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 second round of the playoffs, relying on the Nets’ beat reporters and others who have slipped interesting stuff into larger stories, blogs, tweets...plus our own reporting.
First a review of those last miserable moments. Then, a look forward
The stars had aligned for them. The Bulls were decimated, with one player in the hospital, another just out of a walking boot and a third feeling more comfortable in a suit than a uniform. The game was at home and the Nets had Brooklyn in the palm of their hand, ready to celebrate a win that would ignite and unite Nets fans from Brooklyn Heights to that remote Chinese city that's home to the Joe Johnson fan club. The Bulls team bus was even delayed when a jumper shut down traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge.
And they blew it.
You can blame whoever you want: the players, the coach and his staff; the GM and his staff; the owner, whoever, but it came down to an epic failure, considering the stakes. They had never been higher. This wasn't just a playoff game or even a Game 7. It was a chance to mark some turf as your own, start a legacy, give hope and promise to new fans.
It was the same inconsistency and seeming lack of urgency and emotion that had plagued them all year, that the Bulls saw, perhaps rightly, as gutless and heartless. It was never more on exhibit than in the first half of Game 7. Cheers and chants turned into boos and private laments, public anger. There was a comeback but it was too little and too late. Longtime Nets fans have seen that movie far too often. The script is tired and the plot predictable, what one Nets fan calls, "get it down to seven ... and lose."
The Nets are not without talent. Nor is the leadership without optimism, long term. But whoever steps into the coaching role this month or next had better be prepared to deal with changing the culture, making it more accountable, tougher with a signature, one perhaps at gritty as the borough, if that works. But what we witnessed last season, for all its glory and there was lot, didn't measure up.
In fact, there are a lot of positives out there, ones that can be sliced and diced with calculators and computers ... or in other ways. First and foremost, the Nets are in Brooklyn, finally. Are they "entrenched?" Not yet. Are they part of the culture? Yes and they're even driving a new brand of Brooklyn "nationalism" with their Brooklyn gear. They did, as we noted elsewhere, lead the NBA this season in a variety of artistic and business improvements: wins (27), attendance (23.1 percent), local TV ratings (210 percent), gate receipts (250 percent) and merchandise sales, rising from 31st to fourth.
And let's not forget this underappreciated fact: This first season in Brooklyn proved that a foreign owner like Mikhail Prokhorov can make it in the NBA.. It was not a given that the Nets would flourish under his leadership. It had never happened before. It was an experiment. With aides Irina Pavlova and Dmitry Razumov taking lead roles in the pioneering effort, the Nets' Russian ownership proved a foreign owner can run an NBA franchise ... and well. The magnificent Barclays Center does not get built without an infusion of Russian dollars. The roster doesn't get populated without their approving a lot of risks. And they ARE accountable. (FYI, today is the third anniversary of their takeover, a week marked by an alliance with Jay-Z, a loss in the Draft Lottery and a memorable press conference where Prokhorov let everyone know just how dry his humor can be.)
On the court, this is a talented team going forward. There were even some positives in the Bulls series despite the ultimate disappointment. Gerald Wallace can still play. He is not done at 30. Like some of his younger teammates, he was misused in the regular season to the point where he said the last week of the season that he didn't "have a clue" what his role is. In the open court game the Nets finally used in the playoffs, he averaged 12 points on 46 percent shooting, including 38 percent from deep. The long-delayed Brook Lopez - Andray Blatche Experiment works too. As Billy King noted, Blatche could solve the Nets problem at power forward.
By the way, we keep reading about the Nets having an "aging roster." Deron Williams is 28, Brook Lopez is 25, Andray Blatche is 26. All three finished in the top 25 or PER this season. Yes, Joe Johnson is 31 and Gerald Wallace is 30, but the Nets don't have any rotation players over 30, other than Reggie Evans at 32. And they have a number of players who management and ownership expect to get a second chance next season.
Bojan Bogdanovic and the youth movement
The Nets decision to bring Bojan (pronounced BOY-ahn) Bogdanovic is more than just the signing of a promising European player. It's another signal that the Nets want to invest more in youth. Bogdanovic is likely to be the most expensive free agent signing of the off-season. He will be scrutinized as such.
Avery Johnson and P.J. Carlesimo refused to give the young players, particularly Mirza Teletovic and MarShon Brooks, big minutes. It helped cost them their jobs. Ownership was willing to lose a couple of games to see whether the young players could play at the NBA level, but the coaches didn't particularly like either. Development is that important to ownership. It's that simple.
With their payroll so top heavy this season (and likely next as well), The Nets need to find "good pieces" from among young overseas players, through the draft, scouting the D-league, or simply looking more closely at what the team already has on its roster. Look at the contributions late first round picks like Jimmy Butler, Cory Joseph (Kris Joseph's cousin) and Norris Cole or mid second round picks like Draymond Green are making to their team's playoff runs. Look at what vets minimum players like Nate Robinson are doing, and what particularly galls some in the Nets hierarchy, look what Teletovic's teammmate Pablo Prigioni is doing. Expect this to be a priority in any discussions with coaching candidates.
A lot can happen between now and the draft, but unless a big deal requiring a pick pops up --or the Nets have to compensate a team to steal away their coach-- expect the Nets to pick at #22 and use their $3 million to buy a couple of second picks. In this draft, you might even get a first round pick for $3 million if you're willing to make the commitment.
Also expect a lot more use of the Springfield Armor next season. A lot more back-and-forth.
