Nets Done Shopping? Maybe It’s For the Best.

As free agency drags on, it appears possible, if not likely, that the Nets are maintaining cap space, rolling it into next season and summer. For a team unable to sign impact free agents given it is hundreds of miles from contention, that is a prudent approach.

One reason it is prudent: nearly one third of the NBA is deep into the luxury tax.  As of now, the Cavs, Blazer, Warriors, Thunder, Wizards, Bucks, Rockets, and Clippers are staring at a tax bill.  The Warriors will stomach it given how great they are.

However, after that, teams may try to evade the tax by dumping money and giving away assets for free, or close to it.  Just look at the Demarre Carroll trade.  The Raptors gave the Nets a first round pick, a high end second rounder, and Carroll — who started for them and has a pulse — for nothing.  All they acquired in return was Justin Hamilton, and they waived him on arrival.

We cannot know which teams WILL seek to evade the tax — we are not in the war room with ownership and management.  But we can read tea leaves.  The Blazers are in tax hell and Paul Allen may not stand or it.  The Thunder may look to slash money if Paul George is leaving, or may do so regardless.  The Wizards committed to Otto Porter and may seek tax avoidance in other ways.  The Bucks are a potential tax team despite being somewhat mediocre (unless Giannis takes another leap), and have dead money in John Henson and Spencer Hawes, and Greg Monroe’s large deal, on the ledger.  The Cavs figure to make another run around LeBron, but if they decide, during the season or after the finals, to start shedding role players (either in an attempt to surround LeBron or save money if he leaves), the Nets can come calling. The Clippers, too, may decide the tax is not to be paid for mediocrity.

Do teams make deadline (or summer) deals to evade the tax?  It feels likely. And the Nets should be at the phone waiting.  They need as many assets as they can obtain.

A second reason it is prudent: a bubble is bursting in the NBA.  The salary cap in 2015-2016 was $70 million, and expected to spike over the coming years because cap smoothing was not agreed to.  The cap then did spike, to a whopping $94.1 million in 2016-2017.  Teams in 2016 assumed the cap would continue, and therefore they did not hesitate to give out big contracts.  Inking players then, felt smart long term.  When the cap spiked later, players locked into deals under the lower cap would be bargains, as they would earn a lower percentage of the cap in the future.  So players like Jon Leuer signed $42 million deals. And Kent Bazemore at $72 million, or Chandler Parsons at 4 years, $94 million.  If you simply scan the signings from last year, you will see how hefty the commitments were, as a whole.

However, something funny happened this year.  The cap stopped spiking, unexpectedly.  It rose to just $99 million for 2017-2018, and will level off going forward.  As a result, deals inked in 2015 and 2016 at elevated figures in reliance on the coming cap spike are not going to age well due to assuming lower cap percentages — rather, those deals are mostly albatrosses.

All of this relates to 2018’s star studded free agency class, built around LeBron, Durant, Russ, Paul, George, Cousins, and more.  The group is loaded, and deep.  Typically, teams target such loaded free agency classes, and tons of teams enter the summer with droves of cap space, to make headway.

However, due to the excessive spending of 2015 and 2016 in reliance on a cap spike that never really came, a majority of the league lacks max space to chase the cadre of max players available in 2018.  Teams spent less in 2017 to mitigate the damage they did in 2015 and 2016, but they still, by and large lack the type of cap space they will want in 2018.

Enter the Nets.  In 2018, STILL without their first round pick, and likely coming off another unavoidable subpar season, the Nets are not going to be a free agent destination. They would be better served helping others get cap space (and as for whether those teams succeed at getting free agents, who cares), than hoarding space for themselves to use on the C level pieces they can sign.

Once again, we cannot know, outside of the war room, what teams will desire shedding deals to pry open 2018 space, but tea leaves can be read.  The Lakers dream of two max slots but lack them as constructed.  They may look to deal a piece like Deng or Clarkson to get there.  The Spurs will lack max space in 2018 (after a quiet 2017 summer) if Aldridge, Green, and Rudy Gay opt into their deals.  With the cap flattening, opting in is more appealing to free agents than it was; the Spurs may make a deal to avoid that scenario.  The Nuggets have Kenneth Faried, Trey Lyles, and a hoard of 4’s.  A deal from surplus to open flexibility to reconfigure may be out there.

The Pelicans are interesting.  Their best chance to surround Brow, Cousins, and Holiday with more talent is to add someone before they resign Cousins in 2018, while he is under his low $18.9 million cap hold.  They may aggressively shop pieces like Solomon Hill, Omer Asik, and Alexis Ajinca to open up the space to do just that.

Other options exist, too.  Maybe the Wolves relent and dump a first to dump Cole Aldrich.  Maybe Alec Burks is an odd man out in Utah, for a similar price.  Maybe the Sixers are ready for a big strike but need to dump Jerryd Bayless to get it done.  Maybe the Knicks, Pistons, and Heat deal to obtain cap space.

With so few teams in position to strike on the 2018 market, the Nets can acquire assets to help others take a plunge.

#Nets Offseason: Who Do They Target Next?

