It’s hard to ignore “The Ringer” interview with Wyc Grousbeck, the principal owner of the Celtics now and in June 2013 when the Nets traded for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, giving up their future. As our man Pooch says, it’s like slamming a car door on an already broken finger.
We’ve read a lot about that trade (the best being Stefan Bondy’s opus) and will read a lot more about it because it changed the fortunes of two franchises, one for the better, the other being the Nets. (And it could change a third depending on where the lottery balls fall on Tuesday night.)
But more importantly, this is the story from a different perspective, from that of the other side ... and it comes not long after stories about how the Trail Blazers front office reacted to the Nets surprisingly generous offer for Gerald Wallace in 2012 and how badly Utah wanted to get rid of Deron Williams and his odd personality in 2011.
The trade that brought the basketball corpses of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets in return for the franchise’s future may very well be the worst trade in NBA history. Like so many disasters, the intentions may have been good, that is, winning it all, bringing toughness to a franchise that needed it, etc., but as Grousbeck noted to Bill Simmons, it was poorly executed, a panic move ... one with total disdain for anything but the here and now.
Grousbeck told Simmons:
“As I recall — and Danny may remember slightly differently — but as I recall, he came to me with that deal on draft day [in 2013] and said, ‘We’re going to get two first-round picks from Brooklyn for [Garnett, Pierce, Terry, and D.J White], and take on some contracts.’ And I said, ‘OK, are [the picks] unprotected?’ And he said, ‘Yes, in fact, they are.’ I said, ‘Great. Let’s go get a third pick.’ And he goes, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa,’ but, ‘All right, I’ll ask.’ And he’s not afraid to ask, he wasn’t pushing back. But he went and asked, and he said, ‘Unbelievable. We got a third pick. This is great.’ And I said, ‘Great. Go get a fourth pick. I think these guys have deal fever — we’re going to keep going until they say no. I think they’ve been told by ownership to get the deal done, so let’s go back.’ And Danny sort of gave me a look, like I don’t want to lose the deal by pushing too hard. Normally we try to play down the middle of the road with people, [but] I said, ‘Go push aggressively for a fourth pick.’
Then, it really got ugly...
“And so he went back, he came back to me and he said, ‘OK, you’ve got your wish. They’ve said no now … they’re not going to give us a fourth pick.’ I said fine, make that fourth pick into a swap. Because swapping a pick doesn’t feel like you’re losing a pick. You still have a pick, and it’s pretty unlikely that we would be able to swap — that would mean we were better than they are. And we think they’re going to be pretty good with this trade. So just get the swap and call it a day. So we got that swap, and that swap turned into Jayson Tatum and another first-round pick — it turned into the number-one pick in [last] year’s draft [which was later traded to Philadelphia]. That’s how the Brooklyn trade evolved as I recall it, which was working together with Danny to get the best possible deal out of Brooklyn.”
And there is ample evidence that Grousbeck is not grossly exaggerating. In his story on the Nets rebuild last October, Zach Lowe talked to Dmitry Razumov, the Nets chairman and Mikhail Prokhorov’s No. 2, about the deal. He admitted the pick swap was a last minute addition to the deal and that it was a mistake.
“We miscalculated in the heat of the moment,” Razumov told Lowe. “But we were all excited. [Former GM Billy King] may have had doubts, but they were not spoken.”
And although Razumov didn’t tell Lowe he was putting pressure on King, he was.
Grousbeck offers consolation to Nets fans through Simmons, conceding that at the time he didn’t think it was such a bad deal for the Nets. “I don’t want to disparage Brooklyn in any way. They made a move trying to go for it, and we made a move trying to rebuild.”
What it makes “The Ringer” story all so painful is that comes so soon after what a former Trail Blazer staffer, now with “Cleaning the Glass,” wrote this February about the Gerald Wallace deal. That’s the one where the Nets gave Portland a lightly (top 3) protected pick that turned into Damian Lillard.
