It's all about the front office this week. The news didn't get the headlines free agency did, but the "realignment" of the scouting department, coming right after the last coaching hires, signaled that the Nets' days of cutting costs are over. We look at what it means and what's to come. We also examine what the signing of Sean May portends; whether the Nets blew it with Yi Jianlian--David Thorpe thinks so; whether the Nets have trademarked any other name; the possibility of a Nets seven-footer playing in Turkey and the virtues of a welcome back mural for Isiah Thomas.
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.
It's All Gone..or Is It?
It's still hard getting used to the idea that the Nets have had such a complete turnover since May. Bruce Ratner is out, Mikhail Prokhorov is in; Rod Thorn and Kiki Vandeweghe are out, Billy King and Avery Johnson are in; Nets are out of the IZOD, into the The Rock...and who knows what they will be called once they're in Brooklyn.
But interestingly, with all that turnover, there has been very little blood spilled. Vandeweghe was let go unceremoniously and a couple of others in the front office were replaced, but overall, people who are valued have been retained and in some cases promoted.
Bobby Marks is now assistant GM. Tom Barrise is back on the coaching sidelines after working with Thorn on the draft. He rejoins John Loyer, who weathered last year's craziness with considerable aplomb. Popeye Jones may have replaced Roy Rogers as big man coach--head coach's perogative--but Rogers' appreciable talents were not lost. He's now the team's advance scout, a job that was eliminated last season. Gregg Polinsky and his team of respected college scouts--Jordan Cohn, Maury Hanks and Khalid Green--are back. All of them had contracts that expired back in June. Tim Walsh has been given more responsibility.
Prokhorov and his top aide, Dmitry Razumov, could have just found an NBA expert and told him to slash and burn. There would have been little complaint. There was a lot of blame to go around for last year's debacle. Instead, they have done what they have said they would: find the right people, provide them with resources and stepped aside.
Six Assistant Coaches, Eight Scouts and a Whole Lot of Money
In that same vein... The Nets aren't spending a lot of money on player contracts this summer after failing to land any of the big free agents. But they are spending a lot of money in the front office. In essence, the Nets have doubled what they had at the end of last season in terms of assistant coaches, scouts, video analysts and management support.
The most impressive moves have been in the scouting department. The Nets brought in two new scouts, moved Rogers to the vacant advance scouting job, and upgraded the international scouting position all while retaining the core whose work has led to the team's recent success in the draft. Lost in the news of that upgrade was a decision to hire an administrator back in East Rutherford to organize all their data. Little things like that count.
There are other jobs yet to be filled: an in-house rehab specialist; a director of player programs to help new players adjust to the pro game; and an executive assistant to work with the coaches. Beyond the new video and rehab equipment, at some point, the team will also unveil the home team locker room at the Prudential Center. Prokhorov has supervised that personally. Still unresolved: whether the Nets will hire their own stats guy or rely on the NBA and whether they still have interest in buying the Springfield Armor of the D-League. Nor have we heard whether a Russian hoops expert will be joining the Nets as an assistant GM, as widely reported months ago. (Was that part of Johnson's agenda when he visited Moscow on a working vacation?)
Yes, it must be noted that three of the scouts do have long-standing ties to King...Bob Ferry, Danko Cvjeticanin and Frank Zanin, smacking of either cronyism or loyalty, and yes, the Nets are saving money by hiring three coaches still under contract with their previous teams: Johnson, Sam Mitchell and Larry Krystkowiak, but those deals with the Mavericks, Raptors and Bucks end this season while their deals with the Nets extend out beyond this season. The bottom line is that cutting costs are out, investing in the future is in.
One front office type summed up all the activity buzzing around him by borrowing a line from the boss: "The Nets under new ownership are willing to provide the very best of the best for their new players and that even though we did not land a big fish, our front office will shape out to be one of the finest in the NBA. We will leave no stone unturned...We will not be taken advantage of."
Training Camp Signings, Part I
The Nets have 12 players with fully guaranteed deals, plus three with non-guaranteed (but some cash upfront) in Brian Zoubek, Ben Uzoh and now May.
So barring a trade or other signings between now and training camp, they still have five camp jobs to offer before September 24. In the past, that’s been a combination of undrafted players, vets without contracts and players, both Americans and international, who have spent time overseas. Expect the same this year, but maybe leaning more toward May types, what Vandeweghe calls "fallen angels".
This year, the Nets have several things to offer potential training camp signees: the "It's all New" package (owner, arena, coach, GM, youth, etc.) plus an all-expenses paid trip to China...if you can make that first cut.
Expect May to be typical of training camp invites: low risk, some reward. Why? The Nets want to retain between $14 and $15 million in cap space throughout the season so they can swoop in and scoop up a star at the deadline and have $18 million next summer. They are not likely to make any big moves, or for that matter, medium-sized moves that will jeopardize that strategy. They feel very comfortable with that.
As for May himself, he is back to his weight in college, actually a little below it, but the question remains can his knees--and his stamina--hold out long enough for him to make the team and then make a contribution. What's the best the Nets can hope for? A return to the form of his second year, when he seemed to be coming into his own. Since then, it's been mostly downhill. His last attempt at a comeback was the beginning of last season. He began the season as the Kings' starting center--a position he says he can play. That didn't last long. By November 8, he was back on the bench and didn't play 10 minutes in a game until late January when he had his best game of the season: 7 points and 11 rebounds in 15 minutes. In two games vs the Nets he had four points total.
