It’s an annual exercise, a look at how the Nets did well and not so well going back 20 years. (It’s getting better.)
We look back, back, back, at 20 years of Nets Draft history. It’s an annual exercise and a lot of it is painful, if edifying. Of course, the last four years have far more pleasant than the years before. One thing that hasn’t changed. There will be surprises. That’s what makes it so much fun. As of Tuesday, the Nets have two picks, the 19th, Philly’s first rounder, and the 55th, the Nuggets second. Could that change? DUH!
So, before you settle in to watch this year’s proceedings, a virtual event because of COVID, review the best and the worst of Nets Draft Nights going back to the one when the Nets picked Kenyon Martin Sr. Enjoy … or maybe not.
On June 1, three weeks before the Draft, the Nets had three picks out of the first 31: their own at No. 17, the Nuggets at No. 27 and the Knicks at No. 31. By the time, Sean Marks and his troops went home on Draft Night, they had two: the 31st nd 56th. So what happened?
Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving is what happened. The Nets, believing strongly in early June that they had a shot at the two superstars, started bailing on cap space. On June 6, they dumped Allen Crabbe’s contract for Taurean Prince and two of their own firsts, the unprotected 2019 first and a lottery protected first in 2020. (They also got a Hawks second rounder in 2021). The move provided the Nets with added cap space for free agency as Prince made $15 million less than Crabbe’s $18.5 million in 2019-20. In addition, by trading the 17th pick, the Nets saved another $2.9 million in rookie salary scale money. The Hawks took Nickeil Alexander-Walker, then dealt him to the Pelicans.
Then, on Draft Night, they made another cap-clearing move. They traded the 27th pick, acquired in a previous salary dump with the Nuggets, to the Clippers in return for Philly’s first in 2020 and the Clippers 56th pick in the 2019 Draft. More than one draftnik was surprised the Nets were able to get a future first and a second in that deal when everyone knew they were looking to eliminate salary. That move saved them another $1.97 million in cap space and let the league know they were serious about KD and Kyrie. The Clippers used the pick on Mfiondu Kabengele
When the time came to use the Knicks pick at 31, they focused on Nicolas Claxton who in their internal mock was a mid-20’s selection. Marks had fielded a number of calls for the pick, but Brooklyn liked Claxton. Then at 56, the Nets were looking at three players, but only one, Jaylen Hands, agreed to be stashed.
By the end of the night, the Nets were very close to the $70 million they would need for KD and Kyrie. Meanwhile, neither Alexander-Walker nor Kabengele set the world on fire. Between the two of them, they didn’t average 10 points a game.
Everyone says it —these were the guys we REALLY wanted— but Nets insiders insist that Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs were the guys they wanted as they sat down at HSS Training Center before the Draft began. Indeed, the Nets had both high on their mock drafts, believing that Musa was worth a lottery pick.
In two interviews with an Alabama radio station in April and May, Nets then director of players personnel aka chief scout, Gregg Polinsky laid out the Nets scouting process, starting with a database of 600 players at the beginning of the season, whittling the number down to a handful for Draft Night. In retrospect, Polinsky may have even hinted at the Nets interest in Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs.
“I can’t go into names, but I can talk about the talent there is in Europe,” he told the Tide 102.9 in Tuscaloosa. “In my own opinion … I think there is two lottery picks there, possibly three, a guy who will be taken in the first two or three or four players in the draft (no doubt referring to Luka Doncic) and another kid there,” his voice trailing off as if he realized he might have said too much.
As the Draft dragged on, the Nets even considered moving up to take Musa, but they didn’t need to. He was there at No. 29. Although they didn’t have Kurucs in the lottery on their internal mock, they had him in the first round. So once Musa was secured at No. 29, they waited anxiously to see if Kurucs would last until No. 40 … and he did.
The Nets also had Theo Pinson on their mock drafts, somewhere after Kurucs. Like the others, they were high on Pinson, higher than most. A week before the Draft, Brooklyn called Pinson to say, if you’re not drafted, we’re still interested in you. Then, even before the second round was over, they called again and got a commitment from Pinson to join the Nets summer league team. Pinson of course was later signed to a two-day deal, then at season’s end was brought up to Brooklyn.
The weekend before the Draft, the Nets thought their “transfomative” trade with the Lakers was either dead or moribund. The deal proposed by the Nets was nearly the same as its final form, other than the inclusion of the Nets 27th pick, which they had acquired as the other side of the swap with Boston, as agreed to in 2013: Brooklyn would receive D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov and would send Brook Lopez to L.A. The Nets didn’t want to give that up that 27th pick. In the meantime, the Nets began to explore other deals.
