Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Nets Act Swiftly, Smartly

Last season’s diamond in the rough, center Mikki Moore, who rose from oblivion to ably fill in for Nenad Kristic, decided to head to greener pastures, and more green, signing with Sacramento on Friday. Less than a day later, the Nets reached an agreement with 6’11”, 260-pound center Jamaal Magloire to fill the vacancy.

The sequence of moves became inevitable after Moore declined the Nets 3 year, $11 million offer, which New Jersey subsequently pulled off the table. At 32-years old, looking to capitalize on his breakout season, where he averaged 9.8 ppg and 5.1 rpg, Moore went to the highest bidder. A career journeyman, Moore made the right personal decision, cashing in on what is likely his only big free agent opportunity, receiving 3 years, $18 million from the Kings.

While Moore, who led the NBA in FG shooting percentage, played an enormous role in holding the Nets together as injuries ravaged the roster, the Nets made a sound financial decision letting him walk. Moore is scrappy, plays hard, quickly became a fan favorite, but reached and exceeded his ceiling last year. Unlikely to replicate last season’s performance, and expected to head back to the bench with Kristic’s return, committing $18 million to Mikki Moore would be hasty.

Magloire comes to New Jersey with a one-year, $4 million contract, after underperforming in Portland the past two seasons. Prior to Portland, Magloire averaged close to a double-double for three consecutive seasons in New Orleans, including 13.6 ppg and 10.3 rpg during his 2003-04 All-Star season. This is a great value signing low risk at one season and a modest salary, but high reward, if Magloire can find his old self and present a formidable presence in the middle, something the Nets have sorely lacked for years.
The Nets have suffered with Jason Collins in the middle, a non-existent offense player, with limited rebounding skills. I expect Coach Lawrence Frank to immediately insert Magloire, a skilled offensive post player, with double-digit rebounding ability, into the starting lineup. He provides a nice complement to Kristic’s mid-range, finesse post game, also providing an inside threat taking some defensive pressure off Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson.

The environment is perfect for Magloire, but he needs to avoid the attitude problems that have surfaced in the past, understand his role, and play hard. With Kidd, Carter, Jefferson, and Kristic the primary offensive targets, the Nets need Magloire to focus on defense and rebounding, while acting as an alternate option in the offense, a concept he has struggled with in the past. If Magloire can remain patient, rest assured Jason Kidd will open up scoring opportunities.

One casualty of the signing is Hassan Adams, cut by the Nets. The second-year second-round draft pick had a non-guaranteed $687,000 contract for the upcoming season. Unable to find takes for Bernard Robinson or Milie Illic, the Nets cut ties with Adams to get under $67.8 million salary cap, evading the luxury tax for now. Adams, coming off a solid summer league, should catch on somewhere quickly. A potential defense-stopper in the making, the Nets pay the price for committing to Illic and Robinson, both mistakes thus far.

On another note, reports surfaced that Rod Thorn rejected a trade for Pacers center Jermaine O’Neal on draft night. The blockbuster deal would have sent Jefferson, Kristic, and Collins to Indiana for O’Neal. Any such deal now appears unlikely, with New Jersey signing Magloire. At that price, the Nets are better served with their current team, rather than dismantling the starting lineup for one player, with injury problems.

A week after the official free agent signing period, the Nets are arguably the most improved team in the Eastern Conference, without any blockbuster moves. The return of Carter, a legitimate center, drafting a potential impact big-man, and a healthy Nenad Kristic, put New Jersey firmly amongst the favorites in the East. Then again, does that say much?


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