The Nets’ offseason has been eventful.  Most importantly, it has given us a window into Sean Marks’ plan.

The plan is very clear.  First, acquire as much young talent as possible to offset the lost draft picks to the 2013 Celtics trade, and ensure that when you control your first rounder in 2019, that player comes in to bolster a young core, not start one from scratch.  Second, since a 20-62 team is not attracting “A” or “B” class free agents, rather than sign “C” class free agents, add more young talent by leveraging cap space in trades to absorb unwanted contracts. Third, acquire a veteran point guard to boost development by running an organized offense within which the youth can thrive, and acquire other veterans to teach good habits to the young players.

The plan, it should be noted, does not entail any reluctance from Marks to spend on the right players. You do not offer $106 million, $75 million, $50 million and $37 million to four different restricted free agents, over four years, if you are averse to spending.  Yes, those deals were matched, but the Nets were obviously willing to enter those commitments if any of the incumbents balked.

Marks’ “add youth” strategy is working.  He has acquired D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Isaiah Whitehead, the Raptors 2018 first round pick (if they make the playoffs), the Pacers 2018 second round pick (if they miss the playoffs), and one of the Lakers or Magic’s 2018 second round picks. That provides many shots at the board to add high upside talent that did not previously exist.

Marks ate the unwanted contracts of Timofey Mozgov, Andrew Nicholson and DeMarre Carroll to accomplish this — worthy prices to pay to add young talent for a team not attracting free agents regardless.  This is overly simplistic, but look at it this way.  Mozgov makes Tim Hardaway Jr. money; Nicholson makes Shelvin Mack money; and Carroll makes Taj Gibson money.  Would you deal Hardaway for Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell; or Mack for Nicholson and Allen; or Gibson for Carroll and a first and second rounder.  You would, and you would not think twice.

This work now reveals the following roster:

    1. Russell, Whitehead, Dinwiddie (team option), J. Senglin (camp invite)
    2. Lin, Kilpatrick, Goodwin (team option)
    3. LeVert, Joe Harris, J. Wiley (two way deal)
    4. Carroll, Hollis-Jefferson, T. Booker, Acy (team option) Nicholson
    5. Mozgov, J. Allen

As of this moment, if the Nets declined each team option, they could in theory have as much as $22.9 million in cap room this season, to round the roster out.  If the Nets did nothing, they would have a touch over $45 million guaranteed on their 2018-2019 books, subject to team options on Russell, LeVert, Hollis-Jefferson, and Whitehead, and Lin’s player option (Booker, Kilpatrick, Harris, and perhaps Wiley and Senglin would be free agents).  The Nets would have between $31.7 and $56.9 million in cap room if they renounced each unrestricted free agent, depending on their decisions on the team options and Lin’s decision on his option.

In short, the Nets as they stand figure to have significant flexibility to spend in 2018.

The question from here is simple: how do the Nets round out the roster.  Do they make a big play for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, or one of the numerous talented restricted free agents, like JayMychal Green?  Do they decide none of those pieces are worth it, and round out the roster with cheaper, lower end free agents that fit needs (this roster badly needs bigs who can shoot the ball).

Expect Marks’ to be pragmatic.  As his four massive offer sheets reflect, if Marks believes a bigger name free agent on the market will move this program forward, and become a young player the roster can grow with, he will not hesitate to make a play for that player. Not being in the war room, I cannot (and you cannot) know if Marks likes KCP, or Green, or Alan Williams, or another big free agent, but if he does, he will be aggressive.   However, as Marks noted today, if he does not believe there is a piece out there who makes that type of difference, or if he believes that piece wants too much money, he is perfectly content to round out the roster with one year deals to lower end fits, and roll his cap space into 2018.

That is smart, and beats caving to a player’s demands, under the guise of having to get the player.  Teams make bad mistakes when they believe they have to do certain deals.  The 2013 Nets HAD TO get the Boston veterans to help Deron lead. The 2016 Knicks HAD TO make a splash and signed Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose.  The 2015 Suns HAD TO break up their toxic point guard relationships by trading Isaiah Thomas for a pick that became Skal Labissiere.  The logic of having to get something done often breeds mistakes.

Marks knows that, and that is why he made it clear: if he can get one of his targets on his terms, he will.  If he cannot, he does not have to get him, so he won’t.  That beats overpaying, and making a mistake.  Essentially, Marks is negotiating with targets through the media, telling them “if you don’t want what I’m offering, that is fine; we are ok walking away from the table.”  That simply makes it more likely Marks gets what he wants here.

So, who may Marks be targeting?

-Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: The Nets went 20-62; they simply need more talent.  You may like or dislike KCP, and that is fine, but the Nets would be remiss to decline adding him solely based on “he is a guard and we have guards.”  For now, the Nets just need talent, regardless of position.  When they are closer to contention, they can worry about positions.

-JayMychal Green: A little older than the rest of the core, but a versatile four who thrived in Memphis.  Zach Randolph leaving may make retention more likely.

-Jonathan Simmons: I worried about him on an overpay, and still do.  But he has talent and fits on a deal that is not egregious.

