Hello Brooklyn Nets, how you doin'? Brooklyn was the theme this week, as the team and Barclays Center started the one year countdown to the arena opening on Brett Yormark's 45th birthday, September 28, 2012 (Yep, really). The reaction, we must admit, was stunning. The naming issue was settled long ago. Trademarks were sought, a URL was purchased, renderings revealed. And yet, still, Jay-Z's star power overwhelmed all that. For the entire day Monday, "Brooklyn Nets" was trending worldwide. The Post devoted a whole page to it, etc., etc.
Next up in the Jay-Z rollout is likely to be a press conference in February (when hopefully Net players will join him on stage) to introduce team colors and a new uniform. For the record, Brooklyn's official colors are blue and gold. So this week, for a record 25th time, we talk Nets on the weekend, starting with what Jay-Z means to the Nets' future...and including discussions of amnesty, who's playing where and when this week and Mikhail's future.
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, and of course, the lockout. We will rely on the Nets’ beat reporters and others who slip interesting stuff into larger stories, blogs, tweets...plus our own reporting and analysis.
Jay-Z in the house
We learned something or we should say re-learned something this week: having Jay-Z on your side is HUGE. After he appeared on local television and then at a press conference to announce what was already well-known, the "Brooklyn Nets" wound up trending worldwide on Twitter all day, reaching the top five in mid-afternoon.
Does anyone believe that if Mikhail Prokhorov or Avery Johnson or Deron Williams announced the name "change", which has been signaled for at least a year, it would have gotten such attention? Of course not! Arena critics can keep saying he is a very minor shareholder in the team although neither they nor we know what the percentage is. It doesn't matter if he has one share and Prokhorov has a million. He is a "cultural icon", as the Nets described him at both the March 2010 ground breaking and last week's renaming announcement...and he is OUR "cultural icon".
Roseanne Scotto of "Good Day New York" asked Jay-Z if he intended to use his influence to recruit free agents, he wouldn't be specific...and was a bit hesitant, looking like he wanted to avoid another fine. "It's a team, you know, so we absolutely want to compete for a championship and so we're going to be looking for the best players," he told Scotto.
Billy King wasn't so hesitant back in April about how much Jay-Z is involved, unlike other minority celebrity owners, Usher in Cleveland and Nelly in Charlotte.
"To see (Jay-Z) give a pitch on Brooklyn, and the passion about going to Brooklyn – you see it on tape, you see it on TV. To see him in a room with Carmelo, and making it, you see the passion there," King told Stefan Bondy. "And if he’s as passionate about Brooklyn, I just can’t imagine what the other people that live there are going to be like when we get there. And to see him as involved and as passionate about the Nets, to me, it’s a real positive. It’s not just something that he’s just using, or investing in. It’s something that he’s going to be involved in even more when we get – next season, I think, even further, we go to Brooklyn."
And Jay-Z's magnetism isn't limited to New York. As we pointed out, the name change got a lot of play in the Russian press, with Moscow oligarch and Brooklyn rapper often getting equal time in the reports. (The Nets Russian language website also linked to a couple of the stories in the Russian press --the first time it's been updated in months.)
Do the Nets and Jay-Z have an arrangement beyond his being a minority stockholder? We have been told that indeed they do, that Prokhorov and Jay-Z agreed to it not long after Prokhorov took over as owner, the Russian understanding the value of having him on board. We have even been told that the Nets official description of him as "cultural icon" is part of said deal. And of course, his ad agency, Translation, has the Barclays Center contract for the Nets move to Brooklyn.
At the renaming, we did some mingling with Nets officials, picked up a few tidbits, noticed some things.
--We got some subtle hints that the Islander talks are a bit more advanced than just Bruce Ratner and Brett Yormark visiting the NHL offices...that Charles Wang, the Islanders owner, has a working knowledge of the Barclays Center's ability to host hockey games. And we got further confirmation that the arena already has ice-making capability beyond NHL standards.
--Some numbers: 79 per cent of the steel for the arena is now up, as the roof superstructure arches its way across the 350-foot length of the arena; "about half" the 104 suites have been sold; the arena facade will contain 11,998 pieces, not one of which will be the same.
--The renaming announcement is the latest "event" the Nets have sponsored this summer. The Nets of course have been in the news for a variety of reasons: Deron Williams' signing in Europe; Kris Humphries' marriage to Kim Kardashian, Mikhail Prokhorov's political foray and the arena construction itself...no doubt more than any other team. Team officials also point out that according to NBA data, no team has had more public events during the lockout. A lot of that, of course, has to do with the move.
--the new buzz word for the arena is "intimate," as in this line from the announcement that the Atlantic 10 will have its annual tournament at the Barclays Center, "the Barclays Center will have one of the most intimate seating configurations ever designed into a modern multi-purpose arena, with unparalleled sightlines..." It's not just the " great sight lines" anymore. It's about "intimacy".
