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NetsDaily Off-Season Report #14

(Photo by Man77@Wikimedia/This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Every weekend, we update the Nets' off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, analysis, etc. to help take the edge off not winning the NBA championship. We rely on our own reports as well as what the Nets’ beat reporters and others have slipped into larger stories, blogs and tweets...

Is Kevin Garnett returning?

If you were wondering whether Kevin Garnett is returning, the Nets kicked off their ticket sales campaign, "We Are Brooklyn" this week this way

We have heard other confirmations that Garnett is coming back, and as Doc Rivers says...

"Kevin, in the summer, goes into hiding. Which is something I’ve always had a lot of respect for. I think more players should do that instead of doing all the stuff all summer; you see players everywhere."

Numbers game

Jarrett Jack has chosen "0" as the number (or more appropriately numeral) he will wear next season for the Nets.  Everyone has now chosen what they will wear. Among the new players, Bojan Bogdanovic will wear 44; Sergey Karasev, 10; Markel Brown, 22 and Cory Jefferson 21.

Also, this week, Mason Plumlee chose No. 11 for his Team USA jersey.  Now, all the international Nets have chosen numbers for their national team jerseys as well. Bogdanovic wears No. 7 for Croatia as does Jorge Gutierrez for Mexico. Mirza Teletovic wears No. 12, his long-time European number.   Karasev will wear the same number he wears with the Nets, No. 10. (FIBA rules do not permit numbers above 19).

Big week for international Nets

It will be a big week for the five Nets players --and one assistant coach-- participating in the various FIBA competitions.

Team USA, who will train at the Nets practice facility in East Rutherford this week, has a public workout at West Point --"Hoops for Troops"-- on Monday and "friendly games" vs. Dominican Republic on Wednesday and Puerto Rico on Friday, both at the Garden. ESPN will televise all three. Your chance to see Mason Plumlee up close.

Meanwhile, in Spain next weekend, Bojan Bogdanovic (Croatia) and Jorge Gutierrez (Mexico) will play in a "friendly" tournament Friday and Saturday. The other teams in the tournament are Spain and Ukraine, whose coaching staff includes head coach Mike Fratello and assistant Joe Wolf, the Nets new big man coach.  This is the only tournament where Nets players will compete against each other.  Fratello, by the way, is a big fan of Bogdanovic.

In the FIBA Europe Qualifying Round, both Mirza Teletovic (Bosnia) and Sergey Karasev (Russia) will play real games this week.  Bosnia hosts Iceland in Tuzla, Bosnia, today and Russia hosts Switzerland in suburban Moscow on Wednesday.  Karasev,  troubled by a "sore leg", is expected to play.  Right now, it looks like Bosnia will make FIBA Eurobasket next year but Russia will not.

The future is still now (Not much of a choice)

Since others --like ESPN, Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report, CBS Sports, even SB Nation-- have given their early assessments of the Nets future, why shouldn't we, noting of course that this is an exercise in futility. It's still much too early. Leaves are still on the trees! But for the sake of filling out the Off-Season Report after a slow week, here's a breakdown of what we think, AS OF NOW, about the Nets future, broken down into short-term and long-term.

Nets Future ... short-term

We could make this section short and sweet by simply saying, "It all depends on health,"then moving on. With two of the team's three best players, All-Stars Brook Lopez and Deron Williams, coming off surgery, nothing will be certain until Lopez tests his reconstructed right foot and D-Will tests both his ankles.

Team doctors have assured the front office both should make full recoveries and Lopez's surgery, as we have noted, was far, far more complex than Williams.  Not to denigrate anyone's surgery but cleaning out bone chips and spurs is not major surgery. It is something that players do all the time in the off-season. Lopez, on the other hand, had his foot reconstructed. He had to re-learn how to walk. He had to regain his balance.  He had three doctors surrounding his operating table. D-Will had one.

Interestingly, there's been more news, most of it from the player himself on Lopez's injury, than there has on Williams, who has spent the off-season in Utah rehabbing.  All boots are off, so that's good. While Lopez, whose surgery took place in January, has been cleared for basketball activities, D-Will is expected to reach that milestone in September.

Injury concerns also extend to Kevin Garnett and Andrei Kirilenko, who combined to miss 60 games to back spasms. We are told both are working hard in the off-season and haven't been bothered by spasms since the regular season. So that's good, too.

So for the sake of argument, we are going to argue that the all of them will return to the form they displayed in 2012-13. Optimistic? Sure, but we are fan site, after all.  If they do, the Nets should be fine, highly competitive. That core of Lopez, Williams and Joe Johnson DID win 49 games in 2012-13, after all, with D-Will getting regular cortisone shots and Lopez recovering from a previous foot surgery --and with Gerald Wallace and Reggie Evans manning the forward slots. Not to mention P.J. Carlesimo was running things. This was a coach who played Mirza Teletovic one minute vs the Bulls and who benched Lopez for the fourth quarter in four straight games.  As we've noted, ad infinitum in these pages, the current roster is deeper and more versatile than that club.

