By now, you’re probably well-versed in the Brooklyn Nets’ unfortunate position as a franchise — particularly so if you’re a fan of the Boston Celtics. With a swap in 2017 that is set to bear the highest odds of securing the No. 1 overall pick and an owed selection in 2018 to Boston, the light at the end of the tunnel is finally in sight. However, that won’t make the next two years any easier to manage, which is why general manager Sean Marks has built a road map for success in Brooklyn.
The Nets have an important summer ahead of them, composed of non-guaranteed deals, late first round picks and, of course, the ongoing issue of Brook Lopez. While much of the league is watching potential free agent targets like Andre Roberson and Joe Ingles play large postseason roles, the Nets’ brass is off scouting in Europe. Marks recently stated that this summer would be “exciting” but after the Nets struck out on all three of the restricted free agents they signed to offer sheets in 2016-17 — Allen Crabbe, Tyler Johnson and Donatas Motiejunas — these bridge years have become difficult to navigate.
With that being said, here’s how Marks and his moving pieces could shake out this offseason.
Once the Nets were well out of the playoff hunt and Jeremy Lin had returned from his lengthy hamstring issues, the franchise set their sights on some specific goals — including getting Lopez some well-deserved glory. On April 10, Lopez became the Nets’ all-time leading scorer, notching 10,440 points over nine seasons with the franchise. For many, the celebration could have served as a good sending-off point for the center — Lopez riding off into the sunset (and with a better chance at a ring) while the Nets could recoup some of their assets before the trying times ahead.
Well, it sure doesn’t sound like Lopez and the Nets are headed toward a breakup anytime soon.
On a podcast with The Vertical’s Chris Mannix this month, Lopez noted that he hopes to retire as a member of the Nets. Furthermore, Lopez wants his legacy to be remembered as somebody that started something special in Brooklyn. Following the season, Marks told NetsDaily’s Bryan Fonseca that their main aim is eventually making the postseason again.
“The objective for us is to be in the playoffs. When that comes, we’ll see,” Marks added, indicating they’ll go after the big free agent after they make the playoffs. “You don’t want to go and sign free agents and then the next thing you know your payroll is capped out and you’re a 25-win team. We’re going to have to build this strategically, have patience with it.”
In that way, on a roster that is otherwise just Lin and young prospects or D-League call-ups, it sure doesn’t sound like the Nets want to sell off their franchise center for a few more selections. If that’s the case — and it may be the most important decision they make all summer — then the attention will swing toward the rest of the roster and the choices they must make there.
Of the Nets’ current roster, six of them have non-guaranteed contracts: Sean Kilpatrick, K.J. McDaniels, Joe Harris, Spencer Dinwiddie, Archie Goodwin and Quincy Acy. Given their three upcoming draft selections and current international scouting status, it’ll be nearly impossible to bring them all back. Who makes the cut then? In their own right, all six have made compelling arguments to stick around in 2017 and beyond.
Of course, Kilpatrick was the first of many D-League signings for Marks and his microwave shooting makes him a strong candidate to return. Harris was one of the Nets’ go-to three-point shooters (and a willing defender) until a concussion and shoulder injury knocked him out for the final month of the season. Dinwiddie, who the Nets’ front office chose over Yogi Ferrell, came into his own in March and April, even partially delivering the knockout blow to the Detroit Pistons’ playoff hopes, the team that traded him last June.
Marks picked up McDaniels for next-to-nothing at the trade deadline and his lengthy perimeter defense was a welcomed addition in his 20 appearances. Acy, who was a D-League signing in January, shot his socks off from three-point range for Brooklyn (43.4 percent through 32 games). Finally, there’s Goodwin; a young, athletic playmaker that must improve from behind the arc, but the front office loves his explosive scoring and ability to get the rim.
Before entering free agency or the draft, the Nets must determine the direction in which they’re looking to take this roster. Luckily for Marks, there’s plenty of flexibility. With Lopez and Lin under guaranteed deals alongside Trevor Booker, Andrew Nicholson, Justin Hamilton, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead, the early leaders to return are Dinwiddie, Acy and Kilpatrick.
The International Landscape
Given Marks’ experience with the San Antonio Spurs’ organization, it should come as no surprise that the Nets are heavily scouting European players this spring. While they’ve been reportedly watching Facundo Campazzo and Shayne Whittington among others, the crown jewel would certainly be their chase of Milos Teodosic, the 30-year-old Serbian maestro at point guard. For years, NBA front offices and scouts have waited for Teodosic to make the jump, frequently receiving votes as one of the world’s best basketball players not currently playing in America.
