It's coming up on Labor Day weekend, the traditional time for players to head to their teams' training facilities for informal workouts in advance of Media Day and the opening of practice. Word starts filtering out about who looks better than expected ... and who may not be in the best shape.
It's been another quiet week for the Nets. A number of players are around: the rookies and Markel Brown, Quincy Miller among them. Others like Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young and Shane Larkin are returning from overseas trips that are either vacations or promotional tours for their sneaker companies.
So this is a bit of a relaxed, somewhat philosophical look at the week.
Character and Chemistry
We have no idea how well the Nets will do. Pessimism abounds and not just among analytic types. Some experts outside the Nets who we've spoken with are also down on their prospects and for all the usual reasons. As one said, "I like Donald Sloan as my third point guard. I like Shane Larkin as my third point guard. I like Jarrett Jack as my second point guard, but..."
There's also the issue of frontcourt depth although two outsiders told us they LOVE the Andrea Bargnani signing. "Great pick-up. Great pick-up," said one. Thomas Robinson and Willie Reed are young (24 and 25) and athletic, but neither have shown a lot of BBIQ.
But there's something else to consider. Do some research on the individual players and you will find some toughness in their personal histories. They've had to be strong. A not insignificant number of them lost one or both parents before they were 20. We count at least three who lost their mothers as teenagers. Wayne Ellington's father was murdered in Philadelphia last year. Thomas Robinson lost both maternal grandparents and his mother in less than a month as a 19-year-old. They take care of siblings, surviving parents. They are character guys. (Say what you want about Billy King, but he puts a premium on character guys. It was he didn't want to trade for Lance Stephenson.)
So, while the Nets will miss Deron Williams on the court (the new mantra for pundits), Jarrett Jack may very well be better suited for this challenge than his far more talented former teammate ... and friend. The Nets will likely be a "social experiment" this season -- addition-by-subtraction over analytics -- and there's a reason why GM's last fall put Jack fourth in a poll that posed, "Which active player will make the best head coach someday?" There's also a reason why Jack was the leader in Las Vegas when he and six other Nets vets flew in to cheer on the kids. He has teammates' unfettered respect. No metric for that, that we know of.
It's not that D-Will is a bad guy. It's that he was inconsistent as a leader. Team personnel, asked how the team might do, would often use the exact same words in response, "depends on which Deron shows up." Jack is a more stable presence.
It may not all work. Probably won't, but putting aside all the numbers, there is something to be said for a team of young guys who share character and a veteran who believes in himself as their leader. We probably harp on this too much, but we think it's important.
The Kirilenko Trade Exception
The Nets have six trade exceptions that expire over the next 11 months, one of which is so small that it is worthless. Four others are so small they have little more value than a vets minimum deal, but one, the one the Nets received for Andrei Kirilenko, last December 11, could hold some value. It's worth $3,326,235, the value of AK-47's contract when it was traded to Philly for virtually nothing. The NBA permits teams to add another $100,000 to the value of the TE to facilitate trades so its value is really $3,426,235.
So assuming Moscow would let Billy King take on just a bit more salary and go slightly over the luxury tax threshold for a while, are there players out there who might make the Nets better, players who the Nets could acquire for the TE and a bit of this and that, not a draft pick (because there are none left to give and fans might set off for King's house armed with torches and pitchforks).
Here's a list we put together of interesting players whose salary could fit neatly into that TE... players who other teams might want to dump, save a little money and move on...
Atlanta: Assuming NO interest in Mike Scott, now out on bail on felony drug charges, there's Shelvin Mack, who could add a little depth at the guard. He makes a little more than $2 million and is non-guaranteed next season.
Boston: Evan Turner makes exactly $725 less than the TE + $100,000. There are rumors that the Celtics, like the Sixers and Pacers, don't think he's a good fit and may be willing to part with him for future assets. They won't give him up for nothing, but he's an expiring deal and can play multiple positions. Bust as the No. 2 overall pick or not, he can score.
Charlotte: Jeremy Lamb is a bit of a tease, showing enough scoring prowess every once in a while to make people think he's a late bloomer. He's still only 23 and in the past was rumored as someone the Nets were interested in. The 6'5" combo guard makes a little more than $3 million. He's at the end of his rookie deal.
Detroit: Anthony Tolliver is a 6'8" journeyman who has a good rep as a team player and general all-around good guy. He played well for Detroit last season, but he may not fit in with Stan Van Gundy's rebuilding plan. He makes $3 million and is an expiring.
