's because we are not getting our hopes up.  Unlike Knicks fans, we are not delusional.

One possible reason: Jay-Z will be unavailable from July 2 on. He's home now but on July 2, he's scheduled to appear at Eurockeennes in Belfort, France, then he does a concert two nights later in London (sponsored by Barclays).  He's off for four days before performing in County Kildare, Ireland, on July 9.  Certainly enough time there for someone's jet to pick him up, take him to New Jersey (or Brooklyn) for a press conference, than swing back across the Atlantic to Ireland. 

FYI, in case you didn't notice, Jay-Z talked about his relationship with the Nets on David Letterman this week. He referred to Prokhorov as the "tall guy" and when asked if he was still an owner, Jay-Z lifted his head up and responded, emphatically, "Yeah, even more so". 

There's been no announcement of any change in the team's relationship with the Brooklyn-born Jay-Z, but there have been some suggestions that he would like to "partner" with the Nets in a new relationship beyond his (very) small investment in the team and Barclays Center. 

Red Dawn Over Manhattan

We thought it was just our Nets bias, but now we see we are not alone.  There is a fear building in Knicks land about their chances to land LeBron, in spite of all hype and season ticket sales.

On Friday night, ESPN did a prime time show on LeBron and the rest of the free agency.  David Aldridge, Michael Wilbon, Chris Broussard and Jon Barry were unanimous in their belief that James is not headed for the Big Apple, or at least Manhattan.

In fact, they agreed that reality is starting to dawn over Manhattan: that the Knicks in spite of the cap hoard don't have the goods to get LeBron or any of the top three or four free agents.  Why?  David Aldridge explained that players want their suitors to work sign-and-trades with their old teams "and the Knicks have NO players" to work sign-and-trade deal.  He said the same thing about Chicago.  Their big attraction is the same as the Nets: a solid young core.  Dump one of them and the team becomes less attractive to a free agent.

Bottom line: the free agent they think is most likely to come to New York: Joe Johnson.  The free agent they think is most likely to come to New Jersey: David Lee...meaning he's leaving the Knicks, making them even less attractive.

And all this starts, remember, on WEDNESDAY night. 

As a side note, we are thoroughly enjoying the spectacle of the New York media, particularly the Post, News and Newsday, trying to justify two years of total hype, complete with special promotions and webpages. As the likelihood of LeBron-in-the-Mecca slowly starts to fade, they are fumbling for new reasons to promote the idea.  If at the end of the day on July 8, the best the Knicks can do is Joe Johnson, nearly 30, and LeBron James heads off to a new address, particularly Newark, expect the likes of Marc Berman, Frank Isola and Alan Hahn to turn on Donnie Walsh like a pack of Norwegian rats on the "F" line. 

Draft Sleepers of the Week

What you say? The Draft was last Thursday.  Yes, the first two rounds, but what about the "third round", the round where undrafted players get scooped up by teams for their summer league rosters.

More so than in recent years, the Nets seem to have been active in this area.  On Thursday morning, they quietly worked out a number of players who they thought might slip and offered them deals: if you don't get picked, we'd like to see you in Orlando.

Then, starting after the draft ended, the calls went out to players who were there that morning as well as others.  By Friday, at least four college seniors had agreed to sign with the Nets summer league team and will begin practicing at the PNY Center on Wednesday.

Here's who we've read will be wearing Nets (practice) uniforms at the RDV Center starting July 5.  As Jonathan Givony of Draft Express noted on his Twitter page: "Nice squad they'll have".

Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech, drafted #3, 2010. Compared by his coach to a smaller Dwight Howard or a younger Kevin Garnett

Terrence Williams,  6'6" SF/SG/PG, Louisville, drafted #11, 2009. Rookie of the Month for April, when he averaged 14.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg and 6.3 apg in 34.3 minutes.

Damion James, 6'8" SF/PF, Texas, drafted #24, 2009. A four year player at Texas (who talks to his former teammate Kevin Durant every day), James averaged 18.0 and 10.2 in his senior year, while shooting 38.2% from deep. One of the drafts best athletes.

