It's the end of the first week of the Brooklyn Nets and by anyone's measure, it was a success, unless of course you're a cranky Post columnist with unresolved issues from the 60's.
Instead of looking back, we're going to take a look forward, particularly at Billy King's travel schedule this week. He's going to Istanbul for the Euroleague Final Four. The semi-finals are Friday and the title game Sunday. Andrei Kirilenko is the best player in the games. Thursday night, there's a Turkish League playoff game where King can watch Bojan Bogdanovic, the Nets' Euro-Stash
We also take a look at a draft sleeper if the Nets buy a late first rounder. He's a Euro too. Then, there's some stuff on the free agent mini-camp later in the month; what Mikhail Prokhorov is up to; a preview of a documentary featuring ironworkers at Barclays Center and more about getting there when it's done. We also take a look at who's noticed the Nets have moved to Brooklyn and who hasn't. Enjoying the prerogative of being able to look backwards, we submit our case for the worst trade in Nets history.
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, blogs, tweets...plus our own reporting.
How about this? On a week when the Nets were sitting on beaches around the world resting their weary bones and the Knicks were playing, but poorly, in the post-season, Nets gear was outselling Knicks gear at the NBA Store in Manhattan and online. And that's without any big-ticket uniform jerseys or personalized player gear being available.
The Nets pulled off their introduction to Brooklyn with flying colors (okay, with black and white, which technically aren't colors, just the presence and absence or light). Next up will be the roll-out of said uniforms, sometime in September before training camp but after free agency. Who will be holding up the uniforms will be determined between now and then. We do wonder what the Nets draft picks will be holding up on June 29, the day after the draft. Normally, they hold up jerseys, but they won't be available. Also somewhere around then will be the introduction of the team mascot which will be a big deal, we are told. No further details are available. Will the Nets also discuss a new training facility? Could be. In the short term, we're also hoping for a picture of Barbra Steisand in a Nets cap.
We're not saying much on the Phil Mushnick column. Enough has been said already and the Nets official comment about the column being "offensive and inappropriate" sends the right message. Suffice it to say that it all seems lost on Mushnick and more importantly his editors who are standing by the column.
Waiting on Bojan
The Nets appear serious about their pursuit of Bojan Bogdanovic, the 6'8" swingman who plays for Fenerbahce Ulker in Turkey. Billy King said Tuesday he's going to Istanbul this week for the Euroleague championships and will likely talk with Bogdanovic and Fener management about getting him in Brooklyn next season. Bogdanovic will play in the opening round of the Turkish Basketball League playoffs starting Sunday. So depending how long King is in Istanbul he could see Bogdanovic play as well.
When Bogdanovic was drafted last June, with the #31 pick purchased from Minnesota, King said that was indeed the goal, even though the Croatian star's contract doesn't have an NBA out until July 2013. The Nets can only offer Fener $525,000 under NBA rules. Bogdanovic, 23, will have to find the rest himself...if Fener will let him go. Unlike other European clubs the Nets have dealt with in the past, mainly Serbian clubs, Fener is not cash-poor. There will have to be some other rewards for the Turkish club.
Bogdanovic hasn't spent a lot of time on the court the last two games and pundits in his native Croatian don't think much of it. To them, it was about rest. Fener knew they were going to finish in the fifth spot in the Turkish League players so why push him with the playoffs about to start?
Some in Bogdanovic's camp think his fellow Croatian, Neven Spaljha, hasn't used Bogdanovic to the full extent of his capabilities, but the veteran coach recently praised his team's star, noting that he admires Bogdanovic for his tough play even while exhausted. He also told European reporters that he was afraid Bogdanovic might "burn out."
In general, Bogdanovic surpassed expectations despite his inconsistencies. Fener, like the Nets, was hit by a wave of injuries and the two American players they brought in, James Gist and Curtis Jerrels, didn't fit well and the team ultimately disappointed. Bogdanovic had more high-scoring games than most expected and his three point shooting at times was phenomenal. He also showed some deft ball-handling and interior passing. His motor runs high.
When the Nets drafted him, Cvjeticanin told a Croatian website that he thought Bogdanovic reminded him of a cross between Peja Stojakovic and Carlos Delfino. After working him out twice, King and Bobby Marks must have agreed at least to a certain extent. They've already spent $1.5 million to buy his rights and are willing to give another $525,000 to Fener. Then, they will have sit down with his agent to negotiate a contract. Because he's a second rounder, his contract won't be governed by the rookie salary scale. Figure he'll get more than a million a year.
Where would he fit? Think about what King said to Ian Eagle about having versatile athletes. Bogdanovic has played small forward in Europe but he is on the record saying he thinks he can play the 2 in the NBA.
