We are six days before the NBA trade deadline. Six. That’s less than one week. That’s less time than it takes a package to arrive when you send a gift to a relative.
And that means it’s right here, and it’s time to talk about it.
There are a lot of balls up in the air for the Nets at this deadline. At 28-25, in the sixth seed, and armed with the goal of selling free agents on Brooklyn, there is value to upgrading the roster and making the playoffs. The playoffs would provide invaluable experience to the young core. They would provide management with information on how good teams will scheme against these players going forward, which will be revealing as to how invaluable, or less valuable, some of them are. And the more the Nets win, the better their pitch to free agents in the summer.
For all of these reasons, Brian Windhorst reported that the Nets are looking to be buyers at the deadline.
On the other hand, the Nets learned the hard way that the worst thing you can do in a rebuild is to kill your flexibility with win now moves that do not make you a contender. There is nothing the Nets can do this week, that will make the Nets a title contender during the 2019 playoffs; the roster simply is not there, yet. The worst thing the Nets can do is ruin the future flexibility they have built, in the name of short term – or even long term, upgrades, who help them win more games, but lock them into a middling playoff team for the foreseeable future.
Adding say, Nikola Mirotic, makes the Nets better – he’s a good player. But if the Nets pay him, Russell, Dinwiddie, LeVert, Allen, and Kurucs going forward, and the roster is basically those guys plus their mid to late firsts over the next four years, that roster does not contend for a title. That mortgaging of flexibility for a slightly better chance in 2019 (a non contention year) is just not worth it.
This piece will not look at EVERY trade the Nets can make – there is no way to do that. It will look at players on the roster, broken into tiers, and the types of scenarios we may or may not see. The trades listed are representative of the types of deals we could see.
Tier 1: Cannot be Traded by CBA Rule: Dinwiddie
This will be fast. Dinwiddie, due to signing an extension, is not trade eligible prior to June 13, 2019 – the six month anniversary of the contract.
Tier 2: If it’s not Anthony Davis like, what are we doing: Caris LeVert, D’Angelo Russell, Jarrett Allen, Rodions Kurucs
Representative Trade: 2 of the above pieces, 2 first round picks, and CBA matching filler for Anthony Davis
Chance they are moved: UNLIKELY
Nobody is untouchable, and for that reason, I do not value the Nets’ core pieces as such. How can I? The Nets as constructed are not a contender, and also lack a tentpole star — a guy who, by the simple virtue of having him, makes you competitive by himself. There are maybe 15 of those guys in the entire league, and it would be irresponsible for the Nets not to continue searching for one — even in deals for pieces like this.
By the same token, this quartet of pieces, together with Dinwiddie, represents the backbone of what the Nets have built to date, and all have upside to continue improving. It would be reckless for the Nets to deal any of these pieces, absent the delivery of a tentpole star. As such, barring a trade for a superstar, I do not expect this group of pieces to go anywhere.
All of this is why I listed the Davis deal. The Nets should not deal pieces of this caliber for non superstars, but make no mistake, they likely have kicked the tires on deals like this. They already shopped Russell for Butler, per Michael Scotto and Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic (in a deal I am frankly glad did not happen).
Should the Nets deal for Davis? I tend to be too risk averse to go down that road, but there are arguments for and against it.
On the for it side, the Nets need a tentpole star, and it is nearly impossible to get these guys – especially when you are too good to draft in the lottery. Free agency is their best bet, but what if Durant and Leonard say no? And once the Nets pay Russell, LeVert, Kurucs, and Allen on their second contracts (over a period of a few summers) their flexibility to add to the core, with those guys on long term deals, will be lost.
Essentially, the Nets have a finite window of time to add a star to this core while this core is cheap. It is for this precise reason, in a similar situation, the Sixers dealt for Jimmy Butler this year — once they pay Simmons on his second contract, their flexibility to get a third star would have become lost. Now, that guy is in the door.
Put all of this together, and there is a compelling case for dealing for Davis, and trusting that the culture built here, the pieces retained after a deal to surround Davis, and the acquisitions this summer using Davis as a carrot (they can structure a deal such that they have cap room this summer), all cause Davis to stay.
The flip side of this equation is the obvious: Davis can leave in July 2020. If he does, the Nets will be back at square one — where they were when Marks got the job — because they would have traded a hoard of players and assets for Davis, just for him to walk.
It is true that since he gave the Pelicans 1.5 years notice, Woj has reported that teams may rent Davis this year, then launch a bidding war this summer if he does not commit. It all sounds so smooth. But unlike say, the Raptors, the Nets would likely not be a contender immediately upon getting Davis, due to the price to get him and status of the roster as of now. And the closer Davis gets to July 2020, the less you get back for him. Even a deal in July 2019 would not recoup what the Nets would trade now. And if the Nets wait it out with Davis after the summer, they will likely be forced into sacrificing more of the future to surround Davis with pieces, which would be further damaging if he left.
