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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #13

Well, that sucked. The Nets' dream was dashed and then dashed again. First Dywane, Chris and then LeBron bypassed them, followed by a smash-mouth from Carlos Boozer and then finally, the coup de grace, from Tyrus Thomas, of all people. Tyrus Thomas?  Oh well. Times have changed.  The Nets are Oklahoma City East now, taking those bright young pieces and surrounding them with, well, other bright young pieces. We look at all aspects of it.

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.

First Up - Anthony Morrow

News that the Nets won't sign Anthony Morrow to an offer sheet til Monday may give a hint of what the Nets are up to. Once an offer sheet is signed, the team holding a restricted free agent's rights has seven days to match any offer. But once the sheet is signed, all three parties—the Nets, Warriors and Morrow in this case—would have to agree to pull the offer sheet and restructure the deal.

That's what happened in the Kenyon Martin case six years ago.  Then-Denver GM Kiki Vandeweghe told the Nets they were going to sign KMart to an offer sheet...but hadn't.  Instead, they worked out a deal that got KMart more money and the Nets three draft choices.

We're not saying that the Nets will restructure Morrow's offer--$12 million over three--but the two sides could make the deal a sign-and-trade and avoid the seven day waiting period.  The Nets hold two of the Warriors picks in the next two drafts: the unprotected second round pick in 2011 and the first round (protected, 1-7) pick in 2012. The Nets got both in the restructured Marcus Williams trade.  The Nets originally received a heavily protected first round pick in 2011 for Williams, but the Warriors asked that it be moved back to 2012. Thorn agreed but exacted a price: the second round pick in 2011 and lighter protections. Beyond the protections, that first round pick hangs around if the Warriors are bad enough to warrant a high pick in 2012. It rolls over to 2013, protected 1-7 again, then if the Warriors retain the pick in that draft, it becomes protected 1-6 in 2014. And then, if the pick still hasn’t been exercised in 2013 because of the protections, it finally becomes two second round picks, in 2014 and 2016.

There are lots of possibilities out there. The Warriors could ask the Nets to restructure the deal so the protections are heavier, say lottery protected, in 2012, or ask for the second round pick back, or ask that if the first round pick isn’t exercised in 2012, it goes away.  We suspect that’s what it will get down to, a trade rather than a signing.  That way, Morrow can attend Tuesday's free agent press conference unencumbered.

UPDATE: The Warriors just announced they have signed the Heat's Dorell Wright to a three year, $11 million deal. It's now highly unlikely Golden State will want to match.  They're now over in luxury tax territory.

A Blueprint For a Tear-Down?

When the free agent process began, we had very little hope that ANY of the big three free agents would sign in New Jersey. The Nets thought they did and so did what they could to free up space. Fine.  The problem is that in doing so, they took some risks. They traded two players, aged 22 and 23, Yi Jianlian and Chris Douglas-Roberts, for essentially nothing: Quinton Ross and the Bulls' second round pick in 2012...which based on this week's events is likely to be no higher than #55.  How smart was it to send away two players, who averaged more than 20 points and 10 rebounds between them?  Both may have had issues, but the return was paltry.  We understand you have to cast fears aside when shooting for the stars, but at the end of the day, they lost out, and in reality, they should have known they would. Whether it was Mikhail Prokhorov's naivete, the front office's self-delusion or LeBron's hypnotic powers, they went ahead. For us, the bottom line is that a 12-70 team with two arenas in its future, no GM, a new coach and an untested owner never really had much of a shot.

As for the low-balling of Carlos Boozer, we don't have enough information to suggest whose idea it was to offer him $10 million less than he wanted.  It's our position that the Nets HAVE to overpay.  They have never signed a top flight NBA player in the open free agency market.  Yeah, they signed Alonzo Mourning but he was very ill at the time and not long afterwards needed a kidney transplant.  Jamaal Magloire had been an All-Star but by the time the Nets signed him, he was a shadow of his former (overrated) self.  As noted above, the Nets are in a better situation, much better, than they were last year at this time, but nowhere near the least yet.