Once King returns from his second trip to Turkey (remember he went to see Deron Williams in a small coastal city during the lockout), the Nets should have a better idea about whether a player Chad Ford said could be a steal of the draft will be headed across the Atlantic or wait another year. And if they succeed, and the Nets wind up with only a late first rounder or no first round picks at all on June 28, expect the Nets to claim he's the equivalent of a mid first rounder.
The "Other" Scouting Target
King has said that his primary reason for going to Turkey is to scout the Euroleague Final Four, which is next weekend. Then later, Wendell Maxey, formerly of HoopsWorld, tweeted and wrote that the Nets and Andrei Kirilenko had a verbal agreement on a three-year deal that would be announced after the Final Four, where Kirilenko's CSKA Moscow team is the favorite. (Daryl Morey, the Rockets GM, said last month after scouting CSKA that they would be competitive if they played in the NBA.)
As a player not under contract with an NBA club, Kirilenko could be eligible to sing a deal now, but why would the Nets sign him before making other deals with their cap space? Still, there are enough intersections between the Nets and AK-47 to make the prospect quite intriguing.
Kirilenko and Mikhail Prokhorov are friendly and the popular player supported Prokhorov's decision to run for President of Russia. Prokhorov, of course, was the principal owner of CSKA when Kirilenko was starting out in international play. He and Deron Williams were teammates for six years in Utah, leaving within months of each other. Even more interesting, Prokhorov tried to buy out Kirilenko's Jazz contract back in 2007 after he led Russia to an upset win in FIBA Eurobasket that year, outplaying Pau Gasol. The Jazz refused to sell his rights to CSKA.
And while the Nets have denied they have a deal with Kirilenko, there's plenty of evidence there's mutual interest. Last December, the two sides were talking contract, with the Nets reportedly willing to give Kirilenko $11 million for one year. He was already playing in Russia but had an "out: to re-join the NBA. Then, Brook Lopez broke his foot and the Nets moved instead to acquire Mehmet Okur for a 2015 second rounder. Okur's $10.9 million contract ate up the cap space the Nets could have used to sign Kirilenko. AK-47 stayed with CSKA
In an interview with a German sports site a couple of months back, AK-47 spoke of Prokhorov's decision to buy the Nets and his presidential bid. "Pretty sure that he sees the perspective for the club and for the team. I know that business-wise he is always trying to bring the best management possible for his assets. I do know him pretty well, have all the respect towards him and support his decision to try himself on Russian presidential elections."
Just before he came to the US for a couple of games in April, Prokhorov attended a CSKA Moscow game, sitting courtside and cheering on his old team and Kirilenko. There is a lot to cheer about his game this year in Russia. He was Europe's best player and is likely to be named the MVP of the Euroleague. He is already MVP of the Russian league.
How much does he have left and how much would he want are the big issues. He told that same German sports site that he believes he has "three or four years of highest-level basketball left." His game this year suggests he may very well be right (if he can avoid injuries, always an issue for him). D-Will is on the record as wanting more veterans and Billy King has talked openly about finding more versatile athletes.
How much would he want? Back in December, after the lockout ended, there were reports he was offering his services for $40 million over four years then reduced his rate to $27 million over three. He might command the lesser amount, considering what the competition will be in a mediocre free agent class. Would the Nets go that high? We have no idea but we will say we don't strictly buy the Nets' denials. We think the report is more "premature" than not true. After all on Friday, Kirilenko did tell Sport Express that things could change "at any moment." Then on Saturday he told the same paper, "Rumors will follow me throughout my career. Playing in Utah, I must have been 'traded' twenty times (Laughs). Maybe everything will be exactly as they say. Or maybe nothing will happen." We're going with the former over the latter.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
We know that at this point, the Nets don't have a guaranteed pick, but we also know that the Nets have until June 30 to spend the $3 million in cash they are other teams are permitted to spend each year. We cannot imagine and quite frankly have some indications that the Nets will be in the market for a pick in the middle to late first round, either as straight cash deal or in a cash + player deal.
So in keeping with the European focus of this week, let us introduce a player who the Nets might like if they grabbed a pick. Evan Fournier is a 6'7" French guard who mostly plays at the two but can play a bit at the point. He is the only European player who draftniks think is worth a first round pick. He has improved his game over the season and has been scouted on more than one occasion by Danko Cvjeticanin, the Nets international scout.
Here's what Jonathan Givony of Draft Express wrote of him recently,
Fournier is the undisputed go-to guy of Poitiers, a pretty rare feat in Europe considering his age and the level of competition he's playing at, even if his team ranks towards the bottom of the league with a 8-18 record this season.
He possesses ideal physical attributes for a NBA wing at 6-7 with a strong frame, and has the ability to create his own shot very effectively thanks to his excellent size, strength, and ball-handling skills. Despite his height, he's able to get very low with his dribble, showing terrific footwork and body control driving into the lane, often using crafty change of speed moves, spins and hesitations.
