We devote most of this week's report to offering our opinion, in the form of pro's and con's, on the Nets off-season. It's long but we hope helpful.
Pro's and con's of the Nets off-season
There's a lot of excitement about the players the Nets picked up both in the Draft and free agency ... ten in all, including Juan Pablo Vaulet who won't be joining the team for at least another year.
The consensus among basketball pundits is that the Nets did as well as they could --probably better than expected. Chad Ford and Matt Moore, often highly critical of the Nets basketball operations, gave the Nets an A- for the Draft (Ford) and an A for free agency (Moore). The Nets got younger and more athletic, they got under the luxury tax threshold, thanks to the Deron Williams buyout ...and they added roster flexibility.
Other than Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, none of those signed are getting more than $1.5 million and none of their contracts last beyond 2016-17. The two rookie contracts are guaranteed for two years, then become team options for two years after that. Andrea Bargnani, Thomas Robinson, Wayne Ellington and Shane Larkin all have player options in year two of their two-year deals. Ryan Boatright's contract, should he make the final roster, is partially guaranteed all the way through 2016-17. Quincy Miller is a free agent after this season. The Nets have Willie Reed's Early Bird Rights after this year since they had him in training camp last year and he didn't sign with another NBA team in the interim.
All good, but how good are they? We offer our take, in terms of pluses and minuses. But in the thrall of the excitement, note this: a lot of these players have played for a lot of teams, all of whom gave up on them to one degree or another. Nets free agents include one player for whom the Nets will be his fifth team in four years (Robinson); sixth team in seven years (Ellington); fourth team in four years (Miller); third team in three years (Larkin and Reed); and an undrafted player that 30 teams passed on at least once (Boatright). Bargnani is on his third team in 10 years, but also third team in four years.
Here's our take. We devote a little more space to the players who fans may be not be as familiar with, players like Quincy Miller and Juan Pablo Vaulet.
Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, 20, taken with the 23rd pick, traded to the Nets
Pro's: A hyper-athletic small forward who can play multiple positions and can defend. Other than Willie Cauley-Stein, RHJ is seen He's also a character guy, a total team player who is highly coachable. He's also settled in quite nicely, becoming a media favorite in New York. Chad Ford said simply "in Hollis-Jefferson, the Nets got the most underrated player in the draft. Hollis-Jefferson can defend three to four positions, is a terrific athlete, a solid playmaker and a great teammate." For Ford, Hollis-Jefferson's ceiling of Andre Iguodala, the Finals MVP.
Con's: We disagree with NBA TV commentator Seth Davis who described RHJ's jump shot as "tragically broken." It's not that bad and another commentator, Greg Anthony, after watching him, suggested that whoever said he couldn't shoot should reassess. That in a nutshell is the problem: inconsistency. He can look good one day, bad the next. He's also just 20. The Nets would like to see him start. Sounds like a tall order, even for a kid with a 7'2" wingspan. But of all the 10 players the Nets acquired, he seems like the best bet.
Chris McCullough, 20, taken with the 29th pick
Pro's: The forgotten man of the off-season. Almost as hyper-athletic as RHJ, and also with a 7-foot plus wingspan. He was among the highest ranked power forward prospects of the 2014 high school class, as high as No. 3 on some lists. The 20-year-old can shoot, he can slash, he can defend, he can rebound. He fell mainly because of his torn ACL. (See below). As Ford wrote in his post-draft analysis, "He's long, athletic, can stretch the floor and protect the rim. He's raw, and it's going to take a while, but he was worth the gamble at No. 29."
Con's: He's out for a significant part of the season, maybe the whole season, with what appears to be a very serious knee injury. He's only recently begun running. Chad Ford says he's likely out for the season and Nets front office types have begun calling him "our 2016 lottery pick," a way to take the curse off the loss of the Nets 2016 pick to the Celtics. But there are other issues. Start with his weight. He's listed as 199 pounds last time we checked. Unfortunately, that's the same weight he carried three years ago. Although he started out well at Syracuse, he quickly went into a slump. David Aldridge summed up the downside this way: "He's coming off an ACL injury and wasn't setting the world on fire before he got hurt."
Juan Pablo Vaulet, 19, taken with the 39th pick, traded to the Nets.