Ben Falk, then with the Blazers, recounted how things went down, starting with a phone call that Chad Buchannan, the acting GM, made to King. Remember this was hours after Dwight Howard said, on second thought, I’d rather stay in Orlando.
“As the deadline approached, Chad reached out to Billy King, the Nets’ GM, to see if he might still want to deal for Wallace. King said he did and that he’d talk it over with his group. When Chad got the call back, he called us into the conference room immediately.
“‘So they’re definitely interested in Gerald,” he said. ‘It sounds like he’s a player Deron Williams wants to play with and they think will convince Deron to re-sign this offseason. They’re offering their first rounder in this upcoming draft for him.’
The Nets had limited faith in the 2012 draft, telling people that they thought there were only three game-changing prospects: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Thomas Robinson, a Nets favorite. Got that wrong, too. So they were willing to limit protections. Buchanan in fact was stunned, Falk writes. Everyone in the Blazers’ decision-making process was stunned.
“‘What are they talking about for protection?’ one of our executives asked.
“‘We’ll have to go back to them about it,” Chad said. ‘But sounds like it’s not going to be too strong.’
“My heart hit the gas pedal. I learned very quickly after I started working for the Blazers that just because a trade is discussed doesn’t mean it’s likely to happen — there are countless ways a deal can die on the vine. But that didn’t stop the excitement. This was the exact scenario I had wished for only the day before and now, suddenly, it was real. We had the right player at the right time and were called by the right team.”
Subsequent phone calls confirmed that the protection would indeed be light.
“After some back-and-forth with New Jersey it became clear that they were not too concerned with protecting the pick outside the top three, but felt strongly about not going any lower than that.”
Negotiations presented the Blazers with a “dilemma,” Falk recounts. They knew they had King where they wanted him. How hard should they push?
“The initial offer was so good that it presented a dilemma: what was the right way to negotiate the protection on the pick? Push too hard and it might kill the deal. But let them protect it too much, and the pick could roll over to the following season when it seemed likely the Nets would be much better.”
No worries. King agreed to the top three protection and Lillard went at No. 6 to the Blazers. A year later, he was rookie of the year.
And if that wasn’t enough (we know, we know, it is), there was Raja Bell’s disclosure in April about how bad the Jazz wanted rid of Deron Williams, knowing what a divisive force he was. In his podcast, Bell detailed the series of events that led to Jerry Sloan’s sudden resignation in Utah and DWill’s ensuing trade to the Nets ... King’s signature deal that was widely applauded at the time.
Bell talked about how DWill had been changing his Hall of Fame coach’s calls all the time leading to a confrontation in the Jazz locker room during a game with the Bulls in early February 2011, two weeks before the Nets trade.
“So Jerry called the 4-up. We went out for the jump ball and Deron changed it to a 4-down because I think it was Paul Millsap or Al Jefferson, they like the ball on the other side of the block. So essentially, it’s the same play. The same guy’s getting the ball. He just flipped sides. So we played the whole first half. Jerry’s seething and nobody knows why.
“So we came into halftime and we’re losing to the Bulls ... and Jerry says, like, ‘if you’re going to change my effing play, at least give me the courtesy of letting me know you’re going to change it.’ So he had been holding this, till, like half time.
“So, I’m sitting next to Greg Miller. He’s like the owner now and he’s sitting next to me and Jerry and Deron are like yelling at each other across the hallway. And so Deron says nothing to the effect of, like, ‘I hear ya bro,’ like ‘you got the power, but I got the juice.’ Something like, something like crazy.”
DWill then asked for a meeting, at halftime in the locker room, with Miller, the owner who had just succeeded his father, the legendary Larry Miller.
“So Jerry is like, ‘You’re not having a meeting without me.’ So then he runs behind there too. So it’s the three of them in the back and you just hear yelling. So we go back out after halftime. Nobody knows what to do to start the second half. Deron comes over and he’s like ‘Yo man. I just told them like if this ain’t gonna work, they just need to get me out of here’.”
