30 Teams in 30 Days: Future-focused Brooklyn Nets stay pinpointed on roster flexibility
Small moves give Nets reason to keep thinking big about summer of 2019
That’s a question many fans ask as the flurry of trades, free agent news and player movement seems to never stop during the summer. Since the Golden State Warriors claimed their third title in four years back on June 8, NBA teams have undergone a massive number of changes as they prepare for the season ahead.
With the opening of training camps just around the corner, NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise as it sits today — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2017-18 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
* * *
Today’s team: Brooklyn Nets
2017-18 Record: 28-54, did not qualify for the playoffs
Who’s new: Shabazz Napier (free agency), Jared Dudley (trade), Ed Davis (free agency), Kenneth Faried (trade), Dzanan Musa (Draft)
Who’s gone: Dante Cunningham, Jeremy Lin, Jahlil Okafor, Nik Stauskas, Darrell Arthur
The lowdown: The rebuilding of the Nets, which has taken an unconventional route because of their lack of lottery picks, managed a few more weird turns in 2017-18.
Lin was done for the season after injuring his knee on opening night, and D’Angelo Russell played only 48 games because of injuries. Yet the Nets received some unexpected help from Spencer Dinwiddie, who replaced Russell in the lineup and finished third in Kia Most Improved Player voting. DeMarre Carroll rebounded from a poor final season in Toronto with a strong debut year in Brooklyn and former first-round pick Rondae Hollis-Jefferson had some breakout moments. Otherwise, the Nets mainly sputtered as expected, though respectfully so.
It’s hard to find a basketball egghead who doesn’t sympathize with and appreciate the work of Nets GM Sean Marks. Hired in 2016 to rescue a wounded franchise that didn’t have its own first-round pick for three straight years, Marks has done wonders — all things considered. That continued again this offseason.
Almost every transaction with Marks’ fingerprints was done with the future in mind. His plan is simple: hoard young talent, hope one or two pan out, become a dumping ground for bad contracts (to collect additional first-rounders) and clear the salary cap for the summer of 2019.
Marks wants to position the Nets for free agency next summer because you never know who might want to play in the big city. Kyrie Irving? Jimmy Butler? Someone else?
Even if the Nets strike out in free agency, they’ll have cap room to absorb a contract in case a disgruntled or devalued star becomes available in a trade (which happens regularly, with Kawhi Leonard proving that point). Cap flexibility plus developing young talent can give an NBA team plenty of options, and as you know, the Nets haven’t had many options since making a franchise-wrecking deal with the Boston Celtics five years ago.
The good news is the Nets now control their future first-round picks and will likely be back in the lottery. If that happens, Marks will have a chance to finally choose a potential star.
The Nets had the next-to-last pick in the first round — thanks to more shrewd maneuvering by Marks — which made this summer all about fiscal housecleaning, starting with Dwight Howard.
The Nets traded for him and then quickly executed a buyout and his deal disappears off Brooklyn’s books next summer. Meanwhile, the Nets escaped a $16.7 million hit in 2019-20 of Timofey Mozgov, who was sent to Charlotte in the deal (before he, too, was dealt again).
Another future salary shredding was Lin, sent to the Atlanta Hawks for a plate of cheese grits. That allowed the Nets to absorb the contracts of Faried and Arthur, who are on expiring deals. Denver tossed in a protected 2019 pick to seal the trade (and Brooklyn used Arthur to get Dudley from Phoenix).
That means the Nets are only on the hook in 2019-20 for Allen Crabbe and Joe Harris. Harris was given a team-friendly two-year deal this summer, with the second year of his deal going for $8 million.
If they decline the cap holds for a few players, the Nets could have more than $60 million to chase free agents. Of course, by doing that they’d risk losing youngsters Hollis-Jefferson, Russell and Caris LeVert to free agency. Most likely, the Nets will find a way to keep two (or all three) because those players likely won’t command big money, even in a rising market next summer.
The Nets added talent on inexpensive, short-term deals by adding ex-Trail Blazers reserves Davis and Napier. Davis is a worker bee and was the NBA’s No. 1 ranked rebounder off the bench (7.4 rpg). Napier set career highs in scoring (8.7 ppg), 3-point shooting (37.6 percent) as a key reserve for Portland. Both should crack the rotation although there’s competition at those positions.
Curiously, the Nets took a pass on re-signing Okafor, a restricted free agent. Ordinarily, he’d be exactly what the Nets were looking for: a devalued young player who, if put in the right environment, would thrive and realize his potential. If the Nets, who are starved for talent, don’t think a former No. 3 overall pick who’s only 22 wasn’t worth their time, it doesn’t speak well for Okafor – who landed in New Orleans.
So that’s the extent of the Nets’ offseason. The names Faried, Davis and Napier probably won’t put Brooklyn in position to push for a playoff spot next season. But their contracts will soon allow the Nets to go star hunting next summer.
It should be an interesting time for New York City in July of 2019, with both the Nets and New York Knicks projected to have millions to spend. It’s not exactly the Yankees vs. Mets, but a borough fight is brewing nonetheless. We’ll see who handles their money wisely.
One thing’s for sure: It’s hard to imagine Marks blowing that opportunity. In a short time on the job, he got first-round picks, added young talent and cleared the salary cap. That’s just shy of a miracle. Marks has managed to turn 50 cents into a dollar. We’re anxious to see his next trick.
Coming next: New York Knicks
* * *
The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.