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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #22

Brooklyn Trolley Blogger/Mike BTB
Brooklyn Trolley Blogger/Mike BTB

From this moment on, there will be no shortage of drama.

The arena opened on Friday. On Monday, night, the season ticket-holders will get their first view and if others want a peek inside, the adidas Nets Shop has its ribbon-cutting Monday morning. Then comes Mikhail Prokhorov's reception at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on Thursday, and eight shows of Jay-Z starting next Friday, the first of which is likely to be the reveal of the Nets' new uniforms. On October 1, the Monday after that, the team will have its Media Day at Barclays, all dressed up in those new uniforms. Then, it's back to East Rutherford on October 2 for training camp and getting ready for November 1. And that's not all. Expect surprises.

We look a little forward, a little back in this (next to last) Off-Season Report. We offer our own opinion on what we saw at the ribbon-cutting, note the first sporting event at Barclays will indeed be a basketball game...take your choice on which one; use the occasion of Jordan Williams' waiver to place the Joe Johnson deal in the pantheon of lop-sided trades; compare Andray Blatche with Darko Milicic, and offer up a choice for long-time Nets fans.

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, our own reporting.

The Arena

When we looked at the 300 press lined up in the Geico Atrium of Barclays Center, our first thought was, How many links??? Well, there have been a lot and there are a few we know we missed. So the story has basically been told. That said, here are some random thoughts.

--There was no scrimping on this project. From the herringbone floor pattern, approved by the NBA, to the yet-unseen locker room complex (the "Nets Campus" in arena-speak), this is a facility worthy of the billion dollar price tag. It is huge but more than that, it is imposing. No matter how big it looks from the outside, it is bigger, because a great deal of its volume is below street level. The arena floor is 25' below street level as is the lower part of the bowl.

--The best, most dramatic way of entering is taking the escalator from the subway. The arena reveals itself as you ride up, first in sheer bulk, then the Barclays Center lettering on the front of the canopy and then, majestically, the oculus, 30,000 square feet of open sky surrounded by a 360-degree LED screen with an ever changing show. At the top of the escalator, the end of the reveal, is the entrance plaza, 250 feet between you and the front door. The awe is palpable. It is a world-class cityscape ... and don't let anyone tell you differently.

--On entering the atrium, you are drawn you to the bowl directly ahead, the scoreboard a beacon. As you move from the confined space of the atrium to the expanse of the arena bowl, it all finally dawns of you. You must stop. This is the grand payoff for being a fan of this franchise through the lean years, through temporary homes in places from Commack to Newark. The expanse and richness of the view is staggering in the truest sense of that word. You are staggered, emotional. (If you're not, go back down the escalator and take the "B" train to 34th Street.)

--You either love or hate the rust. It was meant to mimic the borough's industrial past, remind the public of its historical grittiness and reflect the brownstone expanse of Brooklyn that extends south of it. (In place of nicknames that are based on its oxidized surface, like Rusty Bucket or Rusty Turtle, we suggest Red Square. Seems appropriate.)

--All we could see of the "Nets campus" was the practice court and its floor was covered with black-and-white tables for a post-ceremony luncheon. Still, it like so much of the arena will be visible from the concourse, from Atlantic Avenue, from the Starbucks out in front. Expect the Nets to use it on game nights for shootarounds. It's not unique in the NBA (as so much of the arena is), but it's unique in New York. There is nothing that more reflects the Nets' "All-Access" mantra.

--On a practical level, the main concourse is broad and well-lit, its concessions (which are expensive stops, even by New York standards) well laid out. There are enough entrances to keep things flowing. The sidewalks appear wide enough and the Daily News Plaza will make for an ideal meeting place.

--The Nets did a very smart thing in having the Disney Institute train the staff, whose professionalism, courtesy and patience was notable despite some testing by cranky members of the press corps.

--Where was Jay-Z? He was barely mentioned and not visible. If he had been there, he would no doubt have stole the show and perhaps that's why but he is on the arena board of directors. Oh well, we will have to wait for his grand entrance on Friday.

--We are told that although some people may have noticed Mikhail Prokhorov on the subway, no one came up to him and offered him congratulation on the arena or consolation on his loss in the presidential election. After all, it is New York. People come here for the anonymity. Of course, he was accompanied by two security guards.