All that said--and we had to get it off our chests--we like the signings of Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow, Johan Petro and (possibly) Jordan Farmar. The Nets' master plan should be quite obvious: go athletic, very athletic, and add shooters, make low and moderate risk/ high reward moves.  It's also a measure of how good Avery Johnson feels about Devin Harris. He wants his team led by Harris and Brook Lopez.  Starting with the hyperathletic draft picks, Derrick Favors and Damion James, and continuing with the pickups of Outlaw, Morrow and Petro, the Nets seem to have made a conscious choice to feature Harris and Brook Lopez. Why do we say that?  By setting up a horse-race style offense with the athletes they've added and a spread-the-floor half court plan with solid deep shooters. The Nets should be able to free Harris up to do what he did two years ago when he had four players with deep shooting percentages over 38%. (Of course, he also had Vince Carter, who the Nets have not replaced.)  Also, the more you open up the lane, the fewer injuries Harris is likely to sustain barreling towards the basket. There should be less traffic down there to play bumper cars with his body.  The Nets' horrid shooting (and limited playbook) last season had opponents clogging the lane and daring them to shoot from the outside.  Having Outlaw, Morrow and maybe Farmar out on the perimeter is also going to open things up for Lopez as well.  Won't hurt Favors development either. It's all about complementary pieces.

What's next?  Probably more of the same.  We've even been told the Nets don't want to acquire anyone over the age of 30.  The franchise--and its owner--now appear to be all in on the rebuilding. They tried and failed at making the big splash and are now dealing with installing new plumbing.

"Mr. Prokhorov said we were going to try and get the top guys and if that didn't work, we were going to try to add other pieces but not destroy our cap space that we have for other years," Thorn told Al Iannazzone. "That's a prudent way to do it. We'll keep looking for pieces, but we're going to maintain our cap integrity as we do it."

Power Play?

Speaking of player personnel issues, we're hearing--and seeing indications--that the new coach would like a lot more power in the personnel area.  He's been the guy out front on player personnel issues, as Thorn fades into the sunset. He wanted Tyrus Thomas. He wanted Travis Outlaw...and recruited him.  He's said he'd like an outsider to take the president's job, which would also help him gather power.  The new guy would be the new guy and would have to rely a lot on Avery...not that there's anything wrong with that. 

After all, the Nets organization is asking a lot of Johnson. With a roster that will no doubt be the youngest in the NBA (quite possibly ever), the Nets will need a coach who can teach, push, prod, mold, etc. It will be a big test for him and the rest of the staff, led by Sam Mitchell. And remember, Prokhorov has made it clear the goal of making the playoffs this season and a championship between one and five years remains "intact".  So the pressure is still on at the top.


Enough about words...Let's talk numbers!  Assume that Morrow's contract is three years at $4 million each, Petro's about $3 million. The Nets will have between $18 and $19 million in cap space after the three signings. (We assume they still want to sign Farmar or his equivalent, but we don’t how much he's being offered or whether he will take it.)

It also means the team currently has a payroll of around $40 million for 13 players, two of whom (Brian Zoubek and Ben Uzoh) are non-guaranteed and a third (Quinton Ross) is so small--$1.14 million--that it could easily be dumped if roster issues arise.  The league requires that each team have a MINIMUM payroll, which this year is set at $43.5 million. That means the Nets MUST spend another $4 million on salaries. (They will automatically add to their payroll when they sign Favors and James. First round picks traditionally get a 20% bonus above the rookie salary scale. But that would add a little less than $1 million.)

Because they are under the cap--more than any other team, they can take on big salaries in trades. We think the team will make one more signing, then try a trade for a power forward.

Dave D'Alessandro suggests the Nets take a flier on Troy Murphy, a New Jersey guy, for a year.  He's an expiring contract at a little less than $12 million.  Nice shooter, nice rebounder, but not someone who's going to run the court.

We suggest that with all that cap space, they could take a look at Andrei Kirilenko, a Moscow guy, for a year. It's not just because he's the only Russian in the NBA.  In the kind of system the Nets are planning, he might be a more ideal fit than Murphy.  Problem is he makes a lot more: $17.8 million.

A trade of AK-47 for Courtney Lee (the backcourt is getting crowded) and/or a pick or two would lessen the possibility of the Jazz paying the luxury tax, give them a huge trade exception and a pick or two. The Jazz are almost certainly going to lose Kirilenko at the end of this season so why not think about it. The Nets would still be about $4 million under the cap if they did that, but add Farmar and you're nearly there.  Not what they want. 

Emeka Okafor is another name being bandied about? He's historically a double-double guy, but he's a big risk.  He missed 80 games in his first three seasons and although he's played in every game the last three, it's something GMs look at.  He's owed nearly $52 million over the next four years--$11.5 million this season.  More worrisome, he's seen all this key numbers--points, rebounds and blocks--decline in each of the last four years, going from 14.4, 11.3 and 2.6 in 2007 to 10.3, 9.0 and 1.6 in 2010.  Yes, he's still only 27 but we can't see the Nets squandering so much of their cap space on someone who may already be in decline.  

