New Jersey Nets Team Scouting report:
We'll give John Calipari a year one grade of A as GM and C-plus as
court coach. The Nets' hopes for a revitalized oncourt record lasted
about as long as it took for Shawn Bradley to miss a wide-open layup
in the season opener--about 90 seconds--and Calipari's act seemed to be
wearing thin on several players in mid-February, when Calipari pulled
the trigger on the big deal with Dallas which got rid of the most vocal
malcontents as well as black hole Bradley. The Nets actually played
some entertaining basketball after the trade, including a win over the
Bulls and 2 wins over the Knicks, and now can actually boast of
quality, NBA-caliber depth at every position on the roster. Proceeding
on the assumption that the Nets ought to re-sign free agent Cassell,
then find a way to ship Jim Jackson out, hopefully for a quality inside
scorer, here is how the depth chart looks for '97-98, even prior to the
PG: Cassell, Edwards
SG: Gill, Kittles
SF: Benoit (missed '97 with injury; free agent), Kittles
PF: J. Williams, Gatling
C: Gatling, Montross (option to become free agent)
Kleine, Massenburg, McDaniel, Haley, R. Williams, and Dare, from the '97
not figure in my vision for the Nets, although perhaps Massenburg might
be kept around, and Dare is still under contract.. Of the above 8 "nucleus"
Edwards, Benoit, and Montross are clearly expendable, in that order.
[Why ship JJ out, just 3 years after a 26 ppg season, you may ask? Attitude,
not enough ball to go around, too inerrant on shooting, too used to losing,
and best trade bait for getting a major frontcourt player.]
This is an eight-man nucleus capable of winning 35-40 games if healthy;
the tough decisions now , as I see it, are how to use Jackson's slot
and the draft picks to upgrade from decent-quality to star-quality
players, especially in the frontcourt; convincing all-star Gatling that
he can make a happy home in the Meadowlands; improving defensively
overall; and bringing in players with a winning background. It should
be taken for granted that the Nets are still a year away from becoming
a solid winner, and will be gearing up for a big free agent signing
push in '98 with the salary cap flexibility produced by the Dallas
trade, so there should not be a sense of impatience in regard to
bringing in young players who will need development.
That said, my approach to the draft is to look for 1)star quality
player at the 3 spot and 2)defensive presence inside; again based on
the assumption that Jackson can be packaged with the likes of
Massenburg, Montross, Kleine, or, even the #21 pick, to bring in
another decent scorer inside and change. (This GM was willing to pull
the trigger, for instance, on a Jackson for Gary Trent-plus the
Blazers' first round pick.) A fourth priority would be a
passing-oriented point guard to complement Cassell and provide superior
footspeed to Edwards off the bench--an option which can't be ignored in
light of the large number of good point guards available in this
otherwise weak draft.
Obviously, if Cassell goes elsewhere, keeping Jackson may be necessary, with
Gill taking the point, at least until a quality PG can be acquired. I think
Cassell is much too valuable a player to let slide away, however, and would
make resigning him the first priority.
For what it's worth, I can't see the rumored Shawn Kemp for Jackson,
Williams, etc. trade happening...doesn't make sense for the Sonics
Player-by-player breakdown of "Nucleus players"
Cassell: A winner and clutch player. Not a defensive anchor. Good
playmaker but likes to hunt his own shot too.
Gill: Coming off best pro season yet, offensively. Average defender.
Kittles: The Man. Great streak shooter, nice long arms help make him a
fine defender, good ballhandler. Not strong enough going to the hoop.
As close to untouchable as anyone playing for the Nets can be. Should
get 15-20 shots a game next year.
Edwards: Basically still hanging on, shot has totally deteriorated,
hampered by injuries in '97. But still a legit NBA player.
Benoit: Good role player in Utah, New Jersey was to provide test of
whether Benoit could lift game to another level. We're still waiting to
find out. Decent 3 point shooter. Should be resignable for fairly cheap.
Gatling: Great inside scorer, offensive rebounder, runs court. Defense
not strong suit.
Williams: Chance to lead NBA in rebounding with a healthy '98. Terrible
shooting percentages in '97. Too bad he can't be combined with Gatling
into one body.
Montross: Teammates in Dallas, some of whom came with him to New
Jersey, got in habit of not throwing #00 the ball or looking inside
until Gatling entered game. Numbers improved after trade, though still
very poor for season as whole. Will never get the ball on this team
until he develops a jumper, but can provide active presence on boards
and defensively most nights.