A footnote on the Bogdanovic story: He would be the third Net born in Mostar, Bosnia, after Zoran Planinic and Mirza Teletovic. Planinic, now Europe's top point guard, still lives there.
Four Nets properties and possibly more are expected to play in FIBA regional tournaments this summer. The tournament produces the field for the 2014 World Championships in Madrid. As Olympic gold medal winners Team USA doesn't need to qualify in a regional tournament. So far, Teletovic (Bosnia), Shengelia (Georgia), and Bogdanovic (Croatia) as well as Ilkan Karaman (Turkey), the Nets' Euro-Stash, are expected to play in the FIBA Eurobasket, starting September 4 in Slovenia. Kris Joseph (Canada) may play in the FIBA Tournament of the Americas starting August 30 in Venezuela.
The games are usually broadcast online for a fee.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
We're going to pick a real sleeper, but one with Nets connections: Ricardo Ledo, also known as Ricky. Ledo is friendly with MarShon Brooks and the two share an agent, Seth Cohen. Ledo is perhaps the biggest sleeper in the second half of the first round. Coming out of high school last June, he was ranked in the top 25 players in the country and top five or six shooting guard at 6'7". He also played some point in high school, where he was compared to O.J. Mayo.
A native of Rhode Island, he chose Providence but was required to sit out the year because of academic issues. So he got no opportunity to showcase his talents. That's the short version. In April, he decided to enter the draft and hope his high school exploits and NBA workouts will get him picked high enough.
Here's what Draft Express said about him after watching him in his senior year in high school...
As a shot creator, Ledo has no problems getting separation and creating both going to the rim and pulling up from mid or long range. He possess a very low, controlled dribble with all the advanced dribbling he needs, while showing good instincts as well. He won't blow you away with his first step or vertical leap, being a more fluid and agile than highly explosive athlete, but still has more than enough quickness to get by at any level and also changes speeds and directions well.
Ledo does a good job finishing around the basket, showing great touch and creativity while being capable of finishing with both lay-ups and floaters as well as using either hand. He's also done a good job developing his playmaking skills, showing an improved feel in this area to take advantage of his excellent vision and passing abilities, something that was frequently on display here on both drive-and-dishes and drive-and-kicks. While not a pure point guard and probably best suited to play the two guard in the long run given his scoring abilities, Ledo reminds of O.J. Mayo with his unselfishness and versatility (while also being similar in size and athleticism, but not strength).
Of course, if the Nets picks Ledo or someone like him, he'll be competing with Brooks and now Bogdanovic. Like we said, expect a lot more traffic between New York and Springfield.
From our perspective and now just Stephen A. Smith's, Doc Rivers is probably big on the Nets radar. Both Dave D'Alessandro and Mike Vaccaro, the two most knowledgeable basketball columnists in the area, immediately pinned Rivers as a candidate once P.J. was fired. Is he interested? We don't know. Would Danny AInge even permit him to talk to the Nets? It would seem doubtful, but Ainge is also rebuilding and can use assets.
The traditional price for a coach still under contract is a draft pick. The Magic provided the Heat with a second rounder for the right to hire Stan Van Gundy. The pick, later traded, turned into Dijon Thompson. The Rockets gave the Knicks a second rounder for Jeff Van Gundy and again, after being traded, it turned into Stanko Barac. No great loss there. Back in 1996, the Heat had to give the Knicks a first round pick in the 1997 draft to compensate for the loss of Pat Riley. That turned into Walter McCarty, who did play 593 games in the NBA. None of those seem like a lot to pay for a top three coach. A coach may not add points or rebounds but as most fans concede, a great coach can turn a franchise around.
One factor to note in the coaching search. Those prospects who are heavily into analytics may not be ideal for the Nets, who are not big on numbers-crunching. Also, one reason why Lionel Hollins may not re-signed in Memphis is that he is surrounded by stats geeks, something he is not. Owner Robert Pera, VP of basketball operations John Hollinger and assistant coach Dave Joerger are all big into analytics.
We don't have a clue (or at least anything current) on what the Nets are planning to do with Kris Humphries, other than market him. We do expect two rumors: Hump and whatever for David Lee, who is owed $28 million and two years more on his contract than Humphries; Hump and whatever for Andrei Kirilenko, who has a player option for $10 million. If he opts out, the Timberwolves get nothing. If he wants to play for the Nets (and we don't know that he does), he could opt in and the Nets could offer Minnesota native and whatever for AK-47.
Both played better than Hump this year but Lee is owed $44 million over three to Hump's $12 million over one and Golden State seems to be doing just fine without him. Minnesota could use a back-up to Kevin Love. That's a given.
Of course, there's always Ben Gordon. His defense is horrid but the Nets could have used a guy with a 55 percent career average from the corners late in the season and the playoffs If the Nets don't get what they want for Humphris, they could, in theory, waive him under the stretch exception. They would pay him $4 million over the next three years rather than $12 million over one. It would give them some more freedom (although real freedom would require a lot more moves.)
Don't be surprised if the Nets gamble again on an amnestied player. Billy King hinted at that in his season wrap-up. They gave non-guaranteed deals to Andray Blatche and Josh Childress. One worked out spectacularly well. The other cost them $440,386. We have no idea who they might like, but we can't see Charlotte keeping Tyrus Thomas.
We said we wouldn't do this again. Made playoffs, Off-Season Report goes away. Very binary. But enough of you, that would be two of you, ask that we continue. So we'll give it a shot. No guarantees.