Looking forward is our theme as it should be in the off-season, particularly when you’ve come off a 20-win season. Lots of news from overseas, from Moscow, Paris, the Grand Canary Islands. Of course, there’s the draft sleeper, also from overseas.
The report out of Moscow that Mikhail Prokhorov is hoping to sell 49 percent of the Nets was effectively old news. In November, he hired Allen & Co., the big Wall Street investment banker (actually Fifth Avenue), to market a minority interest and reporting at the time, including here, suggested he was willing to part with UP to 49 percent.
What is news is that thus far, the team hasn’t sold that minority stake. Prokhorov, who is rapidly selling off his hard Russian assets, sometimes at a loss, is building up a cash horde, with estimates ranging from $2 billion to $5 billion. He’d like to add to it by taking some profits on his original investment of $223 million.
Initially, we are told, there were a number of offers on the table, delivered not only to Allen & Co., but the league offices. But there are problems closing the deal. Essentially, there are two prices: one for 49 percent with an time-certain option to buy out Prokhorov —that’s the higher price; and one for 49 percent with nothing more than a right of first refusal if Prokhorov wants to sell — that’s the lower price. As someone not directly involved in the process told us, the second option offers no guarantee of control. You’d own 49 percent but wouldn’t be able to affect much.
There’s also the problem of whether Prokhorov is selling a stake in the Nets only or in the Nets and Barclays Center. As Sports Business Journal and Bloomberg News have reported in the past, the Nets ownership would prefer to sell only the team. The league was at one point demanding Prokhorov sell an equal share of both, wanting to avoid conflicts-of-interest down the line with things like the arena lease. We don’t know how that’s played out, whether there’s been a solution to the stalemate. Prokhorov sees Barclays as the “mother ship,” as one NBA executive called it, in his burgeoning Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment company.
There’s another wrinkle to consider. The NBA has imposed a new rule on franchise transfers. No more slicing up ownership into tiny pieces. From now on, the smallest piece an investor can hold in a team is five percent. On a sale of a $900 million stake in the team and arena, that would mean a minimum investment of $45 million. Only serious players need apply. The Nets had more than 100 investors at one point in the Bruce Ratner era, many with less than one percent. No more of that, says the league.
Who would buy? There have been rumors of Silicon Valley investors and Chinese and even Arab corporations. But tech investors other than Paul Allen, owner of the Trail Blazers and Seahawks, haven’t thrown a lot of their cash at sports franchises. They have been minority shareholders in a few teams but nothing earth-shaking. They like e-sports.
As for the Chinese, forget it. New restrictions on capital flight have thwarted more than one deal recently. The Arabs? The sovereign wealth fund of Qatar (the country’s investment vehicle) did buy Paris St. Germain, a European soccer team in 2011 ... and spent lavishly. They also own BeIN, the European version of ESPN.
But all of these rumors have been around since last year and nothing has happened. Prokhorov has said he’d preferred to sell a stake to a local investor and New York has more billionaires than any other city in the world.
Bottom line: Watch this space.
The end-of-season commentary offered by Kenny Atkinson and Sean Marks, whether at their press conference or in interviews was filled with praise for Isaiah Whitehead, who the Nets took in the second round ... then watched him climb the NBA.com Rookie Ladder.
Both said, in so many words, that his rookie year was a bit of a surprise.
"I'm really happy with Isaiah’s progress,” coach Atkinson said at the presser. “In the beginning there were struggles, but he adapted very quickly. We love his toughness - his grit.
“He showed us that he can play three positions in this league. We put him on Jimmy Butler there at the end of the season because of his size. I think that was huge progress defensively, and that's something we talked to him a lot about. “
Offensively too, the coach noted, adding that the Nets have given him a plan for the summer.
“Offensively, he improved his passing, his catch and shoot game got better, I think he's got strides to make, especially finishing at the rim,” Atkinson added. “He's an attacking player who gets to the rim a ton, but I think he knows going into this off-season that that's something he needs to work on. Shooting is still an area where he needs to improve although his catch-and-shoot numbers were pretty good, off-the-dribble he could do a little better.
“For a young player at this stage, just out of college, I think he made tremendous strides, and at the end of the day he was in our top six or seven guys, which is quite an accomplishment."
And when Sarah Kustok asked Sean Marks wht surprised him in his first year, he also had praise for the Seton Hall product.
“Unexpected? I think on a positive aspect, a few things that stand out. I think that where Isaiah has come from,” Marks replied.
