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NetsDaily Off-Season Report No. 21

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One more after this one; then it's preseason.

Preseason!  Media Day!  Trip to Duke!  Training Camp!  Preseason GAMES!!!

The Gathering Continues

With the signing of Justin Harper, the Nets roster grew to 19, 12 guaranteed (the fewest in the league) and seven with partial or non-guaranteed. Yanick Moreira, who had agreed to a camp deal, failed his physical so the 6'11" Angolan won't be joining the Nets. Is it possible they will go to 20, the max?  Sure, anything's possible.

Jarrett Jack said he expected to be in camp by September 15 ... and thought the rest of the team, other than Eurobasket players, would be in East Rutherford as well. It appears that's the case.  Bojan Bogdanovic is expected to arrive Wednesday or Thursday and presumably, Andrea Bargnani will be in town around the same time.  With both players coming off hectic schedules of "friendly" and real games, can't fault them for taking a few days off.  In 2012, Deron Williams flew from the London Olympics closing ceremony to Newark and was showing off his gold medal later that day and on the court the next day.  That was probably not the smartest thing.

Since the team has moved to Brooklyn, everyone has been on the court and in the weight room weeks before camp begins. As we noted before, everyone has arrived in shape --- AND wanting to be there.  That's got to be a positive.

Saturday afternoon, Sergey Karasev, recently cleared for 5-on-5 play, came in to shoot three's, thanking assistant coach Jim Sann, for coming in to work with him.

And it isn't 9-to-5 either, as this video from Saturday night shows. That's the players' entrance at the Nets practice facility...

For the record, that video was posted at 9:13 p.m. on a Saturday night.

It's happened again

This time last year,  Hamady N'Diaye, the Rutgers product from Senegal, had been signed to a training camp deal with Brooklyn. Then, as part of a routine physical, doctors found a problem with his elbow and the agreement was voided. Last week, almost a year to the day after N'Diaye's physical, another African big, Yanick Moreira, failed a Nets physical. The Angolan had a minor tear to a foot ligament.  And like N'Diaye, Moreira's Nets career ended before it began.

Moreira tried to put a good face on it all, in a tweet Saturday...

Tough break for the 24-year-old. We wish him a speedy recovery. And good luck to Justin Harper, who is replacing Moreira. The Nets liked him back in 2011, when he came out of Richmond. He was on the Nets' short list for their first round pick. They took MarShon Brooks. After a short career in Orlando, he's banged around overseas leagues.  The 6'10" Harper, like Quincy Miller, sees himself as a stretch 4. According to the official roster, neither he nor Dahntay Jones have been assigned uniform numbers.

Signing Dahntay Jones

We found the signing of the veteran Dahntay Jones intriguing, even if it was non-guaranteed.  He doesn't fit with the rest of the off-season signings. He is the oldest Net at 34 (35 in December) and averaged less than a point, less than a rebound and less than an assist per game in a mere 33 games for the Clippers.

Doc Rivers liked him for his locker room presence and toughness, as we've discussed.  And he, like newcomers Wayne Ellington and Willie Reed, has experience playing for Lionel Hollins.

BUT those qualities are the kind of qualities coaches like on a contender, not a rebuilding team.  Avery Johnson liked Jerry Stackhouse who the Nets signed to a guaranteed deal going into their first season in Brooklyn.  Stack was an outspoken leader in that locker room.  The Nets not expected to contend for anything, at least according to the pundits.  And don't the Nets already have an acknowledged leader in Jarrett Jack?

So why sign a player with leadership skills for a month of camp? ... Unless the coach thinks there's a need for more leadership, more toughness, and harbors the idea that those qualities will be valuable during the season.  That of course would mean dumping a younger player and, more importantly, signal that Hollins doesn't agree that this is a lost season.  He has, of course, said that in the past, both to Mike Mazzeo in August --"My expectation is we’re going to go out there and we’re going to be a very good team" and Tim Bontemps last week -- "I’m pleased and I’m excited" about the team's prospects.

Hollins has his supporters and detractors, but he also has a record and an ego. The Nets' 38 wins last season were the worst of his coaching career, at least for a full season.  After winning 40 games in 2009-10 with Memphis, he won 46, then 41 (out of 66 in the lockout-shortened season) and 56. Do not dismiss any optimism on his part as lip service.  The signing of Jones could be one indicator of where he thinks this season is headed and what he needs to get there.

Deron Redux

Ken Berger of CBS Sports, who once had a rather famous confrontation with Deron Williams, is the latest to write about the mystery of Deron Williams.  Not much new in the report: D-Will's demise was at least as much about his physical limitations as his mental makeup ... and those physical limitations are likely to prevent him from returning to All-Star form.  Here are some excerpts...

On his physical problems

We know about the ankle problems, the fallout in Utah, all of that. But to fall this far so quickly? According to league sources dialed into Williams’ ill-fated time under the bright lights in New York, the point guard’s journey from elite to scrap heap was both physical and mental — a tale of superstar wanderlust gone terribly wrong. "He played a lot better with less than he did with more, when he was more of a focal point," former Nets assistant GM Bobby Marks said.

On disappointing teammates

Pierce’s analysis, issued before he left the Washington Wizards to reunite with Doc Rivers in LA with the Clippers this past summer, is at least partially true, according to sources familiar with Williams’ decline in Brooklyn. Advancing in years, Pierce and former Celtics teammate Kevin Garnett looked to Williams to lead and push a team that had championship aspirations. Instead, Pierce said, it was he and Garnett who "ended up doing all the pushing." In fairness, it wasn’t simply what was inside Williams’ chest or between his ears that failed him in Brooklyn. It was the lower extremities, the aforementioned faulty ankles, that played a role, too.

