NBA AM: Brooklyn Abandons Rebuild

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Brooklyn Waiting to Hit the Reset Button

In some ways, it might have been a blessing in disguise that the Brooklyn Nets were not allowed to spend $125 million on a backup point guard in Tyler Johnson and a relatively unproven new starting shooting guard in Allen Crabbe. But the reality of the Nets’ situation right now is that both of those players would have been about as promising as anybody on that roster, and to lose that optimism is a real kick in the pants for a team that is nowhere close to getting off the ground in their effort to rebuild.

Recent free agency acquisitions haven’t done much to bolster confidence in the future of an organization that, barring some sort of miracle trade, isn’t going to have any shot at a high draft pick until June of 2019.

On Thursday, the team reportedly signed forward Anthony Bennett – arguably the most disappointing top overall pick in NBA history – and Randy Foye – a 32-year-old career journeyman who can score and knock down threes. Those are not young players with the potential to grow.

Added to other recent signings like Trevor Booker, Luis Scola, Grievis Vasquez, Joe Harris, Justin Hamilton and of course Jeremy Lin, the Nets are unrecognizable with the exception of longtime starter Brook Lopez, and with the exception of Harris (career 2.5 PPG) and Bennett, not a single one of them is under 26 years old. It is a truly odd mix of also-rans that doesn’t come close to offering the excitement and potential that Crabbe and Johnson would have provided.

It also leads to some serious depth chart questions. Lopez is the clear starter at center and Lin is expected to start at point guard, but beyond that everything is drawn in sand. Either Rondae Hollis-Jefferson or Bojan Bogdanovic could start at small forward, but Bogdanovic has traditionally done better work at the two, where Brooklyn is absolutely loaded with guys almost sure to fight over minutes, including rookies Caris LaVert and Isaiah Whitehead as well as Harris and Sean Kilpatrick.

The power forward spot isn’t any clearer. Scola probably will start based on resume alone, but Booker is arguably the best player of the batch and the Nets are likely to see if Bennett has anything left to offer. He’s playing for the veteran’s minimum salary, and this has to be his last chance to stick with an NBA team, so he’ll have plenty to prove. There just might not be many minutes available to him.

New Nets general manager Sean Marks wanted to use money to buy young guys who could develop the way that high draft picks might have since Brooklyn won’t have any of those for a while. That’s what Crabbe and Johnson would have represented to this team, but when their offer sheets were matched, it left Marks scrambling to make Plan B happen and that hasn’t been especially pretty.

With the exception of the two actual rookies in LaVert and Whitehead, as well as sophomore Hollis-Jefferson, there aren’t really young guys on this roster who could develop into something special down the road. To have abandoned the idea of paying for youth and hoping it pans out seems a little fruitless when there are no short-term draft benefits to being dismal.

An offer sheet to Moe Harkless may have been nice, and really anything over $9 million per year would have pushed Portland into luxury tax territory, but it’s understandable why Marks wouldn’t want to tie up money in restricted kids again. Beyond that, there really wasn’t much else he could have done but bring aboard veterans at low dollar amounts on short contracts. In a couple of years, when they can start drafting like a normal team again, the slates will get wiped clean, and they can once again look toward a future that features promising young players. As it stands, the Brooklyn Nets have no such future.

Will Harkless Get A Deal?

And speaking of Harkless, his own contract situation remains a little muddy as there are now only a small handful of teams with the cheddar to throw a deal his way that would get Portland to even think about not matching the offer sheet.

At only 23 years old, Harkless still has a long way to go as a professional but showed in his first year in Portland that he was good enough to warrant quite a bit more money than he’s made so far in this league. Portland’s other restricted free agents, Meyers Leonard and Allen Crabbe, have been brought back on some pretty impressive salaries but Harkless remains in the dark as to what, exactly, his future in Portland will be.

It is, of course, in his own hands. He can take the $4,045,894 qualifying offer on the table and join the ranks of the unrestricted free agents next summer in what could very well be the most expensive spending year in the history of NBA free agency. However, there is always the risk of either injury or having a down season – either of which could affect his ability to fetch serious coin a year from now.

Considering Portland only has about $9 million to spend on Harkless before they dip into luxury tax territory, they’d have to agree to something like a four-year, $35 million deal with Harkless to keep from paying the tax. Considering Crabbe got $75 million over four years, that doesn’t seem likely. Crabbe may be better than Harkless, but he’s not $10 million a year better than him.

Knowing this, all a team with cap space would need to do is offer Harkless something north of $9 million a year and they’d have a real shot at getting him. It’s a dangerous game considering how adamant the Blazers have been to keep the band together, but there’s not a whole lot to lose at this stage of free agency. Teams aren’t missing out on other great opportunities by tying up their cap space in Harkless for a few days.

The problem for Harkless, though, is that there aren’t a whole lot of teams with over $9 million left in cap space. Some thought Brooklyn would make a run, but they’ve got 15 guys under contact now and don’t seem all that interested in doing this dance with Neil Olshey again. That leaves Philadelphia, Denver, Phoenix, Milwaukee and Utah as the only teams with enough money to make Portland blink. If Harkless is going to get his offer sheet, it’s going to be from one of those five teams.

His agent still swears that the one-year qualifying offer is still in play, and that very well may be his best bet if he’s looking to maximize his return on what really was a nice year for him last season. He could take his qualifying offer like Greg Monroe did a couple years ago and then play wherever he wants in 2017-18 for what should be plenty of money.

It’s a risk, but considering his age, it’s a small one. It won’t be at all surprising if that’s the way he ultimately decides to go.