Pro's: The Nets are in love with this pick. Vaulet is barely 19, the best young player that Argentina has produced in a decade. He is 6'6", a hyper-athlete with a high BBIQ, big hands, an extremely quick first step and long wingspan. In FIBA competitions as a 15- and 17-year-old, he did well against competition two years older. Among those who congratulated the Nets for taking him was none other than Manu Ginobili, with whom he's been compared ... no doubt unfairly. (Manu's brother, Sebastian, coaches Vaulet.) Bahia Blanca, his Argentine team, is encouraging Vaulet to join the Nets and he could be in Brooklyn next year if everything goes well.
Con's: He, too, isn't a great shooter, making only 10 percent of his shots from deep last season and only averaging 7.2 points and 4.2 rebounds in 17.5 minutes. He was recovering from a severe ankle fracture that cost him 17 months of rehab. He was expected to play for the Nets in Orlando and Las Vegas after completing the FIBA U19 tournament in Greece this month, but after two solid games, he felt soreness in his lower leg and removed himself from the competition. He did join up with the Nets in Orlando, but in a walking boot. He flew with the team to Las Vegas, then went on to New York for surgery to repair a stress fracture on his other ankle. More on that below. Also, other than his FIBA exposure, JPV hasn't played outside Argentine national league which hasn't been very good lately.
Thomas Robinson, 24, signed to a two-year veterans minimum (player option in year 2)
Pro's: Big, almost 6'10", 245 pounds; long, 7'3" winspan; athletic, 35.5" max vertical; young, still only 24. T-Rob and the Nets have wanted each other for years, but it never worked out until now. Good timing. After the 76ers scooped him up off waivers last February, denying him to the Nets, T-Rob averaged 8.8 points and 7.7 rebounds in only 18.5 minutes per game. He finally got a chance to show what he could do, particularly in a wide open game. He could have signed for more than the vets' minimum but said it's not about the money, but "respect" and signed with Brooklyn.
Con's: Let me count the ways, or should I say the teams. After being drafted at No. 5 by Sacramento in 2012, he was traded to Houston a year and a half later. Five months after that, it was on to Portland in another trade After some success with the Blazers in his year, he was buried on the bench last season and at the deadline, was sent to Denver. Three days later, he was waived by the Nuggets before playing in a game for them. The 76ers picked him up but weren't interested in keeping him. The Nets were, calling him at midnight on July 1. He is still inconsistent, still foul-prone, but there's that potential that has intrigued many a GM.
Shane Larkin, 22, signed to two-year, $3 million contract (player option in year 2)
Pro's: Shane Larkin is a world-class athlete with the basketball. His 2013 Combine numbers were off the charts, a 44" vertical, higher than Markel Brown's. His 3.08 second speed in the three-quarter court sprint was faster than John Wall's. He can shoot a little. He's still only 22. His father is Barry Larkin, the Hall of Fame shortstop so he knows all about the pressures of being a professional athlete. He proved himself an adroit pick-and-roll point guard at the University of Miami and was well-liked in Dallas but was hurt.
Con's: The Nets will be his third team in three years. The Knicks liked him so little that even before the season began, they declined his third year rookie option. Then, with so few other option, decided to use him as the "lead guard" in the triangle, which has little to no use for the pick-and-roll. He wound up leading the woeful Knicks in minutes, but was very much unloved. The big criticism among Knick fans and beat writers was that he could run like the wind but didn't know where he was going.
Wayne Ellington, 27, signed to two-year, $3 million contract (player option in year 2)
Pro's: The man can shoot. In his six years in the NBA, he's shot 38.2 percent from deep. Four times, he's shot 40 percent or better, with a career high of 42.4 percent two years ago in Dallas (where he played with Larkin). He was the MVP of the NCAA tournament in 2009. Last season in L.A., he averaged 10 points a game in 26 minutes per game on 37 percent shooting from deep while filling in for Kobe Bryant. He also proved himself a leader on a bad team. Mitch Kupchak hoped to ink Ellington but he wanted back East to take care of his family. His father was murdered in Philadelphia last year.
Con's: Why can't this guy hold a job? He's been traded four times. The Nets are his sixth team in six years. He came into Laker camp last year without a guarantee. He is viewed as a one-trick pony, a three-point specialist without many other skills. As Jameson Miller of Silver Screen and Roll put it, "He'll likely never be sought after, but someone always needs a Wayne Ellington."