Players seriously considered at #7:
Tim Thomas (1st choice if available)
My pick at #7:
McGrady, 6'8 SF, Mount Zion: Meets two needs at once: shores up the weak
small forward position, and provides star potential on a team of
average-good players. Conceivably could be teamed with Jim Jackson trade to
land a huge player (i.e. Kemp), but this is a pick made with the intention
of seeing McGrady in a Net uniform, playing 20 minutes a game as a rookie
and possibly rounding into a star by the 2nd or 3rd year a la Garnett. If
the highest-end projections of McGrady's potential pan out, the Nets could
in time find themselves with a Pippen-caliber small forward. Picking McGrady
will mean the bonehead factor on the rest of the team needs to be minimized
as the Nets make their pickups for slots 10-12 on next year's roster.
To be sure, in most years this would be considered a risky pick--McGrady is
universally lauded, but has not proven he can do his thing against top-notch
talent. But this is a very weak draft; the main alternative to this pick in
my view was going for inside defense with Cato and Foyle. However, that move
would mean eventually having to dump Montross and probably get little in
return. I'd prefer to give Montross a chance for one more year before moving
to upgrade, unless a clear star is available; however, if the Nets feel
Montross will become a free agent (a very bad move in my opinion--his worth
on the market now is nil), getting a defensive presence at center would
become much more urgent. However, I will continue to look at centers (and
point guards)--and even small forwards--for the #18 pick.
To put things in larger perspective, clearly the Nets will have to get lucky
at some point to get anywhere near the top of the Atlantic Division. McGrady
is a calculated gamble with a potential payoff too large for a mediocre
franchise like the Nets to ignore.
My pick at #21: Andre Woolridge PG, Iowa
Two factors come to mind in making this pick: Woolridge is the best point
guard available, and has absolutely no head case issues (a la Maurice
Taylor, etc.) and can hence help balance out McGrady's moments of immaturity
(though McGrady comes from a high school program more disciplined than just
about any college program outside of the state of Indiana.) Woolridge is
quick, with the ability to penetrate the lane, great body, a lot of heart,
and a chance to become a great defender at the point. Negatives are height,
inconsistent outside shooting, and only B+ assist/turnover ratio. Woolridge
carried Iowa on his back to a very respectable NCAA showing against
Kentucky. I look for him to be an 8-10 year player in the NBA, who can help
in bringing a different attitude to the Nets, create good shooting
opportunities for Kittles et al, and also serve as insurance in case
Cassell decides to fly the coop.
Other players considered at #21:
Reggie Freeman (first choice if available; Glen Rice redux possibility;
allows Nets to dump Benoit now or in near future)
Jacques Vaughn (second choice if available; 500 assist a year man from get-go)
Scot Pollard (underrated prospect, but just way too thin to go with)
Marko Milic (possible European stud to play in shadow of Petrovic's jersey)
Ed Gray (personal favorite who'd be a good #21; but Nets too overloaded at SG)
Who I think the Nets will take:
My guess is that if the Nets had the same choice I did, they would jump on
Battie at center, making the relatively safe pick, and passing on McGrady;
if, as likely Battie's gone in the real draft at #7, they'll probably still
lean toward Cato or Adonal Foyle. Billups is ranked #7, but I see no
justification for taking a non-pure PG that high given the Nets' roster. As
to Battie, he's a good player, but he's not carrying a franchise anywhere,
ever; he would be another of the solid, legit but not great players the
current Nets roster is already overstocked with. McGrady just might be a
different story though...and Calipari has already showed a willingness to
make bold moves, so picking McGrady may not be totally out of the question.
At #21, I think it is likely the Nets go with Vaughn, Woolridge or Shammgod,
Freeman if he's there, or explore extracontinental options. The American
players down at that level just aren't very enticing, basically good college
players who will be hangers-on in the NBA and/or talented head cases.
Here's the way I look at it: In the Atlantic Division you've got
the Knicks, with at least 3 more good years pending Ewing's new contract
the Heat, here to stay at the 55 win level
the Bullets, a top 10 NBA team last month of the season
the Celtics, with Pitino
the 76ers, with Larry Brown, Iverson, Stackhouse
the Raptors, with Isaiah and a lot of young players
and the Nets.
All these teams who have major horses on board, all making a major effort to
become a winner, competing for 4 or at most 5 playoff spots per year.
Somebody's reputation is going to be bloodied after all this, in the next
few seasons. Unless the Nets can get some star quality talent, it's probably
going to be Calipari. You gotta roll the dice, John--snag McGrady, bring
some excitement to the listless Meadowlands, let Bill Raftery holler on the
cablecasts with glee, and even make NJ a somewhat attractive place for some
big-name free agent to relocate to in '98.