That was February 9. Sloan resigned at 7:30 a.m. the next morning, ending that Hall of Fame coaching career. The claim then was that it had nothing to do with the night before or the long-standing conflict between the “power” and the “juice.” Of course the Jazz would say that. They didn’t want the value of their best player —and asset— diminished further.
On February 24, the Nets shipped Derrick Favors, Devin Harris, two first-round draft picks (one their own — unprotected of course -- that became Enes Kanter in 2011; the other a Warriors pick that became Gorgui Dieng in 2013) and cash considerations to Utah for the All-Star point guard.
The Jazz didn’t even tell Williams he had been traded. He learned about it watching ESPN at the Jazz practice facility. What does that tell you?
There haven’t been any revelations (yet) this year on the deal that brought Joe Johnson to the Nets in the summer of 2012, but know this: Neither the Nets nor the Hawks revealed a key piece of that trade for six months unti part of the Johnson trade, the Nets quietly, some might say secretly, agreed to permit the Hawks to swap first picks with Brooklyn in both 2014 and 2015, as we revealed back in January 2015. Neither King nor his buddy, then Hawks GM Danny Ferry, mentioned the swap in their press releases or press conferences after the trade.
There was no swap in 2014 because the Hawks draft position was better than the Nets, but in 2015, the swap was the difference between Kelly Oubre and Chris McCullough.
So what’s the bottom line? Most of you know it. The previous regime cared little about the future and often panicked. So often. The MeloDrama fails and the Nets move on within hours to grab DWill who was a great, but very flawed player. The Dwightmare fails and the Nets move on within hours to grab Gerald Wallace who was on the down side of his career. The Nets fear that DWill might sign elsewhere so they go for Johnson. They wanted to be ensure they’d have a star walking into Brooklyn. And in each case, the front office of Billy King, Bobby Marks and Frank Zanin, often pressured by Dmitry Razumov, was willing to deal away the future. In each case, it seems, there wasn’t a second thought, no concern. You want another pick? You don’t want protections? How about a swap ... or two? No problem!
“Deal fever,” as Grousbeck put it, or as an opposing executive told Bondy, “Billy’s literally like an addicted gambler when he’s close to doing those trades. He’ll do anything when it reaches a certain point.” Or, as Bobby Marks admitted to Bondy, “the plan wasn’t seen through.”
Now, some of you may say, why dredge this up again? We know what happened. Well, not everyone does and until this year, the details weren’t available. Now they are. Moreover, there are new fans —and to be quite frank, new ownership— that doesn’t have a full grasp of just how the Nets got to where they are.
And there are the lessons of history which if not honored, lead to a repeat.
Workouts in full swing
Scrolling through social media and others’ websites, we’ve created a database of sorts on who the Nets have worked out. Sean Marks et al don’t announce who’s coming in or how they did, but from what we can tell, the Nets have looked at about 20 players, mostly at HSS but in at least one case, piggybacking on another team’s workout.
Here’s our best list, so far, compiled by ND’s draft maven, GNYR. It includes both those who the Nets have looked at as well as a few expected in soon. The number in parenthesis, where applicable, is their rank in the ESPN Top 100 Big Board.
