Not a lot of news, or we should say, not a lot of news we can find. Sean Marks, like his mentors in San Antonio, has kept a lid on a lot of what the Nets are doing in the off-season. No list of draft prospects workouts or free agents at the mini-camp next week. The names of all the basketball operations staff, including scouts have been eliminated from the staff directory.
So, more analysis this week than news, starting the possibility of a trade with Portland.
It’s fun getting excited this time of year. It’s the promise of the Draft and free agency, 10 days of Woj Bombs at the beginning of summer. What could be better?
And so, that was the vibe at the end of last week, as rumors abounded that the Trail Blazers were willing to attach one of their three first round picks to a salary dump that would send one of four young Blazers —Allen Crabbe, Evan Turner, Myers Leonard or Maurice Harkless— elsewhere. The belief, as laid out by RealGM and Sporting News, is that the Blazers want to whittle down their huge payroll and improve on their 41-41 record.
The Nets of course have a ton of cap space and as we’ve noted can pick up more with some deft moves. Only Philadelphia and Miami have more and the Heat’s number comes with an asterisk. If they want to retain Dion Waiters, it will get reduced pretty quickly.
So here’s the early June hype, uh hope: the Nets could get a second chance at Crabbe and get a first round pick as well. Genius! Brilliant! But hold on just a minute.
Despite the reports that Portland is interested in a salary dump, a source in the Rose City tells the guy who covers the team that, no, they’re not. Mike Richman of the Oregonian wrote Friday...
Despite a large payroll heading into the 2017-18 season the team isn't interested in a simple salary dump.
Instead, he writes, the Blazers want to use their picks to trade for a veteran, not dump a young player.
The Portland Trail Blazers are willing to trade away one or more of their three first round draft picks if they could land a proven veteran or other valuable assets, a league source told The Oregonian/OregonLive.
No description of what the “other valuable assets” might be. Richman also quotes Neil Olshey, the Portland GM, from an interview he did at the Draft Lottery.
"All of our players are under long-term contracts, or we control their rights," Olshey told NBA TV's Scott Howard-Cooper at the Draft Combine in May. "So we are building long term. The end game is to hopefully win a championship in Portland. If we can accelerate that process because we've got the three picks in a very deep draft, where these picks are coveted and we can get a player on a timeline from a team that is maybe going in another direction, we will absolutely push our chips in and do that."
Now, this could be a negotiating ploy. The Blazers are in big trouble with their cap situation.
They have $133 million in guaranteed contracts. You can say, as Olshey did, that “all our players are on long term contracts or we control their rights.” But the alternate reality can be summed up this way: “We have little to no flexibility.” As things stand now, the Blazers are roughly $11 million over the tax threshold for next season. That means a tax bill of roughly $20 million before they even fill those final three roster spots.
And as The Ringer’s Haley O’Shaughnessy reported Friday, the Blazers can’t even sign their picks at 15, 20 and 26 without incurring a huge tax bill. “It would cost the Blazers an additional $10 million in taxes from rookie (rookie!) contracts,” O’Shaughnessy points out. That’s on top of the $5 million in salaries the picks would get. So $15 million for three rookies, none in the lottery?! No.
So why do we think it’s overly optimistic to think the Nets could come away with Crabbe and another pick?
What hasn’t been discussed (at all) is the ego of billionaire owners, of which we know a thing or two. Paul Allen, the Microsoft and cable billionaire, is the richest owner in sports. He can afford a big outlay in luxury taxes. Mikhail Prokhorov paid out $90.6 million in tax in 2013-14. Allen has a lot more assets than Prokhorov and wouldn’t pay a quarter of what our billionaire send to the league offices. If you want an example of how Allen thinks about money, all you need to do is go back to last summer’s decision on Crabbe. Olshey has said he was prepared for a debate on whether to match the Nets offer. Instead, Allen simply said, “we’ll match.” No debate. Next question.
Also, the Blazers can get out of their predicament easier by dumping someone other than Crabbe. He will make $19.3 million next season. It might be a lot easier to dump Leonard or Harkless. Doing either would get them at or very close to the tax threshold. Leonard makes $9.9 million; Harkless $9.7 million. Both have three years and $30+ million left on their deals. Would the Nets be interested in either of those two guys? Would it be worthwhile for them to take on another $10 million in salary —for three straight years— in return for a mediocre player and a third pick in the 20’s?
Which leads us to the other crucial point: we don’t know if the Nets still feel the same way about Crabbe as they did last summer. Do they think they dodged a bullet considering that Crabbe didn’t take the next step in his development ... and is now in a walking boot after foot surgery?