Patient and mature with his drives, he reads the secondary line of defense extremely well, frequently making intelligent passes off the dribble to cutting teammates as help-side defenders rotate towards him.
Fournier is capable of playing above the rim, even if he doesn't always feel compelled to, as he finishes extremely well around the basket, converting 63% of his attempts around the rim on the season according to Synergy Sports Technology, and a very efficient 55% of his 2-pointers overall.
in terms of the Nets plans for globalization, Evan Mehdi Fournier is the son of French father and a Moroccan mother. In addition to the Nets, the Rockets have scouted Fournier as well. They currently have the last pick in the lottery and the first pick outside it. The #15 pick might be too high for him. Scott Schroeder of Ridiculous Upside, a fan, writes that his contract extends through next season but suggests it has a buyout provision.
Little Things Mean a Lot
We have harped a bit over the last two years on how even though the Nets aren't winning, they are making improvements in the team infrastructure, adding scouts, assistant coaches, a D-League affiliate, a chef, a sports psychologist; improved their technology in video editing and handheld devices (every player gets an iPad on arrival with the playbook embedded). Not to mention the player amenities being built into Barclays Center.
The latest improvement is the free agent mini-camp the Nets are quietly putting together on May 21-23. No one recalls the team doing anything like that in the past. They've certainly brought free agents into the PNY Center (and elsewhere) in the past, but not in an organized way, with competition among a large number seeking jobs. Bobby Marks is putting together the list of players, some of which we're told are former NBA players. Armor GM Milton Lee and Armor coach Bob MacKinnon are helping out on D-Leaguers. We have no names yet, but expect a number of D-Leaguers, including Armor players to be on hand.
Is it going to produce a star? Not likely. Most of the players they'll bring in are candidates for summer league or training camp roster or the D-League, but all the Nets' openings, you never know. But Gerald Green is evidence of what you can get if you play it smart/get lucky. So is Raja Bell, who King signed as a free agent after he went undrafted in 2000 and failed with the Spurs. After playing limited minutes in April 2001, Bell got more and more respect from Larry Brown and wound up starting in the Finals.
But you have to have the infrastructure to get things done.
Bad, Bad Trade
Congratulations to Ryan Anderson on winning the Most Improved Player Award at 23. This would seem to make the Vince Carter and Ryan Anderson for Courtney Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie the single worst deal in team history, or at least right up there with Mookie Blaylock for Rumeal Robinson.
The Nets got Lee who hated being here and then dumped him for Troy Murphy who soaked up some salary space, then departed. It's amazing how big men can fall apart so fast. Alston was a locker room problem and was ultimately shipped off to the Heat in a convoluted deal that got the Nets the Heat's second round pick this season and Chris Quinn. Battie was often injured and did little.
There were those (one of us included) who disliked the trade but thought at the least it would give Yi Jianlian a chance to step up. Apparently Kiki Vandeweghe thought that way too. We all know how that turned out for Yi and Kiki.
We think in retrospect that the original deal offered the Nets back then would have been far better. It was Vince Carter straight up for J.J. Redick, Alston and Battie. Redick at this point in his career is as good a player as Lee who hasn't progressed much since his rookie year (with Dwight Howard). The Nets would have still dumped VC's huge contract but kept Anderson. Rod Thorn liked Lee who after all had started at shooting guard in the NBA Finals. Of course, the original deal would have also cost the Nets a few million dollars, something not in great supply at the end of the Ratner era.
We all know the criticism of Anderson: that he wouldn't have won the MIP without having all those open jumpers courtesy of Howard. It's a valid criticism particularly watching the Magic-Pacers series, but Anderson did lead the NBA in three pointers and he is only 23, seven months older than Marshon Brooks. Not to mention that he's a terrific individual.
There are only two ways to rectify the situation: the Nets can bring Anderson back as a free agent, which is a possibility, or hope that the Heat pick they got for Alston turns out to be the second coming of Manu Ginobili, also taken at #57 in the 1999 Draft.
Prokhorov Slowing Political Drive?
Some of Mikhail Prokhorov's supporters are disappointed that the man who challenged Vladimir Putin is not taking advantage of his popularity to form a rival party that could organize against Russia's president. In recent weeks, Prokhorov seems to have slowed his political drive.
In a recent item on his blog, the Nets owner talked about how creating a new party needs to be thought out and that things can be achieved politically without a party, without him.
"I respect and understand the desire of my supporters to show their civic stance and immediately change the world," he wrote. "In this case, I believe that it is not necessary to change the world exclusively and only on the team with Prokhorov, because everyone has the opportunity to do it yourself ... Many of my supporters realize socially significant and very important projects without waiting for thanks or reward pat on the back."