By Tuesday, Woj reported, the Nets and Hawks were “deep in negotiations” that would have brought Dwight Howard to Brooklyn with Brook Lopez, who had one more year on his deal than Howard, and almost certainly a draft pick going the other way. But late Tuesday afternoon, the Nets relented and agreed to relinquish the 27th pick (which two days later became Kyle Kuzma). Done deal. The Nets took Jarrett Allen and pronounced themselves happy. Allen, with his athletic gifts, was at the top of the Nets list of prospects, but he dropped and dropped as rumors that he didn’t love the game proliferated. Nets knew otherwise. Still, the Nets had their eye on two other bigs that night, D.J. Wilson of Michigan, and Harry Giles of Duke, a powerful physical specimen, but often troubled by injuries.
Woe is us. The Nets entered the 2016 NBA Draft with one pick, the 55th. Not only had they lost their first round pick to Boston in the 2013 Draft Night trade of death (see below if you dare), they had to swap their second rounder with the Clippers, the payment L.A. demanded for Reggie Evans four years earlier. Nets fans were looking forward (?) to a dreary evening, but as new GM Sean Marks said everything changes on Draft Night… and it did. After Kenny Atkinson had called Thaddeus Young “my man” at his introductory press conference a month earlier, and Young said he was already texting potential free agents, Young appeared to be off-limits. Not so.
On the morning of the Draft, Adrian Wojnarowski reported the Nets and Pacers were in talks to swap Young for the 20th pick, which led to a day-long speculation as to who the Nets would take. No one thought the pick would be Caris LeVert. NO one! Then shock and mostly disappointment. LeVert wasn’t on any draftnik’s mock draft as a first rounder. The highest anyone had him was No. 38. Three foot surgeries will do that to you. But Marks had spoken on more than one occasion with the Nets foot/ankle specialist, Dr. Martin O’Malley. O’Malley was trusted by the Nets and he had reconstructed LeVert’s foot. That was enough. The Nets had him at No. 11 on their mock, the only one that mattered.
There was something else. Marks had been the heavily engaged in preparing the Spurs’ mock draft. San Antonio had the 29th pick and LeVert was on the Spurs’ short list. So to be sure that the Nets didn’t lose out, Marks traded for a pick nine places ahead of his old team. San Antonio took Dejounte Murray. Then, it was on to the second round and the Nets pulled off another surprise. They sent $3 million in Mikhail Prokhorov’s cash and the 55th pick to Utah so they could move up to No. 42 and take Isaiah Whitehead, who most draftniks thought wouldn’t go until the fifties. But again, to the Nets, Whitehead was a first round talent. They had him at No. 18 on the internal mock and gave him first round money. Best part: LeVert had penned a note to GM’s on Players Tribune the day before the draft, saying “I’m almost there. What I can’t wait to show the world when I make my NBA debut is a player who can handle, shoot, go hard to the hoop, and defend.” And of course, he did. So did Whitehead. Both finished in the top 10 of the 2016 draft class in scoring. (The Nets also signed another top 10 scorer in Yogi Ferrell, but you know that story.)
A disaster. The Nets went into the Draft with a first round pick, at No. 29, the result of a secret swap with the Hawks, who got the No. 15. In the second round, they had one pick, at No. 41. There were rumors, roundly denied by the front office, that he Nets were also shopping Bojan Bogdanovic. Nothing happened. The No. 29 pick, it had seemed for weeks, was destined for Chris McCullough, the 6’10” Syracuse forward with, it was said, lottery-level talent but a bad knee. He also had a bad attitude. At one point, all five big mock drafts had the Bronx native becoming the Nets first New York City kid. There was a reason. It turned out that McCullough had what was described as a “soft promise” for months. Barring the unforeseen, if he was there, at the next to last pick in the first round, Brooklyn had agreed to take him. The Nets had met with him, scoured the tapes and scouted him before his January knee injury and in high school all-star games. They liked him. But they also wanted to move up that night and take … a point guard. The Nets realllly liked Cameron Payne and were in discussions with the Hawks about a deal, centered on Mason Plumlee, that would have delivered the No. 15 pick to Brooklyn IF Payne was still available. No dice. The Thunder selected Payne at No. 14 and it was again thanks, but no thanks.
Billy King had another deal in the works as well, one that worked. The Nets also liked Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and offered Plumlee and the 41st pick. They were also willing to take on Steve Blake’s contract, which Portland demanded as part of the deal. and the trade got done. Although RHJ became a team favorite, Plumlee has had a better career and the 41st pick turned into Pat Connaughton, who’s now a solid bench piece for the Bucks. In the second round, the Nets were high on 19-year-old Argentine Juan Pablo Vaulet, with more than one executive referring to him as “the next Manu!” when describing his skillset. At one point, they even considered using the No. 29 pick on him. Instead, they called Charlotte and pried the 39th pick away from the Hornets with an offer of two future second rounders, in 2018 and 2020, plus $880,000 in cash. It left a lot of pundits scratching their heads (even in Argentina). Seemed like a lot for a kid who hadn’t played outside Argentina. The only competition for JPV was supposedly the Spurs (the “Manu” thing), who had passed on him at No. 26, but who knows, might take him at No. 55. For his part, Manu Ginobili did congratulate both JPV and the Nets.