Teodosic is a former EuroLeague MVP, FIBA Europe Player of the Year and a three-time member of the All-EuroLeague First Team. Currently with CSKA Moscow, Teodosic is averaging 16.3 points, 7.2 assists and 2.7 three-pointers per game. For a team that struggled massively without Lin on the floor in 2016-17, there may be no better bridge for Marks than Teodosic. Hailed as Europe’s best passer, Teodosic even fared well against the United States during the 2016 Rio Olympics, scoring 18 points and tallying six assists during their pool play matchup.
Teodosic did admit that the NBA must meet his financial and competitive standards before he moves overseas, but with the Nets in desperate need of a league-ready point guard and the money to spend, there’s much to like about this developing situation.
Other scouted names include the draft-eligible Mathias Lessort and Anzejs Pasecniks, so the Nets’ new regime is truly leaving no stone unturned in their never-ending search for talent.
While the Nets don’t have any premier picks in the upcoming draft, they do hold selections 22, 27 and 57, which should give Marks a bevy of possibilities throughout the next few months. Marks hasn’t ruled out selecting an overseas stash with one of their picks given their massively in-flux roster, but they’ll need to nail their picks either way.
The Nets will certainly lament missing out on Markelle Fultz and company in June, but without a first round pick in 2018, they’ll need to choose wisely. Understandably, the Nets will likely look toward the front court in this draft at some point. Hampered by Nicholson’s long-term contract, Lopez’s free agency in 2018 and Hamilton’s rocky first season with the franchise, the Nets would do well to snag somebody like Duke’s Harry Giles or Kentucky’s Bam Adebayo should they slide that far.
Additionally, Marks has recently mentioned the need to address the small forward position this summer with Hollis-Jefferson seemingly settled into his small-ball role at the four spot. Other names that should intrigue the Nets are Florida State’s Dwayne Bacon, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson and Latvia’s Rodions Kurucs.
While their upcoming picks may not bear fruit in 2017-18, the Nets have their eye on the future so a European stash or raw project could fit the bill in June’s draft. Frankly, the Nets have a need at every position currently, so Marks can again be flexible with his selections.
For most franchises, free agency is where teams make themselves contenders, just as the Nets attempted to do last summer. However, this time, it seems as if free agency is the one area in which the Nets may go a little light on in July. With their lack of long-term assets and draft picks, Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have preached culture and continuity above all else. This points at the Nets keeping around a large chunk of their roster from last season, for better or for worse.
With the non-guaranteed contracts, their overseas scouting and three more draft picks, there may not be much room to chase another round of restricted free agents. While there’s certainly no harm in reaching out to Otto Porter Jr., Kantavious Caldwell-Pope or the aforementioned Roberson for their desired contract range, many free agents will likely price themselves out of the Nets’ plans this summer.
The franchise-wide eye is focused on unearthing and developing their own talent instead of making the expensive mistakes of regimes in past years. That may disappoint some that wish for the Nets to pursue the likes of Blake Griffin or Paul Millsap, but as their cross-town rival Knicks found out the hard way this season, there’s no shortcut to success.
At the end of the day, there’s a fair chance the 2017-18 Nets roster won’t look all that different from how it stands now. The team is a few years away from competing again in the Eastern Conference, so Marks has his building blocks in all the right places so far. Unless they look to move up in the draft or trade one of their valuable pieces like the gritty fan-favorite Booker, the Nets will settle for normalcy — something the franchise hasn’t had in years.
With Lopez looking more and more likely to remain with the team and roster spots somewhat limited, Marks has a plan in place to bridge these final two summers without their own draft picks. It certainly differs from the Philadelphia 76ers’ “Trust The Process” mantra by way of waiting for their high-selection prospects to get healthy, but the Nets have created their own long-term road map for success. We’ll just have to wait a little longer before it’s fully revealed.
NBA AM: Most Likely All-Star Snubs
Damian Lillard seems to top the All-Star snub list every season. It couldn’t happen again, could it?
This year the NBA has famously decided to mix up the way the All-Star rosters work, while rather infamously deciding against televising the draft that will organize those players into teams, but even as some things change, some things remain the same.
Just like every year, there will be snubs when the All-Star reserves are announced on Tuesday night. Oh, there will be snubs.
The starters already have been selected, chosen by a combination of fan votes, media votes and player votes, the latter of which were taken so seriously that Summer League legend Jack Cooley even earned a single nomination from one especially ornery player voter.
For those that missed the starters, they include LeBron James, DeMar DeRozan, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, and Joel Embiid from the Eastern Conference and Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis, and James Harden from the Western Conference.