All we are saying is that while the Nets may have inquired about the Portland picks and the Blazers situation looks ugly, we’ve learned that irrational exuberance this time of year can be nothing more than false hope and lead to disappointment and depression come July 1.
Stay calm and carry on.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
Frank Mason is barely 6’0” tall and 23 years old, two things the Nets would seem to shy away from in the Draft. They like their guards tall and prospects young, considering their long term planning.
But the Kansas product also shot 50 percent overall, 47.5 percent from three, turned in 41-inch max vertical at the Draft Combine and was both AP College Player the Year and All-American first team, leading Kansas to a 31-5 record as a point guard.
Julian Applebome of Draft Express wrote this about how he plays...
He is a strong lead guard, with a bulldog mentality, and is fearless attacking the basket and drawing contact. He can play over aggressively at times and force the issue, but he has shown improvement with his decision making and shot selection as his career moved on.
There are other reasons not to include him in our Sleeper section. He’s not good enough to fill in the Nets slots at Nos. 22 or 27 and too good for the No. 57 pick. So, the Nets would have to buy or otherwise acquire a pick in between. As long as they don’t use their $3.4 million in cash considerations in some other way, they should have just enough for a pick in the middle of the second round.
Here’s Draft Express’ video analysis of his NBA chances...
We think the Nets might like him, too. We noted what Gregg Polinsky told his buddy at 99.1 in Alabama after a visit to a Kansas basketball practice that the JayHawks have “great guards.” Last we checked, only one member of the Kansas backcourt is in this draft, and that’s Mason.
We know it’s a thin reed but Mason is intriguing in light of the recent success of small guards and Mason is more athletic and a better shooter than Yogi Ferrell in college. The the Nets signed Ferrell after last year’s draft and the rest is history.
Prince Ibeh, Nets project
As we tweeted this week, and The Prince later confirmed, Prince Ebeh has been practicing with the Nets all summer long. This is the third time the Nets have gone out their way to give him the 6’11” 23-year-old center a shot.
In February, they signed Ibeh to a D-League contract, with a promise of a 10-day contract at some point later in the season, after he got back in shape, not having played since finishing up a four-year career in Texas in March of 2016.
The Nets couldn’t squeeze him in, but in a complicated series of events the last weekend of the season, signed him to a quickie 10-day then released him, all in the space of 24 hours. The maneuver helped him big time. It got him an extra year of service so when he’s next signed, presumably to a vets minimum deal, he’ll get paid as a second year player rather than a rookie. The difference is $500,000 in the first year of any minimum deal, a hundred thousand in the second year.
So what we has the Nets so interested? Lobs and blocks. He’s a legit 6’11”, with a 35” max vertical and a 7’5.5” winspan. He was one of the best rim protectors in the 2016 draft class even if he went undrafted. Draft Express offered this view after watching him against Kansas in a 7-point, 7-rebound, 7-block performance that helped him win the Big12 Defensive Player of the Year.
At times, Ibeh looked like a poor man's DeAndre Jordan, who was also marred by lackluster college production, leading to second-round pick status. While it would be unfair and irresponsible to compare Ibeh, a fairly underwhelming four-year college player, to Jordan, a ho-hum one-year college player turned fringe NBA All-Star, their measurables are almost identical.
Here’s DX’s breakdown of that game...
Ibeh has reportedly added to his agility with some smart conditioning work at Brooklyn, dropping as much as 20 pounds.
No, Prince Ibeh isn’t a “savior,” but he shows the Nets are 1) trying to find —and develop— gems wherever they can find them; and 2) like that lobs-and-blocks idea. See below.
What Europeans have the Nets looked at?
Taking off from our Saturday story on how Sean Marks has spent a lot of time on airplanes in the last few months, we figured we would update our list of international draft prospects the Nets have scouted.
International prospects under the age of 21 have until 5 p.m. on June 12 to withdraw from the Draft. Most of these players are in.
And if you have any doubt about the real heights of these kids, ESPN’s Fran Franschilla put that to rest this weekend, posing with 7’3” Andejs Pasecniks and 6’9” Rodions Kurucs.
We don’t know if the Nets Brooklyn-based executives have been to Lithuania or elsewhere in Europe, but maybe they don’t feel they have to. The Nets have his national team coach, Chris Fleming, on their staff as an assistant. He’s seen him up close for several years. As we’ve noted, no draft prospect has been linked more to the Nets in mock drafts than Hartenstein. Maybe it’s because of the Fleming connection. Seems logical.
