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Fixing the Brooklyn Nets

Moke Hamilton looks at what the Nets should do this summer to turn things around.

Moke Hamilton

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As the Brooklyn Nets have slowly transformed their organization, newly installed general manager Sean Marks faces an uphill battle. Long gone are Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, the latter once being deemed the franchise’s cornerstone.

Instead, the Nets feature a core of young players who are still mostly trying to find their way in the NBA, and Brook Lopez—the mainstay who has improbably played all seven years of his career with the franchise.

The simple truth for the Nets is that the franchise will have to wait until 2019 before it owns its own first round pick, so immediate improvement is not likely to come as a result of the draft. Certainly, late picks can be purchased and diamonds in the rough can be found (Jimmy Butler was selected with the 30th pick of the 2011 draft), but odds are, it will take Marks at least three years to get the Nets back into playoff contention, especially with scores of other Eastern Conference teams improving and becoming all the more competitive.

The Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics have risen as the cream of the NBA’s Atlantic Division while the Nets, Knicks and Sixers have been dwelling in the cellar. Unfortunately, that’s not likely to change anytime soon for Brooklyn, but that doesn’t mean that this offseason should be forfeited. With the right decisions and some good fortune, the Nets should easily be able to improve upon the 21-61 record the team turned in this past season.

Hire the Right Head Coach

Since moving to Brooklyn prior to the 2012-13 season, the Nets have already had five different head coaches: Avery Johnson, P.J. Carlesimo, Jason Kidd, Lionel Hollins and Tony Brown. Johnson seemed to have worn his players out and no longer seemed to be resonating with them, while Carlesimo didn’t get much consideration to retain the job on a permanent basis.

Kidd was handed the reigns while the ink was still wet on his retirement papers and, as a rookie head coach with no prior experience, was put in the unenviable position of trying to lead a veteran-laden team with aspirations of contending. With his surprise departure to Milwaukee, the Nets eventually settled on Lionel Hollins. What became obvious after a few months on the job was that Hollins began to fray and didn’t seem too interested or happy with coaching a rebuilding team. In hindsight, it doesn’t seem that he and the front office were on the same page with regard to what the expectations were for the club entering the season, and it showed.

Now, after having been led by Tony Brown for the final 45 games of the season, the Nets are in the market for a head coach and it will be an important decision for Marks and his staff. With a young team that isn’t expected to contend anytime soon, the Nets would probably be wise to find a young, patient coach. Finding one who possesses the prior experience and acumen to succeed on the NBA level, though, is the difficult part. Steve Clifford and Brad Stevens are both fine examples of coaches who may fit the mold of what the Nets should seek, and clearly, avoiding the type of situation that we just witnessed in Sacramento with George Karl should be the priority.

Without question, names like Tom Thibodeau, Jeff Van Gundy, Scott Brooks and Brooklyn-born Mark Jackson’s names may surface, but Marks is expected to bring in someone who has past ties to the San Antonio Spurs organization (like himself).

Regardless as to which way the general managers goes, one thing is for sure: his tenure and progress may be set back if he makes a poor decision. Winning teams are built on brains in the front office and solid leadership on the bench.

Be Creative With Finding Talented Players

As stated previously and noted by countless other outlets, the Nets have a bit of a draft pick deficit over the coming years. In his introductory press conference, though, Marks appropriately pointed out that while draft picks are an important tool for upgrading the talent on a team, they are not the only way.

One of the most impressive things about the Spurs organization has been their consistent ability to scout, find and develop unheralded players and turn them into successful NBA professionals. It is probably his experience in that culture which helped Marks land the job in Brooklyn, as the Nets will need that type of acumen if they are to have any chance at returning to the playoffs anytime soon.

After nearly six years on the job, Billy King’s tenure as general manager will be mostly remembered by failed “get rich quick” schemes: the trades for Deron Wiliams, Gerald Wallace, Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett all included draft picks and/or young prospects, and in the long run, the Nets walk away with nothing to show.

A wise man learns from his mistakes, but a wiser man learns from the mistakes of others. If there is one thing we have learned over the course of the past 15 years, it’s that the majority of successful franchises do not make a habit of trading their draft picks. In all likelihood, for Marks to help the Nets move forward, he must subscribe to this adage and be creative in finding ways to upgrade the talent on his ball club.