Willie Reed, 25, signed to one-year, partially guaranteed veterans minimum contract (Early Bird Rights in year 2)
Pro's: There are few players who has shown as much desire, as much guts as Willie Reed has since leaving St Louis University. He wants it bad and he's done just about everything a player can do, even initiating a social media campaign #CallWillieUp to get an NBA job. He has improved his game at virtually every stop. Instead of relying purely as his athleticism, as he did early in his career, he has developed a post game. He's gotten stronger. He had been playing for Miami in the Orlando Summer League --and playing well-- when King gave him a $500,000 guarantee on a $945,00 vets minimum deal.
Con's: Reed has yet to find a home although he's tried. Here's his resume': He's played for D-League teams in Springfield, Des Moines, Reno and Grand Rapids, spent time in Eilat, Israel; Girona, Spain; and Santiago in the Dominican Republic. There were summer league stints with the Kings, Grizzlies, Pacers and this year the Heat and Nets, training camps with the Kings, Grizzlies and Nets. He's actually been on the rosters of the Grizzlies and Kings, but has never played a minute for either. Reed needs a chance beyond the D-League and summer league before anyone knows if he is NBA-ready.
Ryan Boatright, 22, signed to one-year, partially guaranteed rookie minimum (team option in year 2)
Pro's: Tough kid, good shooter and a champion, playing a big role in the UConn championship run in 2014. Undrafted, the Chicago native got $75,000 from the Nets on a $525,000 rookie deal. The Nets have until November 1 to decide whether to keep him ... they've already given him $75,000... but Hollins seemed to confirm he'll be in training camp.
Con's: He's 5'11" and the Nets already have one 5'11" back-up point guard in Larkin. He is not a natural distributor. And despite his quickness on defense, he's going to have trouble in the NBA. As Derek Bodner in Draft Express wrote, "The combination of his height, wingspan, and slender frame make Boatright a constant threat to be posted up, and he struggles to adequately contest shots on the perimeter as well."
Quincy Miller, 22, traded for Steve Blake with one year left on a partially guaranteed contract
Pro's: Over the past year, he's started to look like he could be a late bloomer. Ranked among the top high school players in the U.S. three years ago --He was rated as the No. 4 player by Scout.com, the No. 7 player in the ESPNU 100, and the No. 7 player by Rivals.com. He did well at Baylor, where he was named Big 12 Rookie of the Year. He has all th physical tools. He's 6'10", with a 7'1" wingspan and a 36" max vertical. He can also shoot, run the floor and score in bunches. He works hard. In the D-League last season, he dominated, averaging 23.8 points and 5.3 rebounds, while shooting nearly 36 percent from deep and near 90 percent at the line. At the D-League Showcase, he had a monster game of 35 points, eight rebounds and nine blocks. It won him a 10-day contract and ultimately a partially guaranteed, two year deal. He's also cheap. He was paid $50,000 this week and won't get another guarantee until after training camp.
Con's: So what's the problem? He's another of the Nets' second or third (or fourth of fifth) chancers. Brooklyn will be his fourth team after Denver who drafted him him in the second round, the waived him after his second year; Sacramento who signed him to two 10-days before dumping him; and Detroit where he stuck after a 10-day. He is a big of a tweener, not strong enough for the power forward spot; maybe not quick enough for the small forward. He is also injury-prone. He tore an ACL in high school. He was supposed to play in the Orlando Summer League but he caught an errant elbow in practice in late June, suffering fractures to his nose and right eye orbital floor. He has put on a lot of weight this summer. One report puts the increase at 17 pounds, another at 24. And Stan Van Gundy has liked what he had seen before the injury. "It was unfortunate for everybody, but especially for him. He really, really wants to play, and he put in a ton of time since the middle of May. You never want it to happen to anybody, but especially to guys who are doing that."
Andrea Bargnani, 29, signed to a two-year veterans minimum (player option in year 2)
Pro's: He was the overall No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft, the first European to ever achieve that distinction. He was the franchise player in Toronto, averaging 17.2, 21.4 and 19.5 points per game over a three-year stretch ending in 2011-12. He can step out and hit the three, with a career percentage of 35.6. He shot 36.6 percent last season after a couple of off-years. He is more athletic than you think and despite his injuries last season, when healthy, he can score, with seven games (out of 29) of 20 or more points. He calls his two years in New York as filled with "crazy bad luck." He wanted to play for the Nets ... or at least didn't want to leave New York. Billy King thinks he can play alongside Brook Lopez.