Lastly, there is the Rich Paul LeBron James element — Davis and LeBron share an agent, in Lebron’s friend from high school, and what LeBron and Paul want, they get. Davis, if hellbent on being with LeBron, will get there — and it is not clear if Paul’s word on his potential commitment should carry any weight with the Nets. Really, with Paul (and implicitly, LeBron) at the controls, you get the sense that a Davis rental sets the renting team up for a trap.
Putting all of this together, I do not have it in me to rent Davis. Marks, knowing that losing him could be a fireable offense (for any GM), may not either.
But short of a player of his caliber, why deal from the Nets core quartet?
Tier 3: The key piece to move for the future: Crabbe
Representative Deals: Crabbe and Knicks second for Jabari Parker; Crabbe and Knicks second for Jon Leuer and expiring salary filler
Chance he is moved: 50/50
Crabbe will opt into his 2019-2020 deal because he will be comically overpaid at $18.5 million, and that figure will hamstring the Nets this summer. There is no way around it. Which begs the question: must they deal him?
On one hand, removing his number from the cap takes the Nets from nearly $30-$48 million in cap space (these are estimates). The Nets cannot open max room without unloading Crabbe or renouncing Russell, thereby effectively letting Russell go — and I do not need to tell you which scenario is better. As a result, it is tempting to say that the Nets should unload Crabbe — now — to get that cap space.
There is another side to this. Maybe the Nets do not hit on key targets such that the difference between $30-$48 million in space has any real value (if they are signing string alone one year mediocre vets with the overage, what is the net gain?). Can the Nets relinquish picks, today, for a hypothetical tomorrow that may never come to pass. And doesn’t Crabbe in theory have more value in the summer, when he is owed less than today?
Still, there is yet another side to this — it is going to be DIFFICULT to unload Crabbe, and do so in time for a free agency strike, and if the Nets find a team willing to take him on at a relatively low price, they may need to take advantage while they can.
Most replies to this school of thought are along the lines of “they unloaded Mozgov last year.” But the analysis is incomplete. The Hornets were over the luxury tax before eating Mozgov’s deal. By sending the Nets Dwight — who makes more annually than Mozgov — the Hornets evaded the tax with the deal. So yes, the Nets “only” forked two second round picks over, but the pick price was reduced by the real carrot in the deal — the Hornets evading the tax.
Can the Nets help someone similarly this go round? The only expirings who earn MORE than Crabbe are Klay, and three Knicks: Kanter, Wes Matthews, and DeAndre Jordan. The Warriors are obviously not dumping Klay for Crabbe, and the Knicks are trying to maximize their cap space for this summer — they will not take Crabbe off Brooklyn’s hands. The “get someone out of the tax” option with Charlotte, to unload Mozgov, is not as obvious this go round.
The other issue with waiting for July? The timing could cause them to miss out on a big target. Regarding the timing, star free agents typically lock into deals the first week of July, but salary dumps do not happen until week 2 — the Nets ate the Carroll and Faried deals on July 9 and 13, respectively, the last two years. That is because those were plan B options for them, not plan A’s — recall the Nets chasing Otto Porter in 2017 and settling for the salary dump. The same will likely be true this summer — bad teams like Atlanta may swing on talented RFA’s or the like, before settling on something like eating Crabbe’s deal for a pick. Can the Nets afford to wait for July, at the risk of free agents coming off the board while they look for a taker for Crabbe?
Put all this together, and unloading Crabbe is difficult. It requires the perfect sweet spot of a team that needs draft assets, does not see itself as a free agency player, and maybe has a player (like Dwight) it wants to unload. Even the examples I gave are flawed. The Bulls value cap space and devalue seconds — are they relinquishing space for Crabbe and seconds? And the Leuer example makes the Pistons more expensive, and only partially washes Crabbe off the books.
Put it all together, and I believe the Nets should pounce on the first available opportunity to unload Crabbe.
Tier 4: the valuable key pieces: Harris and Davis
Representative deals: Harris or Davis anywhere for lottery protected firsts
Chance they are moved: UNLIKELY
I would not place Harris and Davis quite at the “core” level of Russell, LeVert, Allen, Kurucs, and Dinwiddie, but they are clearly extremely important to this team.
With that, do not expect the Nets to deal them for something like a haul of second rounders. They add on court value, locker room value, and value for the future as the Nets try to build a winner. They are too good to toss away in that fashion.