At around the same time, the Grizzlies made an offer that would have changed the make-up of the Nets: they wanted Joe Johnson and offered two expiring deals, those of Jeff Green and Courtney Lee as well as Tony Allen, whose best years are behind him. Brooklyn reportedly wanted a pick —and Lionel Hollins was not a big fan of Green’s game. Talks were put on hold … and never revived.
The Nets entered the Draft with no picks in either round. Their first rounder had been traded to Boston the year before and their second rounder had been dealt long before, for Bojan Bogdanovic in the 2011 Draft. But lo and behold, the Nets wound up the evening with three picks, the Nos. 44, 59 and 60 picks. The Nets liked Markel Brown. On their internal mock, they had him at No. 22. Why so high, compared to other teams? The Nets valued maturity and character much higher than other teams, like four-year seniors from big programs. So at No. 44, they went to Minnesota, who ironically enough, had the Nets old pick, the one traded for Bogie three years earlier. The price was $1.1 million. Done deal and everyone thought “done for the evening.”
Nope. According to someone in the Draft War Room, Dmitry Razumov suggested that Billy King get on the phone and call the teams that held the last two picks in the Draft, the Raptors who held No. 59 and the Sixers who held No. 60. The Nets had $900,000 they could spend. They liked Xavier Thames out of San Diego State, a 6’3” combo guard, and Cory Jefferson, a 6’9” forward out of Baylor. Internally, they had both high in the second round. Both were four-year seniors. King advised that the Nets didn’t have to spend the money. The Nets could simply call them once the draft ended and offer them spots in the summer league. Razumov wanted their rights and since he controls the purse strings, the Nets offered Toronto $500,000 and Philly $300,000. Done and done. And the team with no picks wound up with three, two of whom made the roster, with one of them, Brown, starting 29 games. He later was exiled to Russia.
It looked like a plain vanilla Draft Day, with no rumors of anything impending. But it turned out to be the most important Draft Day in franchise history, at least since 2001 when Thorn got Colangelo to shake hands on the Kidd deal in the afternoon, then drafted Richard Jefferson and Jason Collins that night. But in terms of consequences, it was as bad—or worse— as the 2001 Draft was good. It was franchise-changing but not in the way the 2001 Draft was. Here ya go, blow-by-blow. By the time Draft Day 2013 dawned, the Nets and Celtics had an agreement in principle to send Paul Pierce to the Nets for Kris Humphries and the Nets 2016 pick. That’s when King and Dmitry Razumov got greedy and made a play for Kevin Garnett. As the rest of the league sorted out scouting reports for the worst draft in memory, King and Danny Ainge kept talking to each other.
Here’s how King described the early process…
”Danny and I started talking back and forth. Then, Bobby Marks and their assistant GM wre talking back and we were really focused on Paul Pierce. I think as we got close to a deal for Paul, we said, pretty much, ‘We’ll do this.’ So I said, ‘What about Garnett?’ Danny said, ‘Nah, I don’t think there’s anything on your roster that can do it.’ So, I kept throwing things at him and kept adding and then I guess it was Draft day, the night before the Draft, I pretty much know that there’s a deal there. So, we got to decide do we want to do this. Spoke with ownership and we agreed and I called Danny and said, ‘We’re in’.”
Meanwhile in Boston, owner Wyc Grousbeck described it differently.
“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.’
King couldn’t trade any more picks, but he could agree to swap one more and he did, the pick that turned into Jayson Tatum. Feeling woozy yet?
In fact, according to participants, the first iteration of the deal had Nets giving up two more first round picks, in 2014 and 2018, plus Gerald Wallace, Reggie Evans and Toko Shengelia for Garnett. Ainge wanted the Nets to take on Jason Terry or Courtney Lee. Lee had one more year on his deal so Terry was added to the mix. To make the deal work under the CBA, the Celtics agreed to take Keith Bogans in a sign-and-trade with a starting salary of $5.2 million. By accepting Bogans in an S&T, the Celtics sentenced themselves to a hard cap. More wrangling ensued. The Nets needed one more agreement to get it all done: Garnett would have to waive his no-trade clause. Kidd and Deron Williams were enlisted to text-bomb KG. The Nets agreed to pay his full salary in 2014-15. Meanwhile, the Nets were pursuing another deal: Brooks and Reggie Evans for Minnesota’s Luke Ridnour, an expiring contract, and the Timberwolves’ 26th pick in that night’s draft. The T-Wolves want the Nets to take J.J. Barea, who has an added year on his contract. No deal. A little before 10 p.m. by about pick No. 17 or 18, the efforts to convince KG finally bore fruit. Garnett agreed to join the Nets, but the deal wasn’t quite done. Shengelia was replaced by Kris Joseph who has a non-guaranteed contract. Ultimately, in the early morning hours, Evans was replaced by Brooks, who badly wanted out of Brooklyn. Who could blame him! At some later point, D.J. White become a Net. The Nets’ decision to dump Brooks esd based largely on their inability to get value for him in that night’s draft. Also, Evans is valued by Garnett, with whom he shares an agent. In the midst of all this, the Nets select Mason Plumlee at No. 22, even though they have Kevin Garnett as well as Brook Lopez and Andray Blatche up front (at that point in the evening, Evans was still in the deal.) One other footnote: The Nets’ Russian ownership was greatly disappointed when the Cavaliers took Sergei Karasev at No. 19 and wanted to see if Cleveland would do a deal, perhaps in exchange for Plumlee and Bojan Bogdanovic’s draft rights. Cleveland wasn’t interested. Whew.
