Every Sunday, we update the Nets' off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, analysis, etc. to help take the edge off missing the second round of the playoffs. We rely on our own reports as well as what the Nets’ beat reporters and others have slipped into larger stories, blogs and tweets....
Getting closer. Media Day is now two weeks away. Training camp opens the day after that in North Carolina. The first preseason game is now now three weeks away and the season opener vs. the Heat at Barclays is only seven weeks away. We'll start to hear who's surprising in training camp, who's getting beat in pick-and-roll. The names of the training camp invites will finally be known and from what we hear, you'll probably need a few minutes on Google to get a figure out who they are.
And there are only two more off-season reports! Once the team goes into the gym, it's no longer "off-season." It's "pre-season" (and we will have our Saturday mornings free!)
This week, we take a look at who's at PNY Center working out; how despite a supposed lack of flexibility and few picks, the Nets have beefed up the basketball operations staff, big time; The Prokhorov Effect ... on free agents;some random notes on the Islanders' arrival,etc; how the Armor needs some help and a Final Note on a screed that first we found perturbing, then saw as simply silly.
Quietly working out ... again
Last year, all 15 Nets were at PNY Center by mid-September, working out and practicing informally Their three training camp invites --and New York resident Mike Dunleavy Jr.-- were also on hand. This year is no different (well except for Dunleavy and the camp invitees).
Last week, 13 members of the Nets roster were at PNY Center. Only Kevin Garnett (moving) and Mirza Teletovic (Eurobasket) hadn't arrived yet. They're expected this week. And of course, unlike last year, the Nets have already had a week of training and bonding in L.A. KG, who off-seasons in Malibu, was there for that session, meaning only Teletovic hasn't worked out with his teammates. No danger of him being out of shape, however. He's already played 15 games for Bosnia.
It may be too early for anyone to get a good read on who's going to surprise (last year, it was Andray Blatche) but take Jason Kidd at his word when he talks about Paul Pierce showing commitment. As Rod Boone tweeted earlier this week...
Kidd told me Paul Pierce is among crew that's already been getting it in at #Nets facility. Said it shows "his dedication, his leadership."— Rod Boone (@rodboone) September 11, 2013
We're hearing in fact that Pierce is the first player at the practice facility, working out, shooting around before others arrive. And don't forget it was he and Deron Williams who organized the LA workout. It appears "The Truth" feels he has something to prove.
Lots of eyes
In discussing the Nets off-season, the big news of course is the acquisition of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Andrei Kirilenko and Jason Terry. But the increase in basketball operations staff deserves some attention as well. It's seems incongruous that a team without flexibility and few picks would beef up in those areas. But they have, big time. These are, after all, Mikhail Prokhorov's Nets. He and Dmitry Razumov have greenlighted staff hirings just as they have greenlighted big trades and big luxury tax bills.
The Nets have increased the number of assistant coaches, from four after Avery Johnson was fired (Mario Elie, Popeye Jones, Doug Overton and Patrick Spurgin) to six under Jason Kidd (Lawrence Frank, Eric Hughes, John Welch, Roy Rogers, Joe Prunty and Charles Klask). Overton will coach the Springfield Armor but still carries assistant coach rank.
They've added an assistant general manager in Frank Zanin and three new scouts: Jim Sann, who replaced Brendan O'Connor as advance scout and will sit with the assistant coaches when not on the road; Eddie Oran and T.J. Zanin, Frank's brother, who'll serve as college scouts.Scott Sereday has gone from a consultant to full-time statistical analyst. Milton Lee remains GM in charge of minor league operations and has a new assistant, Adam Ratner (son of Charles Ratner, CEO of minority shareholder Forest City Enterprises.)
The addition of Oran and T.J. Zanin will permit Billy King to set up regional scouting operations. Oran, who lives in Austin will take the Southwest; T.J. Zanin, who lives in Phoenix, will handle the West. Khalid Green, a Brooklyn native who's returning, will continue to work the East, and Gregg Polinsky, the chief scout, is based in Birmingham, AL He takes in a lot of games down south. Danko Cvjeticanin, the international scouting coordinator, will continue to work Europe, etc. He'll be supplemented now by T.J. Zanin, who will continue in his role as Team USA's advance scout. Zanin is in Europe this week for Team USA.
So, while pundits have been saying the Nets have no flexibility, they've added an assistant GM, and while they note they've traded away picks galone, King has added staff who can handle trades and scouts to track college and international players. The Nets currently have only three first rounders and two second rounders over the next six years.
The quality of the assistant coaches is also noteworthy. Frank has won more than 200 games as a head coach and statistically did a better job as Celtics defensive coordinator than his predecessor, Tom Thibodeau. Prunty proved his skills in Eurobasket last week when he led Great Britain to two upsets in the first round. Prunty also has three rings with the Spurs. Welch, Rogers and Hughes all have great reputations as development specialists, as does Prunty.
And if you think they've stopped spending, just you wait.
Speaking of money
It counts for the players. A lot has been made of how Prokhorov's willingness to pay a big luxury tax bill has pissed off his fellow owners. Not enough has been made, say league sources, of how that willingness has impressed players. For every owner's lament, there's a player who is nodding in agreement. The willingness to pay big bucks for big talent or for the first class experience of Barclays IS impressing players around the league, say the sources.