--Irina Pavlova, president of Prokhorov's Onexim Sports Holdings USA, was the only Russian team official we saw a the event, although Ratner was effusive in his praise of Mikhail Prokhorov and sent him greetings. Chris Charlier, chairman of the Nets board, was quoted in the press release. "We are proud to announce this highly anticipated decision to name the team the Brooklyn Nets, a choice that reflects the decades-long tradition of our team and our fans, as well as the dynamic new place that will be our home," said Charlier. Nothing from the boss, however.
--Also missing: the Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn gang was not in attendance. At the March 2010 ground breaking, they were just out of camera range holding up signs and using noisemakers to distract the goings-on. Not this time. They were nowhere to be found.
One More Brooklyn Note
Every day, we check on news using a variety of filters, alerts and search teams. One of the search terms we check several times a day is "the Nets". In the past, the first item to be returned has always been the Nets official website, identified as "The Official Site of Nets Basketball". Not anymore. Now, if you search "the Nets", the first item is the Nets official website, but identified instead as "Brooklyn NETS". It's not coincidental. Expect more of the same on the web and in social media.
Amnesty for All!
Amnesty was the word of the day earlier in the week as various reports that the owners had agreed on an amnesty provision. As reported, each team would be able to pay off one player. The player's entire contract would be dropped from both the cap and the luxury tax rolls. The obvious candidate would be Travis Outlaw, owed $7 million a year over the next four years.
It would of course be a bonanza for the Nets who currently have eight players (six veterans and two rookies) under contract with a combined payroll of about $40 million. Depending on whose numbers you look at, that put them either third or fourth lowest, behind the Kings, Pacers and possibly the Nuggets. (Depending on how the new CBA is structured, the Nuggets might have to dump Bird rights for those free agents like defectors Wilson Chandler and J.R. Smith, if they want to go lower).
The Nets have other advantages over those three when looking at this development in free agency: The Pacers and Kings are in deep financial distress and are small market teams. There is no guarantee the Kings will stay in Sacramento. The Nets have the richest owner in sports and are moving into North America's richest market. More importantly, the Nets are the only one of the four teams with a legitimate NBA superstar. Next best player on the combined roster is probably Danny Granger although some might go with one of the Kings' kids. Dumping Outlaw would put the Nets at about $33 million in payroll, around the same level as the Pacers. The Kings, who only have $28 million in payroll, are likely to dump Francisco Garcia's contract, which will play him $5.8 million next season and $18 million overall. The Nets are also confident they could use pick(s) to dump one of their other contracts, like say Johan Petro.
We're also told that although initial reports indicate the amnesty would be total, that is, 100% of the player's contract, it's more likely the number will be around 80 to 85% of the contract. That would mean amnesty for Outlaw would amount to a little less than $6 million rather than $7 million. Also, there is divided opinion on whether the players would accept this. Some say it's a good deal for the players, but others, including an agent we spoke with, think the players aren't likely to give the owners a pass on absolving themselves of bad decisions when those same owners want a hard cap with limited exceptions. And yeah, we know there's talk about banning sign-and-trades, but there's no debate there: the players are strongly opposed.
Back to Basketball
The Nets European contingent started playing real games this week when Deron Williams and Besiktas opened EuroCup play against Dexia Mons of Belgium. (Even more disappointing than D-Will's 3-for-15 shooting was the crowd, about on the same scale as the Nets' preseason opener last October vs. Maccabi Haifa.) Williams plays again Tuesday in Belgium, his first away game. Watch out for those heated coins, Deron.
Bojan Bogdanovic finishes up preseason play Saturday in Istanbul as his Fenerbahce Ulker (and Sasha Vujacic's Efes Andolu) play against Greece's top two team in the Two Nations Cup. If you want to watch him Sunday, for about $7, you can sign up for the Two Nations Tournament video here.
Next Friday, it's the Turkish Cup in Istanbul. Williams plays for Besiktas, Bogdanovic plays for Fenerbahce Ulker; Vujacic plays for Efes. It will be D-Will's first chance to examine Bogdanovic's game.
Jordan Farmar and Maccabi Tel Aviv, a legitimate contender for the Euroleague title, travel to Novo Mesto, Slovenia Saturday for their first Adriatic League regular season game. Maccabi plays in three leagues: the Euroleague, Adriatic and Israeli.
Sundiata Gaines won't be playing for B.C. Armia, part of the Georgian Defense Ministry, until November 8.
Finally, on Sunday, Ben Uzoh is expected to be introduced as a new member of Lokomotiv Kuban, a Russian team in the city of Kuban, ancestral home of the Cossacks.
There remains a lot of concern about Mikhail Prokhorov's situation in Russia, where he is testing the limits of democracy. There's concern but not a lot of worry, we're told. One reason is that Russia desperately needs foreign investment and everyone knows that if Vladimir Putin brings down the hammer (and sickle?) on Prokhorov, it could be a big deterrent for those investors looking to put money in emerging economies. Among the so-called BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, Indian and China), Russia has a reputation as corrupt and without many legal safeguards. That reputation would be enhanced if the Kremlin goes after Prokhorov...at least we hope so.