If you want to read more about the 2013 trade, you’re a masochist, but we will abide your weirdness and point you to tour Mr. Bondy’s Chamber of Horrors.
The Nets considered Allen Crabbe. Crabbe, in fact, told YES Network in 2018 that he had “heard” he was going to the Nets. He lasted until No. 31 when the Blazers took him.
The Nets had traded away their first round pick, their first as the Brooklyn Nets, to Portland, in the Gerald Wallace deal three months earlier at the trade deadline. After learning they had struck out with Dwight Howard that morning, they needed a veteran to encourage Deron Williams to stay with the team in free agency. So they spoke with the Portland front office. Ben Falk was the Basketball Analytics Manager with the Blazers at the time. Six years later, he wrote about how the Nets blew it for Cleaning the Glass, his website. Falk suggested that Blazers officials thought they had put one over on Billy King. The Nets were willing to trade their first rounder —and put minimal protections on the pick— in retrn for Wallace. The Blazers front office was stunned, Falk recalled. “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.” The deal was seen as so lopsided that Falk said the Blazers held their breath as the hours ticked down to the trade deadline. No need. Done deal. If they had kept the pick, the overall No. 6, they had hoped to take Thomas Robinson but he went to the Kings at No. 5. They also liked Ty Zeller and Jon Henson. Instead, they watched as the Trail Blazers took the future rookie of the year, Damian Lillard. Strangely, they didn’t mind.
Would the Nets taken Lillard? No. A Nets executive provided NetsDaily with a list of six prospects the Nets might have taken at No. 6. Lillard wasn’t on it, Perry Jones III was. Natch. As the first round wore on at the Prudential Center, the Nets made inquiries about a first rounder. There were some available, but the teams wanted cash and a future first round pick. The Nets weren’t interested, mainly because two days earlier, Danny Ferry and Billy King began talking about a trade that would send a pick to Atlanta in the Joe Johnson deal. Also, the Dwightmare hadn’t run its course (or so we thought!), so they wanted to hang on to their own picks.
In the second round, they didn’t have their own pick. They traded it a year earlier to the Warriors who took some guy named Draymond Green. So they bought two picks. At No. 41, they took Tyshawn Taylor, using a Trail Blazer pick they had bought for $2 million. The Nets had Taylor going in the first round. Sixteen picks later, they bought the rights to Toko Shengelia for $750,000. Then, with a pick left over the 2010 Chris Quinn – Rafer Alston deal, they took Ilkan Karaman of Turkey. They considered others, like Maalik Wayns and Scott Machado, but went with the recommendations of Danko Cvjeticanin, their international scout, instead. The Nets could have had one more pick, in the second round, the Lakers pick at No. 60. As part of the Sasha Vujacic – Terrence Williams deal in 2010, the Nets had an option to buy the pick for $250,000 as long as L.A. agreed. L.A. didn’t agree and kept the pick, taking Robert Sacre.
They had started out with three picks, but they traded their own pick to Utah in the Deron Williams deal and it rose to No. 3 in the Lottery. So what. They had Deron Williams. They did have the No. 27 pick, obtained from the Lakers in the Sasha Vujacic – Terrence Williams deal, and their own second round pick at No. 36. They liked MarShon Brooks, with some in the war room believing no one on the board had as much upside as Brooks. They didn’t think he would fall, but they had done their homework on him. No workouts but they had investigated reports that he was, in Ryen Rusillo’s words, “a bad kid.” They found nothing. As the Draft proceeded, Brooks began to drop. He had been penciled for the Pacers just after the Lottery, but then San Antonio offered Indiana George Hill, a local kid, for the pick so they could take Kawhi Leonard. The Pacers agreed. The Knicks liked Brooks, too, but liked Iman Shumpert even more. In the stands, Brooks began to get nervous. His knees knocked. He feared doing to the draft would wind up a big embarrassment, told his mother so. Meanwhile, King was watching and getting nervous. He liked Brooks and Bojan Bogdanovic.
