Nets GM King courting players now, needs a big move

    Wednesday, November 30, 2011, 7:00 PM [General]

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Billy King wasn’t with the Nets when LeBron James’ announced his “Decision” or when the team settled on their Fab Four in free agency last year.

    This is King’s first time going through the process in full as Nets general manager and one thing you know is he will be is aggressive.

    He was in his pursuit of Carmelo Anthony and ultimately in landing Deron Williams, and that’s what the Nets need now.

    Teams were permitted to speak to agents today for the first time since the lockout began on July 1. That official kicking off perhaps the biggest Nets’ offseason since Jason Kidd was a free agent in 2002 because of what lies ahead.

    The Nets are going to Brooklyn and would like to take Williams with them. So King needs to get the players that make the Nets competitive now and assets that can turn them into a championship contender later.

    “I want to build a team I think can be successful,” King said. “If it takes being successful now and that will help us down the road, then we’ll do it now. We’re not going to sit here and say, we’ll wait to the future, because the future is not promised to anybody.” 
     
    Everything King does will be with Williams in mind and with Williams’ backing.

    He can opt out after the season – and odds are he will. But if the Nets improve enough to entice him to stay their Brooklyn opening will be almost complete.

    The only thing that could make it better would be if Williams and Dwight Howard were in the starting lineup. King is trying to make sure that happens through this critical free agency, too.

    “Every year there’s an importance to it because you’re building a roster,” King said. “Yeah, Deron Williams’ contract situation is important. But we have the right to negotiate with Brook [Lopez] coming up. Every offseason is important because that’s your one chance to build a roster for that season.”

    There was plenty of news circulating about Lopez and Howard, but that was expected. If the Nets are going to get Howard now they have to offer Lopez and draft picks. But that doesn’t mean the Magic are going to accept that offer.

    Orlando general manager Otis Smith likely will seek out the best offers and make the decision when it’s clear he can’t keep Howard. But Smith won’t want the Dwight Drama to match the distraction the ‘Melo Madness caused Denver.

    The Nets hope it ends differently than the Anthony situation and they're the winners of the Howard sweepstakes. But in the meantime, King can’t wait on what may be. He has to worry about what is.

    The Nets have a star point guard, are moving to Brooklyn next year, have the richest owner in the NBA and could have about $23 million to spend on free agents.
     
    That puts King in better position than his predecessor Rod Thorn was in last summer. Thorn had Mikhail Prokhorov’s checkbook, but Brooklyn was two years away and Devin Harris was the best player on the team.

    The Nets chased James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, Carlos Boozer, Tyrus Thomas and ended up with Travis Outlaw, Anthony Morrow, Jordan Farmar and Johan Petro.

    This time around, the Nets’ targets are big men Nene and Tyson Chandler and small forwards Caron Butler, Tayshaun Prince, Andrei Kirilenko and Shane Battier. Kris Humphries remains in the picture, but the Nets need to address other areas first.

    Beside getting Howard, their hope is to nab either Nene or Chandler, move Lopez to the power forward, put a versatile small forward in the starting lineup and retool the bench.

    Some of these moves would make Williams’ happy, but also could give the Nets enough assets where a deal for Howard could be more realistic. Orlando may be more interested in a package that includes Nene or Chandler than Lopez.

    The bottom line is King wants to be a playoff team as soon as possible, and he wants flexibility on the court and off of it.

    “I want to get as much flexibility,” King said. “That’s when teams are good - when they’re not limited in their substitution patterns because then you can mix and match our roster better.”

    As far as the other flexibility, King said, “You always want assets. If you need to improve your roster, you can have assets to do that.”

    King is confident he will be able to improve now, but also collect enough pieces to make moves later. Howard is the ultimate target and the pursuit of Superman begins now.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***
     
    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    No NBA, but still reasons to be thankful

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011, 3:39 PM [General]

    There won’t be NBA games on Thanksgiving and Christmas appears in doubt. But it shouldn’t spoil the holiday spirit.

    Many of us miss the NBA but you always can find things to be thankful for at this time of year. Here are some for the Nets and their fans:

    They haven’t lost a game yet: Many of you probably had hopes for the postseason this year, especially with Deron Williams on the roster. Well, they still got a shot. Seem to remember two years ago their season was over by the end of November.

    They haven’t lost Williams yet: That wording may not have been fair, but we were trying to match the previous entry. A better way to put it would be Deron Williams still is a Net. The organizations’ goal is too keep him and they will do everything to accomplish that.

    There have been few Williams’ rumors: With no season, the speculation of Williams ending up in Dallas or with the Knicks or somewhere other than Newark/Brooklyn has been minimal. Enjoy it while it lasts.