Con's: Where to begin? John Schuhmann of NBA.com (and the founder of this webstie) laid a lot of it out last week, excoriating him and the Nets decision to sign him. It wasn't all about his season at the Garden. "At this point in his career, it’s unclear what Bargnani has to offer any team who dares to pay him anything ... Bargnani has long been a bad defender ... He’s not a good (or willing) passer ... He’s a terrible rebounder for his size ... He has shot just 30 percent from 3-point range over the last four seasons." He could have noted as well that he's missed 191 games in the last four years with various injuries, a staggering 47 games per season. But as Schuhmann also noted, at least "they didn’t give up three draft picks to get him," like the Knicks did.
That's a lot of risks, but none are big ones. As Matt Moore wrote this week, "Heck, I'll give them an "A" just for not signing anyone over 30 years old to a five-year max contract." Of course, the Nets have never done that in the King era. The closest they game was giving 28-year-old Deron WIlliams nearly $100 million in 2012. In fact, a close reading of the Internet shows that King got what looks like some bargains, starting with the various guarantees. Ellington is being paid $1 million less than he did last year. Bargnani supposedly passed on $1.8 million from the Kings. Larkin is being paid a couple of hundred thousand dollars less than what he would have been paid if he was still on his rookie contract. Of course, we won't know if they were bargains until they play the games.
What's our best guess about who will do well? We want the two ex-Knicks, Larkin and Bargnani, to do particularly well ... and we think they will. The surprise? We'll go with Miller, which is just a hunch. Disappointment? Robinson has a lot to prove. He's adamant that he will. We hope he's right.
Are they done? Are they ever done? It would appear they are and Billy King (and Lionel Hollins) leave Wednesday for South Africa and the NBA Africa events. You'd think that would be a neat deadline for anything left to do. There are international calling plans, however.
Vaulet injury update
This week's surgery on Juan Pablo Vaulet's tibia offered an interesting look into the level of cooperation between the Nets and his Argentine team, Bahia Blanca, owned by Pepe Sanchez, who happened to get his NBA start through the good auspices of then 76er GM Billy King.
Unlike the relationship between the Nets and Fenerbahce where Bojan Bogdanovic was stashed for three years, it's been very positive. After taking himself out of the FIBA U19 World Cup in Greece, JPV flew with Bahia Blanca's trainer, Cristian Lambrecht, first to Orlando, then to Las Vegas and finally to New York where he underwent surgery at the Hospital for Special Surgery Tuesday. It was performed by Dr. Martin O'Malley, the Nets foot and ankle surgeon, who also did Brook Lopez and Kevin Durant. Lambrecht stayed in New York with Vaulet and worked out a rehab regimen with the Nets training staff. The surgery was successful, according to Bahia, and "recovery time will be shorter than expected." The Argentine LNB starts in late September.
"Bahia Basket and Brooklyn are working together, maintaining constant communication with the idea of creating the best possible workouts for the players' progress," added a statement from the Argentine club.
As we noted above, if all goes well, the Nets would like to bring him up (not over) next season. The arrangement also benefits Argentina, who hadn't had a first or second round draft pick since 2003 when Carlos Delfino was taken. Vaulet will get the benefit of NBA competition, which will help his skillset ... and Argentina's program.
By now, we know most if not all the number the new Nets will wear. Based on seeing them on the court in Orlando or at the recent press conferences, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will wear 24; Chris McCullough No. 1; Thomas Robinson, No. 41; Willie Reed, No. 33; Juan Pablo Vaulet, No. 12; Ryan Boatright, No. 31, and we thought, Shane Larkin No. 2;
That leaves Andrea Bagnani, who would to wear No. 7, but Joe Johnson has that one. He said last week he doesn't like No. 77 which he wore in New York. Quincy Miller wore No. 20 in Detroit, so that's available. Wayne Ellington wore No. 2 in L.A., but that's gone. In fact, it reading Twiiter, it would be doubly gone.
After Larkin wore No. 2 in promotional photos, Jarrett Jack tweeted this...
I think I might change my number back to #2— JARRETT JACK (@Jarrettjack03) July 13, 2015
What's the protocol? Well, it turns out, it's all taken care of. Per Redes de Brooklyn ...
Larkin and Jack just switched numbers.