The loss of Paul Pierce will hurt as will Shaun Livingston and Andray Blatche, but Pierce will turn 37 in a few weeks and the Nets continue to argue the decision to not re-sign him was basketball, not business, driven. One part of that argument is that Pierce was likely to be a shell of his former self in the second year of any deal.  They believe that the return to health by so many players --and the arrival of Bogdanovic with his Pierce-like game-- should make up for that loss.  As for Livingston, he certainly was a big part of the Nets success in 2014 but as this week's news of his latest surgery shows, he can be injury-prone.  And the front office likes Jarrett Jack, particularly his playoff record. So did Jason Kidd who wanted the Nets to grab him at the deadline.  (Jack is also owed less money than Livingston is under his new Warrior contract.  Livingston is owed $13.848 million. Jack is owed $13.1 million.)

All that said, that 2012-13 team got solid rebounding from Evans and Kris Humphries and as of now, the Nets do not have a great rebounder. Unless Lopez can suddenly become better-than-average, or the other bigs like KG and Mason Plumlee pick up the slack either as individuals or within a system, the Nets are likely to be way down in the rebounding stat list ... again. That's where the loss of Blatche could hurt, but the Nets believe Blatche's loss is actually addition by distraction. Would we be surprised if the Nets brought another big into training camp? Nope. Do we know of any plans to do so?  Nope.

Lionel Hollins is a question mark, too, despite his record in Memphis. How will his style fit with the Nets, some of whom have been, shall we say, coddled in the past?  Will he be able to handle the media, etc., in the biggest market after coaching in the NBA's smallest market where there was ONE beat writer?  If that goes wrong, and Lopez, D-Will, KG and AK-47 don't fully recover from injury-prone seasons, or go down again, well, that would be a disaster of the first order, which leads us to the long-term future.

Nets Future ... long-term

The Nets are still a year away from REAL flexibility. Their "Hello Brooklyn" spending spree has long-term consequences. They are going to have to be extremely opportunistic, even aggressive, in ways that the fanbase might not like, to get to where they want to be.

By next summer, they would like to get into position where they can get below the luxury tax threshold so they can use the MLE, the BAE and do sign-and-trades. They now admit, privately and internally, that the Boston trade was "a mistake" and they’re prepared to move on.

As of now, they look like they will be close to getting near or at the luxury tax threshold, but it won't be easy.

Their projected payroll is now a little more $80.5 million, about $500,000 under the threshold. That’s without ANY moves. Joe Johnson and Deron Williams will be paid $46 million in 2015-16. They will also have a number of decisions to make next summer on their own players ... assuming they don’t trade them at the deadline: Brook Lopez has a player option for $15 million. Will they re-sign him to a longer term deal? WIll he be worth it?  What about Mirza Teletovoic who will be a free agent? If he continues to improve, will he want big bucks? In a league where scoring centers and stretch fours ever so valuable, what do they do with them?

They will have a lot of Bird Rights so they can time some moves next summer, like signing their own players after doing other deals, but that could screw them in the summer of 2016, when they want to have cap space for the great Kevin Durant free agent hunt. Everyone knows that Jay-Z is KD’s agent (and that Roc Nation’s CEO is Brett Yormark’s brother Michael but that only carries so much weight ... and adds no cap space.)

The pick cupboard is still quite bare, if not as moldy as it was. IF they fall behind the Hawks this season, then they will have to swap picks (after the lottery). In 2016, they have to give up their first rounder to Boston. In 2017, they have another first-round swap with the Celtics and in 2018, they owe their first rounder to Boston as well.

They did add a couple of second rounders in the compensation package for Kidd, one this summer (their own which Milwaukee held) and one in 2019, which really doesn't matter.  It's just too far into the future and will be the worse of the Milwaukee and Sacramento picks that year.  Ownership has proven it is willing to buy picks on Draft Night but that $3.3 million isn’t going to get you a first rounder on its own. Not anymore.

They have high hopes for their youth brigade but skeptics think that other than Mason Plumlee and (probably) Bogdanovic, their assets are questionable. This is a key year for Sergey Karasev, but there are no guarantees.  Skeptics note that he will be deep in the depth chart at the 2 guard and with him talking about the need to play (no matter who he’s playing for!), one has to wonder: does he head back to Europe if he doesn't get minutes? He is the youngest Net, however.   Marquis Teague is, by some measures, among the NBA’s worst players and it's doubtful Gutierrez will make the final roster. Markel Brown and Cory Jefferson? Still very much TBD (To Be Determined).