“Obviously, he was somewhat fortunate to be thrown right in there to get that court time which is pretty rare for a guy who was a second round pick in Isaiah's case and he and Caris getting thrown out there early in the fire. They've developed well, They've come along well.”
What’s next for Whitehead who averaged 7.4 points, 2.6 assists, 2.3 rebounds and a surprising half a block a game while playing 22.5 minutes? As Atkinson noted, there’s a lot to be done on his shooting ... and his ball-handling. His assist-to-turnover rate was barely above 1-to-1, a bad number. Then again, if the Nets wind up with another point guard, his time at the 1 is likely to be limited going forward.
Overall, he’s been a gift, considering where he was taken. Among those taken in the 2016 Draft, he finished 10th in scoring. The Nets reportedly had him at No. 18 on their mock draft. That’s much higher than the draftniks who had him deep in the second round, deeper even than where the Nets took him.
One thing else to note: the Nets spent more money acquiring Whitehead than any second rounder whose rights they’ve bought in the Prokhorov era. The Nets sent $3 million and the 55th pick to Utah. Looks like it was worth it.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
We’ll stay overseas for this week’s sleeper. Mathias Lessort is a 6’9”, 235-pound French power forward. He hails originally from Martinque in the French West Indies and plays for Nanterre in the Paris suburbs.
He is physically strong and athletic, playing above the rim and running the court with ease.
At 21 years old, he likely won’t be a draft-and-stash. As a second rounder, projected anywhere from No. 32 (Draft Express) to 44 (Tankathon) to 56 (NBADraft.net) , he could start off as a two-way player for the Long Island Nets.
Draft Express’s Bogdan Karaicic wrote this of him recently...
Lessort is a bit undersized for a center and doesnt show the type of scoring range or playmaking ability from someone who might play some power forward, even if his intensity level and length on defense does help ease some of those concerns. The way the NBA game is trending will certainly benefit him, as teams are far less reluctant to use 6’9” centers as in the past, especially one with Lessort’s bulk.
Once the NCAA Tournament comes to a close, NBA teams will likely head to France in great numbers to watch how he finishes his season and compare him with the many big men prospects he’ll stack up against in the Draft.
And indeed, that’s the case. Gianlucca Pascucci, the Nets director of global scouting, was at Lessort’s game Saturday vs. LeMans, a French league contest.
Here’s some video, also from Draft Express, of a recent game in the French league, Nanterre vs. Monaco, a matchup of first and second place teams. He wears No. 26
As we wrote Saturday night, Sean Marks had a lot to say about the team’s needs in his interview with Sarah Kustok the night of the last home game. We transcribed most of it. Here’s what we have, broken down by subject.
“We'll certainly debrief with the coaching staff, do the same with the performance team and every player gets a plan and its important for them to have a candid conversation with them, to say, 'This is what we really liked, this is an area where you can really improve’ and also to hear it back from them. ‘How can we improve, what would you like to more from me, how could I have helped you more? Kenny is the same way, our entire coaching staff is the same way. That's the no. 1 priority and we're going through that really as we speak.
“And then of course its on to mini camps, free agency camps, the draft and then free agency itself. So it’s all good, it's a fun, exciting time. it's not something you plan for the summer right now. We've been planning for months and months. I think a lot of people are really excited, let's get there. This is exciting. Lets get the ball rolling.”
—The NBA Draft
“It's another tool in our tool box. It's nice to have a first round pick. It's better to have two and we'll just see what happens. I think we can be a little more flexible now. People have commented, 'This is a deep draft' and so forth. We'll wait and see. If the players are there that we like, that's great and it's exciting for us. Again, i think we will be fluid and strategic in how we use those two picks and we'll figure it out the best we can.”
“I think we know the 3 position for us is certainly one that needs to addressed. I look at it too that we have some free agents of our own who we need to know what’s going to happen with them there first.
“Again, where we are in our life cycle its not where we can say, 'we're only missing this.' To be honest, we need to look at everybody. We're looking at the best players available. That's coming through the draft, that's coming through free agency. “
—The Nets fan base
“You know Kenny's commented on this a couple of times. And he and I together have discussed it a lot. It's one of those things that never ceases to amaze me. The passion from the fans ... and I hope they can tell how passionate i am and everyone I am lucky enough to work with here and Kenny is as passionate as they get. And he said when he first came out here, 'Brooklyn is basketball.' And to be quite frank I didn't understand what that meant. He had a better idea of that, having grown up here.