The return of Nets picks
When the Nets signed Shane Larkin this month, the Nets essentially got back a draft pick they had traded away. Larkin was taken with the 18th pick in 2013, the Houston pick the Nets traded to Atlanta in the Joe Johnson trade. On Draft Night 2013, the Hawks traded the pick to the Mavericks for a package that included Lucas Nogueira's draft rights, 2012 first-round pick Jared Cunningham, and Mike Muscala's draft rights. Only Muscala played last season. Although they lost Larkin's services for two years, the first an injury-plagued season in Dallas, the other a misfit season in New York, now they have him ... and for less money than if they had taken him in June 2013.
It's not the first time. A year ago, the Nets bought the 44th pick from the Timberwolves for $1.1 million so they could take Markel Brown. The pick was the Nets originally, but in 2011, they traded it to Minnesota along with $1.3 million for the rights to Bojan Bogdanovic. Minnesota held on to it for three years until Draft Night 2014. So essentially for the cost of $2.4 million and a recycled pick, the Nets wound up getting Brown and Bogdanovic.
Last year, the Nets were able to get their 2015 second round back as well. In 2011, they traded it to Utah for Mehmet Okur. They needed it after Brook Lopez broke his foot for the first time. The pick traveled from Utah to Atlanta, then Milwaukee on Draft Night last year. It became one of the two picks the Bucks sent the Nets as compensation for Jason Kidd. That pick was used on Draft Night this year to take Pat Connaughton who the Nets traded along with Mason Plumlee to acquire Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
Now, if Billy King could get either the 2016 or 2018 picks sent to Boston.
Prokhorov buying out Ratner?
Ric Bucher in his report on how Mikhail Prokhorov wants to go "all in" on the Nets and Barclays Center, suggested that there could a resolution on the matter in two weeks. He could be right. In a filing last week, Forest Center Enterprises, Bruce Ratner's parent company, disclosed that the company has an August 12 deadline to either repay his debts to the "MP Entities," that is ONEXIM, or Ratner's "ownership interests in the Nets will be diluted from 20% to approximately 8%." That would mean Prokhorov would own 92 percent of the team.
We are told, however, that FCE will pay the tens of millions it owes to Prokhorov and retain the 20 percent interest. What is owed is less than the value of what would be lost. We are told as well that negotiations for the buyout of the entire Ratner stake in the team --and possibly the arena-- are either underway or will be very soon.
How did the Nets cost-cutting affect the sale? In a number of significant ways. The team has stopped bleeding money and may, according to one source, may actually make money this season. That, of course, makes it a much more attractive asset, particularly after the $144 million loss of two years ago, $90.5 million of it being luxury taxes. Moreover, if Prokhorov wants to finance his buyout, interest rates will be lower on the loan.
What's our best guess? Prokhorov will buy Ratner and FCE out and soon. This will generate another round of Prokhorov-is-selling stories because, yes, having complete control over both properties could facilitate a sale. But Prokhorov, who has long hoarded cash is now into investment. And if you spend more than five minutes with him or Dmitry Razumov, you know how much they are into this ... and know as well they have to rectify mistakes.
Highlighting the HSS
The Nets have had reporters and camera crews on the two floor of 148 39th Street in Industry City, three times in the last month, the first a group tour of the training facility two days before the Draft, then a photo op with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough a couple of days after the Draft. Last week, it was NY1 getting the tour. Each time, Irina Pavlova was on hand to answer questions. So was Tony Brasile, the Nets operations director. Lionel Hollins was with her during the first tour.
Expect more tours in the future. As someone who's been on the roof, standing where the players rooftop lounge will be located, we get it. The views are dramatic. The Nets have spared no expense in the location and design. The ceiling above the two practice courts will be glass. The rooftop lounge will be part of a two-floor arrangement. There will be an enclose player parking garage, etc.
As Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN wrote, in another context, this week, "the arms race for the best training facilities, medical services and branding campaigns" is real, with teams looking to spend tens of millions of dollars on new facilities. The Nets are fully armed --none will have that view-- and they're going to spotlight it increasingly between now and the February opening.
It's been a week since Deron Williams cleared waivers. You'd expect that the former franchise player would tweet out, as his much classier teammate Mirza Teletovic did, his thanks to the fans (and organization) for their support the last four and half years. A lot of kids and their parents bought a lot of D-Will gear, cheered for him, even prayed for him when he was hurt. But no. D-Will has been silent and that, fans, should tell you all you need to know to take a side in the analytics vs. addition-by-substraction debate.