Don’t Overspend On Marginal Free Agents

As it relates to draft picks, the Philadelphia 76ers happen to be in the opposite situation as the Nets. Over the course of the tenure of the recently removed Sam Hinkie, the Sixers operated under the cap and used their ability to absorb contracts as currency. In practice, if a team were at or over the luxury tax and wanted to get under, the Sixers would take on a contract and charge the trading team a second round draft pick of two for their trouble. This is the epitome of a win-win situation.

Operating in this manner would be beneficial to a team like the Nets as it would present them with an opportunity to accrue some picks. Although they will likely be second round picks and the like, it will at least give the team shots at bringing in young talent. Another under-mentioned fact is that teams are required to spend 90 percent of the salary cap on their team’s payroll, and with the cap this summer expected to be around $92 million, that means each team will be required to spend upwards of $80 million on player salaries.

The best question to ask, however, is “What if a team doesn’t spend at least 90 percent of the cap?” And the answer there is pretty simple: they are required to write a check to the players on their roster for the difference. The players then share that money equally.

In other words, a team that finishes the season under the cap will be required to spend 90 percent of the cap, anyway, and the penalty for doing it in the manner mentioned here is nonexistent. For that reason, if the Nets find themselves having struck out on some of the bigger named free agents this summer, as opposed to doling out big money contracts to third-tier free agents, the franchise would be better off simply operating under the cap and attempting to be proactive and opportunistic as it relates to reliving the luxury tax burdens of other teams. For their trouble, they may be able to score a few draft picks.

Trade Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young

At 27 and 28 years old, respectively, Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young each have many productive years ahead of them in the NBA, so long as they stay healthy. And while each has proven to be a valuable contributor at the NBA level, neither is capable of shouldering the burden for a playoff team.

The market may not be high for Lopez, as the league’s infatuation with small ball and spread offenses take the luster off of a plodding and meticulous big man, however, there are teams that would be solidified by having a soft-shooting center in the middle. Young, on the other hand, is an underrated player in the league that impacts both ends of the floor and is capable of catching fire and carrying an offense at times. Although it is difficult imagining their trade value getting any lower, it is probably safe to assume that it won’t get any higher, either.

With a core of youngsters and a few that seem to deserve a real shot in the NBA, now may be the right time for Marks to look to trade Lopez and Young for assets for the future. Traditionally, the Nets have been buyers in these types of trades. Now, they should sell.

* * * * * *

Turning a franchise around is no easy endeavor, and Marks is likely to learn that well. Although it may take the Nets a few years to find themselves back in playoff contention, by finding the right head coach, being diligent with respect to signing talent, maintaining a thrifty and patient outlook and selling some of their talent for future assets, a productive offseason can still be had.

Moke Hamilton is a Deputy Editor and Columnist for Basketball Insiders.

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Is LeBron Enough For Cavs To Get Through The East?

Cleveland’s offense has struggled through the first two games of the playoffs. Can the four-time MVP consistently bail them out? Spencer Davies writes.

Spencer Davies

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After a less-than-encouraging series opener versus the Indiana Pacers, LeBron James responded emphatically and led the Cleveland Cavaliers to a bounce back 100-97 victory to even things up at one game apiece.

Scoring the first 13 points of the game itself, The King was a one-man wrecking crew out of the gate and carried that momentum throughout all four quarters of Game 2. His 46 points were James’ second-highest scoring mark between the regular season and the playoffs. In addition, he shot above 70 percent from the field for the sixth time this year.

The four-time MVP pulled down 12 rebounds total, and but all but one of those boards were defensive—the most he’s had since Saint Patrick’s Day in Chicago a month ago.

What James did was another classic instance where LeBron reminds us that through all the injuries, drama, and on-court issues, whatever team he’s on always has a chance to go all the way. But having said all of that—can the Cavaliers realistically depend on that kind of spectacular effort for the rest of the postseason? It’s a fair question.

Kevin Love is a solid secondary go-to guy, but he’s struggled to find his rhythm in the first two games. He’s done a solid job defensively between both, but he’s getting banged up and is dealing with knocked knees and a reported torn thumb ligament in the same hand he broke earlier in the season.

Love has admitted that he’d like more post touches instead of strictly hanging out on the perimeter, but it’s on him to demand the ball more and he knows it. But finding that flow can be challenging when James has it going and is in all-out attack mode.

Kyle Korver came to the rescue for Cleveland as the only shooter that consistently converted on open looks. Outside of those three, and maybe J.R. Smith, really, there hasn’t been a tangible threat that’s a part of the offense during this series.