-Nikola Mirotic: he is not a ball handling four as the Nets appear to like, but they need floor spacing.  He is erratic, however. The Bulls may match near any offer.

-Alan Williams: An underrated target, but the Suns may match any offers. He is a physical big who rebounds well.

-Dewayne Dedmon: Would provide quality minutes up front as Allen grows.  But he just played under market value to get paid; will he do it again, and for a bad team?

-Ersan Ilyasova: Could provide what Mirotic would at a lesser level but a much lesser price. Helpful if Mirotic is not a program mover in Marks’ eyes.

-David Lee: Perhaps available as a cheap bench scorer

-Tiago Splitter: Another SA guy. If he has something left, can provide minutes up front and defend.

-Jonas Jerebko: a competent four off the bench.

-Kris Humphries: can provide rebounding off the bench

-Jeff Withey: a competent reserve big who was useful with Rudy Gobert hurt this year

-Marreese Speights: Could round out the big man rotation.

-Brandon Rush: A still useful small forward.

-Alex Len: worth a cheap deal to see if he can put it together, but Phoenix likely matches.

-Festus Ezeli and Tyler Zeller: Worth cheap deals to see if they can still play.

-Tarik Black: the Lakers cast him away. Worth seeing if something is there.

-Anthony Tolliver and Damjan Rudez: perhaps can provide bench shooting, but, I would not bet on it.

-The “veteran teachers”: Tony Allen; Luc Richard Mbah a Moute; Mike Dunleavy; Jason Terry; Alan Anderson; Leandro Barbosa; Nick Collison; Udonis Haslem

Nets Free Agency: Five Big Observations, And Next Steps

Week 1 of free agency is over.  As we move into week 2, the Nets have a pending offer sheet to Otto Porter, and presumably have various backup plans in the event the 95%-99% possibility the Wizards match, becomes a reality.

So, what are some observations that we can make, to date.

First: The Nets have been frugal. That is fine.

Among many Nets fans, there is a worry the Nets have not done anything in free agency, and that this is somehow a problem. That worry could not be more unfounded.

For starters, the Nets are not a free agency destination.  Free agents want to win, and the Nets were the worst team in the NBA last year. That puts the Nets in a position where they can only overpay to get free agents — and overpaying is a mistake.

There is a human nature element of wanting the team you root for to make news.  When your team signs a player, and people like the signing, it creates a rush of energy.  A feeling that you are doing something, anything, to improve.

But patience is a virtue.  Just look at the Miami Heat – a team all over the transaction news.  The Heat figure to lose in the first round of the playoffs next year.  If you lose in the first round, but have cap and draft pick flexibility to improve, that is good.  But for the Heat?  Where do they go from there?  The Heat are capped out through 2020, with their current roster.  They will have cap exceptions and lower end picks to add bench players, but what you see now is largely what you get, for the next three seasons. Is that a goal?

Could the Nets have done something similar to the Heat? Probably. They surely could have gone out there and massively overpaid pieces like Amir Johnson, PJ Tucker, George Hill, or Zach Randolph.  And they would absolutely be better in 2017-2018, than they are going to be.  But all of that long term money would blockade them, in 2018 and 2019, from further building forward.  Just like Miami has blockaded themselves.

Further, it has to be noted: free agent deals cannot just be judged on dollars and years.  Team context matters.  By way of example, a rebuild like the Nets adding Ryan Anderson last summer for $80 million over 4 years, given how that limits you going forward, is a disaster.  However, for the win now Rockets, with Harden in house and Anderson fitting perfectly with him, the deal constitutes great work by Daryl Morey.

Finally, for all the frustration of the Nets doing little or nothing, doing nothing is always better than setting yourself back with a mistake. The 2013 Boston trade? The Nets would be better off today if they did nothing that summer, and literally ran back their 2012-2013 roster in its entirety.  The Knicks signing Joakim Noah? Doing nothing would have been better.  The Lakers signing Mozgov?  Given they had to dump D’Angelo Russell just to shed him, they would have been better off not lifting a finger.  Fans are always uneasy about doing nothing, but if the alternatives are doing damage, then do no harm should prevail.

Second: The Nets are awaiting the Wizards’ matching Otto Porter’s contract (95-99%).  They still have other options, and thus far the contract has cost them nothing.

When the Nets signed Otto Porter, I estimated a 90%-97% chance the Wizards match any offers. I now am at 95%-99%, given the Wizards’ letting Bogdanovic go and essentially positioning themselves to match.

That said, targeting Porter was the right call.  Porter is a really good young player, a definitive program mover for the Nets.  He makes them better today, and makes them better five years from today, if they add him.  He fits into any offense, and is a two way wing, a rarity yet essential need in the NBA.

Given all that, chasing him is a worthy gamble.  Now, sure, since the Wizards can match, there is a definitive opportunity cost to signing Porter: during the matching period, players can come off the board.  In addition, if you pass up opportunities before you sign Porter, you cost yourself those opportunities as well.

But with that said, the opportunity cost for the Nets has been nil.  Just look at how little on the market has actually passed the Nets by: the following is a list of deals signed, and categorized to reflect cost to the Nets.