Even little things are getting their attention. One league source noted how impressed Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry were when Prokhorov entered stage right at the July 18 press conference to shake their hands and welcome them to Brooklyn. He flew in that morning, attended the press conference, hosted a welcome lunch, then flew out that evening in the Gulfstream, all just to say hello. They didn't know he was attending until Gary Sussman introduced him.
Players notice which owners, about half of whom are billionaires, are unwilling to spend outside the luxury taxan d who is willing. They see teams like, you know, the Thunder give up James Harden to avoid the luxury tax. That can affect players left behind, you know, like Kevin Durant. Watch this space ... closely.
And do not underestimate how impressed the players have been with Barclays Center. Gregg Pasquarelli, the architect of the arena, keeps a list of quotes from players that he shows off at lectures. Here's one from Trevor Ariza he treasures ... "It’s fun to play in. The floor is dope. The arena is dope. It’s a cool place to play."
And back in October, when the Celtics came to Brooklyn to play in a preseason game, Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today interviewed Garnett on what he thought about Barclays. Zillgitt didn't publish it back then, but tweeted it out after the trade. KG was duly impressed with what ownership had done in Brooklyn.
There's a reason I never delete interviews on my digital recorder. I dug up these Kevin Garnett quotes from a preseason game in Brooklyn >>— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) June 28, 2013
KG in Brooklyn on Oct. 18: "I’ve said this countless times. I thought the transformation from the logo and how it looks is impressive."— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) June 28, 2013
KG in BKN on Oct. 18: "You expect nothing less than what they’ve been doing & the steps they’ve taken to get better. ... So far, so good."— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) June 28, 2013
KG in Brooklyn on Oct. 18: "I’m excited to see when the Knicks play Brooklyn. I’m actually tuned into that."— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) June 28, 2013
KG in Brooklyn on Oct. 18: "This is a beautiful arena ... very top-notch, first class, so I’m impressed."— Jeff Zillgitt (@JeffZillgitt) June 28, 2013
As we've said before, most of pundits don't get it. Players do.
By now, it's been reported that the Nets are having a hard time finding players to fill out the pre=season roster. Normally, the Nets have an opening or two, enough to attract good if not great players. Last year, they had Carleton Scott, Stephen Dennis and James Mays. Two of them wound out in Springfield after being cut by the Nets The Armor get exclusive D-League rights to the last the Nets' cuts. It's their primary way of stocking their roster with solid talent. Under the CBA, the Armor get exclusive D-League rights to the last three players cut in Nets camp. If the Nets don't get good players for training camp, the Armor's roster doesn't get top talent.
The team --and new coach Doug Overton-- will have one advantage: they have the third pick in the D-League draft in November. That's likely to be a former first or second round draft pick who's looking to get back in the league.
Welcoming the Islanders
Hello Brooklyn. Hello Islanders. Barclays Center will be the home of the Islanders no later than 2015 although insiders tell us that could move up. Nassau County would like to see the Coliseum renovated as soon as possible but nothing can happen till the Islanders move. The Islanders, now a contender, would like to move into the city as soon as possible. So, we still expect there to be some movement on the move at some point soon.
Here's another reason why we think the Islanders will be in Brooklyn. The marketing campaign is too mature. The team's train ride from Garden City to Atlantic Terminal seemed to us to be something you'd do next summer, not this one. There was even a "Take the Train to the Game" promotion, complete with logo, at the Garden CIty LIRR station. There are display ads in LIRR stations for the Islanders-Devils pre-season game next weekend.
Moreover, Ratner and Yormark showed off plans for a new Islander "hockey campus," aka locker room, with 11,000 square feet of space (Under sections 22-25). It will mimic the Nets "basketball campus" that has garnered raves. The LIRR, they said, already has plans for late trains to Jamaica station, the main hub for the railroad. And there will be an alternative jersey that will be more black-and-white than blue-and-orange. Seems like they're ready to move quickly if that 2015 date gets moved up to 2014.
By the way, the best article on what's in store is this one from New York Magazine ... the good, the bad and the ugly.
We read something this week that first perturbed us, a screed about how the Nets are a market-tested commodity more than a team, picking up on some tired old themes about Jay-Z and Yormark promotiing the team to within an inch of its life, a team without an identity or soul. There's the obligatory trashing of Jay Z as a rapper and Yormark as a manipulator. Oddly the author didn't mention Mikhail Prokhorov or use the word, "Russian" or "gangster." If you're going for repackaging of tired old themes, no better target that the Big Russian and his mysteriously gained billions.
There were a LOT of words, BIG words, all laid out in crinkly confectionery constructions, aided by wink-of-the-eye hipster asides and allusions (we're now mocking the original in case you're missing our point). On second reading, we changed our mind about the piece. We stopped being perturbed and disturbed. Rather, we just shook our heads at the how the writer, in his self-satisfaction, missed the point.
Here it is. In the column and in about 10,000 tweets from Knick fans, the Nets are no longer being treated as the woeful underdog from the swamps of Jersey, but one of the hated rich-and-powerful one-percenters of the NBA . Quite the transformation in one year ... one no one seems to notice. Kinda funny, actually.