Evaluating Sean Marks’ Tenure, and Wondering What Trades Comes Next

Ever since Sean Marks arrived in Brooklyn, much of his tenure has been positively received.

To be clear, there is good reason for that. The evaluation of GM’s is based on two components. One is results. After all, the goal is to build winners, and GM’s select the players. It is incumbent on a GM to make the correct choices in the draft, to find players that fit, and to sell stars on their program. 

At the same time, results do not tell the entire picture – especially in rebuilding situations where results are not yet expected. Grading GM’s on their process also accounts for the fact that much team success, or lack thereof, is outside a GM’s control. Is David Griffin an elite GM? Or did LeBron just decide to go to Cleveland independent of him, thereby putting him on third base to start the job? On the other end of the spectrum, is Rich Cho a bad GM in Charlotte, or is he doing well despite bad lottery luck and unreasonable ownership win now mandates?

No GM can guarantee results, good or bad. All GM’s should be evaluated on whether they instill a good process. A GM instills good process by making move types and having a strategy that are sensible given the organization’s timeline and place on the arc of contention, by building a productive culture, and by having a modern vision. 

These are areas where Billy King failed, essentially by making the Boston trade – the type of trade that only makes sense if it will bring you a 55 win team for at least three years. The trade clearly did anything but. 

Marks does deserve credit for his bringing a good process to Brooklyn. He has properly recognized that the Nets are years from contention, and he has properly pursued moves that fit that timeline – stockpiling draft picks, acquiring and developing as many young players as possible, and using cap space to rent for more young players instead of on middling free agents. He has created a culture of high character for his young players to grow, and properly avoided players with talent or veterans who do not fit those values. And he has brought a modern, pace and space offense to Brooklyn that, if it is one day led by high level talent, would be a perfect fit for big time NBA success. 

However, it must be noted: this is a results business, so none of that is enough to declare that Marks is a good GM. To get there, he will have to turn this around. 

In that regard, it is too early to declare that any of Marks’ notable moves have been successes or failures. Many of these moves will take years to evaluate. 

The D’Angelo Russell trade? Good process for sure (you deal 29 year old centers and the 27 pick for a kid with that much upside in a rebuild), but given the investment in Mozgov’s contract to add Russell, Russell’s ultimate outcome as a player must be really good to vindicate the deal. Dealing Bojan for a first than choosing to use that first on  Jarrett Allen over Kyle Kuzma and others (the Nets did not deal Kuzma for Russell, Kuzma was on the board when the Nets drafted, but they did choose Allen over him)? Good process, but the result only works if Allen outplays those selected below him over time. Thad for a pick that Nets chose to use on Caris LeVert? Good process, but Caris must vindicate the decision to pass on those below him – to date the results are uninspiring.  Absorbing Allen Crabbe? Understandable given his age but the results are also to be determined.

With that, my take on Marks is that he has the correct approach, but we do not know if he is a Good or bad GM yet. 

How Marks navigates from here will go a long way to showing if Marks is good at this. The major question. How will he navigate the Nets’ much underdiscussed salary cap dilemma. 

As of now, assuming Jeremy Lin opts in given his injury, the Nets have $84,559,900 in guaranteed salary in 2018-2019, going to ten players: Russell, Lin, Dinwiddie, Crabbe, LeVert, Hollis-Jefferson, Carroll, Mozgov, Allen, and the Raptors’ first rounder they acquired(this assumes, as now, the pick would fall at 20). That leaves them with $18.4 million in cap room if they renounced all free agents – enough to add a rotation player, but nothing close to a star. That is not a lot of flexibility, for a team that is currently not close to playoff caliber.

Going forward more problems arise. In 2019-2020, the Nets will have, assuming a GENEROUS cap increase to $108 million, about $60.2 million in cap space, with a roster of Crabbe, LeVert, Mozgov, Allen, and the Raptors pick at 20. However, accounting for cap holds for Russell, RHJ, Dinwiddie, and the Nets’ draft pick (assuming they pick 10th, which frankly is ambitious) drags that number closer to $31 million. Accordingly, the Nets will have room for a near max player, but not an authentic superstar, in 2019. 

Heading into 2020, factor in salaries for $22 million for Russell and $11 million for RHJ and Dinwiddie apiece (again, being ambitious – they can easily earn more, especially Russell), the Nets cap numbers, factoring in their 2018-2020 picks, would provide for $63 million in salaries before addressing LeVert’s free agency. That would require relinquishing Crabbe after his three years under Atkinson. That would further require the Nets adding no players to the core that they choose to retain, thus relying on Russell, LeVert, Dinwiddie, RHJ, Allen, and their 2018, 2019, and 2020 first rounders. Keep Crabbe, or players like Harris and Whitehead, and things become even cloudier. 

From there, in 2021, DLO, RHJ, LeVert, Dinwiddie, and Allen would take up as much as 70% of the salary cap? If that core is not a 45 win core – and as of now it is hard to envision it becoming one – how can Marks justify that type of investment.  

Such an investment would result in a harsh reality where the Nets are stuck with their core, a core that to date has been near the bottom of the league, and stuck with no clear routes to contention. 

Continuity is not a bad thing. That is true. But in short, if a Russell-LeVert-Dinwiddie-RHJ-Allen core cannot, without major, star level reinforcements surrounding it, win games, the Nets cannot pay all five players their market value when their rookie deals expire between 2019 and 2022.

Some may feel that, given the way young players develop, that the Nets should simply pay all of these players. Then, if it’s not working, ship them out later? Nevertheless, look no further than the Crabbe deal, and the Blazers’ payroll saddled roster, to see that paying a rookie extension then trading the player is easier said than done. The Blazers cannot dump any of their middling young players without attaching assets, or in the case of Crabbe absorbing bad money. 

The best time to get value for a young player is on their rookie deal, when teams get them cheap and control the decisions they may make on them. Does Marks need to start moving players tomorrow? No. But he needs to start assessing their market value so that decisions can be made prior to the summer of 2019, when these players still have authentic trade value given their small salaries.

The reality facing Marks is he will need to make financial decisions on this core. Those business decisions extend to every single player on the roster. Despite Marks’s and Kenny Atkinson’s praise of many on the roster, there are no untouchables. Be honest with yourself: besides LeBron, Curry, Durant, Harden, Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and maybe another couple of players, who in the NBA is untouchable? Certainly not a single Net. 

Marks has not shied from business decisions as GM yet. Despite effusive praise by him and Atkinson of players like Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Bojan Bogdanovic, Marks shipped them away once he found deals he felt appropriate. However, it must be noted that it is easier to deal players you inherit, than players you acquire and build into talents. 

Time will tell if Marks spots the financial issues the Nets have down the road 

Advertisements

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.