Players absolutely unavailable to the Nets (no cost whatsoever): Steph Curry and Kevin Durant (LOL), Gordon Hayward (he wants to win), Blake Griffin (Clippers secured him with that max deal), Bogdan Bogdanovic and Zhou Qi (stashes signed by teams with rights), Andre Iguodala (was not leaving unless another winning overpaid him), Tony Snell, Andre Roberson, Joe Ingles, and Cristiano Felicio (RFA’s who negotiate with their incumbents don’t leave), Nene, Patty Mills, Shawn Livingston, David West, Zaza Pachulia, Kyle Korver, Ron Baker, and Wayne Selden (always staying put); JJ Redick and Amir Johnson (they were clearly intrigued by Philly’s young core, it wasn’t happening here); Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka (they were staying put with Toronto ponying up); Taj Gibson (he wants to win with his old coach); Nick Young, Omri Casspi, Patrick Patterson, and Rudy Gay (veterans who targeted winning); the Paul George trade (Nets lacked the pieces); Dirk (he is a one team player)

Players you should be glad the Nets did not touch: Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday, and George Hill (no sense in paying $19-$21M over three years to be a veteran to guide Russell – Lin does that on a 1 year $12M deal); Tim Hardaway Jr., Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Danilo Gallinari (yikes at those contracts); Paul Millsap ($30M in space would have been extinguished for a player starting the career downside, all for a 30 win year) Jose Calderon, Mike Scott, Tyreke Evans, and Michael Carter-Williams (they’re bad); PJ Tucker (no need for an age 32-36 player in a rebuild); Dion Waiters (he was overpaid, and his ball hogging inefficient style is a poor thing to have around your kids); Darren Collison (he is not good and got a multiyear deal);

Players who wouldn’t hurt, but are insignificant, do not move your program forward, and are worth gambling on Porter: Zach Randolph (given this is a rebuild he’s just a more expensive Trevor Booker, insofar as his purpose to the Nets); Vince Carter; Langston Galloway; Daniel Theis; Shelvin Mack; Jodie Meeks; Ben McLeMore; Milos Teodosic; Raymond Felton; Jeff Green

Players and deals who do incur a moderate cost: Mike Muscala; Justin Holiday; the Hawks leveraging cap space to obtain the Thunder’s 2018 first rounder and Jamal Crawford.

In short, the cost to the Nets in trying to acquire Porter, so far, has been Muscala and Holiday – two nice reserves, but nothing of significant value that represents a known program mover, and a salary dump to acquire a pick that should fall around 25.  Was some value lost? Sure.  But it also should be noted that if the Wizards match on Porter, the Nets can target players similar in level to Muscala and Holiday, and salary dumps similar to the Hawks’ acquiring the Thunder’s first rounder (for which the Hawks paid a premium price).   Given how good Porter is, this gamble was worth it – no matter what happens from here.

Third, the complaints from teams (and fans) that the Nets are “screwing” teams in restricted free agency are nuts — and that goes both ways. 

Every team with a restricted free agent handles the process differently. Some extend their player the fall prior to the free agency summer, to avoid the process altogether (think the Bucks and Giannis last fall).  Some negotiate with their player in June, and reach an agreement with him before he hits the market, to avoid offer sheets (think the Bucks with Tony Snell, and Jazz with Joe Ingles this summer). Some choose NOT to lock their player in, giving their player only one option – to secure an offer sheet from another team.

When a team makes that decision, the team cannot complain that the player goes and gets an offer sheet in the player’s best interests.  Or complain that the team offering them a sheet creates one designed to — imagine this — obtain the player!

So the Wizards have absolutely no right to complain about the Nets’ offer sheet with Porter.  Nor due the Heat, Blazers, and Rockets — the prior teams Sean Marks dealt with in this regard.  The team, and its fans, also have no right to complain that those players, coming off cheap rookie deals, tried to get an offer that was best for them.

Conversely, there is consternation among Nets fans that the Wizards would “screw” the Nets, if the Wizards drag out the process of matching on Porter, essentially by delaying his reporting and physical.  If you sign a free agent to an offer sheet, the incumbent team has the right to burn six days to match, and complete the process of the player reporting for a physical.  You knew that when you signed the player, so you cannot complain that the incumbent exercised that right.

 

Fourth, the idea of the Wizards killing the Nets’ ability to add players, for four days after they match, is dramatically overstated.

It is true, that prior to the time at which the Wizards match, there is still some chance above 0% that they do not match.  As a result, there is some chance above 0% that the Nets’ cap space never gets released back to them, and that the Nets cannot become players for their alternative targets.  In this regard, there is some risk, from this moment, and at all times prior to the Wizards informing the Nets of their matching the offer sheet, that other targets of the Nets come off the board.

Sure, a piece like Kentavious Caldwell Pope, JayMychal Green, or the like (if the Nets have interest), can, and may, decide to wait it out.  But if they receive offers that are 75%-95% of what the Nets would offer IF the Wizards match, but those offers are off the table by night’s end, do those players ignore those offers, and take the chance that the Wizards do not match and they are left out in the cold with no offer?  They may, but they also may not.