We all pondered whether or not the “new guys” would be able to step up when their respective numbers were called. So far, that hasn’t been the case for the most part.

Jordan Clarkson looks rushed with tunnel vision. Rodney Hood has had good body language out there, but seems reluctant to shoot off dribble hand-offs and is second-guessing what he wants to do. The hustle and effort from Larry Nance Jr. is obvious, but he’s also a good bet to get into foul trouble. Plus, he’s had some struggles on an island against Pacer guards.

As for George Hill, the good news is the impact on the floor just based on his mere presence on both ends (game-high +16 on Wednesday), but he hasn’t really done any scoring and fouled out of Game 2.

Maybe these things change on the road, who knows. But those four, the rest of the rotation, absolutely have to step up in order for the Cavaliers to win this series and fend off this hungry Indiana group, which brings us to another point.

Let’s not forget, the offensive issues aren’t simply because of themselves. After all, the Cavs were a team that had little trouble scoring the basketball in the regular season, so give a ton of credit to the Pacers’ scheme and McMillan’s teachings to play hard-nosed.

Unlike many teams in the league, the strategy for them is to pressure the ball and avoid switches as much as possible on screens. The more they go over the pick and stick on their assignments, the better chance they have of forcing a bad shot or a turnover. That’s what happened in Game 1 and in the majority of the second half of Game 2.

Cleveland has also somewhat surprisingly brought the fight on defense as well. In the first two contests of the series, they’ve allowed under 100 points. Lue’s said multiple times that they’re willing to give up the interior buckets in order to secure the outside, and it’s worked. It doesn’t seem smart when there’s a yellow-colored layup line going on at times, but it certainly paid off by only allowing 34 percent of Indiana’s threes to go down.

Still, looking ahead to what the Cavaliers can do in the playoffs as a whole, it doesn’t bode well. They’re not only locked in a tug-of-war with Indiana, but if they get past them, they could have a Toronto Raptors group chomping at the bit for revenge.

If they’re having this much trouble in the first round, what should make us believe they can barrel through the Eastern Conference as they’ve done in the past?

It’s not quite as obvious or as bad as Cleveland’s 2007 version of James and the rest, but it feels eerily similar for as much as he’s put the team on his back so far. The organization better hope improvement comes fast from his supporting cast, or else it could be a longer summer than they’d hoped for.

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2017-18 NBA Report Card: Third-Year Players

Among the third-year players a few budding superstars have emerged, along with some role players who are helping their teams in the 2017-18 NBA Playoffs.

Mike Yaffe

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The 2015 NBA Draft has provided the league with a limited quantity of talent so far. After Terry Rozier (at 16th), it’s unlikely that anyone remaining has All-Star potential. Despite the lack of depth, the highest draft slot traded was at number 15, when the Atlanta Hawks moved down to enable the Washington Wizards to select Kelly Oubre Jr.

But placing a definitive “boom” or “bust” label on these athletes might be premature as the rookie contract is standardized at four seasons with an option for a fifth. If their employers are given a fourth year to decide whether a draftee is worth keeping, it seems reasonable to earmark the NBA Juniors’ progress for now and see how they’ve fared after next season’s campaign before making their letter grades official.

The Top Dogs

Karl-Anthony Towns, Minnesota Timberwolves: Given the dearth of premier choices and their glaring need up front, it’s hard to envision the T-Wolves drafting anyone but KAT if they had to do it again. Although his scoring average is down from last season (21.3 vs. 25.1 PPG), that trend could be explained by the addition of Jimmy Butler and the team’s deliberate pace (24th out of 30 teams).

To his credit, Towns had career highs in three-point percentage (42.1 percent) and free throws (85.8 percent), while finishing second overall in offensive rating (126.7). His continued improvement in these areas could explain why the Timberwolves ended their 14-year playoff drought.

Nikola Jokić, Denver Nuggets: Although he was a 2014 draft pick, Jokić’s NBA debut was delayed due to his last year of commitment to the Adriatic League. His productivity as a rookie was limited by both foul trouble and a logjam at the center position, but he still managed 10.0 PPG.

With Joffrey Lauvergne and Jusuf Nurkic off the depth chart, Jokić became the clear-cut starter this season and rewarded Denver’s confidence by averaging 18.5 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. And by chipping in 6.1 APG, he provides rare value as a center with triple-double potential.

Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks: Although he has never played a full season since joining the league, Porzingis has provided enough evidence that he can be a force when healthy. Before his junior campaign was derailed, the Latvian was enjoying career highs of 22.7 PPG and 39.5 percent shooting from behind the arc.

Unfortunately, the Knicks haven’t provided much support at point guard to help with Porzingis’ development. Trey Burke looked impressive down the stretch in Zinger’s absence, but that was in a score-first capacity. Meanwhile, both Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay have underwhelmed. On the plus side, Porzingis’ outside ability paired nicely in the frontcourt with Enes Kanter, who prefers to bully his way underneath.

Devin Booker, Phoenix Suns: Like Porzingis, Booker’s third year in the NBA was cut short by injuries, but that didn’t stop him from achieving career highs in points (24.9 per game), assists (4.7) and three-pointers (38.3 percent) on an otherwise moribund Suns team. Indeed, cracking the 40-point barrier three times in 54 contests was an achievement in and of itself.

While his short-term prospects would’ve been far better on a team like the Philadelphia Sixers (who might have taken him instead of Jahlil Okafor in a re-draft), Booker can still become a franchise cornerstone for the Suns if they are able to build around a young core that also includes T.J. Warren and Josh Jackson.

Solid Potential

Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers: Despite an inconsistent freshman season at Texas, Turner has become a stabilizing influence at center for the Pacers, whose blueprint consists of surrounding a go-to scorer with role players. While he hasn’t shown drastic improvement in any particular area, he has produced double-digit PPG averages all three years as a pro.

Although Turner’s shot-blocking ability fuels his reputation as a defensive maven, the reality is his 104.8 defensive rating (which is just OK) was skewed by his 110.9 d-rating in losses (it was 100.8 in wins). In order to merit consideration for the NBA’s all-defensive team, he will need to bridge the gap in this discrepancy and impact his team’s ability to win more games in the process.

D’Angelo Russell, Brooklyn Nets: Following their respective trades, Russell has fared better in the Big Apple than his 2015 lottery counterpart Emmanuel Mudiay, as the Los Angeles Lakers were forced to cut bait to draft Lonzo Ball. While Ball has shown promise as a rookie, the Lakers’ perception of Russell may have been premature, as the former Buckeye has stabilized a Nets backcourt that had been characterized more by athleticism than consistency.

Despite missing a significant stretch of mid-season games, Russell provided similar numbers for Brooklyn to that of his sophomore season; but without a pick until number 29 in the upcoming NBA Draft, the Nets will have to bank on improved production from DLo and his raw teammates to contend for the eight-seed in the East.

Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics: Injuries have paved the way for Rozier to showcase his talent, most recently with a 23-point, 8-assist effort in game two against the Milwaukee Bucks. But Rozier was already making headlines as a fill-in for Kyrie Irving whenever he was injured. Now that the starting point guard reins have been handed to the former mid-round pick, he has become one of the more pleasant surprises of the 2017-18 NBA season.

The biggest impediment to Rozier’s success might be the regression to limited playing time once Irving returns. While the Celtics could “sell high” and trade Rozier on the basis of his recent performances, they may opt to retain him as insurance while he is still cap-friendly.

Best of the Rest

Larry Nance Jr., Cleveland Cavaliers: Following the trade deadline, Nance has provided a spark for a Cavs frontcourt that has been bereft of viable options aside from Kevin Love.

Josh Richardson, Miami HEAT: A jack-of-all-trades at the small forward position, Richardson has evolved into a three-and-D player that has meshed well with the HEAT’s shut-down focus.

Willie Cauley-Stein, Sacramento Kings: Thrust into the starting center role after the trade of DeMarcus Cousins, WCS has provided serviceable (albeit unspectacular) play as the next man up.

Delon Wright, Toronto Raptors: A key contributor for the East’s top seed, Wright was instrumental in the Raptors’ game one victory over the Washington Wizards with 18 points off the bench.

Bobby Portis, Chicago Bulls: The former Razorback has flashed double-double potential, but playing time at his true position (power forward) has been limited by the emergence of rookie Lauri Markkanen.

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NBA Daily: Looking At The 2018 Draft Class By Tiers

The NBA Draft is a hard thing to predict, especially when it comes to draft order and individual team needs, Basketball Insiders publisher Steve Kyler takes a look at how this draft looks in tiers.