One thing struck us about Prokhorov's recent visit to New York. He could have easily used the trip to burnish his political standing in the U.S. by speaking, for example, at the Council on Foreign Relations or one of the many schools of diplomacy and foreign relations in the New York area. He apparently chose not to. Instead, it was all about the Nets: a day of meetings about the team's future, a visit to Barclays Center with Bruce Ratner, two games and discussions with Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Gerald Wallace and as well as a meeting with season ticket holders and NetsDaily.
More interesting for Nets fans is his reaction to the latest disaster in his other sports venture, the Russian Biathlon Federation. Biathlon is a combination of skiing and rifle shooting, sort of a mini-decathlon on skis. It is highly popular in Russia but had fallen on hard times when in 2009 Prokhorov took over (sound familiar?). Prokhorov dove head-first into fixing the system, putting his trusted sports adviser (and now Nets board member Sergei Kushchenko) in charge of running the operation. Russian biathlon was a mess. Three biathletes had been banned for doping. The executive director had been found guilty of conspiring to murder a local governor. (Okay, that part has no analog with the Nets.)
Prokhorov pumped money into the system (starting to sound familiar again?), invested in high technology (yup), built a new training center (soon), hired a new coach with a big reputation (uh-huh) and salary and hoped for the best. After some initial successes, the program fell back and in March, the team had its worst performance ever on the international stage, winning only two bronze medals in the World Championships There were reports of rifts among the coaching staff. Prokhorov reacted by taking responsibility, re-stating his goals, moving on to Plan B: a better system of coordinating training and coaching, and fired the coach. (We ain't going there.)
In a larger sense, he also seems to be dealing again with business issues, including perhaps a desire to get into some new businesses. Prokhorov has sought trademarks on a number of names prefaced by the letter "e", as in environment (we think). He is already getting ready to market his "e-mobile", an environmentally friendly, affordable car. In recent weeks, he has sought protection for things like the "e-phone", which would appear to be competition for the "Iphone."
It seems that some of the vaunted transportation add-ons promised or discussed over the past several years won't be available when Barclays Center opens for Nets basketball in October.
A while back we learned that plans for a Staten Island park and ride facility have been abandoned. That would have made it easier for New Jersey and Staten Island fans to get across the Verrazano Bridge and up to the arena front door.
Now, we learn that plans for a big bike parking facility at Barclays Center has been modified. Originally, the 400-bike facility was to be located indoors, out of elements. Streets Blog reports that for the foreseeable future, like years, the arena be providing only outdoor bike racks for those hardy souls in the borough, Manhattan and Queens who might want to ride to games. There will be an indoor facility eventually, reports Forest City Ratner, but it will be housed in B3, the second of three towers that will be built around the eastern edge of the arena. How long for that to happen? Think five years roughly.
The only planned on-site parking, as we noted this week, has been modified as well, dropping from 1,100 spaces to less than 550. It's all about learned behavior. Don't drive. Bottom line, Barclays won't have as much parking as Yankee Stadium or CitiField, but it will have much better mass transit access. We haven't heard much about the "NetroCard" lately. That was supposed to be a combined ticket and transit pass. Doesn't sound like it's happening either.
One thing we did notice on the Barclays Center transportation page, a further emphasis on mass transit. In addition to the nine subway lines that will drop fans right at the soon-to-be renamed Barclays Center station, the page shows stations for two additional lines, the G and the C. Both are a few blocks away from the arena. The G serves Brooklyn and Queens and is the only New York subway line that doesn't include stops in Manhattan.
Men of Steel
On Tuesday night, the Weather Channel will air the first part of a "docu-series" on the city's ironworkers. Entitled "Iron Men," the series focuses on two groups of men whose high-wire work is necessary to erect the city's iconic skyscrapers and other buildings. One group is at the top of the new 1 World Trade Center that became the city's tallest building this week and will soon top the height of its predecessor. The other is constructing the steel skeleton of Barclays Center, where steel work is complete. The first installment of "Iron Men airs at 9 p.m. Tuesday on the Weather Channel. Here's a review.
Hey, sports websites, get with the program! We did a sampling of all the major sports sites to see which ones were still using "New Jersey Nets" in their drop-down menus and which were using "Brooklyn Nets." So far, only NBA.com uses Brooklyn. ESPN, Yahoo!, SB Nation, NBC Sports and CBS Sports all still use New Jersey. We assume that by May 30, they will have changed. That's the Draft Lottery and you can be sure the NBA will have Brooklyn plastered all over everything Nets.
FYI, the Lottery will be held at the ABC Times Square studios which has a big screen right on the Square, meaning that fans can gather outside on the nearby plaza to watch, cheer or jeer. Another opportunity to wear the black and white.