However, suppose the Wizards match, and drag out Porter’s physical over four days. Now, the scenario is completely different.  At that point, the Nets, and everyone, know, with 100% certainty, that the Nets will have their cap space back. The only thing, at that point, in the way of a free agent committing to be a Net, is paperwork.  If you are a Nets target after Otto is matched, and they offer you a big contract, the only hitch is “you just have to wait four days to sign the contract, because of logistical paperwork on the Wizards’ end of our offer sheet.” That is not an issue for a free agent, in any way, shape, or form.

Essentially, so long as the Nets’ desired targets are available after the Wizards match, the Nets can target them freely.

Fifth, there are plenty of good free agents still on the board, across multiple categories, as follows. 

Program Impacting Young Free Agents (subject to interest): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JayMychal Green, Nerlens Noel, Jonathan Simmons, Nikola Mirotic, Alan Williams,

Other Young Free Agents: Mason Plumlee, Dewayne Dedmon, Jeff Withey, Alex Len, Dante Cunningham, James McAdoo, Reggie Bullock, Tyler Zeller, Maurice N’Dour, Tarik Black, Christian Wood

Veteran Leader Free Agents: Pau Gasol, Tony Allen, Thabo Sefolosha, Tiago Splitter, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Kris Humphries, Mike Dunleavy, Jason Terry, Alan Anderson, Gerald Henderson, Nick Collison, Udonis Haslem, James Jones, Dahntay Jones

Other Veteran Free Agents: CJ Miles, Ersan Ilyasova, Ian Clark, Aron Baynes, David Lee, Jonas Jerebko, Festus Ezeli, Sergio Rodriguez, Marreese Speights, Brandon Rush, Brandon Bass, Anthony Tolliver, Damjan Rudez, Leandro Barbosa, Anthony Morrow, Aaron Brooks,

Is the Nets Quiet a bad Thing?

We are almost a full day into free agency.  And while the league is buzzing, the Nets have not one one single transaction. Naturally, the lack of moves has created some level of angst among the Nets’ fanbase.  To an extent, that is human nature.  Fans like, and crave, news.  Fans want to see that the team is “doing something” to get better.

However, Sean Marks understands what should be a simple principle: it is better to do nothing, than to do something bad that hurts the franchise. One only needs to consider the 2013 Boston trade to see this in action.  The 2012-2013 Nets were not contenders.  And the Nets “did something” to get better.  They’d have been better off doing absolutely nothing, and quite literally elected to bring the entire 2012-2013 Nets team back in 2013-2014.

In this regard, Sam Presti, the GM of the Oklahoma City Thunder, spoke after the NBA Draft about whether the Thunder would be active.  His quote, as transcribed by the Thunder Reddit page, was rather instructive:

“Now, will we go out and look at every opportunity? Yes, we will. We’ll look at every opportunity. Because that’s what we’ve done over the course of time. But, unless somebody is willing to give us exactly what we want for limited return, or for a return that we feel comfortable with, we have no alternative other than to continue to be head down, sleeves up, working to get better with this group of players.”

Presti essentially was saying, “if there is something out there that makes us better, we will do it. If not, we will do nothing.”

And that is smart.  Sure, Marks has not yet stepped into the fray.  However, ask yourself about every deal struck so far.  Either the Nets had no way of getting involved, or getting involved would have been unwise:

1: Situations the Nets in no way could enter: 

-Steph Curry’s and Blake Griffin’s mammoth contracts: Both players were clearly staying put where they are. No suitor, Nets included, could have changed that.

-The Paul George trade: The Pacers (for some asinine reason) clearly value Oladipo and Sabonis. The Nets could not match that package because they do not have a young veteran like Oladipo, and only LeVert is a better prospect than Sabonis (other than Russell, but, there is no way you deal Russell for George so that George can walk in 12 months).  Also: you cannot deal for George when your chance of keeping him in 2018 is literally 0%.

-Patty Mills re-upping with the Spurs: When a player stays with their incumbent that soon after midnight, the player never really hits the market. No team, Nets included, had a chance to snag Mills.

-Shawn Livinston re-upping with the Warriors: Livingston took less than his worth to continue with the champs. No other team had a shot to add him.

-David West: essentially rinse and repeat with Livingston.

-Tony Snell, Cristiano Felicio, and Ron Baker: When a restricted free agent resigns immediately, without taking meetings, that means the incumbent wanted them back and simply decided to make it happen. There was nothing any suitor could do.

-Wayne Selden: He was under Grizzlies’ control and they maintained that control.

2: Situations the Nets were smart not to enter:

-JJ Redick and Amir Johnson: Sure, both vets fit the Nets culture. Sure, both got one year pacts.  However, the Nets are not the Sixers.  The Sixers have torn it down, have acquired multiple strong young pieces (in Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz, and maybe even Saric, they have 3 or 4 young players in higher regard than D’Angelo Russell), and shifted from asset acquisition mode, to turn it into a winner mode.  The Nets are still earlier in their process, in asset gathering mode. That, for one, makes them more attractive to these veterans than the Nets. More importantly, however, if the Nets signed either player, they would lose that amount of cap space to use as an asset down the road – in July or at the Trade Deadline – to absorb a bad contract for a good young player.  That is a way more valuable tool to the Nets, given their current spot on the arc of contention.  Simply put, abosrbing $22 million in contracts to add D’Angelo Russell and Justin Allen is infinitely better for the Nets, right now, than is simply signing JJ Redick (or Amir Johnson) outright. The Nets were smart to maintain those options, rather than signing these two veterans.