Draft position: Right around where the Nets pick.
Trajan Langdon, the Nets assistant GM, was in Las Palmas in Spain’s Grand Canary Islands in April to watch Anzejs Pasecniks, the 7’2” center from Latvia and Gregg Polinsky went to Malaga in May to take another look. Then on Saturday the Nets brain trust were in L.A. Saturday to give him yet another look at his agent’s “Pro Day.” Pasecniks and Kristaps Porzingis were seen as equal talents when they were teenagers, but Porzingis developed faster. Now it’s Pasecniks’ turn. Pasecniks' frame has taken time to properly fill out. Once very frail, he's put on quite a bit of weight as Draft Express has noted. Pasecniks put on a show with 26 points vs. Movistar Estudiantes. so you know there’s big interest.
Draft position: He’s been languishing around No. 30. Expect him to rise by June 22.
A Latvian, he is no unicorn, but he looks like a good long term bet. In fact, Chad Ford believes he’s likely to be stashed next season and become a rookie in 2018. In other words, he could become the Nets 2018 draft equivalent. He currently plays for F.C. Barcelona’s second division club, being elevated in March, hours before Marks arrived in the Catalan capital. He played a little bit and Marks got a look. There was some speculation in the Spanish press that the Barcelona GM called him up just so he’d be available for a Nets look-see. Marks did do a meet-and-greet with his Barcelona counterpart, Rodrigo de la Fuente. This weekend, Marks et al were in L.A.to watch Kurucs and Pasecniks. So were 150 other NBA executives.
Draft position: He’s been hovering around 20 but is rising and could go as high as 15. Bummer.
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. 34 (Draft Express) to 41 (Tankathon) to 48 (NBADraft.net) , he could start off with a two-way deal for the Long Island Nets. Gianlucca Pascucci, the Nets director of global scouting, was at Lessort’s game vs. LeMans, a French league contest, in April.
Draft position: Lessort is all over the draft board, but all in the second round.
Viny Pierrot Marcel Okouo is a (barely) 20-year-old seven-footer from Brazzaville in the Democratic Republic of the Congo ... and Serge Ibaka’s cousin. Okouo has declared for the draft and although he was expected to withdraw, maybe he won’t. He’s a project with a capital “P”, but he fits into what Nets seem to like in big men nowadays: an athletic “lobs and blocks” guy. Greg Polinsky took a look at him in Malaga, even attended a practice in May.
Draft position: at one point, Draft Express had him going to the Nets at No. 57.
The Worst Finals Ever
SB Nation, our parent organization, went through all the recent NBA Finals and nominated the 2002 NBA Finals as the worst ever. It certainly was one of the worst, with the Lakers sweeping the Nets in four games. led by Kobe and Shaq, who was particularly dominant, going up against rookie Jason Collins and Aaron Williams.
Take a look...
Of course, “worst” is in the eye of the beholder. For the hard-bitten Nets fans, it was the best! The Nets of New Jersey had never made the Finals in the NBA and even with the off-season addition of Jason Kidd, virtually no one thought they would make the playoffs. let alone the Finals. (One exception: Charles Barkley who in preseason thought Kidd would turn things around and even predicted the Nets would win it all, with Keith Van Horn as Finals MVP!!)
So, call it the worst ever. There are certainly arguments you can make. For us, however, it was a miracle.
Jeremy Lin in Asia
It’s that time of the year. After working out in Brooklyn and climbing the Manitou Incline in Colorado, Jeremy Lin made his annual trek to Asia to meet his fans and also highlight his favorite charities. Two have attracted our attention.
One is well-known, One Day’s Wages, a charity to raise awareness regarding girls education. Last season and again, this coming one, Lin will donate one day’s salary to the organization.
The other is the Hug Project at the Children’s Advocacy Center in Thailand, where Lin spent time this weekend It’s a tough one. The organization aims “to prevent, protect, and restore children from human trafficking, exploitation, and abuse. We are partnering alongside many organizations working against the same issues.”
Lin showed up on a particularly hot and humid day, spoke with the group’s leaders about raising the group’s profile and played with the kids.
Girls education and combating human trafficking are not common advocacies for NBA players, particularly in Asia, but that’s who Jeremy Lin is.
Good on him.
Not to put to fine a point on it, but the next month will be absolutely crucial in the Nets rebuild. Between the draft, free agency and no doubt a trade or two, the Nets management will need a lot of luck as well as skill. There’s been no limit to hard work. We hope by July 4, things are look up. Good Luck to all.