Brian Zoubek, 7'1" C, Duke, undrafted, 2010.  Often injured at Duke, the Haddonfield, NJ, native was critical to the Blue Devils national championship run.  A hard to move defender in the post and a terrific rebounder...he averaged 7.7 per game--including 3.6 offensive--in 19 minutes!

Wayne Chism, 6'9" PF/SF, Tennessee, undrafted, 2010. An efficient front court player who's seen as a tweener by NBA scouts.  He averaged 12.6 ppg and 7.2 rpg for the Vols. Also shot 32.4% from downtown.

Ben Uzoh, 6'4" PG/SG, Tulsa, undrafted, 2010. Known for his impressive athleticism and consistent play, Uzoh is not a great ball-handler but plays under control.

Tweety Carter, 5'11", PG, Baylor, undrafted, 2010.  Undersized but capable of scoring, averaging 15.0 ppg and shooting 38.5% from downtown. He also led the Big 12 in assists at 5.9. McDonald's All-America in high school, where he scored a US record 7,457 points.

Expect the complete list this week.  Why so many decent, if undrafted, players this year? Part of it is that agents realize the Nets are a rising team, but it's smart to get a look-see from a team that might want to sign two maximum salary players, leaving a lot positions open for minimum salary players.

And remember, this is how the coach started.

The Other Pick Thursday

We love the Derrick Favors pick and would be VERY upset if he was a piece in a trade to free up cap space or in a sign and trade.  We think this is a special player, not a chip.  And in spite of what some have written about his chip-a-bility, Fred Kerber thinks it's all a bit overblown.  We are relying on Fred. 

But the other pick was a complete surprise to us.  Damion James?  Who?  When the trade was announced we were disappointed because that meant fewer picks , less speculation right up to the minute of the draft.

So we went scurrying around the internet, to DraftExpress and NBADraft.net and Chad Ford's Top 100 list as well as YouTube.  We admit we hadn't been paying attention to Mr. James who most mock drafts had at between #14 and #19 with some outliers as high as #12 and as low as #28. On the Nets' own internal board, he was in the mid teens as well.

One of the first things we found was an interview with Draft Express' Richard Walker, which was interspersed with video him working out prior to the draft against Paul George and Luke Handragody.  We liked what we saw...and heard. In the interview, James talked how he has improved his defense.  "I want to be a great defensive player. If I can do that, I can play in the NBA for a long time."  (We also liked this line...about Kevin Durant: "that guy's like my brother. We talk every day and we compete when we're in Austin.")

And in the workout part of the interview, James showed he can free up just enough room and hit a tightly guarded three.  You can see why Ford compared him to James Posey.  That would be nice. 

Also, we checked Draft Express' measurements page, where we found that James was one of the most athletic players in the draft.  In three quarter court sprint, he finished 10th and all those ahead of him were guards.  In his lane agility--how much time it takes to slide around the key--he finished fourth, only 6/100ths of a second behind John Wall.  His vertical leap (33") is more than respectable. 

He looks like someone who can contribute right away.  One final note on James. He is the final piece of the Jason Kidd trade. So the two draft picks from the February 2008 trade turned into Courtney Lee (via Ryan Anderson) and Damion James. Other than that, the Nets still have Devin Harris, of course, and Keyon Dooling, who was acquired using the deal's $3.3 million trade exception--and $3 million in cash.  The Nets are trying to turn Dooling into another asset this week.

What Up, Brooklyn?

Reading the bi-weekly construction update on the Barclays Center, we found something new.  Construction crews are putting into place the concrete footings for the arena, at least at one end of the construction site.  So the construction has moved from the excavation stage to the building stage.  The update doesn't indicate how long before we see steel in the sky, but two of the most iconic structures in the resistance to Atlantic Yards are being prepared for demolition.  Both the site of Freddy's Bar and Daniel Goldstein's condominium are undergoing "abatement", in effect clearance, and demolition permits have been sought. 

Final Note

Over the next 10 days, there will be a lot of newspaper reports, internet postings, videos, television reports, blog items, radio reports, tweets and simple overheard gossip. Right now, no one can predict what the Nets' roster will look like.  We'll try our best to keep up.

In the meantime, stay thirsty, my friends...and enjoy this.