On how he's unlikely to return to All-Star status

That’s how far the 31-year-old Williams has fallen. For a player once so dominant and electrifying that he stood toe-to-toe with — and, at times, towered over — Chris Paul in the debate over who was the best point guard in the NBA, serviceable is now the goal. "I don’t think be he’ll be an All-Star again because of how good the West guards are," one longtime executive told CBS Sports. "I don’t think he’s a top-15 point guard right now, but I think he can eventually get there."

On the effect of the Nets rapid turnover in coaching staffs

"The coaching rotating door really hurt him," a person close to Williams said. "You had a different style offense and defense every year." Faced with a leadership vacuum, Williams retreated. "Your point guard is your quarterback and your leader, and I don’t think he ever embraced that," one of the people familiar with his Nets tenure said. "He was happier when the limelight was off him.

Berger is the second person in a week to bring up just how badly Williams ankles betrayed him.  Dr. Lyle Mason, the recently retired Jazz medical director, spoke about how Williams' "loose ankles" were already bothering him in Utah, but their effect on his play became more significant, more evident in New Jersey and Brooklyn.

For whatever reason, physical or mental, Williams had "no constituency," as one league executive told us, by the end of his tenure.  Not ownership, not the front office, not the coaching staff, not his teammates and finally not the fans.  All wanted him to succeed but at some point gave up.  There were always glimmers of who he was and who he could be, but not enough to get anyone that excited. Been there, done that.  Can't have that with a franchise player.

Strategy, Culture and Survival

Before we do our big season preview (which Brian Fleurantin is working on) and our reporters roundtable (which Reed Wallach is anxious to set up), we though we'd share some notes on the franchise, not so much this year's team ... a pattern we think we see developing.

The Nets have subtly called this season a "bridge season," spanning their early, wild spending days and a new, more strategic model. The "bridge" may be spin, but there's plenty of evidence that the Nets are trying to change their culture.

Some of that we've already seen in the off-season moves, the buyout of Deron Williams; avoiding the luxury tax -- and the more onerous repeater tax; acquiring younger, more athletic players; offering partial or non-guaranteed deals to increase competition; retaining the coach.

Next, you're likely to see big, non-basketball, changes perhaps before the start of the season, aimed at improving long term stability for the franchise. As news reports indicate, the Nets are expected to secure a new local TV rights deal with YES. Ownership of the franchise and arena will be consolidated in Mikhail Prokhorov's hands.

What will it all mean for the product on the court long-term?  With stable finances and a streamlined business operation, expect the team to think more strategically across the board.  More long-term planning, fewer get-rich-quick schemes, no more designing rings in July, fewer deals aimed at winning it all NOW.  Part of that has been forced on the team because of mistakes made in the Boston and Portland deals. Part of it might be called "lessons learned."  Let's not do THAT again!

After those announcements, there will be others on the HSS Training Center, likely in early February, and a return to the D-League. Both of those come under the strategic rubric as well. Also, expect the priority in deals big and small to be rebuilding the stockpile of draft picks. Bottom line, expect a more conservative culture aimed at being competitive enough to contend while still ready to seize an opportunity should it arise.  Unfortunately, that's about the future. This season is more about survival, being relevant.

The "bridge" season, in fact, may be more  "a bridge too far."  It's going to be about surviving the rapids under the bridge. In order to meet all those financial goals, the Nets have had to target lesser players than they did in years past.

Certainly, there is optimism (as there should be in September) among the coaches, players and front office that the team will do well. But it's hard to get anyone to be pinned down on the number of wins. NO one is talking championship. Getting back into the playoffs seems to be one goal. As well it should.

In a draft that is seen as top heavy, giving Boston a top five pick would be a lot more disastrous than losing one at the end of the lottery or just outside it.  More importantly, if the Nets are going to recruit free agents, they need to prove they are a great destination, with solid young players. Having $40 million in cap space next summer won't mean much if good players don't want to play in Brooklyn.

The Nets do not have a good track record in free agency, not in Brooklyn, not in New Jersey. There's a lot to overcome and money alone won't do it.  There has to be a compelling reason for a player to switch teams. IF the Nets can make the playoffs, a long shot, the team should be well placed for the future. If not, the long-term planning will be longer-term.

Final Note

The media landscape is changing as anyone with a handheld device will tell you.  The way people get their sports news is not exempt.  In the past two weeks, we've seen Bloomberg News eliminate its sports department and the Daily News firing reporters left and right.

The News, we are told by multiple industry sources, will NOT travel with the Nets on road trips, will NOT staff the training camp and will have one reporter covering both Nets and Islanders.  Sounds like their travel budget will be limited to the cost of a MetroCard.  Part of the rationale is cost-cutting and part is a belief that the Nets won't matter. You want a diss, there it is.

Other news media are also in financial trouble and we may see less coverage of the Nets on some of their platforms as well.

So where will you get your news?  One place is here. We don't travel with the team either and we only get to a few practices --we all have real jobs or are in school-- but we have had at least one story on the Nets every day for eight  years.  We have increased our original reporting over the years, added a videographer, offered more social media (and will offer more this season) and a few years ago, joined SB Nation, giving us other assets to plumb.

During the NBA season, we average about 1.1 million page views a month, 404,000 unique viewers (lots of refreshing), 51,000 comments (all of them wise and measured), 300,000 Facebook impressions, 80,000 YouTube views and more than 200 stories, an average of 7.7 per day. And we have 15,800 Twitter followers, more than any of the beat writers.

Barring the unexpected, we will be here, win or lose. It's what we do.