Still, they are not untouchable. David Griffin, on Sirius Radio, mentioned the Nets likely having an asset price on Harris, for example. The Nets need a tentpole star, and as many high upside pieces as possible. If either of these players can get the Nets a first rounder, that is too hard to pass up, considering, again, that the 2019 Nets are not a contender.
Still, I do not see that as likely — firsts are too valuable to move for Harris or Davis.
The other side of this coin? If the Nets do indeed move on a tentpole star, like Davis, if they have a deal they like, and if the sticking point is Harris or Davis, the Nets cannot balk at that.
Again, however, I see this as unlikely.
Tier 5: Large salary hard to move vets: Carroll and Dudley
Representative deals: Either and a first for Mirotic, with CBA filler to match money
Chance for a deal: unlikely
Carroll and Dudley are very tough to move because you have to match salaries in deals. So a team taking either in has to send around $15.4 million or $9.5 million out respectively in salaries for either guy, yet feel like it has moved its program forward. The exemplar trade itself is unlikely – Mirotic likely has more value.
Carroll and Dudley provide the Nets with on court value due to their ability to space the floor, and their gravity pulling defenders to the arc. Neither is worth a first round pick, and neither is worth the Nets losing for a second round pick — remember, a playoff push has free agent salesmanship value, in and of itself. So the Nets likely do not deal unless they upgrade their roster in the process.
But the only likely way to upgrade the roster in a deal involving either, is to move a pick. The piece coming back? Not likely to be a star. Do the Nets want to deal a pick for an upgrade, if they do not want to waste flexibility this summer on the upgrade? That hurts the future for this year, which is not ideal.
Put this all together, and a mutually beneficial Carroll/Dudley deal is unlikely. But as with the other pieces on this list, if either is needed as CBA filler to make a bigger deal work, the Nets would jump at it.
Tier 6: Cheap contributors or pieces the Nets will not shop – Napier, Graham, Pinson, Musa, and Williams
Representative deals: small deals for second rounders
Chance for a deal: unlikely
Let’s start with Napier and Graham. There is no reason for the Nets to shop them. Both produce at a level above their tiny, under $2 million deals, and the Nets have tiny team options to retain both next year. In the short term, the Nets, given their tiny deals, are unlikely to deal them for on court upgrades. And in Napier’s case, with Dinwiddie and LeVert out, you see the value of depth at point guard. If the long term, if the Nets hit it big on free agent signings, they will be flexibility strapped to round out their roster around their new stars, and will need to use minimum signings to add talent — having Napier and Graham in the fold this cheap has substantial value in that regard.
Turning to Pinson, Musa, and Williams, all three, essentially, have no real trade value. The Nets are better off seeing if they develop into something, rather than tossing them away for scrap parts whom are so low down the food chain, that they are not even in the NBA right now.
With all of this said, as with Harris and Davis, clearly, if any of these pieces are needed as filler to make a large deal work, you bite that bullet. But independent of that, there is really nothing to be gained for dealing them in 1:1 fashion for another small part.
Tier 7: Get Something for a piece who is out of the picture?: Rondae
Exemplar deal: Rondae for a second round pick
Chance for a deal: 50/50
Unfortunately for Rondae, he simply is not a fit for the Nets – and will struggle to fit in a NBA rotation in general. Wings who cannot shoot, and are not shot creators for others, must be elite defenders to even be rotational. Rondae is a pretty good defender — he’s not close to elite. That package together makes him a suboptimal player for a rotation – defenses can use his man, and often do, as a free safety to zone up to prevent drives from players like Russell, and his defense does not compensate.
His lack of gravity — or how close teams guard you off the ball — makes him the worst forward on the Nets. When Graham, Dudley, or Carroll play, teams do not leave them on the perimeter. As a result, with that defender accounting for the shooter, Russell and Dinwiddie have room to get into the paint. Allen has space in the paint, to rim run. But with Rondae, teams stick his defender in the paint, or as a ball watcher on pick and rolls. It compromises the offense significantly.
For these reasons, Rondae has lost his starting job. And soon, may lose his roster spot via trade.
Tier 8: Buyout market
Example deal: signing a piece like Kanter (this year), Belinelli (last year), or Bogut (2017) to a contract after the deadline.
Chance for a deal: unlikely
The Nets will have an internal conversation this deadline — should we deal a small asset for a tiny upgrade, when similar caliber players might be on the buyout market? Why deal a pick for say, Anthony Tolliver, when Ersan Ilyasova was a buyout pickup last year for free.
The risk in this however is obvious. Buyout candidates typically look to latch on with a title contender in the short term. The Nets will not be a prime destination for buyout pieces, whom will likely prefer teams like Golden State, Toronto, and Milwaukee.
With that, if the Nets like a deal, they should do it. Do not rely on a buyout market that likely is not really there.