30 Teams in 30 Days: Challenges begin in Brooklyn

The Nets used the offseason to plunge head-on into retooling

Shaun Powell

Shaun Powell

Since the Cavaliers won their first NBA title back on June 19, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason. NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2015-16 to the team with the best regular-season record — during the month of September as we look at 30 Teams in 30 Days. | Complete schedule

Today’s team: Brooklyn Nets

2015-16 record: 21-61

Who’s gone: F Thaddeus Young, G Jarrett Jack, G Wayne Ellington, F/C Willie Reed

Who’s new: G Isaiah Whitehead (via Draft); F Anthony Bennett, F Trevor Booker, G Randy Foye, C Justin Hamilton, G Jeremy Lin, F Luis Scola, G Greivis Vasquez (via free agency); G Caris LeVert

The lowdown: After winning 49 and then 44 games following their move to Brooklyn, the Nets crashed the last two seasons, bottoming out at 21 wins in 2015-16.

Strap in, this will take a while. The Nets are embarking on a somewhat lengthy and potentially painful process of rebuilding with few assets at their disposal. That’s like building a house with a shortage of studs. And speaking of which, the Nets don’t have any, if you haven’t noticed. Unless you count Brook Lopez.

It’s very possible the Nets are in worse shape than any other NBA franchise. They lack a true franchise player, they aren’t carrying any young talent with huge upside, their amount of trade material is thin and they don’t own their No. 1 pick outright until 2019. Yet this is the punishment for the mistakes of ownership and management, for mortgaging the future in exchange for putting a winning product in Brooklyn.

That strategy was unnecessary. The move from New Jersey to Brooklyn, where there are enough well-heeled residents to afford the ticket prices, had a built-in honeymoon period. The Nets could have used this time to sell the arrival of basketball, instead of winning, while stockpiling high draft picks and clearing salary cap space. Instead, they chose to rush and build a team around former All-Star Deron Williams (who was starting to fade) and boom, this is where they’ve crashed landed.

The unenviable task of creating a battleship from scrap metal belongs to new GM Sean Marks (who comes from the San Antonio Spurs factory) and new coach Kenny Atkinson (a highly-regarded former Atlanta Hawks assistant coach and a Huntington, New York native). The duo is young and energetic and bold, but not miracle workers.

Marks had an interesting first summer in town. He flipped one of the few assets on the roster, Young, for a first-round pick from Indiana. Remember, in their haste to be a big player in town, the Nets lost their pick to the Celtics in theKevin Garnett and Paul Pierce trade of 2013. Boston can also swap first-rounders with Brooklyn next season and own the Nets’ 2018 pick outright.

So Marks wanted an infusion of youth and used the Pacers’ pick on LeVert, the No. 20 overall pick in the 2016 draft. He’s a shooting guard who can get rotation minutes as a rookie and playing time is up for grabs with all of the impact veterans gone. The Nets have cleansed themselves of all reminders of a grand plan gone bad, with the exception of Lopez, who is still a very functional player.

But then Marks threw a combined $125 million at Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe, two free agents who haven’t proven themselves as solid players. The ploy backfired when the Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers, respectively, matched the offers anyway. Either Marks was being borderline reckless with the Nets’ ample cash, or bold. Maybe a bit of both.

He did manage to get Lin for a reasonable price, and the one-time New York Knicks cult hero returns, albeit with a little less shine. Lin isn’t the talent who took the city and the Knicks by storm a few years ago. Since then, he has fallen into a backup-level point guard who occasionally delivers starter-like flashes. Lin is a smart buy, an energetic overachiever who is beloved by fans and will undoubtedly bring some buzz to an arena that needs it.

Other than Lin, the Nets also grabbed Trevor Booker and Anthony Bennett from the discount bin. Booker is a rugged forward who brings toughness and leadership, while Bennett is a former No. 1 overall pick turned bust who, if nothing else, will get the chance to salvage his career. It’s not like he’ll face plenty of challenges for minutes.

But that’s the advantage Marks holds. Since everyone knows the Nets will struggle initially, he can take chances and rummage through dozens of long-shot players, hoping for a diamond in the rough to help inflate the number of team assets. With the draft being out of the question for another two years, Marks must be creative in the hunt for talent.

What he didn’t do was trade Lopez, one of the better scoring centers (20.6 points) who could help a number of teams. And Lopez will remain in Brooklyn unless and until Marks is blown away by an offer.

Maybe the Celtics can send back those remaining Brooklyn draft picks?

Coming Next: Phoenix Suns

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Veteran NBA writer Shaun Powell has worked for newspapers and other publications for more than 25 years. You can e-mail him here or follow him onTwitter.

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