That leaves seven more reserves from each conference and way more deserving players than that from which to choose. These will be selected by the coaches, per tradition, but it’s anybody’s guess who ends up making the team. There absolutely are going to be some massive snubs this year, so let’s take a quick look at the most likely candidates to earn roster spots this winter, as well as who that might leave out of this year’s event in Los Angeles.
The Eastern Conference
Let’s start with the “sure things,” which almost certainly will include with Indian Pacers guard Victor Oladipo. Not only is he putting up a career-best 24/5/4 line, but he’s also averaging two steals per night for an Indiana team that currently lives in the playoff picture despite dismal expectations. That’s almost entirely because of Oladipo.
In the frontcourt, there was plenty of healthy debate when Embiid was voted the starter over Al Horford and Kristaps Porzingis, so there’s a very good chance that those two guys find their way to the roster, as well.
Kevin Love, who also is having a monster statistical season, seems like the most obvious third frontcourt guy, but his defense stinks and the Cavs haven’t exactly proven themselves worthy of two All-Stars. Detroit’s Andre Drummond and Tobias Harris both are having borderline All-Star seasons for a borderline playoff team, but they are the closest contenders to stealing away that third frontcourt reserve slot from Love.
Beyond that, Bradley Beal or John Wall likely will be the “other” guard reserve, but choosing which one is dicey. Wall’s the four-time All-Star, but Beal arguably is having the better year and has been snubbed for this event entirely too many times already. It doesn’t seem likely that both guys will make the team.
The wild cards could be that “other” Wizards guard among Beal and Wall, one of those two Pistons players, Miami’s Goran Dragic (they are fourth in the conference, rather surprisingly), Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, or Rookie of the Year candidate Ben Simmons.
What seems most probable is that Oladipo and Beal earn the Eastern Conference reserve slots, with Horford, Porzingis and Love earning the backup frontcourt positions. Lowry and Wall feel most likely as reserves.
That means the most likely Eastern Conference snubs will be: Goran Dragic, Ben Simmons, Andre Drummod, Tobias Harris and Khris Middleton.
The level of controversy with this group feels fairly low, though if Dragic or Drummond were to make the team over Wall or Love, the conversation would be a lot feistier.
The Western Conference
Choosing the reserve guards in the Western Conference is a no-brainer. It will be MVP candidates Jimmy Butler and Russell Westbrook, which immediately means that if Klay Thompson, Damian Lillard, Chris Paul and Paul George are not named as Wild Card players, they will be left off of the team. That’s about as “yikes” as “yikes” gets.
The battle for the frontcourt spots are going to be no less brutal, even with Kawhi Leonard effectively out of consideration having missed so much time at the beginning of the season. The Spurs will have an All-Star anyway, though, which makes LaMarcus Aldridge all but a lock.
Towns, who is averaging a 20/12 with over two assists and 1.5 blocks per game on one of the West’s top teams, also feels likely to get in. That means Draymond Green and Nikola Jokic are the two guys expected to battle over that last frontcourt spot, and both deserve real consideration. Green’s importance is less obvious to this Warriors team with Durant on the roster, but he’s no less essential even if his offensive numbers are down. Jokic, meanwhile, has kept Denver in the playoff hunt even without Paul Millsap, and is the best passing big man in the game.
The most likely scenario in terms of Western Conference reserves has Butler and Westbrook getting voted in at guard, Aldridge, Towns and Green voted in as frontcourt players, and Thompson and Lillard voted in as the wild cards.
That means the most likely Western Conference snubs will be: Chris Paul, Paul George, and Nikola Jokic.
Paul has missed 17 games this season, which is just too many when there are so many other great guards from which to choose, and George’s usage has dropped massively in Oklahoma City. As for Jokic, somebody has to get snubbed, and the other reasonable possibility is that he be named a wild card player at the expense of Lillard, and no NBA fan should have to see that happen yet again.
The 2018 NBA All-Star Reserves will be announced at 7:00 p.m. EST on January 23 on TNT.
Tune in Tuesday night to see which players will make the team, and which will inevitably be snubbed.
NBA Daily: Rockets Might Be Formidable Challenge For Warriors
If nothing else, the Rockets gave everyone, including the Warriors, something to think about by beating the champs.
For those that had any lingering doubt as to the authenticity of the Houston Rockets, Saturday afternoon’s win over the Golden State Warriors should serve as a bit of a wakeup call.
Sure, championships aren’t won in mid-January, but by virtue of the win, the Rockets won their season series against the Warriors, 2-1.
Since the beginning of the 2014-15 season—the year the Warriors won the first of three consecutive Western Conference Finals—they’ve lost a season series to just one other team: the San Antonio Spurs.