There's always Viktor Khryapa, the All-Euroleague PF who was the continent's top defender last season, leading the league in steals and defensive rebounds. Known in Russia as "Kirilenko-Lite", he's also an excellent passer and surprisingly athletic.  He was a Nets draft choice in 2004, is looking in the NBA, is still only 27 and could be had a lot cheaper than the others.

Bottom line on cap management is this. While Chad Ford thinks the Nets want to have $10 million in cap space going into the season, word is that they want much more: something like $14 to $15 million.  It makes sense in the long run and here's why.  With the collective bargaining agreement looming in the distance, teams with big payrolls may want to dump them before the trade deadline.  With a lot of cap space, the Nets are going to be sitting pretty: they can take on the big contracts and offer up measly things like draft picks, swaps of draft picks, cash etc. Desperate men do desperate things, you know.

Spending Money Yet?

Is Prokhorov happy with all this?  Think of it this way: He's Russian.  They LOVE Five-Year Plans.

But what about the promise of Prokhorov profligacy?  Was it a myth?  Certainly, he is spending more than Bruce Ratner ever would.  Here are some examples, not all of them visible:

--He let Thorn add $3 million to the Yi deal to facilitate it.  We don't remember the last time that happened, if ever, with the Nets. 

--The team has hired a full complement of coaches: Johnson plus at least five assistants, at least one of whom, Mitchell, is a former head coach. Another may be as well.  Nets have interviewed both Larry Krystowiak (Bucks) and Eric Musselman (Kings and Warriors) for the remaining opening.

--The Nets gave both Zoubek and Uzoh limited salary protection in their contracts.  Such partial guarantees are by no means guarantees for future employment, but it got the two of them to sign with the Nets and not someone else. The Nets haven't done that since 2007 when they gave Robert Hite $25,000. 

--The Nets are building a state-of-the-art locker room at the Prudential Center, which Prokhrov is getting regular updates on. And remember, the only reason the Nets are in Newark is that he was willing to eat the cost of the lease buyout.

--Hey, all those Blueprint for Greatness signs, billboards, ads, etc. don't come cheap.

Book Me at The "Arena"

Brooklyn has a new hotel, the Best Western Arena, six blocks east of the Barclays Center site.  It's the first major business to take advantage of the Nets move.  Originally to be named Best Western Downtown Brooklyn, it was renamed Best Western Arena because of its proximity to the Barclays Center. "We are only six blocks from the new arena and the only hotel at the first stop along the Long Island Rail Road, making it a convenient stay whether they’re in the area for work or play", said the owner in a press release.  Meanwhile work continues apace on Barclays Center as the concrete footings continue to be filled in, buildings in the footprint continue to be torn down.  The subway tunnels around the arena are also being improved. There's been no indication things aren't moving along. 

Final Note

One thing that has driven us (at least one of us) nuts this week is the claim that the Nets are overpaying players like Outlaw, Morrow and Petro.  Put aside the fact that overpaying is the only way to get restricted free agents like Morrow.  What's the point?  Are people worried that giving Outlaw $35 million over five (essentially the MLE) or Petro $10 million over three is going to break Prokhorov or force him to raise the price of gold?  You want overpaying?  Boozer is going make $20 million when he reaches the age of 34.  Amare Stoudemire is going to be paid more than $25 million at age 33, Joe Johnson the same figure at age 34.  Now maybe Johnson becomes Ray Allen by then, but the Knicks are unlikely to get insurance for Amare's knees, for God's sake.  That's overpaying, in spite of his great skills.

It's all risk management. Giving a player what is essentially the average NBA salary (Outlaw) over five years or half the league average (Petro) over three is hardly any risk at all, particularly since these players are 25 and 24 and have yet to reach their peaks. At least in the case of Outlaw, the team reduced its risk even further by having him take $7 million a year each year, rather than the traditional graduated scale.  How so?  The Nets will be paying him more than what he would get under the graduated scale this year, at a time when there's NO chance it will affect the salary cap. Conversely, they will be paying less when it might, five years down the road.  If they had given him $35 million on a graduated scale, he would be making $8 million in year five instead of $7 million. 

Moreover, at some point, you have to trust your basketball people.