Shamorie Ponds, 6’1” point guard, St. John’s, sophomore (61)
Barry Brown Jr, 6’3” shooting guard, Kansas State, junior
Chris Silva, 6’9” power forward, South Carolina, junior
Mustapha Heron, 6’5” shooting guard, Auburn, sophomore
P.J. Washington, 6’7” swingman, Kentucky, freshman
Reid Travis, 6’8” power forward, Stanford, junior
Jordan Caroline, 6’7” shooting guard, Nevada, junior
Matt Mobley, 6’3” shooting guard, St. Bonaventure, senior
Abudushalamu Abudurexiti, 6’10” small forward, Xingyang Long Lions
Nuni Omot, 6’9” small forward, Baylor, senior
Cody Martin, 6’7” swingman, Nevada, junior (88)
Admiral Schofield, 6’5” shooting guard, Tennessee, junior
Bruno Fernando, 6’10” center, Maryland, freshman (77)
Brian Bowen, 6’7” shooting guard, South Carolina, high school senior (96)
Anfernee Simons, 6’4” shooting guard, IMG Academy, high school senior (21)
Sagaba Konate, 6’8” power forward, West Virginia, sophomore (62)
Ky Bowman, 6’0” point guard, Boston College, sophomore
Jalen Hudson, 6’6” shooting guard, Florida, junior (45)
Deng Adel, 6’6” small forward, Louisville, junior
Omari Spellman, 6’9” power forward, Villanova, freshman (49)
Kendrick Nunn, 6’3” shooting guard, Oakland, senior
Joel Berry II, 6’0” point guard, North Carolina, senior
The list is heavy on swingmen of all types and other than the lottery, that is the strength of this year’s draft, which is top-heavy. There are a few other trends —and interesting notes— we think we see in compiling the database.
—A number of players who are likely to drop out of this year’s draft and reclassify for 2019 have been into HSS Training Center. P.J. Washington of Kentucky, Bruno Fernando of Maryland and Brian Bowen, (maybe of) South Carolina, top the list. All should be high picks next year, with Fernando projected as a lottery pick. Makes sense of course. The Nets will finally their own first round pick again in 2019.
—Brian Bowen who we’ve already profiled may be the most intriguign but close behind is the highest ranking player among those who’ve been at HSS or are reportedly headed there: Anfernee Simons, the 6’4” shooting guard who declared after playing a year of prep ball. He’s ranked No. 21.
—Most of them are going to be undrafted which isn’t surprising, but remember the Nets are looking not just for players to fill their three draft spots at 29, 40 and 45, but also the rosters of their summer league and training camp as well as the Long Island Nets, including the two two-way deals.
—This is more a function of the increasingly far-flung NCAA scouting programs, but we count four African players on the list: Fernando (Angola), Omut (Ethiopia), Konate (Mali) and Adel (South Sudan). Several of them have horrific stories of their early lives as refugees.
Last summer, the Nets worked out about 60 players. Among those who they worked out then and are in this year’s draft class are Hamidou Diallo of Kentucky, Mo Wagner of Michigan, Elie Okobo of France and Rawle Alkins of Arizona.
Draft Sleeper of the Week
Like we just said, most of the bigs in this year’s draft will be gone early. Marvin Bagley III of Duke, DeAndre Ayton of Arizona and Mo Bamba of Texas will all be gone in the top six or seven picks.
But there is one big who almost certainly will be available when the Nets pick ... if they want him: Brandon McCoy, UNLV’s 7’1” freshman center. He averaged 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds, even has range out to the 3-point line.
As AP wrote of him when he declared for the draft...
A 7-footer originally from Chicago, McCoy was named the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year in 2017-18 after setting league freshman records with 16.9 points and 10.3 rebounds per game. He was 11th nationally with 18 double-doubles, shot 55 percent from the floor and blocked 1.7 shots per game.
McCoy, a former McDonald’s All-American, was a finalist for the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award that goes to the nation’s top collegiate center.
And yet, ESPN projects him mid to late second round. Their big board has him at No. 59! What gives? He is very. very raw. Our Hawks sister site on SB Nation, Peachtree Hoops, wrote about him earlier this month, with the headline, “The freshman big man has an NBA body but does he have the skill set?”
Yes, some numbers are eye-opening, like just 17 assists and 87 turnovers in his first and only NCAA season. But he is athletic and shows the potential as a scorer, with that 55 percent overall, 33 percent (3-of-9) from deep and 72.5 percent from the line. That’s all encouraging.
In a game vs. Ayton early in the season, in fact, he scored 33 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. Ayton was outstanding, too, posting 28 points and 10 rebounds. Here’s some video with McCoy’s positives and negatives obvious...
