Everything the New Jersey Nets do is scrutinized as part of the great plan to build the roster of tomorrow while clearing cap space for the summer of 2010. LeBron James just happens to be on schedule to become a free agent then, the team is hoping to have a new arena in Brooklyn around then, and rapper Jay-Z is a friend and Nets minority owner.
That's what made Thursday meaningful for the entire league and not just El Dorado Hills. New Jersey selected Ryan Anderson, the former Oak Ridge High star, at No. 21 in a great moment for the Sacramento region, but in the big picture as one of the last acts of a very busy day that helped set the Nets up for the future.
They cleared cap space by trading Richard Jefferson to Milwaukee for Yi Jianlian and Bobby Simmons, mostly because Jefferson is on the books until 2011 and Simmons until (ding, ding, ding) 2010. They addressed both obvious position needs by landing young, promising center Brook Lopez in the lottery and young, promising power forward Yi in the trade. They even opened LeBron's position by dealing small forward Jefferson, though that was more coincidence than anything because moving a big salary meant either Jefferson or Vince Carter and the Bucks wanted a small forward who defends and not a shooting guard with a brutal contract.
In the worst-case scenario, the Nets don't get LeBron after all the maneuvering to date and in the future. But they still have one of the better young nucleuses in the league (Devin Harris, Yi, Lopez, a little bit of Josh Boone and Sean Williams) and, in a couple summers, an armored car full of money to back up to someone's front door. It's not like they were going places in 2008-09 anyway -- if you finish 26 games behind Philadelphia, game over.
In the best-case scenario, the Nets get James and take over the world. Not only that, they get him at the expense of an East competitor, the Cavaliers, and over heated bidding by the Knicks in a neighborhood turf war. New Jersey management will be building in the city at the time and hoping the arena will be close to completion, planning to reduce the interest gap with older brother living in Madison Square Garden and New Jersey management will have Jay-Z.
The Nets are in position to offer approximately $21 million for the first season, pending the exact setting of the 2010-11 salary cap. The space will decrease if they retain any of their own free agents -- Anderson's $2.1-million deal is guaranteed through the summer of '10 -- and that will happen in some cases. The space will increase with trades.
Anderson's place in all this is, of course, minimal. He's a role player, a role player off the bench and his contract is tip money compared to the deals the Nets have going with the Brooklyn arena, the potential marketing opportunities for Yi in New York / New Jersey and the planned offer to LeBron.
But there is a place. The Nets finished 26th in shooting and 25th in scoring, and that's Anderson. He is a 6-10 'tweener who will get worked over trying to defend stronger power forwards and made to look flat-footed by faster small forwards, but if Anderson's advanced offensive game and high basketball IQ transition into the NBA, he will have an important place in the rotation.
The assessment from a non-Nets executive: "He's a good player. He has things that belong on an NBA court. I'm concerned about the physicality. Who does he defend if he's playing power forward? How does he rebound? But you know what's crazy? He averaged more rebounds than Robin Lopez."
It's true. And Robin Lopez is considered the mobile, physical, energetic prospect.
Anderson: 9.9 boards a game last season as a sophomore at Cal.
Lopez: 5.7 boards a game last season as a sophomore at Stanford, although he
obviously lost rebounds playing alongside a lottery-bound 7-footer, twin brother Brook, the new Anderson teammate.
Going 21 is a good statement for Anderson and probably the best possible outcome on a night when he was 25-35 on the draft boards of a lot of teams. Just as importantly, the Nets, with needs he can address, are a good landing spot. They have a lot of power forwards, a position that will have to be sorted out between now and October, but also a lot of opportunity.