Oklahoma City: Is Anthony Morrow intriguing enough for you? The ONLY player sent to Atlanta for Joe Johnson who's still in the league. OKC is facing a huge tax bill with a $97 million payroll and with the Thunder healthy, would they be willing to just send him on his way? He is non-guaranteed for next season.
There were some other intriguing names but some can't be traded until December 15, four days after the AK TE expires. Others are unlikely to be dealt without a significant return. There were other lower paid players who could be acquired in other ways. Again, this is just a late summer exercise. That's all. And no, trade exceptions can't be combined with players.
One other point: the luxury taxes the Nets would have to pay won't be determined until the last day of the regular season, meaning King and Dmitry Razumov could take on some extra salary now and then dump some at the deadline to get under the threshold.
Why is getting under important? Because even if the Nets go $1 over the threshold, they will qualify as a taxpayer this year and the repeater tax would apply to them for this season ... and for future years. That add-on tax applies to teams that pay the tax a certain number of times over a certain number of years. Now, it's unlikely the Nets will be taxpayer under the new TV rights-inflated salary cap/luxury taxes, but it's always good to get that monkey off your back.
We hear talks between Mikhail Prokhorov and Bruce Ratner + Forest City Enterprises continue with both sides wanting a solution that gives Prokhorov control of the arena as well as the team. There is somewhat of a deadline, September 8, the day after Labor Day, by which Ratner's team must pay Prokhorov $31.3 million in loans, etc. it owes on the Nets team losses for 2013, 2014 and the first half of this year. The deadline would be extended again -- it's already been postponed twice, but one insider tells us that that is doubtful. The deal reportedly has been close more than once in the last few weeks.
Forest City would prefer to get rid of its two investments at Atlantic and Flatush since it has a major restructuring underway and neither fit into their future plans. Ratner on the other hand wants to maintain an amicable relationship with Prokhorov since ONEXIM reportedly has some financial role in the rehab of Nassau Coliseum and the Paramount Theater.
The advantage to Prokhorov is obvious. Owning both gives him two assets that he now can sell and reap the benefits of what a great investment it's been for him. But it's also advantageous if he wants to sell a piece of the team while maintaining control. If the team continues to lose money, that minority owner would have no power but would have to pay a portion of the bill.
Bargnani and Bogdanovic
It's early in the process, but there are a couple of trends that we've seen in FIBA Europe friendlies that we like.
Bargnani is healthy, healthy enough to play for the Italian national team. That's the first time since 2011 that he's been able to. Like Brook Lopez, this summer is not about rehab or rest. It's about practicing, playing, enjoying the game. His offensive game has been efficient and varied. He's enthused, a team leader. His defense? Well, lets' move on. He will have something to prove. He said that when vowing he would have played for nothing. Lionel Hollins said that in talking with Mike Mazzeo ... and that was before Phil Jackson slammed him as a malingerer. Bargnani never responded. The first game the Knicks and Nets play is going to have a lot of subtexts.
Here's video of his highlights from Saturday's 22-point, 8-rebound game vs. Ukraine...
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Bogdanovic is the lead dog in the Croatian offense. It revolves around him. Mario Hezonja, the 6'7" Magic rookie, may be exciting and Dario Saric, the 6'10" Sixers draft pick, may be the next Toni Kukoc, but there is NO doubt Bogdanovic is THE man in the offense right now. He often brings the ball up, makes the first pass. His game is far more varied in FIBA play than it was last year. He facilitates, he drives the lane, he posts up, he gets open for mid-range shots at the wing and on three pointers from the corner.
Here's video of his highlights from Tuesday's 25-point game (in 26 minutes) vs. Turkey...
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One more camp invite?
A lot of teams have been signing players to training camp contracts this week. Nothing new from the Nets. As of now, they have 17 players --12 with guaranteed deals. It's possible they add someone else. Xavier Thames said a few months ago he expected to be in camp, but no word yet on that. Last season, the Nets signed their last camp invite -- Willie Reed -- on September 25. Jerome Jordan wasn't signed until September 11. So there's plenty of time if that's the way they want to go. They already have a young roster.
We're going on vacation next week, going to the same place where Sergey and Evelina Karasev ... in fact, very close to their hotel. Google it. We hope to get the next two Off-Season Reports done on time but don't hold us to it.