To say that things have changed somewhat drastically for the Brooklyn Nets over the past two seasons would be a bit of an understatement. Heading into their fifth season in Brooklyn, after seeing the likes of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson change zip codes, newly installed general manager Sean Marks installed Kenny Atkinson as his head coach. Atkinson will assume the helm as the fourth head coach hired since the franchise’s move to Brooklyn, and together with Marks represents a major departure from the “get rich quick” schemes that the franchise famously employed.
With a few budding prospects and a willingness to embrace a slow and steady rebuilding process, fans of the Nets will enter the 2016-17 season with hopes that the roster assembled can find a way to outplay its perceived talent.
Basketball Insiders previews the 2016-17 Brooklyn Nets.
FIVE GUYS THINK
It’s easy to beat up on the Brooklyn Nets for the mistakes they’ve made over the last few seasons. However, I actually liked the strategy rookie general manager Sean Marks took this offseason. With essentially no assets to work with to replenish the team’s young talent, Marks went out and attempted to acquire some youth by extending big offer sheets to Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson. Those offer sheets were ultimately matched by each player’s original teams, which meant Marks had to go to Plan B. Sure, the offer sheets were overpays, but the cap will continue to rise next season, so I understand trying to lock in young talent with cap space when there is essentially nothing else to work with. Unfortunately, the Nets only managed to bring together a mishmash of players that are neither competitive now nor the foundation for a youth movement moving forward. Marks and the Nets will continue to suffer for the mistakes made by the past regime for the foreseeable future.
5th Place – Atlantic Division
– Jesse Blancarte
With newly installed general manager Sean Marks assuming the helm in Brooklyn and with head coach Kenny Atkinson, the Nets hope to begin piecing together some sort of a franchise in the aftermath of Billy King’s ouster. Unfortunately, that rebuild is something that is going to take a bit longer than one offseason.
Make no mistake about it, the Nets came away from the summer of 2016 about as well as they could have hoped, realistically speaking. With most of the league’s teams boasting significant cap space, it was difficult to imagine impact free agents taking residence in Brooklyn. Losing out of Allen Crabbe will hurt in the short-term, but at the very least, it shines a light on the blueprint that Marks will attempt to follow in rebuilding the franchise. He will take risks on young players with promise and will likely take fliers on some overseas and D-League prospects.
In the end, I’m not sure that Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez will be able to get anything of substance accomplished in Brooklyn this season. They still seem a relatively safe bet to finish ahead of the Sixers, but I’m not expecting much more from them than that.
4th Place — Atlantic Division
– Moke Hamilton
From the front office all the way down to the locker room, the Brooklyn Nets have plenty of work to do and a long way to go to before becoming relevant in the win column again. Brooklyn has new leadership at the executive level (Sean Marks) and roaming the sidelines (Kenny Atkinson), but the scars from the franchise mortgaging their future in a failed title run a couple years ago are evident. Marks attempted to infuse the team with much needed young talent this summer by signing guards Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe to offer sheets. But those deals were matched by Miami and Portland, respectively, and left Brooklyn scrambling. There isn’t a quick fix to get Brooklyn back in contention for the Atlantic Division crown. This is going to be a painstakingly long rebuilding effort, if it’s done right. Be prepared Nets fans – for plenty of losing until the ship is righted.
5th Place – Atlantic Division
– Lang Greene
The Brooklyn Nets are going to win a whole bunch of games this year; the only problem is that they’re going to win most of those games for the teams they’re playing against. Completely stripped of any real transcendent talent outside of Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin, the Nets are stuck in NBA purgatory for the next couple of seasons while they wait to regain control of their own first-round picks. The real bummer in all of this is that Sean Marks can’t even focus on the rebuilding process because his high draft selections the next two seasons are headed to Boston. While it may be fun to see how rookies Caris LaVert and Isaiah Whitehead come along, this team looks like one that spent as little as they did.
5th Place – Atlantic Division
– Joel Brigham
There really wasn’t much Sean Marks and his staff could do this summer in Brooklyn, as my colleagues have pointed out. With future picks still owed to the Boston Celtics, it’s hard to imagine this being anything but a long rebuild for the Nets. Marks will have to get creative to bring in new, young talent (as he tried to do this summer), but there’s no easy way to climb out of this deep hole. This is a cautionary tale for any team thinking of mortgaging their future for a one- or two-year contention window.
4th Place – Atlantic Division
– Alex Kennedy
TOP OF THE LIST
Top Offensive Player: Brook Lopez
Say what you want about Brook Lopez, but you cannot deny that he is a gifted offensive player. In an NBA that is dominated by stretch-fours and floor-spacing centers, Lopez is a throwback who is capable of scoring with his back to the basket and from mid-range. His offensive versatility is somewhat overshadowed by his slow and plodding nature, which puts his team and coaches in a bit of a Catch-22. A team that plays to Lopez’s strengths will naturally play at a slower pace, but teams that are at a talent deficit will stand a better chance of winning games with hard-nosed defense and capitalizing on easy offensive opportunities born from turnovers.