    Brook Lopez hasn’t been outrebounded by a guard yet: You know what happened last year; how infrequently he grabbed double-digit boards and how maddening he was on the glass. Not once recently have you or anyone in the Nets gotten worked up over that.

    The Nets haven’t given up any free throw rebounds: They might have led the league last year in most times failing to grab the defensive board off a missed foul shot, which gave us a memorable Avery Johnson quote. “It's a free-throw rebound. Whatever happens that's the greatest gift you can get.”

    Travis Outlaw hasn’t missed an open shot: It's the obligatory poke at Outlaw in there, but we still say he’s a decent role player. It’s his $7 million per year salary – which the Nets gave him – that makes him an easy target.

    Humphries Takes New York: OK, the show is called something like Kim and Kourtney take New York, but many of us are going to watch the Kardashian's show because of Kris Humphries. You know they are going to make Humphries look bad, and try to show why Kim Kardashian asked for a divorce after 72 days. We feel bad for Humphries because he's a good guy and he hasn't been portrayed in the best light.

    Here are some things to be thankful for, if and when the lockout is settled:

    The Nets could be the most ready team: We’re not talking about chemistry or continuity. But with Williams lighting it up in Turkey, Jordan Farmar playing in Israel and various Nets spread across the globe, they should be in relatively good game shape and not have to play catch up from that standpoint. Camp will be short, so the more ready they are, the better.

    The Nets can talk to Williams again: The biggest factor in keeping Williams will be to get him another superstar, but it also would help the Nets if they could communicate with their franchise player. Not talking to him at all hurts them.

    The amnesty clause: If that item from negotiations makes it to the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, it means the Nets will be able to cut Outlaw and eventually get his salary off their books.

    They can formally say goodbye to New Jersey: For New Yorkers, this isn’t that big of a deal. But the people of New Jersey deserve to have the Nets say goodbye to them the right way after 34 years in the Garden State. A playoff berth would be a nice farewell, but also a tease.

    Just to cover the gamut, here are some things the Nets and their fans probably don’t appreciate because of the lockout:

    They can’t see Williams: With each day that passes another day and game could be cut off from his Nets’ career. He can opt out in July and the Nets and their fans don’t want his bio to say he played 12 games for the Nets.

    They can’t retool: No CBA means the Nets can’t spend all the money they have under the cap to try to make them a playoff team now or acquire the assets that could enable them to land Dwight Howard make them a championship contender later.

    Lopez’s development could be slowed: He needs to be around his coaches to work on his body, mindset and game, especially after a bout with mono affected his training last summer. Lopez had a good offensive season despite that, but has room to grow and his development is critical for the Nets’ long-term future, whether he is with them or is part of a package for a certain Magic center.

    Rookies may not be ready: MarShon Brooks and Jordan Williams won't have the benefit of a full training camp and will have to learn the NBA on the fly, and may have to gain some experience and PT in the D-League.

    Williams and Jersey again: Can’t stress enough how not being able to talk to Williams hurts the Nets or that not having a full final season at the Prudential Center is a slap in the face to their fans.

    ***


    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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    Even in his moment, Rivera thinking of someone else

    Tuesday, September 20, 2011, 2:16 PM [General]

    Mariano Rivera always has been about the Yankees first and foremost, never about his own achievements or accolades, and he proved that once again yesterday when really the moment should have been all about him.

    It was long after Rivera saved his 602nd regular-season game, setting Major League Baseball’s all-time mark. Longtime WFAN Yankee reporter Sweeny Murti asked Rivera if he allows himself to fully embrace this accomplishment and what it means. Rivera said he appreciates it. But then he quickly stopped himself and made sure everyone knew Murti had a daughter last week. Rivera congratulated him for that.

    Even when it was about Rivera, he was thinking about someone else.

    As an NBA writer, you generally don’t get to cover many baseball games. But I was at Yankee Stadium yesterday, covering the game for The Record and saw history. Now I’ve covered the Nets’ worst start in NBA history -- the 0-18 Nets two years ago -- and the greatest closer in MLB history on the day he established a new saves record.

    Needless to say, the locker rooms were different afterward.

    The Nets were down and disgusted; Chris Douglas-Roberts ripping into his teammates for being soft and having no heart. The Yankees were celebrating someone who is as mentally strong and has as much heart as any professional athlete.

    And Rivera’s response to Murti’s question was as remarkable as anything else that happened in the Yankees’ 6-4 victory over the Twins and there were plenty of compelling things going on. The fans cheering Nick Swisher’s inning-ending double-play in the eighth inning comes to mind.