A review of the tape suggests that those that believe that Gregg Popovich and Kawhi Leonard are truly the team that has the best shot of beating the Warriors is founded in some fact. In the last three seasons, the Warriors have lost a total of 39 games.
In total, during that span, seven teams have failed to beat the Warriors even once, while 12 teams have beaten them one time. Four teams have beaten the Warriors twice and only the Denver Nuggets, Los Angeles Lakers and Memphis Grizzlies have beaten them thrice.
The Spurs, though, have managed to beat the Warriors five times, with Popovich leading his team to a 2-1 regular season series win over the Warriors during the 2014-15 and 2016-17 seasons.
It’s safe to say that they have been the only team worthy of calling themselves anything near a worthy adversary to Stephen Curry and company.
At least, that was the case until Saturday night.
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With all due respect to Michael Jordan, if the Warriors win the NBA Finals this season, they can legitimately claim to be the best team in NBA history.
Two titles in three years is nothing to sneeze at, but the claim holds no weight whatsoever without ever having won two in a row, especially when scores of other teams have been able to accomplish the feat.
Aside from the two championships, the Warriors can claim the best regular season record in the league’s history and the distinction of being the only team to ever win 67 or more games for three consecutive seasons.
It is true that the Warriors have been almost invincible since the 2014-15 season, but things have changed now that Chris Paul has joined forces with James Harden.
This season, the Mike D’Antoni coached team ranks 12th in points allowed per 100 possessions, a marked improvement over last season’s rank of 18th.
With Trevor Ariza, P.J. Tucker, Clint Capela, Luc Mbah a Moute, they have four defensive stalwarts, one of whom (Ariza) who wasn’t able to suit up due to being suspended.
At the end of the day, beating a team in the regular season doesn’t really count for much, especially when you consider the greatest irony: in each of the seasons the Spurs beat the Warriors in their season series, the Warriors won the NBA Finals. The obvious asterisk there is that the Warriors didn’t play the Spurs in the 2015 NBA Playoffs and only managed to sweep them once the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard in 2017.
Still, beating the defending champs in any game, much less a season series, has got to feel good. Whether they want to admit it or not, Saturday’s game against the Warriors was one that the Rockets wanted to get, that’s probably why Mike D’Antoni opted to reinsert James Harden into the game after he surpassed his 30-minute playing restriction.
In the end, Harden logged 35 minutes and ended up making what was the game’s clinching three-pointer.
* * * * * *
With the season a little more than halfway over, the Warriors still appear to be head and shoulders above those competing for their throne. Of the other contenders, the Rockets and Boston Celtics, at least for now, appear most formidable.
At the end of the day, what the Warriors have to fear more than anything is their own arrogance. As a unit, the team believes that it’s the best at playing small ball and that no other team can beat them as their own game. While that may be true, there have been a few instances over the past few years where that belief has ended up costing them.
What the Warriors seem to struggle with is understanding that not every possession can be played the same way, and as some possessions become more and more valuable, it would be wise for the team to play more conservatively and traditionally.
For example, when the Cavaliers beat the Warriors in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving made one of the most incredible shots we’ve ever seen, but it was Stephen Curry who helped leave the door open for the Cavs with a pitiful final five minutes of the game.
Among the worst atrocities he committed was an ill-advised turnover that came as a result of an off target behind the back pass to Klay Thompson. In such a situation, any second grader could have and would have known that a simple bounce pass to the flashing Thompson would have sufficed.
Steve Kerr’s message to his team, though, is to play like themselves and not overthink their execution.
While that’s fair, it does at least leave room to wonder if the Warriors will have the humility to play conservatively when the game is on the line.
Curry himself admitted to playing too aggressively and making poor reads and decisions down the stretch versus the Rockets. The team passed up wide-open two-point shots for three-pointers that didn’t fall, and those botched opportunities played a direct role in causing the loss.
Fortunately, for the Warriors, not much was at stake, but their performance and decision-making in those tight minutes leave us to wonder what will happen if and when they find themselves in another tight moment or two…
And by virtue of the Rockets becoming just the second team to take a season series from the Warriors since the beginning of the 2014-15 season, we can also fairly wonder whether they truly have what it takes to take down the Golden Goliath.
G-League Watch: 10-Day Contracts
David Yapkowitz looks at five potential G-League callups for 10-day contracts.
Since Jan. 10, NBA teams have been able to sign players from the G-League to ten-day contracts. A few have already been signed, such as DeAndre Liggins with the Milwaukee Bucks and Kyle Collinsworth with the Dallas Mavericks.