-Jrue Holiday’s $126 million deal and Jeff Teague’s 3 year $57 million deal: With D’Angelo Russell being groomed as the future lead guard, and Jeremy Lin (who is close to the level of these two) in house on a cheaper deal to provide leadership and quality play in the short term, it would have been dumb to fork over a ton of money to a solid, not great, veteran point guard.

-Jose Calderon to the Cavs: Calderon likely wanted to join a winner and did not consider Brooklyn. Regardless, he is a defenseless, old, low end reserve guard.  No thanks.

 

That right there . . . is it.  That is all that has happened so far.  The Nets have not signed a player.  The same goes for 16 other teams.  And the opportunities above did not make sense for the Nets.

So, What Should the Nets do? 

Target Money Dumps: We always forget this: cap space does NOT have to be used to sign free agents.  Nor does it have to be used in July. Cap space is an asset all season long, and can be used to absorb other teams’ dead weight in exchange for quality young assets. The Nets hallmark example is the Mozgov/Russell maneuver.  The move was made in June, so the Nets used their July of 2016 cap space to snare Russell in June of 2017.  The Nets need to target this market further: acquiring Russell and Allen for dead money (while sending out vets) was the right play – and a way better play than simply wasting space on stopgap veterans like Redick. You can sign cheaper stopgap veterans later in free agency (after all, it’s not as though you are winning in 2017-2018 either way.

 

Target young free agents with upside (basically, the RFA market): Otto Porter? Kentavious Caldwell Pope? Insert the player you like here.  I will use Porter as an example, as he is my favorite of the young free agents.

There are essentially three possibilities that may arise, if the Nets chase a young RFA, in order of best to worse case scenario.

  1. the incumbent does not match and the Nets get the player
  2. the incumbent matches. However, during the 2 day waiting period, none of the Nets other options, like a good salary dump or other good young player, fall off the board. Accordingly, despite the match, there was no cost to the Nets – they lost out on nothing.
  3. the incumbent matches.  During the 2 day waiting period, other Nets’ options, like money dumps of significance and good young players, fall off the board.  Accordingly, not only did the Nets wait two days for the incumbent to match, but they were hurt by the attempt to get the player. They lost out on other options. 

 

My view on the above, is rather simple.  If the Nets chase a restricted free agent that fits the team – nearly any – and scenario “1” or “2” unfolds above, the chase was worth it.  Scenario “1” is obviously worth it: you got the player. So is scenario “2”: if the Nets ink Otto Porter to an offer sheet, and the Wizards match, but the Nets do not lose out on their other plans, then no harm was done, and the endeavor was worthy. 

However, if scenario “3” develops, that represents failure for Marks and the Nets. 

Essentially, if the Nets feel there is a chance a team balks on matching on a significant RFA, and there are no money dump options available, then inking an offer sheet is a worthy endeavor.

So, what will the Nets do in free agency? I do not know. Nor do you, because Marks plays his cards close to the vest. But if the only options available are doing something negative, then they should just do nothing at all.

Nets Free Agency: What Should be the Plan?

The Draft has come and gone, and the Nets were certainly busy.  Brook Lopez is out.  D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov – and Jake Wiley and Jeremy Senglin, are in. The depth chart (without team options) fairly reads as follows (remember: teams carry 17 players now, and Wiley and Senglin are on two way and camp deals respectively).

C: Mozgov, Jarrett Allen, Justin Hamilton

PF: Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Trevor Booker

SF: Caris LeVert, Andrew Nicholson, Wiley

SG: Jeremy Lin

PG: D’Angelo Russell, Isaiah Whitehead, Senglin

As for cap space in free agency, the Nets have $62,649,718 in salaries (including Allen’s cap hold), leaving $36,350,282 in cap space.  This figure, it must be noted, is a maximum that will likely decrease — it assumes the Nets renounce Randy Foye (he has a $3 million cap hold), and that they let all six team options walk — in Joe Harris, Sean Kilpatrick, KJ McDaniels, Quincy Acy, Spencer Dinwiddie, and Archie Goodwin.  The Nets must decide on Harris, Kilpatrick, and McDaniels before July 1, while they have the luxury of deciding on Acy, Dinwiddie, and Goodwin after July 1.  Their overall plan, intel on player intentions around the NBA, and who they acquire, will likely dictate who they choose to keep.

As for the roster, more young upside is in place than twelve months ago.  Russell is a huge acquisition, LeVert and Whitehead have shown something, and Allen is also an important addition.

What are the needs?