Steve Kyler

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Looking At The 2018 Draft In Tiers

While Mock Drafts are an easy way to look at how the NBA Draft might play out, what they do no do is give a sense of what a specific player might be as a player at the next level. With that in mind, we’re going to take a look at how some of the notable NBA draft prospects project.

It’s important to point out that situation and circumstance often impact how a player develops, even more so than almost any other variable.

So while the goal here is to give a sense of how some NBA teams and insiders see a draft prospect’s likely potential, it is by no means meant to suggest that a player can’t break out of his projection and become more or sometimes less than his he was thought to be.

Every draft class has examples of players projected to be one thing that turns out to be something else entirely, so these projections are not meant to be some kind of final empirical judgment or to imply a specific draft position, as each team may value prospects differently.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at the 2018 NBA Draft in Tiers.

The Potential Future All-Stars

DeAndre Ayton – Arizona – C – 7’0″ – 245 lbs – 20 yrs
Luka Doncic – Real Madrid – SG – 6’7″ – 218 lbs – 19 yrs
Michael Porter Jr – Missouri – SF/PF – 6’10” – 216 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Stars, But Likely High-Level Starters

Jaren Jackson Jr. – Michigan State – PF – 6’10” – 225 lbs – 19 yrs
Marvin Bagley III – Duke – PF – 6’11” – 220 lbs – 19 yrs
Wendell Carter – Duke – PF – 6’10” – 257 lbs – 19 yrs
Mohamed Bamba – Texas – C – 7’0″ – 216 lbs – 20 yrs
Collin Sexton – Alabama – PG – 6’2″ – 184 lbs – 19 yrs
Mikal Bridges – Villanova – SG/SF – 6’7″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Robert Williams – Texas A&M – C – 6’9″ – 235 lbs – 21 yrs
Miles Bridges – Michigan State – SF/PF – 6’7″ – 230 lbs – 20 yrs
Dzanan Musa – Cedevita – SF – 6′ 9″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander – Kentucky – SG – 6′ 6″ – 181 lbs – 20 yrs
Trae Young – Oklahoma – PG – 6’2″ – 180 lbs – 20 yrs

Maybe Starters, But Surely Rotation Players

Kevin Knox – Kentucky – SF – 6’9″ – 206 lbs – 19 yrs
Troy Brown – Oregon – SG – 6’6″ – 210 lbs – 19 yrs
Khyri Thomas – Creighton – SG – 6′ 3″ – 210 lbs – 22 yrs
Zhaire Smith – Texas Tech – SG – 6′ 5″ – 195 lbs – 19 yrs
Rodions Kurucs – FC Barcelona B – SF – 6′ 9″ – 220 lbs – 20 yrs
Aaron Holiday – UCLA – PG – 6′ 1″ – 185 lbs – 22 yrs
Jacob Evans – Cincinnati – SF – 6′ 6″ – 210 lbs – 21 yrs
De’Anthony Melton – USC – PG – 6’4″ – 190 lbs – 20 yrs

The Swing For The Fence Prospects – AKA Boom-Or-Bust

Lonnie Walker – Miami – SG – 6’4″ – 206 lbs – 20 yrs
Mitchell Robinson – Chalmette HS – C – 7′ 0″ – 223 lbs – 20 yrs
Anfernee Simons – IMG Academy – SG – 6′ 5″ – 177 lbs – 19 yrs
Jontay Porter – Missouri – C – 6′ 11″ – 240 lbs – 19 yrs
Lindell Wigginton – Iowa State – PG – 6′ 2″ – 185 lbs – 20 yrs
Bruce Brown – Miami – SG – 6’5″ – 191 lbs – 22 yrs
Isaac Bonga – Skyliners (Germany) – SF/SG – 6’9″ – 203 lbs – 19 yrs
Hamidou Diallo – Kentucky – SG – 6’5″ – 197 lbs – 20 yrs

Players not listed are simply draft prospects that could be drafted, but don’t project clearly into any of these tiers.

If you are looking for a specific player, check out the Basketball Insiders Top 100 Prospects list, this listing is updated weekly.

More Twitter: Make sure you are following all of our guys on Twitter to ensure you are getting the very latest from our team: @stevekylerNBA, @LangGreene, @EricPincus, @joelbrigham, @TommyBeer, @MokeHamilton , @jblancartenba, @Ben_Dowsett, @SpinDavies, @BuddyGrizzard, @JamesB_NBA, @DennisChambers_, @mike_yaffe, @MattJohnNBA, and @Ben__Nadeau.

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