Finally, at No. 25, King didn’t want to wait any longer. He offered Danny Ainge the No. 27 pick and the Nets’ 2013 second round pick in exchange for Boston’s pick at No. 25. He feared that someone, maybe Dallas. maybe someone else who could have acquired Dallas’ pick, would swoop in and steal Brooks. He also had a chance to get both Brooks and Bogdanovic. Ainge agreed…Boston liked JaJuan Johnson anyway…and the deal was done. King then moved on to Bogdanovic. Nets personnel had fallen in love with the Croatian the weekend before when he came in for a workout. His only downside was a three-year deal he had (inexplicably) signed with Fenerbahce that same week. Miami had the first pick in the second round but they too wanted someone higher. The Nets, Heat and Timberwolves did a complicated deal. The Timberwolves swapped their pick at No. 28 and cash to the Heat for Miami’s pick at No. 31. The Heat took Norris Cole, their prize. The Nets then acquired the No. 31 pick from Minnesota for a reported $1.25 million and the Nets second round pick in 2014. They took Bogdanovic. Five picks later, they took Jordan Williams, passing on Chandler Parsons who they did consider but wanted Williams for his rebounding. Williams was later arrested for kidnapping, robbery and assault of a juvenile male. Oh well, the second round is a crap shoot.
From the lottery on, everyone sorta knew the Nets were going to take Derrick Favors at No. 3, the youngest player chosen in the Draft since Kevin Durant in 2007. But what most didn’t know was that before the draft, the Pacers, looking for a point guard and a power forward after a 32-win season offered the Nets Danny Granger and the #10 pick (which turned into Paul George) for Favors and Devin Harris. The Nets said no. The only mystery after that was who would the Nets take at No. 27 (the Dallas pick from the Jason Kidd trade) and No. 31 (the Nets’ own pick). Going into the draft, Rod Thorn said he had five offers for No. 27 and three for No. 31. The Nets had their eye on two players: Craig Brackins, the 6’10” combo forward out of Iowa State, and Eric Bledsoe, John Wall’s back up at Kentucky. But things didn’t work out that way. Bledsoe was gone by No. 18 and Brackins at No. 21. So the Nets went to Plan B. Damion James had been listed as high as No. 12 in one of the final mock drafts and most had him going in the teens, but the Texas senior dropped. So the Nets called Atlanta and offered the No. 27 pick and No. 31 pick for the No. 24. As fans watched unaware, the Hawks took James for the Nets. By the time No. 27 had rolled around and the Hawks took Jordan Crawford, news of the trade had leaked out. The Hawks then turned around and sold the No. 31 pick to the Thunder for “cash considerations”, $3.1 million, the most ever for a second round pick. They then had the Nets take a player, German 7-footer Tibor Pleiss, for them. And the deal was done.
In the second round, the Nets reportedly discussed buying a pick to take Lance Stephenson, but Stephenson’s checkered (to be kind) history at Lincoln High School dissuaded them. Also in the mix for that purchased pick: Brian Zoubek and Ben Uzoh. They didn’t have to buy a pick for either. Both went undrafted and were signed to partially-guaranteed deals: $50,000 for. Zoubek, who troubled by a bad back, retired from the sport; $35,000 to Uzoh who made the team. Oh yeah, a kid from Glen Falls, NY, worked out for the Nets early in the off-season, wanting a promise before he declared for the draft. But Thorn stopped giving out promises after Zoran Planinic (see below) and so Jimmer Fredette returned to Brigham Young.
Before the draft, the Spurs approached the Nets with a proposal: they would take on Vince Carter’s contract in return for Fabricio Oberto and Bruce Bowen (both with easy buyouts) as well as Kurt Thomas and Roger Mason Jr. They also wanted the Nets’ first round pick at #11. The Nets countered by saying they would be willing to do the deal but wanted the draft rights to Tiago Splitter, who’s now a Nets scout. The Spurs balked and turned to the Bucks and Jefferson. As the No. 11 pick approached, Terrence Williams and Gerald Henderson Jr. thought they knew where they were headed. Henderson, the Duke SG, was convinced he was going to the Nets and T-Will thought he was headed for Charlotte one pick later. So convinced was Henderson that he told the media after being picked at No. 12 that he had been told that the Nets were going to take him. T-Will had even mentioned the Charlotte Bobcats in a radio interview a couple of days before the draft.
Why the Nets went in the opposite direction has never been explained, but the trade of Vince Carter and Anderson for Lee, Rafer Alston and Tony Battie that afternoon may have been a big part of it. It’s been speculated that Nets thought Williams could fill more of the roles they lost with the departure of Carter, most importantly as a passer, not a Henderson strength. Really? At one point, the Nets also considered taking DaJuan Blair at No. 11, but thought that was too high for a guy with no ACL’s. The Spurs took him at No. 37.