“Then, I've lived it. I've lived it for a year and I've seen the fan base has come out --we have a sellout tonight and there's been 11 or 12 sellouts throughout the year. The fanbase is up from last year.
“I can understand that the wins and losses aren't what the fanbase would like to see, but I think they can understand they're playing with a purpose. There's a reason why they're doing what they're doing. And they're behind us and it's great. And it's great that ownership has been on board with this as well. And I'll obviously continue to grow with this franchise and the fanbase will continue to grow with us as well.
“That's exciting to me to know that we have 17,000 plus out here tonight sending us off and sending our guys off into the summer.
—Progress in year one
“Overall, I'm very, very happy with our trajectory of where we're heading, not only with our players but our staff. the whole group has You have to stay fluid because you never really know when there will be wrinkle thrown at you. We've had to deal with our starting point guard out 40 plus games, that changes things up a little bit. the trade deadline changed things up a little bit when we moved Bojan. The fact that we've brought in some younger guys throughout the year changes things up a little bit, too. But it's great to look at these guys because as the more faces we get in here ... I don't want to get into a revolving door because there's something to be said for the continuity of the team chemistry as well. But I think we to be, as well —as I said before— strategic.”
“You know what, I do. Everywhere I go — obviously i get a lot of feedback from the fans, obviously it’s important and I love it— everybody say,’golly, these guys play so hard, play so hard for Kenny which is terrific and it’s difficult when you go through losing eight in a row, nine in a row, 10 in a row, to keep a positive outlook throughout that is a credit to the coaching staff. It’s also a credit to the players. They held each other accountable through this, through the ups and downs of the season and that’s terrific.
‘When you don’t have a bunch of individuals, when you have guys who want to be part of something bigger, Kenny and I have told the group, ‘you guys are going to make the culture. I can’t tell you what the culture has to be. I can sort of lead you there and Kenny can help facilitate it, but it’s got to be a player-led culture here.”
“The guys we've brought in, I think we've been pleasantly surprised. I'll speak for the coaching staff, the feedback I've had from them, as well as from the front office. They've done a great job jumping right into the system. They're all high character guys. So we knew that coming in and we weren't going to have an issue with that.
—Development of the roster
“One thing that I think really stood out to me is the current roster and how it developed. It didn't start in the season. it started in the summer. You saw ---we mentioned Brook's progress through out the summer. We mentioned Sean Kilpatrick's progress and Caris's, how we brought along so slowly, throughout the year, being very strategic with him, know that he's missed a lot of college games, make sure we got the foot right, the body right, develop that, and we've seen the progress through the year.
“So it's really nice to see how are guys are playing. Most of them, if not all of them, are playing above their salaries. So that's nice. That's not only a credit to them, but to the player development coaches and the rest of our coaching staff have spent hours upon hours not only on the court with them but talking them through video or whether it's taking them through the performance team techniques. and in and our of the weight room.
“Unexpected? I think on a positive aspect, a few things that stand out. I think that where Isaiah has come from. Obviously, he was somewhat fortunate to be thrown right in there to get that court time which is pretty rare for a guy who was a second round pick in Isaiah's case and he and Caris getting thrown out there early in the fire. They've developed well, They've come along well.
“I think Spencer (Dinwiddie) has played really well, Quincy (Acy) has played extremely well. And I really like a guy like Trever Booker who came in here and we said 'this is the role we think you can fit?' People are going to love how hard you play, your tenacity and your energy. And he really brought it and the fan base loves him. he bringa certain Brooklyn Grit.
“I would never had told you Brook would shoot so many three's ... and make them.”
Nets executives and scouts were everywhere in Europe this weeks. Here’s a list of what we know. Only what we know...
--Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson were in Moscow on Wednesday and Thursday for annual discussions with Mikhail Prokhorov at ONEXIM headquarters. Also on hand was Dmitry Razumov, the Nets chairman, and Sergey Kushchenko who is both a member of the Nets board of diretors and president of the VTB, the Russian basketball league. They all took in Thursday’s Euroleague playoff, featuring Milos Teodosic.
--Trajan Langdon, the Nets assistant GM, was in Las Palmas in Spain’s Grand Canary Islands Saturday to watch Anzejs Pacecniks, the 7’2” center, this weekend. Langdon, a former Euroleague star, is in the midst of a five-game scouting trip.
—Gianluca Pascucci, the director of global scouting, was in Paris Saturday, looking at Mathias Lessort, the 6’9” French power forward.
The distance between Moscow and Las Palmas is more than 3,000 miles. Lots of frequent flier miles.