    But that Rivera is thinking about someone else, remembering someone else’s joy when he should be enjoying his own momentous occasion is just one thing that makes Rivera so special. It’s never about him.

    “You’re not around people like this every day that come to work every day, they give their heart and their soul,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “To see the level he’s done it at, whether it’s been in the American League East or the playoffs or World Series and to see how humble a guy is and how easy he is to talk to and how easy it is for him to offer advice to other people and talk about pitching, attitude and approach - it’s an honor to be around a guy like that.”

    There’s no denying Rivera is the greatest closer of all time. He didn’t need to pass Trevor Hoffman to earn that title. Rivera stood alone on the mound and received a standing ovation after fanning Chris Parmelee looking at a cutter because he has no equal on that part of the baseball field.

    As Girardi said, “You’re shocked when he doesn’t close the game. That’s the feeling. That’s not the feeling you have about all closers.”

    It’s true. It’s a bigger story when Rivera blows a couple of save opportunities in a row than it is when he closes the door on teams regularly because that’s what you expect from him. And when he does it, he gives a little fist pump and then moves on.

    Rivera’s not into showmanship. He’s not about having everyone look at him. He tried to walk off the field after hugging all of his teammates, but Jorge Posada and Alex Rodriguez wouldn’t let him. They pushed him back on the mound so he could get the applause he deserved, so he could truly have the moment all to himself.

    “I can’t describe that feeling,” Rivera said. “It was priceless. It was a moment. I did not know it could be like that. I was thanking God at that moment. It was just incredible. It was something I never imagined.

    “It was a feeling like that when we won the World Series, I'll give you that.”

    That really was the most Rivera would give about himself on this day. A deeply spiritual man, he thanked God numerous times and talked about how much he wanted this day to come and go because there was much more work to do.

    You know he meant win more games, make the playoffs and add another World Series trophy to the Yankees.

    He’s 41 and the finish line is approaching for the greatest closer of them all, but he’s still getting the job done on the mound better than anyone else in baseball. And on a day when he set a record that’s going to be tough to break, when it was all about him, Rivera remained humble and thought about someone other than himself.

    Al Iannazzone is a YESNetwork.com Nets Insider and covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.). Follow Al on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

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    Johnson adjusting to quiet time

    Tuesday, September 13, 2011, 6:29 PM [General]

    EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The lockout hasn’t stopped Avery Johnson from making some pretty impressive rounds this offseason. It’s just prevented the Nets coach from visiting and talking to his players – for the most part.

    The one exception was last month when Johnson attended the wedding of Kris Humphries and Kim Kardashian. He got league approval to go to California and had to have congratulated the groom, which would have made it the only time since 11:59 p.m. on June 30 that Johnson communicated with one of his players.

    “My wife had a great time,” he said.

    A few weeks later, Johnson had a great time during a trip to Russia.

    He held a clinic for 100 coaches at Moscow Sports University, conducted a camp for children 13-and-under and played in an exhibition game with principal owner Mikhail Prokhorov. Johnson, the ex-point guard, hit four threes and set up Prokhorov for a basket.

    “A three-point play,” Johnson said. “It’s on YouTube. Check it out.”

    Though Johnson couldn’t say it, he probably would rather see Deron Williams passing it to Brook Lopez for a three-point play. You could YouTube that, too, and it could be the last time you see it for a while.

    The owners and players union seemed to be making progress in recent meetings, and there was hope the season would start on time. But after an important session Tuesday, a bleak picture was painted again; the threat of a shortened season or none at all re-emerged.

    There still is time for the season to start in November, but the two sides have to keep talking and clearly must concede a little more. In the meantime, Johnson continues to keep himself busy and prepare for when this madness ends.

    Johnson, one of the most outspoken and informative coaches there is, can’t say anything about the lockout. He doesn’t want to risk any fines. He won’t say he’s bothered that he can’t talk with his players or check on them, but as a coach, especially one as hands on as Johnson, this can’t be easy.

    “It’s been an adjustment,” Johnson said. “More than anything, you’ve just got to kind of manage your energy and your emotions because normally you have a bit more to do. But it’s been an adjustment. We’ll just keep adjusting until further notified.”

    Until the lockout ends, Johnson will keep watching film as well as some Euroleague games. There’s a Turkish team that has a Williams everyone associated with the Nets will keep an eye on.

    But Johnson would have an interesting take on the whole situation if he was able to talk about it. He’s an intelligent, articulate man who doesn’t lack opinions. And Johnson is one who has seen this situation from both sides now.