The legend is that the Nets had no idea that Brook Lopez would fall to them, never in their wildest dreams. Uh, no. The day before the Draft, Kiki Vandeweghe told WFAN, “Brook Lopez is one of the guys you have to do due diligence on. I don’t think he gets to us but you have to do due diligence because I guarantee you there will be a situation where someone will be taken and you will say, wow, why did they take him and you have to be prepared, because two minutes before pick you will get a call asking ‘would you do this?’ and you have to think fast.” Indeed, “someone” (Larry Brown) did something that permitted the Nets to have a shot at Lopez. After the eighth pick, the Bobcats told Lopez’s agent he was their guy. Then, Brown begged Michael Jordan to take a point guard instead. Lopez sat down and D.J. Augustin stood up. Who would the Nets have taken if Lopez had gone to the Bobcats? Team officials have told us the choice would have been Jerryd Bayless of Arizona … in keeping with “best player available”. Of course, the Nets traded Jefferson for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons earlier in the day.
The Nets came close to two other trades the day of the draft that would have affected the pick. ESPN’s Chad Ford (remember him?) reported that afternoon the Nets were “deep” in negotiations with the Grizzlies to grab the No. 5 pick, offering Memphis the No. 10 and a future first round pick, presumably either theirs in 2009 or the Mavs’ 2010 pick, obtained in the Kidd trade. Ford reported the Nets were interested in Kevin Love and Danilo Gallinari, both of whom they believed (correctly) would be gone before No. 10. Earlier, Ford and Adrian Wojnarowski had both reported on another proposal. The Blazers had offered the Nets a deal in which either Mo Ager (Ford) or Trenton Hassell (Woj) would go to Portland along with the No. 10 pick in return for Steve Blake or Jarrett Jack and the Blazers’ No. 13 and No. 33 picks. And in another permutation, Jonathan Givony of Draft Express reported it was Marcus Williams and No. 10 for Jack and No. 13. At No. 21, the Nets admit they were stuck between Ryan Anderson and at least two other players, Courtney Lee and Chris Douglas-Roberts. They went with the bigger guy, tried to buy a pick to take CDR and failed, then got lucky (after a fashion).
Who did they target at No. 40 before Douglas-Roberts fell to them? Chad Ford said they liked Damjan Rudez of Croatia, a 6’10” small forward…who didn’t have such a great season in Europe the next year but wound up with Indiana in 2014. The Net also considered buying a pick to take Jaycee Caroll, the undersized shooting guard from Utah State. When that didn’t work out, they invited him to the summer league where he showed a great shooting stroke. He wound up in Europe where became one of the continent’s top three-point specialists. We could call him the Kyle Korver of Europe, but that would be wrong. You’ve already suffered enough.
The Nets were looking for a big man, an athletic big man. They looked around at several prospects, appearing to be interested in players as diverse as Jason Smith of Colorado State, Sean Williams of Boston College, Josh McRoberts of Duke and even Glen “Big Baby” Davis of LSU, who days before the draft said he wanted to play for the Nets, that he liked Lawrence Frank! They were apparently willing to trade it, too. The day before the draft, the Charlotte Observer reported that the Nets offered their pick and Nachbar to the Bobcats for former lottery pick Sean May, but Charlotte (thankfully) turned them down. According to the Observer, the Cats while unhappy with May’s conditioning and record of injuries, weren’t willing to “give him away”.
The Nets and Pacers also engaged in trade negotiations all through Draft Day, with New Jersey reportedly offering Jefferson, Collins and either Krstic or Marcus Williams for Jermaine O’Neal. By day’s end, however, the talks were described as “nothing concrete” and “fizzled”. Pacer GM Larry Bird called it all “bogus”. In the end, the Nets settled for Sean Williams and proclaimed him KMart-like. While the Nets interviewed Williams, he didn’t undergo psychological testing. He had declined an invitation to the Pre-Draft Combine. In doing so, he avoided being measured (he was at least an inch and a half shorter than his listed height) and avoided being tested. We all know how THAT worked out. (It didn’t.)
Ever since the KMart trade in July 2004, the Nets knew they would have at least two picks in the 2006 draft, their own and the Clippers’. No picks were offered in as many trades as these two, at least according to press reports. If the Sharif Abdur-Rahim deal had gone through, the Nets’ pick would have wound up in Portland. The Nets had also offered their own pick to the Bobcats in a luxury tax relief trade in February 2005 before getting a better offer from the Hornets, in the form of Boki Nachbar. Around the same time, they had offered to trade the Clipper pick back to its original owners for Chris Wilcox. No deal, said Elgin Baylor. To make matters worse, the Clippers’ pick became less and less valuable as the Clippers rose in the standings. No longer would it be a lottery pick. Then, in the weeks before the draft, New Jersey tried to move up, offering both picks to Seattle for the rights to the No. 10 pick and to the Hornets for the No. 12 pick, hoping to take Saer Sene or Hilton Armstrong of UConn. No deal again. Even as the draft was ongoing, the Nets had yet another offer on the table that could have effected those picks: the Bulls were offering Luol Deng and their second pick in the first round (which turned into Thabo Sefolosha) for Richard Jefferson. The Nets wanted the Bulls’ first pick in that round but the Bulls said no.