To that end, it’s the job of Kenny Atkinson to figure out how to marry Lopez’s skill set with the rest of the talent at his disposal, but with a career average of 18.3 points and shooting percentages of 51.1 and 79.1 percent from the field and the free-throw line, respectively, there’s no question that the 28-year-old Lopez is the most gifted offensive talent in Brooklyn.
Top Defensive Player: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson
Anyone who paid even a tiny bit of attention to the Nets last season came away impressed with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, despite the fact that his work came in a very small sample size. Ankle surgery caused him to sit from early December through late March and resulted in him playing in just 29 games last season, but his defensive instincts were impressive. Hollis-Jefferson did a fair job of staying in front of his opponents and has a rangy frame that lends itself to peskiness both on the ball and in passing lanes. The Nets’ roster isn’t exactly full of defensive stalwarts, but among those that are there, it is safe to call Hollis-Jefferson the most complete and versatile defender of the pack.
Top Playmaker: Greivis Vasquez
One could make an argument that Jeremy Lin is a superior playmaker over Greivis Vasquez, but Vasquez has always been a player who has made the most of his opportunities and created for his teammates. Over the course of his career, his 7.3 assists per 36 minutes are a long way from Lin’s 5.9. Additionally, Vasquez could be fairly deemed a “pass-first” point guard, while many would argue the opposite of Lin. In all likelihood, the two will share the backcourt during the game’s key moments. In Charlotte, Lin had his fair share of moments playing alongside Kemba Walker, and that is something that was both a result of head coach Steve Clifford seeing limitations in Lin’s playmaking abilities as well as his belief that Lin could pay major dividends playing off of the ball and being featured as more of a finisher.
Top Clutch Player: Jeremy Lin
“Linsanity” may have been a long time ago, but Jeremy Lin has had some big moments since then as well. During last season’s playoff run with the Charlotte Hornets, Lin averaged 12.4 points per game in just 27 minutes off of the bench. On a roster with a number of players who haven’t been battle-tested, if the game comes down to one shot, in all likelihood head coach Kenny Atkinson will put the ball in Lin’s hands. It’s difficult to quantify which player is most clutch, but as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks during “Linsanity,” Atkinson had a front row seat to the magic that Lin was capable of producing. He probably still has some left in the tank, and we’re simply not sure if the same can be said of Brook Lopez.
The Unheralded Player: Trevor Booker
Trevor Booker is exactly the type of player that Sean Marks will have success with signing. After six years in the league, Booker has become renowned as a plus rebounder who is correctly served as a bench player who will warrant 15 to 20 minutes of playing time per night. Last season, Booker averaged 10 rebounds per 36 minutes, and that type of rebounding productivity is something that the Nets will need this season. With five of their top seven rebounders from last season now in new homes, Booker will have an opportunity to make an impact.
Best New Addition: Jeremy Lin
Of all the players acquired by general manager Sean Marks this offseason, Lin is most likely to pay the biggest immediate dividends. At the very least, Lin can create scoring opportunities for himself and help to open up the game for his teammates. Both Isaiah Whitehead and Caris LeVert could end up being difference makers for the Nets, but as of right now, it’s safe to assume that their chances of escaping the cellar of the Atlantic rest on the extent to which Lin can lead them. LeVert gets an honorable mention for his appreciable upside, while Whitehead tugs at the heartstrings for being the first Brooklyn-born player selected by the franchise since its relocation.
– Moke Hamilton
WHO WE LIKE
1. Bojan Bogdanovic
Completely lost in the circus around him, Bojan Bogdanovic has proven to be a very capable NBA player. Entering his third season, he has averaged a very quiet 14.4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game over the course of his career. He also happens to be a 37 percent shooter from downtown. As the 26-year-old continues to grow and adapt to the NBA game, he will only improve.
2. Kenny Atkinson
For those who aren’t familiar, Kenny Atkinson has long been highly regarded around NBA circles. Atkinson spent four years as an assistant coach with the New York Knicks before heading to Atlanta for another four-year stint. Atkinson has become renowned as a head coach who loves nothing more than to teach, and a fair number of young players that have come of age in New York and Atlanta -most notably Jeremy Lin and Kent Bazemore – would credit Atkinson for helping them develop. The Nets will need similar returns from their young players, but the data suggests they have found the right man.
