We look forward not back in this week's edition of the Off-Season Report. Still, we can't help ourselves. By this time last year, all the off-season free agents except Stephen Graham and Joe Smith had been signed; the Blueprint for Greatness had just come down; Billy King had just been hired and we reviewed his record. We looked hopefully but none too skeptically at the free agents.
This year? We review the comments Net officials made about plans for new training facilities; point out how the Nets, along with the Knicks, spread more cash around in the last year than any other NBA team; schedule a ferry ride; wonder if Lawrence Frank will be poaching Nets assistants; analyze why the Nets might want Brandan Wright back; start thinking about a new logo for Johan Petro's official website, and in general worry a lot.
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 now 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.
Still Spending Money
The Nets are likely ("about 85-90%", says an insider) to build a new training facility somewhere in New York or New Jersey over the next two years. It's yet another indicator that Mikhail Prokhorov is still spending money on his team, despite the lockout and despite his new duties as head of Russia's Pravoe Delo political party.
As reported this week, the Nets will remain in their East Rutherford digs, aka PNY Center, through their first season in Brooklyn, 2012-13, then move to a new training facility. Meantime, they will also utilize a practice court and locker room facilities at Barclays Center. The Barclays court can be used for pre-game walk-throughs and shootarounds. It will be visible both from Atlantic Avenue and several vantage points inside the arena, including the Main Concourse and VIP Entrance, making it a promotional asset as well.
The new training facility could be located in Brooklyn (or suburban New Jersey or New York...We are told Long Island, the team's ancestral home, is out because it's too far out). One factor in locating the facility will likely be the cost, including that of land which does not come cheap anywhere in the region. Perhaps Bruce Ratner has a suitable piece of real estate he'd like to use to promote a big new project in Brooklyn or elsewhere. Having a modern NBA training facility on site can't hurt sales.
What might the facility look like and how much might it cost? The current gold standard is the Cavaliers' Cleveland Clinics Court in Independence, Ohio. Built as part of the effort to keep LeBron James in Cleveland, it's one of the best facilities in the NBA, if not the best. It is essentially a suburban spa. And it was designed by Ellerbe Becket, the same firm that is the lead architect on Barclays Center. It cost $20 million when completed in 2007. The Courts, a 50,000-square foot facility, took a year to build. It was located in the suburbs so it could be near where the Cavaliers' GM, coaches and players lived, rather than where they worked. In the Nets case, that would seem to give New Jersey an advantage. Most players live in New Jersey, although that could change. Deron Williams told Al Iannazzone a few months back that once things are settled, he's likely to move his family to Manhattan.
The Nets are also looking at Brooklyn office buildings (three owned by Bruce Ratner) to hold their executive offices, everything not related to basketball, One Pierrepont Place in Brooklyn Heights, the nearby MetroTech Center and the Atlantic Terminal, right across the street from the arena. The offices will house team business offices as well as those for Barclays Center. The team is expected to choose a location soon and then move whenever next season ends, assuming there is a next season. That's where payroll checks will be cut, and state payroll taxes taken out. The offices were originally going to be in the the arena, but once it was reduced from 850,000 square feet to 675,000 square feet, the offices had to go. (Barclays will have small offices for Avery Johnson, Billy King, the assistant coaches, Tim Walsh and Gary Sussman within the "basketball operations campus", aka locker room area. Prokhorov has an office when he needs one within the Onexim Sports and Entertainment Holdings USA space within the Seagrams Building in midtown Manhattan.)
So how much has Prokhorov spent so far? We've seen various estimates, but the best number is probably about $400 million, with more to come. According to the latest financials, revealed by Darren Rovell on CNBC, Prokhorov laid out $223 million, a slightly higher number than has been previously reported, to buy 80% of the team, 45% of the arena and secure an option to buy up to 20% of the overall Atlantic Yards. He's also bought $75.8 million in junk bonds (at 11%) to finance arena infrastructure; and agreed to pay up to $60 million to cover costs while the team is in New Jersey, including debt service on 80% of the team's $225 million in loans; operating losses; NJSEA lease buyout payments of $4 million; and cash considerations to facilitate trades and other transactions, which we estimate at $7.5 million. That "Jersey Fund" as we like to call it, was supposed to last two years. It was exhausted last quarter, meaning it's done and until the arena is open for business those losses go back on Forest City Enterprises' books. Starting in 2012-13, a new agreement, whose details haven't been revealed, takes over.
Cash is King to Billy King
Speaking of that $7.5 million used to facilitate trades, we did a little research and can find only one other team that's spent that much since Prokhorov became the Nets owner on May 12, 2010. That team is the Knicks.
The Nets laid out $3 million to facilitate the salary dump of Yi Jianlian to the Wizards in June 2009; $3 million to sweeten the D-Will deal in February and approximately $1.5 million (and a second round pick in 2013) to acquire the 31st pick in the 2011 Draft (Bojan Bogdanovic of Croatia).
Jim Dolan's Knicks have paid out a little more, around $7.7 million, in that same time period: $3 million each to the Nuggets and Timberwolves last February to cement the Carmelo Anthony trade; $1 million to buy a late second round pick in 2010 from the Bucks (Jerome Jordan of Tulsa) and $700,000 to buy a late second round pick in 2011 from the Hornets (Josh Harrellson of Kentucky).