Bobby Marks said in December 2018 that indeed the Nets thought they had a deal for the No. 2 overall pick, but that in reality, the Bulls were offering a later pick in the first round. “In 2006, we thought we getting the second overall pick in the draft from Chicago. And we were going to pick LaMarcus Aldridge. And it wound up being that Chicago was offering us their second first-round pick in the draft, which was pick 16. It turned into Rodney Carney.”
Finally, after two years and one night of offering the picks, the Nets settled on Marcus Williams and Josh Boone, both apparent bargains that low in the first round. But in 2016, Jay Wright, the Villanova coach, and Kyle Lowry revealed that they had a promise from Ed Stefanski, Rod Thorn’s No. 2, to take Lowry with one of those picks. Stefanski broke his promise, however, saying Williams just too much of sure thing to pass on. And once they took Williams at No. 22, there was no reason to take another point guard at 23, so they chose Boone. Lowry admitted he was in a bit of panic after the Nets passed on him, but Memphis took him with the next pick. He wound up a four-time All-Star, third team All-NBA player, Olympic gold medalist and NBA champion. Williams and Boone wound up out of the league within four years. Like Antoine Wright the year before, the Nets never worked out Williams, never interviewed him. Williams, it’s now known, was also being considered by the Raptors as the picks were called out. Hassan Adams, once thought of as a lottery pick, fell hard as well that night to No. 54, where the Nets grabbed him. He didn’t even last three years. Not a lot of opportunity in the NBA for a 6’2 1⁄2 power forward.
The morning of the draft, the New York Post reported the Nets had decided that if Antoine Wright was available, they would grab him at No. 15. Wright, who the Nets had never worked out, never interviewed was the consensus No. 12 pick in mock drafts. When the Raptors took Charlie Villanueva, the Lakers took Andrew Bynum and the Magic took Fran Vasquez (who?), Wright became available, as did Gerald Green and Danny Granger. Granger had had minor knee surgery before the season and showed up at his workouts with swelling in the same knee. So with the Nets being orthopedic-centric, the choice came down to Green or Wright. There were supporters in both camps that night in the War Room, but Wright was chosen. Why not a big? Because the Nets had already booked Lawrence Frank on a flight to Atlanta three days later to recruit Shareef Abdur-Rahim, believing correctly that they could persuade him to play for the mid-level exception.
What fans didn’t know till 2007 was that the Nets were frantically trying to buy an early second round pick that night so they could grab Monta Ellis, the Mississippi high school product who had fallen out of the first round because of his knee problems. They failed and Golden State took him at No. 40. So the Nets settled at No. 43 on Mile Ilic, not a great consolation prize. He was paid $1.6 million over two years and never scored a point. (The Blazers initially wanted Ilic in the Abdur-Rahim deal, but the Nets said no.) Wright admitted years later that he hadn’t worked hard and threw tantrums his rookie season. Like we said, the Nets had never interviewed him before drafting him.
It doesn’t get much worse than this. Well, yeah, it did, but not for a few years later. Bruce Ratner, in a cost-cutting mode, decided to sell the Nets first round pick for $3 million. While the draft was weak, it did produce several decent players after the Nets No. 22 pick, including Kevin Martin and Anderson Varejao. Thorn said the next day that he might have had second thoughts about the deal if J.R. Smith or Jameer Nelson had been available, but both were gone by No. 20. The Blazers took Viktor Khryapa, a 6’9” power forward from CSKA Moscow, then owned by you-know-who. Ironies abound.
In the second round at No. 51, the Nets took someone DraftExpress described the next day as one of three “steals of the draft”: Christian Drejer. Drejer was seen as a highly skilled 6’10” Danish point forward who had played for Billy Donovan at Florida then ran off in mid-season to F.C. Barcelona…and a $1 million contract. His skills, however, took a back seat to his emotional fragility, winning him the nickname, “El Enigma” in Spain and “il Depresso” in Italy. No translation necessary. Nets held on to his rights for trade purposes till he retired in 2009, but after a dismal 2005 summer league audition, Nets officials said simply that he was “not in our plans”. When he scored 23 points against the Raptors in an NBA exhibition game in Rome in 2007, some Nets fans wondered if he wasn’t worth another look. Not long after, a long balky ankle got worse and he retired from the game.