As for needs, there are two glaring ones. The first is the general talent level — the team needs to continue acquiring higher end talents, like Russell.  The second is the inability of most of the roster as comprised to shoot from distance.  You may wonder: why worry about shooting, or veterans, if the Nets are in a rebuild.  The answer is simple: the most important facet of a rebuild is the growth of young talent.  First, young players grow more when surrounded by positive veteran influences, who provide guidance as to how to succeed at the NBA level, both by showing them how they work and by instructing them.  Often, those messages resonate more strongly from a fellow player — a peer — than from a coach.  Second, young players grow more easily when put in positions to succeed.  It was significant how much the Nets players grew when Lin was healthy, because Lin organized the offense and put the Nets’ young players in positions to make, or attempt to make, plays.  As the roster currently stands, the Nets’ kids will be driving the ball fruitlessly into packed paints, or unable to drive at all, because of the lack of shooting.  Acquiring floor spacers will open up the floor for the Nets’ kids, and accelerate their growth.  And for the Nets, having nine young players who are growing beats having twelve young players who are not.

Will the Nets be a draw to unrestricted free agents of significance?

Unfortunately, while Marks and Atkinson have done excellent work, the answer is “likely not.”  Bigtime free agents know they will get money and play a big role wherever they go. Their big concern: where can I win, and win right now.  The answer to that question simply is not Brooklyn, because the Nets went 20-62 last year and do not figure to be much, if at all, better.  The Nets may be healthier, see young player growth, and win 30-35 games (a stretch), but this simply is not a playoff team, let alone an authentic title contender.

So what should the plan be?

The Nets plan should essentially be as follows:

First, continue exploring the salary dump market.  Cap space is an asset, not limited to free agency spending.  Historically, teams regret big spending, unless they nail top targets.  Cap space is an asset, as Sean Marks has shown, that can be used to rid other teams of unwanted salary — at an asset charge.  In dealing Lopez and Bojan Bogdanovic, Marks brilliantly leveraged cap space as an asset in this fashion.  On a market where Nerlens Noel fetched two second rounders, Jahlil Okafor was untradeable, Serge Ibaka fetched overpaid Terrence Ross and an end of first round pick, and DeMarcus Cousins only yielded (with filler) Buddy Heild and Zach Collins) the Nets got Russell for Lopez — a WAY better young player than any of the other bigs yielded.  Why?  Because the Lakers were hellbent on shedding Mozgov’s contract, and the Nets used their cap space as an asset to leverage Russell.  Similarly, on a “deadline upgrade the bench market” where Lou Williams fetched the 28th pick, Bogdanovic, a lesser player, fetched the 22nd pick (becoming Allen).  Why? Because the Nets leveraged cap space as an asset by adding Nicholson.  The Nets should continue exploring the money dump market.

Second, target young free agents with upside.  Often that comes through restricted free agency.

Thirdresolve the shooting issue.  Even if the Nets commit some longterm money, they need to add pieces that can shoot the ball.  With how many talented young players they need to add to become a contender, they will not become one until at least 2020, so if they ink 2-3 year deals, those deals should not hurt their long term outlook.  In addition, the only critical young players they have that they must truly pay before 2020, given their long term cost control over LeVert, Allen, and Whitehead.

Fourthrounding out the roster.  This is where the Nets six team options, and vets to show the kids the way, come into play.

With that, let’s explore each option.

Salary Dumps. 

Simply put, there is no way to know what salary dumps are available to the Nets, right now.  And three factors do hurt the Nets.  First, if a team just wants to reduce its luxury tax bill, the bill does not kick in until June 2018, so the team will likely put that off until the trade deadline.  Second, most teams do not know what their plan is, right now, in the summer of 2018; they need to see how this offseason and next season go first.  Accordingly, that may make it difficult to offer teams 2018 cap relief right now. Third, and most importantly, a salary dump makes no sense unless the team losing assets has plans for how to use the newly added flexibility. Still, teams look to shed salaries for all sorts of reasons, and if a team does get in that mode, they need to find a trade partner who is not in win now mode (thus is ok with assuming dead money), and has space to park the money — that makes the Nets a primary option.  And whether teams dump salary to sign players immediately (like the Spurs did before the LaMarcus Aldridge signing), to reduce their tax bill (like the Miami Heat at the 2016 deadline), or to plan grandly for star additions (like the Lakers in the Brook Lopez trade), teams find themselves in that mode.

What are the options?  Maybe the Portland Blazers, although I believe they should not, do perform a Meyers Leonard or other big money salary dump, and the Nets can add a first round pick that way.  Maybe the Atlanta Hawks, with a glut of picks, look to offload Kent Bazemore, or recently acquired Miles Plumlee, in similar fashion. Maybe the Chicago Bulls offload Rondo before his option kicks in on June 30, to avoid his $3 million guarantee – that would be cheap, but so was selling a second rounder. Maybe Dallas kicks the tires on Wes Matthews, or Houston or San Antonio dumps a role player to make a splash, or someone else gets involved.  We cannot know for sure.  But if those types of scenarios arise, the Nets should be on the phone.