Cancelled Hockey

If it hasn't been cancelled already, it will be soon: the Islanders-Devils pre-season game on October 2 will not be played at the arena, making the Nets-Wizards game on October 15 the first sporting event at Barclays Center. The Harlem Globetrotters will make an appearance on October 7, but when dividing sports and entertainment, that falls on the latter side.

How Lop-Sided Was JJ Trade?

Everyone knew that the Hawks wanted to get rid of Joe Johnson. Atlanta needed to get beyond its middlin' history: get in the playoffs, maybe last till the second round, maybe not. And everyone knew the Nets wanted someone to entice Deron Williams to staying and moving to Brooklyn. So the match was made and both sides seemed happy. In other words, it was about money: Hawks wanted more to spend. Nets wanted to spend more.

But as a pure basketball play, the Joe Johnson trade is approaching historic levels in terms of talent, on the scale of Vince Carter to the Nets or Pau Gasol to the Lakers. We're not saying that JJ is as good as either of them, but what the Hawks got back is about the same level.

Johnson is a first rank NBA player, top five at his position. He's getting a little old at 31 and has $89.2 million left on his contract, that can't be amnestied nor stretched. But six straight all-star appearances puts him in very elite company.

Iniitally, the Hawks wanted Marshon Brooks as well as the Nets' first round (unprotected) pick in the 2013 draft. The Nets were unwilling to do that deal. Despite rumors that the Nets were marketing Brooks, they were unwilling to deal him other than in a Howard deal. And they preferred to give up their own pick.

There were some other issues. First of all, Farmar had a player option and to make the deal work, they needed to add a sign-and trade for one of their free agents. The deal they preferred was JJ for Morrow, Farmar, Williams, Petro, a signed and traded DeShawn Stevenson and the Rockets (lottery-protected) pick left over from the Terrence Williams trade. They wanted to retain their own pick because the Dwightmare was still unsettled and they needed a lot of picks to satisfy Rob Hennigan that their offer was serious. For the same reason, they weren't interested in giving up cash, since that too might be needed for Orlando.

So the deal worked out this way: Farmar wanted his freedom, but wanted a buyout rather than an opt-out. By opting in, his contract could be traded and in return, he got $1.5 million, to be paid by the Hawks. He was already talking to Efes Anodulu of Turkey. The buyout helped him make up for the loss of money he'd suffer going from the NBA to the
Turkish League.

At the end of the day, the deal was set at Morrow, Farmar, Williams, Petro, Stevenson and the Rockets pick. Later, the league required the Nets to add their second round pick in 2017 because of the the protections on the Rockets pick. Don't ask. It's complicated.

Now, comes word that the Hawks have agreed to buy out Williams one-year, $762,195 contract, which seems odd. Williams is at least serviceable and only 21 years old. He played well at the end of last season and there was no urgent need to cut down their roster. They had 14 players on board before the move...and teams can carry up to 20 guaranteed deals into training camp. The buyout is reportedly in the $600,000 range.

Whatever the reason, the deal now looks like this: Joe Johnson for three expiring deals, Morrow, Petro and Stevenson; the Rockets lottery protected pick in 2013 and the Nets second pick in 2017. In addition, the Hawks had to pay Farmar $1.5 million and Williams $600,000+...without getting back any of Prokhorov's cash.

The Hawks wanted cap space, period. Of that there is no doubt. Everything they have done before, during and after the trade bellows it. But the other components of a superstar trade won't be found on their side of the ledger. Unless they re-sign Morrow, they will not have gotten a good young player out of the deal (and a check of the Hawks roster makes you wonder how many minutes he'll get on a team that since the trade has acquired Kyle Korver and Louis Williams.)

After the Rockets' disastrous off-season, that first round pick could reside in Houston for a while. It's lottery protected through 2016. Then, rather than having protections slip away, it becomes a second rounder. The Nets second rounder in 2017 is, if Prokhorov's dream comes true, likely to be in the 50's.

Stand that up against what the Raptors got for VC in 2004 and what the Grizzlies got for Pau Gasol in 2008:

-- December 17, 2004: The New Jersey Nets acquired Vince Carter from the Toronto Raptors in exchange for Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams, Eric Williams and two first-round draft picks (Joey Graham and Renaldo Balkman).