A top-heavy draft no doubt but the Nets knew who they wanted from the beginning: Zoran Planinic. They even gave him a guarantee that if was still on the board when they picked, he would be a Net. In return, Planinic claimed an ankle injury and shut down his workouts. He was to be the next Croatian sensation at CAA and Kidd’s backup. But after a solid summer league, his lack of English skills and on-court inconsistency doomed him to first Byron Scott’s then Lawrence Frank’s bench. The week before the draft, Chad Ford reported that nothing is ever certain in the draft, but the closest thing to certainty was the Nets’ love of Planinic at No. 22. Stefanski told Fred Kerber that the Nets were also looking at other possibilities: Boris Diaw and Carlos Delfino. Diaw was gone one pick earlier than Planinic, Delfino three picks later.
By giving Planinic that promise, the Nets had to pass on a number of players who dropped that night, including in order Delfino, Kendrick Perkins, Leandro Barbosa, Josh Howard, Jason Kapono, Steve Blake, Mo Williams and Zaza Pachulia all of whom had more productive NBA careers . But picking Planinic wasn’t the biggest blunder of that night. In the second round, the Nets took Kyle Korver with the 51th pick, then sold his rights to the Sixers for a pittance…$125,000. Smart move by Billy King, who was still bragging about it as he walked out the door in East Rutherford! Why’d the Nets do it? Stefanski said the Nets simply didn’t have the roster space. Oh well. Part of the money, Zach Lowe later revealed, went to buy a really neat copier machine that truth be told faxed and collated to. And Bobby Marks revealed only recently that another part of the $150,000 went to repaving the parking lot at the Nets practice facility in the Meadowlands. In other words, they got a lot. Get it? A lot! Okay, never mind.
Korver rubbed it in during his 2019 Commencement Address at Creighton, his alma mater. “I later found out they used that money to pay for the entry fee for the summer league team and with the leftover money that bought a copy machine. What’s your trade value? Because mine apparently is a copy machine. But it’s OK because a couple of years ago, that copy machine broke and I’m still playing.”
The year of international intrigue. The Nets had had their eyes on Nenad Krstic, an 18-year-old seven-footer from Serbia, for more than a year. They worked out shooters galore, made it appear that players like Casey Jacobsen or Flip Murray would be taken. They never worked out Krstic. Picking at No. 24, they knew that they had better not tell anyone. Stefanski in fact has said only he and Thorn knew who they were going to take. Good thing they kept it quiet. Spurs’ management had let it slip to the San Antonio Express-News that they were planning to take Krstic at No. 26. The Spurs were so upset they lost Krstic that they offered the Nets a trade that night, details of which have never been revealed. Oh yeah, the Nets took Tamar Slay at No. 54. Excellent towel waver.
No one knew it at the time, but this was the day the franchise turned around. That afternoon, Thorn and Jerry Colangelo agreed in principle to trading Jason Kidd for Stephon Marbury. Then, that evening, Thorn took a risk. He picked Eddie Griffin, the troubled Seton Hall star, at No. 7, believing that Carroll Dawson of the Rockets coveted him. A phone call to Houston confirmed his belief and Thorn stayed on the phone with Dawson as Houston picked Richard Jefferson (No. 13), Jason Collins (No. 18) and Brandon Armstrong (No. 23) with the first round picks traded for Griffin. Somewhere between No. 18 and No. 23, the trade was announced to loud booing at Madison Square Garden, but two of the three proved to be great picks, with Jefferson and Collins going from reliable subs in their rookie year to five-year starters for conference and division champs.
But it could have been oh so perfect. Thorn has admitted he considered taking Gilbert Arenas, the 19-year-old point guard from Arizona, instead of Armstrong. His decision supposedly came after he got bad reviews on Arenas from Eddie Jordan, then assistant coach, and good reviews on Armstrong from Jerry West. Arenas became an all-Star while Armstrong has been cut by teams in the NBA, Italian League and D-League. Moreover, Dawson reportedly wanted the Nets to agree to a swap of first rounders in 2002’s draft, believing the Nets would be in the lottery. Instead, the Nets won 52 games and the Rockets wound up with the overall No. 1 pick, Yao Ming. No need to be greedy. Round two yielded fan favorite Brian Scalabrine.
The Nets got lucky (winning the lottery at 25-1 odds) and unlucky (the worst draft in the last 20 years). Then, during workouts, Kenyon Martin collapsed after three or four plays, an indicator that he was either unhappy about the prospect of playing for the woeful Nets or his leg was still not healed after serious surgery that winter. Never mind. The Nets took him anyway, passing on Darius Miles. Whew. In the second round, they go big as well, taking Soumalia Samake, one of the team’s most forgettable players (last seen toiling in China). The teeth-gritting begins here. John Nash, the Nets outgoing GM, has said then chief scout Ed Stefanski argued that night for the Nets to take an Ohio State shooting guard named Michael Redd. He was shouted down.
So, there you have it. If you’ve read this far, you realize one thing: Ya never know!