3. Sean Marks
Marks has spent the past few years with the San Antonio Spurs with a front row seat to the operations of the franchise that has become regarded as the gold standard of the NBA. The Spurs have excelled in finding talent and either cultivating it or flipping it into better pieces. Case in point: the Spurs selected George Hill with the 26th overall pick of the 2008 draft and ended up trading him for Kawhi Leonard. Although Marks shouldn’t get all of the credit for that, it stands to reason that he understands the concept of finding a diamond in the rough and maximizing the return on investment. In Brooklyn, those skills are sorely needed.
4. Caris LeVert
Trading Thaddeus Young for the pick that ended up yielding Caris LeVert was a bold move made by Sean Marks and his staff. Standing at 6’7, though, LeVert is a knockdown shooter whose size should help his game translate to the NBA. Whether he can remain healthy is a bigger question (and concern), but oozing with potential until he proves it is unfounded, there should be some excitement to see that LeVert is capable of at the NBA level.
5. Isaiah Whitehead
The Brooklyn-born guard will have the opportunity to suit up for his hometown team. He called it a dream come true and, odds are, he will be motivated to prove that he not only belongs in the league, but that he is capable of carrying Brooklyn on his back.
– Moke Hamilton
SALARY CAP 101
The Nets are significantly under the NBA’s $94.1 million salary cap, with 15 guaranteed players and a $75.6 million commitment in payroll. With up to $18.6 million in cap room, Brooklyn will be able to absorb players via trade throughout the season, although they’ll need roster space to do so. Additionally, if the team decides to keep partially-guaranteed players Beau Beech, Egidijus Mockevicius and Yogi Ferrell, they’ll need to cut or move a player with guaranteed salary.
Teams are required to spend at least $84.7 million this season. If Brooklyn doesn’t add salary before the end of the year, they’ll need to cut a check for $9.2 million to their rostered players. Looking ahead, the Nets project to have as much as $41 million in salary cap space next summer. They’ll also need to decide on rookie-scale options for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Chris McCullough before November – both likely to be picked up.
– Eric Pincus
Since being purchased by Mikhail Prokhorov, the Nets have consistently found themselves stuck in a pattern of swinging for the fences and gambling their future away for the sake of short-term gains. From Deron Williams and Gerald Wallace to Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, the Nets traded away Derrick Favors and gave up the draft picks that ended up yielding Enes Kanter, Gorgui Dieng and Damian Lillard among others. In a way, Prokhorov and former general manager Billy King should be commended for having the guts to take huge risks, but in sports, when they don’t pay off, the repercussions can be felt for a decade.
As a result of their acquisitional tactics, since moving to Brooklyn the Nets always felt like a team full of mercenaries who were brought together (often against their own free will) and were asked to deliver on lofty promises made by Prokhorov. Now, the opposite is true. The Nets will head into the 2016-17 season with no expectations but with a roster featuring players who may amount to something—Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough and Isaiah Whitehead. The best part of all? So long as they remain together, these players will have an opportunity to grow and learn without any pressure.
– Moke Hamilton
It’s no secret that the teams that fare better in the NBA are the teams that have had an opportunity to play together for a while. Chemistry is real. Continuity is necessary. In some instances, however, talent and continuity can make up for one another. In other words, a less talented team that has played together for several years can eventually become a sum that is greater than its individual parts. On the other hand, a team that has a superior talent base can often find success even if the pieces haven’t fully gelled.
Unfortunately for the Nets, they are at a deficit in both departments. In terms of the proven talent that is already on the roster in Brooklyn, the Nets appear to be much closer to the bottom of the Eastern Conference than anywhere near its top. And aside from having a new head coach, six of the top rotation pieces in Brooklyn are new to the team. In the NBA, that isn’t exactly a recipe for success.
– Moke Hamilton
THE BURNING QUESTION
How long will the Nets’ rebuild take?
The Nets have been the butt of many jokes over the past few seasons. From the ill-fated trade with the Boston Celtics that yield Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to the messy divorce between Jason Kidd and the franchise, Billy King’s regime is not one that will be remembered for prudence or predictability.
In his departure, King left a franchise that seemed to be lacking direction and one whose future seemed bleak, at best. The Nets do not own their own first-round pick until 2019. In 2017, they will have the right to exercise the less favorable pick between theirs and the Boston Celtics. In other words, there is a dearth of available draft picks in Brooklyn for the foreseeable future. The bright side? The Nets were one of the most heavily represented teams in Chicago during last May’s draft combine, and scouts within the organization have raved at the resources that newly installed general manager Sean Marks is putting into finding players who can play. In his introductory press conference, Marks said he knew he would have to be resourceful, and indications are that is exactly what’s happening.
Until the Nets find a few players that have game-changing potential, though, they will be battling with the Sixers to avoid the dubious distinction of being the worst team in what has recently been the league’s worst division.
How long, you ask? Let’s just say that 2019 can’t come quickly enough.
– Moke Hamilton
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