Adding young talent:

This is where restricted free agents factor in.  In deciding whether to target a restricted free agent, there are three criteria as I see it:

  1. Do you want the player?  If not, there is no point to make an offer, period.  Because, if the other team does not match, you are stuck with the player.
  2. How likely is the incumbent team to match? Usually, teams match.  So the answer is often “very likely.”  However, sometimes the answer is near 100%.  For example, as for say, Tony Snell, with the Bucks having a core three of which he is not a member, and with their being close to the tax line, there is an authentic chance they balk at signing him.  On the other hand, the Wizards just missed the conference finals by a hair, built around one of the league’s elite starting groups.  Otto Porter is their third best player, and the chance the balk on matching him is close to 0%.
  3. What is the opportunity cost?  This is a significant factor most do not contemplate, but must be weighed in conjunction with the chance the incumbent matches. In short, if the opportunity cost is high, that tends against an RFA offer – even if there is a say 25% chance of a non-match. However, if the opportunity cost is low, that means the Nets may as well go for it – even if there is a 2% chance at a non-match. By example, suppose that based on how free agency unfolds, that, after the Nets make an offer to Otto Porter (let’s assume, as realists, a 2% chance the Wizards do not match) the targets they lose during the matching period are Christian Wood, DeAndre Liggins, and Anthony Tolliver. In that case, the opportunity cost of trying to get Porter was so low that the Nets were well served trying, even if the Wizards match.  On the other hand, let’s assume a 30% chance the Jazz balk on matching on Joe Ingles, but, while the Nets wait for a match, Paul Millsap, who wanted to be a Net (not happening), comes off the board. Now, the opportunity cost of trying to get Ingles was so high that, despite the high chance of a non-match, the endeavor was foolish.

With that, who are the young free agents the Nets can target?  Porter of course is the best young player available, and fits the Nets perfectly.  But the chance the Wizards match truly is no less than 97%.  The Nets can only justify trying for Porter if their other options are so bleak that, as described above, the opportunity cost is next to nil.  Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is another.  He is not as good as Porter, but the Pistons matching is nearly as likely.  He would provide some much needed shooting.  However, the Nets’ backcourt is crowding. Tony Snell is also a fit, and would come cheaper than Caldwell-Pope, with, given the Bucks’ expensive group, an actual chance of a non-match.  He would also resolve some shooting concerns without the Nets having to buy a veteran.  Joe Ingles is a piece who possibly can be had given Utah’s financial constraints, but I suspect they keep him.  Finally, Alan Williams is a sneaky fit.  The Suns seem to have big plans, given the rumors they were shopping their 4th pick – does Williams get lost in the shuffle?  His per 36 numbers are excellent, and the Nets can use an interior presence.  I like JayMychal Green, but the Grizzlies do as well and figure to match; ditto on Cristiano Felicio.

Beyond that, the market is lukewarm.  Jonathan Simmons is a piece I like very much, but given the small sample of high level play, I worry he is the classic player who is poised to jump from underpaid to overpaid in one summer.  I have similar feelings about Kelly Olynyk.  Nikola Mirotic’s name is catchy, but he constantly falls out of favor in Chicago and there’s a reason – he is a sieve defensively and beyond inconsistent offensively. Andre Roberson can defend anyone, but he cannot shoot, yet will be paid like a guy who can shoot.  Tim Hardaway Jr. is essentially the polar opposite of Roberson, and has become overrated given his name and former Knick status.

Adding shooters:

In adding shooters, the Nets should start with the money dump market.  They would be better served using a salary dump to add a shooter while adding an asset, or add a shooter through the RFA market if possible, than simply spending money on a veteran shooter. If they do spend on veterans, the key is to retain future flexibility.  Shorter deals are better, even at higher dollars.  And the Nets, categorically, should not spend into 2020-2021, where their timeline may reside.

The most important thing here is patience.  There are always plenty of useful players on the market, despite the stress that may be induced by the hazard of names that come off the board on July 1-3.  The Nets must resist the temptation of splurging on veterans during that period.  Wait for talent to linger.  This happens every summer: teams blow through their money, so the market for certain players dries up.  That leads to teams who were more prudent obtaining bargains.  Strike then.

Ersan Ilyasova could be a piece to consider if his market is barren; a real possibility.  Omri Casspi is another: he struggled shooting last year but historically shoots well, and he is constantly undervalued. A third is Mike Muscala — he may be available cheaply given the Hawks seeming recent decision to purge, with the Dwight deal.  Maybe JJ Redick’s market dries up if he leaves Los Angeles, although I do not expect that.

Danilo Gallinari is a nice player but figures to be too pricey.  Paul Millsap is a name, but he does not fit the Nets timeline at 32. Serge Ibaka has also noticeably declined and likley wants a four year deal. Kyle Korver likley wants to win, as does Thabo Sefolosha, while CJ Miles and Patrick Patterson will likely get paid too richly.

Rounding out the roster:

The Nets, after considering the above, will decide which players on options to bring back. I would speculate that half are back.  Nick Collison and Anthony Tolliver could be veterans to balance out the roster, as could Anthony Morrow or Brandon Rush.  Reggie Bullock, Christian Wood, and DeAndre Liggins could be fringe youth to consider, as could Jordan McRae.