The two teams also laid out several hundreds of thousands dollars last summer on various partial guarantees: the Nets $35,000 to Ben Uzoh; $50,000 to Brian Zoubek; $100,000 to Sean May and $450,000 to Stephen Graham. The Knicks gave $140,000 to Patrick Ewing Jr. All told, counting cash considerations and partial guarantees, the Nets paid out a little more.
If you're wondering who has received the most in cash considerations, our research shows it's the Timberwolves, who received $3 million from the Knicks, $1.5 million from the Nets and an undisclosed amount from the Heat to send them the #28 pick in the draft (Norris Cole). Kahn!!!!
Oh Yeah, The Ferries
So in that first season in Brooklyn, how do the Nets get from New Jersey, where most of the players and coaches live, to Barclays Center? One possibility we hear: chartered ferries which would pick up players at a slip in New Jersey, possibly Jersey City, and then down the Hudson (past the ice floes?) and around the Battery to a slip in Brooklyn, where buses would whisk them to the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush. Sounds very Russian to us. Ice is ice, oars is oars.
Free Agent List
Lost in the coverage of the beat writers' grand tour of Barclays Center was Al Iannazzone's discussion of free agency on the YES site. Iannazzone wrote that the Nets will need to make their big deals before Brooklyn opens:
The Nets are hoping that (combination of Deron Williams and Brooklyn) will help them get some of the players they’ve targeted from this group of frontcourt players: Nene, Tyson Chandler, Kris Humphries, Tayshaun Prince and Caron Butler.
Secure a couple of them and Williams is more apt to stay, the Nets are more likely to make the playoffs and Brooklyn will open with even more hoopla than already being planned.
That list is similar, if a bit longer than a list he wrote about around the time of the lockout and is very similar to what Fred Kerber has reported in the Post. They're not making it up. We've heard some of the same names and it's no accident that Nene Hilario, the pride of Brazil, is at that top of all the lists. If there is one player who you'd expect would be the target of a front-loaded pact, it's Nene.
The Nets will have one of the league's smallest payrolls whenever the CBA deal gets done and that number is more important than any projection on cap space. But they are also among the league's youngest teams...the eight players under contract and the two draft picks average less than 24 years old. Deron Williams is on the record calling for the team to sign veterans. The youngest player in the above group is Kris Humphries, at 26. Nene turns 29 in September; Chandler turns 29 a month later; Butler is 31; So is Prince. We'd also scratch Chandler from that list. Mark Cuban understands how valuable his 7'1" defensive anchor is. The rest are gettable.
What about Thaddeus Young and Jeff Green, both young veterans? Both are restricted and it's unlikely that the 76ers, in particular, are going to let Young go. Rod Thorn is still vice-president of basketball operations and there is bad blood between him and the Russians. The Sixers will do what they have to. Danny Ainge has already talked glowingly about Green's future.
Frank Reconstituting Nets Bench?
Lawrence Frank is hoping to add Roy Rogers, his former assistant in New Jersey to the Pistons bench and is likely to keep Brian Hill, his former top assistant who moved to Detroit in 2009, Adrian Wojnarowski reports. As head coach of the Grizzlies, Hill hired Frank as an assistant in 1997. Pat Sullivan, whose contract is up with Detroit, assisted Frank with the Nets from 2005 through 2008 and is hoping to be retained under his old boss. Who's left on the Nets bench from his days as head coach? Tom Barrise was his lead assistant and John Loyer who he hired in 2008 remain in New Jersey. No word on whether they would re-join him.
Do expect Frank to make a big push on resigning Prince, who is exactly his type of player: a solid defender with championship credentials--an NBA ring and an Olympic gold medal. That's also why Avery Johnson wants him.
Brandan Wright - Hump Insurance?
One thing we should have mentioned last week were Brandan Wright's comments to a local Tennessee reporter.
"There’s a chance I might not go back (to New Jersey), but we don’t know — especially with all the labor stuff," Wright said while working out in Brentwood, TN. "Right now it’s looking like I’ll be back there. But you never know. It’s a business. You don’t know what’s going to happen."
What struck us about the comments was that it seems like the Nets have told him they'd like to bring him back. Otherwise, why say "It's looking like I'll be back there"? He did show some progress after the trade from Golden State and there was one report at season's end that the Nets hadn't quite given up on him. The report indicated he could be back "at the right price" because "he’s young and athletic". There was nothing to indicate that the Nets picked up his qualifying offer before the June 30 deadline. So he's likely an unrestricted free agent.
But in light of what we believe to be the truth re the Nets' interest in Nene and the Nets' desire to keep Humphries, how does Wright fit, despite his youth (six months older than Brook Lopez)? Third string power forward? Does that make sense for him? No, but let's suppose the Nets do sign Nene and don't meet Humphries' expectations. Might Avery Johnson think he can undertake a reclamation project with Wright like he did with Humphries? That makes more sense.
Final Note: JP
Johan Petro is one of the most popular NBA players on Twitter, with more than 340,000 followers. Really. His Nugget teammates pushed him out front two years ago. He doesn't tweet a lot but he got our attention this week when he promised to provide a "$5,000 check" to the winner of his contest to "come up with a better version of the JP logo!" No further details, but it's good to see that Frenchi27 has saved enough money that he can give some of it away during the lockout.