The Nets, of course, have always thought highly of him, trying to move up to draft him in 2005, then trying to trade for him at least once. The day before the 2007 draft, the Charlotte Observer reported that the Nets offered their pick and Nachbar to the Bobcats for May, but Charlotte (thankfully) turned them down. According to the Observer, the Cats while unhappy with May’s conditioning and record of injuries, weren’t willing to "give him away".
Avery the Recruiter
We haven't heard Sean May talk about why he chose the Nets over the Jazz.. More than likely, it was the opportunity...the Jazz have Paul Milsap and Al Jefferson. But three of other four veteran free agents signed by the Nets have mentioned the key role Johnson played in their recruiting.
"It was a chance to be part of something special," Jordan Farmar said. "It was a lot of Avery Johnson — being able to play for a point guard, someone who will appreciate the little things I do. He’ll help me grow as a player in this league, (and that) was really closer to my decision."
I definitely didn’t get any calls until LeBron picked his spot," Travis Outlaw said, laughing. "But after that, I got a call from Avery, and I was excited about that because he’s a coach who’s turned a lot of players’ careers around."
"I think Coach believes in what I can do – what I’ve never really had the chance to show," Johan Petro said. "He put everything in my hands. Now it’s going to be my turn to just go out there and give whatever I have."
Speaking of the head coach, if you were wondering whether Avery met with Prokhorov on his family vacation to Moscow, the answer is yes, but only casually. It wasn't a working vacation. He didn't bring back any power forwards as souvenirs.
Did the Nets Blow It with Yi?
David Thorpe of ESPN thinks they may have. Thorpe has always liked Yi and this summer, after the Nets traded him to Washington, Yi spent time with Thorpe at his camp in Florida.
Thorpe says he was blown away by Yi. He told the Wizards' blog, The Truth About It, the following: "In our gym he blew us away," the coach said. "We were told by his agent, (Dan) Fegan, that we would be shocked by how athletic he was and we were. All my players in the gym were shocked. All the coaches were shocked. And I think he shocked himself."
"He was dunking everything, and beating guards down the floor, and stripping guards, and making plays full-court in transition with the ball in his hands. His strength coach, who is with him full-time, said he’s never seen him do that kind of stuff before."
Thorpe says the Nets turmoil screwed him up. "He’s almost been like a stray dog … no one’s really hugged him to say ‘you’re mine’," Thorpe said, adding, "Nothing was positive for him as it related to basketball, and he wanted to change that."
Of course, feelings aside, Yi has never mastered the NBA defense. Nor has he been able to stay on the court for more than 66 games in his three seasons in Milwaukee and New Jersey. Of course, time will tell, but Thorpe foresees a bright future for Yi in America's capital.
"I think he should play a game like Rashard Lewis," said Thorpe, "Shoot the three, play a shot fake and attack game and spread the floor. He should be really, really effective in transition with John Wall because Yi is unbelievably fast."
Nyet to Nets?
So we were surprised that Mikhail Prokhorov told Forbes Russia that the Nets would be changing their name once they got to Brooklyn...and that documents had already been submitted to the NBA offices. Any name change planned for 2012 would have to be submitted by October. That's not the surprise. It's just that we can't find evidence that the Nets, Onexim, Prokhorov's holding company, or Forest City Ratner, have applied a trademark on any name other than "Nets". They do hold trademarks on "Brooklyn Nets" and "New York Nets" as well as a Cyrillic transliteration of "Brooklyn Nets" and the more generic "Brooklyn Basketball", that last one having been registered the same week Brett Yormark first hinted about a name change. It is of course possible another company or Prokhorov's law firm obtained the trademark and will transfer it when needed.
The Nets are being cagey about the new name, with one insider saying only, "As you know there are NBA rules which govern this issue, and I think it's safe to assume we won't be the New Jersey Nets when the team moves to Brooklyn!"
As noted before, Ratner controls the url for brooklynets.com (one "n") while a critic holds the more appropriate brooklynnets.com (two "n"s). Interestingly, newarknets.com, formerly held by a Newark, CA., volleyball team, now is in someone else's hands, perhaps the Nets. Hard to tell.
Les Bleus get The Blues
Bodies keep falling at the Team France training center and we wonder if French Basketball will make a late call to Johan Petro to help out at the Worlds later this month.
On Friday alone, Joakhim Noah and Rodrique Beaubois were dropped from the team known in Paris as Les Bleus...the former because of contract negotiations and the latter because of a broken foot.
Patrick Beesley, the head of French basketball, has in the past assured fans that the team has players in reserve, ready to join the team if things get worse. One name he mentioned as the team kept losing big men was Petro's. How ironic would it be if Petro wound up as the Nets' sole representative in the World Championships. With Yi traded and Lopez still recovering from mono, there will no Nets in Turkey unless Petro gets a late call. The French team is one of four teams who will be playing in the World Basketball Festival next week in New York.
You know we will update you.
Memo to Brett Yormark: Time to put the "Blueprint for Greatness" billboard back up on that building opposite Madison Square Garden...except this time add a third face, that of Isiah Thomas. If there is anything that will turn Knick fans into Net fans, it's the looming presence of Isiah, aka Mr. Baggage.
Heck, forget Prokhorov and Jay-Z. Just create a giant movie poster-style mural of Isiah Thomas as vampire (it's trendy), his cold, dead, bloodshot eyes staring off in the distance toward his prey, the Garden! Yeah, we like that. Now, add a few other people too: Stephon Marbury in his Escalade, intern by his side; Jerome James and Eddy Curry fighting over a cheeseburger. You might want to paint in a horrified Anucha Browne Sanders screaming as she runs towards the far edge of the poster. You could title it: "Coming Soon to the Garden: 41 Nights of the Living Dead".
Anyone still think the Knicks had a better off-season than the Nets? Not after this "signing".