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.
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