Once a ten-day contract expires, teams have the option of signing that player to another ten-day contract. After the second ten-day, teams must either sign the player for the remainder of the season or release that player.
Some players have used ten-day contracts to essentially jump-start their careers. Bruce Bowen was once a ten-day contract player before becoming a key piece of multiple championship teams in San Antonio. Famed New York Knicks enforcer Anthony Mason also got his first chance in the league off a ten-day contract.
With a few guys already being called up via ten-day as well as the NBA’s new two-way contracts, here’s a look at some of the remaining names who might be next in line.
1. Christian Wood
Christian Wood was once a highly touted prospect coming out of high school. He played two college seasons at UNLV before declaring for the NBA draft in 2015. Despite being projected to be drafted late in the first round or early second round, he did not hear his name called on draft night. He’s spent some time in the NBA since then, with the Philadelphia 76ers and Charlotte Hornets, but he currently plays for the Delaware 87ers, the Sixers G-League affiliate.
His 22.0 points per game are tied with James Young for top scorer on the team. He’s shooting 53.9 percent from the field, and he’s also displayed a nice outside touch for a big man at 35.2 percent from three-point range. He leads the team in rebounds at 9.6, as well as in blocked shots with 2.0. He’s very mobile and could certainly help a team as a stretch big man who can play defense and crash the glass.
2. Jameel Warney
Jameel Warney has been a candidate for an NBA call-up for quite some time. The former Stony Brook standout had a big summer with Team USA basketball. He was the tournament MVP of the 2017 FIBA Americup and was named USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year for 2017. He got as far as training camp/preseason with the Dallas Mavericks in 2016, and he’s currently playing for their G-League affiliate, the Texas Legends.
With the Legends, he’s fourth on the team in scoring with 19.4 points per game. He’s second on the team in rebounding with 10.4, and he’s tied with Johnathan Motley leading the team in blocked shots with 1.5. He’s shooting 52.5 percent from the field. What could be hindering his NBA chances is his lack of an outside shot, especially with the way the game is being played today. Nonetheless, he’s still one of the G-League’s top players and he deserves a shot in the big leagues.
3. Melo Trimble
After a solid three years at the University of Maryland, Melo Trimble was one of the best players not selected in this past summer’s draft. He played well for the 76ers’ summer league team in Las Vegas, which in turn earned him an invite to training camp with the Minnesota Timberwolves. He ended up being one of their final cuts at the end of preseason, and he went on to join their G-League affiliate, the Iowa Wolves.
He’s third on the Wolves in scoring with 18.5 points per game. He’s shooting 44 percent from the field, and a decent 34 percent from beyond the arc. He’s also leading the team in assists per game with 5.7. He’s got the potential to be a decent backup point guard, and if he can get his shooting numbers, especially from three-point range, up a little bit, there’s no question he’s NBA caliber.
4. Joel Bolomboy
Joel Bolomboy is a name that should be familiar to Utah Jazz fans. He was drafted by the Jazz in 2016, and although relegated to mostly end of the bench duty, he showed a bit of potential and flash here and there. The Jazz cut him after a year, and he ended up in Milwaukee before they too cut him to make room for Sean Kilpatrick. He’s currently playing for the Wisconsin Herd, the Bucks G-League affiliate.
At the recent G-League Showcase that took place from Jan. 10-13, Bolomboy had one of the best performances of the event. In the two games played, he averaged 25.5 points per game on 73 percent shooting from the field and 13.0 rebounds. He was named to the All-Showcase First Team. He’s had eight double-doubles so far in the G-League this season. He’s already gotten his feet wet in the NBA, and if he continues putting up similar production, it won’t be long before he finds himself back on an NBA roster.
5. Jeremy Evans
Jeremy Evans is a name that should be somewhat familiar to NBA fans. He’s spent six years in the league with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks. He also participated in two dunk contests in 2012 and 2013. Unfortunately for him, dunking was probably the one thing he was known for. It might be why he found himself out of the league after only six years.
With the Erie Bay Hawks, the Atlanta Hawks G-League affiliate, his 15.9 points per game are good enough for fourth on the team. His 62.3 percent shooting from the field is a team-high, as is his 10.3 rebounds per game, and 1.4 blocks. Not known as a shooter during his time in the NBA, he’s only shooting 25.6 percent from three-point range in the G-League. If he can get his outside shooting percentages up, he has a shot at getting an NBA call-up and keeping that spot permanently.
Although there’s no guarantee that any of these guys get NBA call-ups on ten-day contracts, they have some of the best shots out of anyone in the G-League. Don’t be surprised if, by the end of the season, all of these guys finish it out on an NBA roster.