Still, what’s the issue? There are reports that his motor isn’t always on and that his game won’t translate to the pro’s, but a guy who’s athletic, 19 and 7’1” gets ranked 59th in ESPN’s Top 100? Makes no sense. But he’s the kind of guy you’d think the Nets would at least look at, maybe take a chance on.
Going Up ... Finally
For years, this architect’s rendering of Barclays Center with three adjacent towers has been incomplete. While the arena and the two apartment towers right of center are occupied, the site of the 53-story tower on the left, at the arena’s northeast corner, has been empty. Not for long.
Norman Oder, critic and chronicler of the Atlantic Yards (now Pacific Park) project, reported this week that the building, known as B4 on the master plan, will get underway soon, like during next season.
He quotes Scott Solish, the project manager for Greenland USA, (the Shanghai-based company that will soon own 95% of the project) as saying Greenland hopes to break ground in “late winter or early spring of 2019,” aka basketball season. According to tentative plans circulated in 2014, Oder notes that tower would contain 551 rental units, half of them affordable, plus 213 condos.
So expect scaffolding. What’s after that? One possibility is what’s known as “Site 5,” a planned mixed-use two-tower monster. The taller of the two, in some configurations, could reach as high as 80 stories. It would be built where P.C. Richards and Modells now stand. It’s one of the sites the city has pointed to as a potential location for Amazon’s second worldwide headquarters ... but it will take a signature tenant like Amazon to get it built anytime soon.
As they say, watch this space.
London Calling to Prokhorov
In the last month or so, Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, the Mikhail Prokhorov holding company that owns 51 percent of the Nets, has signaled to the cognoscenti (look it up) that it’s going to expand beyond Brooklyn, beyond New York and beyond the United States.
First it applied for a trademark on the term “BSE Global.” Then, it announced the hiring of a “global tourism director.” Hint much.
This week, Brett Yormark, the BSE (and Nets) CEO, announced company’s Advisory Board has expanded to include a London chapter, comprising of a host of top UK executives. It was set up to help bring marquee events to BSE venues, according to Music Week, a London-based website and magazine.
Music Week also noted that BSE is “on the lookout for small venues in London to acquire or partner in.” In addition to owning 51 percent of the Nets (Joe Tsai bought the rest), BSE has the two big New York venues in Barclays Center and Nassau Coliseum and is working on rehabbing two smaller entertainment venues, one in Brooklyn, the Brooklyn Paramount Theater, and one in Manhattan’s East Village, Webster Hall.
While Prokhorov is still seen by many as a Russian oligarch with extensive mining interests, that’s no longer completely true. He’s still Russian, but he now has more of his assets in New York than Moscow and he sold the last of his mining interests in March, when he dumped a stake in RUSAL, the world’s largest aluminum maker. Over the last few years, he’s quietly sold out of gold, platinum, potash and aluminum there and bought into sports and entertainment here. In business, it’s called a hedge. (Bloomberg also reported recently he has $5 billion in cash.)
Now, he’s moving on to the London stage. Bravo.
This post by D’Angelo Russell means nothing...
Absolutely nothing. Really
Well, other than he and Donovan Mitchell are buds and like flying charter. (Who doesn’t?) Russell is on his rookie contract and Mitchell of course is a rookie (not like that Simmons kid). Long, long time before they could teams up anywhere.
What it might suggest is what a number of Nets players said during the season, that if they’re asked to help out with free agency, they’re be ready to help. Two years ago, the Nets enlisted Brook Lopez in the drive to recruit the restricted free agents the Nets were pursuing in Sean Marks first summer. We expect that Marks will be asking his young guys to help out again now that he has more assets, more of a record.
DLo was recently pictured with his good buddy Devin Booker, who will be a free agent a lot sooner than Mitchell, like next summer. (Yes, there is a fan-run Instagram page that tracks them.)
It’s one of the unappreciated pieces of having 13 players gather in L.A. to work out and hang out, which the more one things of it the more one is impressed. The culture works, the camaraderie is evident ... and considering how this column started, that’s a great thing.