-- February 2, 2008: The Los Angeles Lakers acquired Pau Gasol and a 2010 second round draft pick from the Memphis Grizzlies for Kwame Brown, Javaris Crittenton, a signed and traded Aaron McKie, the draft rights to the #48 pick in the 2007 NBA Draft, Marc Gasol, and two future first round picks (Donte Greene and Greivis Vasquez).

The Joe Johnson trade is now in that territory.

Blatche vs. Milicic

The Celtics signed Darko Milicic to the bi-annual exception, a guaranteed $2 million a year over two years. Andray Blatche's deal, as we know, is one-year, non-guaranteed vets' minimum. Not that those details matter. Both have guaranteed deals thanks to amnesty.

The Nets couldn't have signed Milicic to the BAE. Once they went over $74 million in payroll, they lost it along with the full MLE. But if Darko would have agreed to the non-guaranteed vets minimum, would they have gone after him. Probably not. It's not that they thought Blatche was a better player, although he may very well be. They're about the same age, too. So that doesn't count. It's just that the Nets, along with a lot of other teams, didn't like him ....personally. Blatche may be immature, somewhat childish. Milicic is seen as a disruptive force in the locker room. Boston is his sixth team in nine years. There's a reason for that. As one league source who has nothing to do with the Nets says, "his teammates hate him."

And if Blatche doesn't work out, he's gone at not cost in salary cap space or luxury tax. Celtics, for better or worse, are stuck with Milicic.

Protesters Running Dry

The Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn-led protest at the ribbon-cutting was a pale imitation of the great rallies the group was able to raise during the latter part of the last decade. Daniel Goldstein was a favorite of reporters who wanted a quote on the fight against eminent domain. His popularity with the press dropped off when in late 2009, the protestors lost a key decision at the New York Court of Appeals and he took $3 million to sell his condo (which sat at about where the Barclays Center scoreboard now sits).

As for his organization, it's fallen on hard times too. The latest tax return for DDDB, for the 2010-2011 fiscal year, shows the organization took in only $24,671. That's a huge drop-off from its first years. In 2006-07, it brought in $366,065. A year later, the amount raised was not that far off, $293,952. For some reason, perhaps donor fatigue, perhaps the dawning of reality, the numbers dropped dramatically, to $161,834 in 2008-09, then $155,701 in 2009-10 before going off the cliff in 2010-11. It would also seem to suggest that Goldstein didn't contribute any of the money he received for his condo to the group's coffers.

The tax report, which is a public document, also shows the organization paid out $51,000 in professional fees, presumably legal fees, in 2010-11 and so basically ran at a deficit.

Success Has a Thousand Fathers

Failure is an orphan, but success has a thousand fathers. Add Barclays Center to the list of successes in that more and more people are claiming major roles. The latest is Stephen Witt, a reporter for the Courier-Life weekly. He explains his role this way:

I covered Borough President Markowitz’s first state of the borough address (in 2003), and he talked about getting a basketball team to move to Brooklyn. So I took it upon myself to call the NBA to see if the Knicks had an exclusive on Brooklyn. I asked if there could be a new team in Brooklyn and the NBA said no, there could only be a move. But at that time, the Nets were in the finals, and they weren’t filling their stadium, so I called the Nets owner, Lewis Katz, and I asked if he’d be willing to move the team. He said he wasn’t against it, so I called Marty and I said, "Call this guy, I think he’ll move the team." And I gave Marty the guy’s number. Marty gave me a call in February of 2003 and told me "I really think I hooked a big fish." I wrote an article for the Village Voice about it, and that’s how it all got started. A couple months later they made the big announcement.

It's certainly possible that Witt helped Markowitz, but if anyone outside Bruce Ratner's world deserves credit for the idea of the Brooklyn Nets, it's Markowitz.

Final Note

Bruce Ratner was not a good NBA owner, although one could forgive if not forget some of what he did because of the extenuating, and unique, circumstances of his ownership: the litigation that prevented him from moving the team earlier...the original plan was for the Frank Gehry-designed arena to open up in 2006; the mounting debt which was three times what the Hornet ownership walked away from; then the Great Recession.

But sitting in the audience at Friday's ribbon-cutting, we thought if this is the result --the team playing in what is arguably the most modern, most expensive arena in the NBA; with Mikhail Prokhorov as its principal owner and a roster that on paper is the franchise's best 1-through-15 maybe ever--maybe he wasn't so far after all.