    He was the player who ended the 1999 season, the only one shortened by a lockout. His jumper in Game 5 of the Finals clinched the 1999 NBA Championship for the Spurs against the Knicks. There probably is a side of Johnson who wishes he could do something to end this lockout, too.

    As much as the players want to return to work, Johnson no doubt wants to work with some of his. He wants to be able to coach Williams for a full season, see how Lopez develops playing alongside a great point guard and all the way down the roster.

    That’s the way it is for all coaches.

    Lawrence Frank can’t wait to get started in Detroit. Erik Spoelstra wants to get back to work in Miami and see if his Heat can win a title. Mark Jackson has been waiting a long time to become a head coach. He can’t wait for the Warriors' season to start.

    But this is how it is for everyone involved. The players can play overseas or in exhibition games until the lockout is lifted. The coaches just keep meeting with their staffs and figuring out what it’s going to take to be successful when the time comes. Johnson thinks at least a 10-day training camp would be ideal to get his team ready.

    “But I just think we’re in a situation right now where whatever we get, we’ll take it,” he said. “I just think as NBA coaches, whether you talk to Tom Thibodeau, Gregg Popovich, Mike Brown, Doc Rivers, I just think we all just want to do what we love to do.

    “Right now we just don’t have any control over it, so we just prepare and plan and do what we do around this time of the year without having anybody to work with.”

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.).

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    Nets need some big moves before the big move

    Wednesday, July 27, 2011, 11:15 PM [General]

    The Nets’ past and future converged Wednesday on Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues where retired forward Albert King reminisced about growing up in Brooklyn and GM Billy King talked about what moving here will mean for the franchise.

    But the more immediate future remains very much on the Nets’ minds.

    They can’t do anything because of the lockout, but the Nets have plenty of work ahead of them in New Jersey before they get to Brooklyn.

    The Barclays Center is set to open for the start of the 2012-13 season and the only way to make sure Deron Williams is there is by getting the players that will keep the All-Star point guard.

    Naturally, none of this was said when Billy King and assistant general manager Bobby Marks gave beat writers a tour of the arena construction site. They can’t talk about any players right now.

    But almost as much as King talked about how great Brooklyn will be, he discussed the importance of putting together a winner now.

    “Wherever we play I’m trying to win this season upcoming,” King said. “There’s no guarantee you’re going to win when you get to Brooklyn so you got to build your team now and win.”

    This would be King’s attitude regardless. From the moment he took over the Nets, just over a year ago, he looked for ways to upgrade the roster. He went after Chris Paul, Carmelo Anthony and wound up with Williams. King, Marks, coach Avery Johnson, the Russian ownership -– all they want is to win.

    But it’s even more imperative to build a winner now or when they’re able to make changes because of Williams and because of Brooklyn.

    In a perfect world, the Nets will be much more successful during this free agency than last one. It should be different.

    The Nets were coming off a 12-win season, had no stars and Brooklyn still didn’t seem to be a reality. The Nets only won 24 games, but they have Williams -– and players want to play with elite point guards -– and Brooklyn is a very real part of the future.

    The Nets are hoping that will help them get some of the players they’ve targeted from this group of frontcourt players: Nene, Tyson Chandler, Kris Humphries, Tayshaun Prince and Caron Butler.

    Secure a couple of them and Williams is more apt to stay, the Nets are more likely to make the playoffs and Brooklyn will open with even more hoopla than already being planned.

    You have to believe the Nets are going to have a blow out when you consider they started talking about moving to Brooklyn in 2004, were supposed to be there in 2008 and now after all the lawsuits and appeals they’re getting closer to opening the Barclays Center.

    “I’m just excited it’s Brooklyn, five minutes from where I lived,” Albert King said. “I never thought it would happen –- and it’s my former team.

    “This will be the first time an arena like this will be built in a New York City area,” Billy King said. “I equate this probably to the opening of United Center in Chicago for what it did to the downtown area of Chicago or the Staples Center, what it did to that part of L.A.  I think this will do the same thing for this area. A lot of people fought it, but once it’s built I think they’ll realize five or six years from now this area will be booming.”

    King also believes the Nets will be more attractive to players, too.

    “Everybody says they want to play in New York,” he said. “We’re going to be in New York. We got the best owner and we’re going to have the best building. We’ll have all the tools. If a guy doesn’t want to come play here it’s just he doesn’t want to play in the City.”

    The most important thing is to make sure that Williams wants to play in this City, and that’s why the real work starts for the Nets when the lockout is lifted.

    ***

    Follow me on Twitter: @Al_Iannazzone

    ***

    Al Iannazzone covers the Nets for The Record (Bergen County, N.J.)

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