What to expect as the trade deadline approaches: if the Nets are truly competitive, they will have to make a decision on their strategy: should they make moves that could help in the playoffs, but impact their long term prospects, or stand still. Billy King faced a similar dilemma in 2001 in Philly. After being criticized for not making moves in the off-season, his team was highly competitive as the deadline neared. He took the bold step of trading for Dikembe Mutombo at the deadline and the 76ers got to the Finals.

If they are NOT competitive, expect them to dump salary to get further under the cap. Easiest thing in the world to do, as one league source said. It will not go down easily. Ownership still expects to be competitive.

There is also the issue of how Russian-US relations will affect the Nets ownership. As of today, not a problem. But tomorrow, who knows? That about says it all ... about everything.

Rookie of the Year punditry

We've seen a few projections on Rookie of the Year voting and it seems to come down ranking the top picks from the 2014 Draft and adding Nerlens Noel.  End of story.  That's baloney.   Last season, we asked Euroleague blogger Savas Birdal to rank the Euro-Stash, players whose rights were held by NBA teams.  He put Nikola Mirotic, Bojan Bogdanovic and Kostas Papanikolaou at the top of his list. They're now all signed, sealed and delivered to the NBA, Mirotic to the Bulls, Bogdanovic to the Nets and Papanikolaou to the Rockets.

None came cheap. Mirotic is being paid the full MLE, $16.6 million over three (with a trade kicker and performance bonus); Bogdanovic the miniMLE at $10.3 million over three (also with a trade kicker); and Papanikolaou $9.4 million over two, with the second year a team option. His first year salary of $4.8 million is the largest ever for a second round pick. Mirotic and Papanikolaou's starting salaries are both higher than what Andrew Wiggins will make as the No. 1 overall pick. Bogdanovic's is $48,000 less than what Aaron Gordon, the No. 4 pick, is being paid.

More importantly, the three are highly accomplished European players. Mirotic, a 6'10" combo forward, was MVP of the Spanish League in 2013;  Papanikolaou, a 6'8" small forward, was the Euroleague Rising Star (aka rookie of the year) that same season, while Bogdanovic was the high scorer in the Euroleague regular season this year and the only non-NBA player to make the first team all-FIBA Eurobasket team last summer.

Their teams have invested a lot of money in all three and all three are expected to play big roles.  Shouldn't pundits take that into account? Apparently not. Silly pundits.

Helping out

Mirza Teletovic spoke this week about how he could help Bojan Bogdanovic acclimate himself to the NBA, both on and off the court, citing his own difficulties going it alone in 2012-13.

"It is much better when there is somebody else with who you can make jokes, celebrate, share problems," said Teletovic, now entering his third year. "We played so many games against each other and finally we will now play together.I am excited for that."

That matters. A decade ago, then-Nets GM Ed Stefanski spoke about how much help Zoran Planinic (a friend of both Teletovic and Bogdanovic and like them, a native of Mostar, Bosnia) provided Nenad Krstic with a lot of help when he arrived as a rookie. Planinic had a tough introduction to the NBA, as did Teletovic and like him as well, Planinic offered his help to the rookie. Here's what NBC News wrote about the role Planinic played...

Stefanski talks about how much the Nets owe Planinic for how he helped Krstic.

"Zoran put his arm around Nenad and helped Nenad in a number of difficult situations. He was terrific. He helped him with his English. His facility is much better than Nenad’s. Zoran was terrific with Nenad."

Krstic has publicly acknowledged his Croatian friend’s help, telling a Serbian radio station last year: "When I came here, it was all 180 degrees different. Everything from the food, culture, language, all up to practices…but I'm advancing every day, always learning something new. When I first came here, I couldn't put together a simple sentence, but Zoran Planinic helped me a lot."

Bogdanovic's English is much better than Krstic's, but Planinic had no prior relationship with Krstic. In fact, their native countries had been at war.  As both Bogdanovic and Teletovic have said, they've been playing together since they were kids.

Final Note

It appears that the Brooklyn Brigade's throat lozenge-level cheering is getting noticed.  Marc. J. Spears put together a list of the top 10 games of the season (so far) after looking at the NBA schedule. He ranked Jason Kidd's return to Brooklyn at No. 3 and wrote...

Jason Kidd returns to Brooklyn (Nov. 19): Kidd returns to Brooklyn for the first time since he left to take the head-coaching job of the struggling Bucks. Brooklyn is known for having one of the testiest and most vocal crowds in the NBA. Expect Kidd, whose jersey is retired with the Nets as a player, to get an earful.

"Testy??"  That has to be the first time any Nets fanbase was credited with being, as the Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it, "irritable, tetchy, cranky, ornery, cantankerous, irascible, bad-tempered, grumpy, grouchy, crotchety, petulant, crabby, crusty, curmudgeonly, ill-tempered, ill-humored, peevish, cross, fractious, pettish, prickly, short-fused, waspish, snappish, snippy."

Why thank you, Marc!