You can love or hate Sean Marks. You can be indifferent.
Regardless, Sunday was a tough day for Marks and the Nets. Despite investing heavily in Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson, the Blazers and Heat respectively matched both contracts.
The result: the Nets now have $35 million in cap room, pending what they paid new signee Greivis Vasquez, and little to spend it on.
Still, the Nets plan to try to add Crabbe and Johnson was a worthy, justifiable endeavor. Here is why.
I. Who else was available?
Expect the Nets to get someone better than Crabbe or Johnson? Check what has happened in free agency thus far.
Kevin Durant and LeBron James: hah. Kent Bazemore met the Nets and others, but decided not to become a Net or leave Atlanta. Al Horford didn’t get that far with Brooklyn. Evan Fournier never hit the market. Bismack Biyombo plays your best player’s position, as do Cole Aldrich and Al Jefferson. A team trying to be younger and build a hard working culture should not add Dwight Howard and Rajon Rondo.
Timofey Mozgov, Ian Mahinmi, Solomon Hill, Jeff Green, Jon Leuer, Harrison Barnes, Ryan Anderson, and Evan Turner were overpays. Luol Deng arguably was too, and does not fit the timeline of a younger group; nor does Mirza Teletovic. Matthew Dellavedova is a nice player, but he’s not Crabbe or Johnson, and received a big deal. Tim Frazier stayed with the Pelicans team that found him. Andrew Bogut wanted to play with a perceived winner, as did Chandler Parsons and perhaps Boris Diaw (the Spurs perhaps accommodated him with the deal).
Veterans like Pau Gasol, Richard Jefferson, Zaza Pachulia, David West, and perhaps Joe Johnson, Joakim Noah, and Courtney Lee, were hellbent on playing with a winner. Dwyane Wade was only going to Chicago.
Other veterans, like Nene, signed cap friendly deals, but the Nets are not in win now mode, and you can find a vet later in free agency — like the Nets just did with Vasquez. Brandon Jennings is not helping your youth develop, and has done nothing other than have a catchy name people can identify. Why sign veterans like Gerald Henderson, Jerryd Bayless, Arron Afflalo, Brandon Rush, and Jason Smith who barely move your program to multiyear deals? The goal with a vet is to help show professionalism to your kids…which a vet who isn’t affecting future flexibility can do.
Perhaps the Nets missed out on pieces like Andrew Nicholson, Langston Galloway, and James Ennis. None, however, is a starter, and other than arguably Galloway, who is more of a seventh man, none are close. To forego opportunities to sign pieces of this caliber because you identified a starting caliber shooting guard in Crabbe who you would like to bring in as a 23 year old to grow with your organization, and a potential sixth man or low end starter in Johnson to do the same, is a fine risk.
A risk that may have worked out, for the record. The Nets’ offer for Crabbe was overwhelming. Portland nearly balked. As for Johnson, he only is not a Net because Pat Riley decided to stop building around Wade — nobody saw that coming.
II. The Offers reveal a defined plan
The nets are not spending their money willy nilly. Unlike Thaddeus Young — a good player — Crabbe and Johnson are younger pieces who, over a long term period, can develop and grow. The Nets NEED sources of internal development and tried to find two sources here. The Nets have simply decided that with only so much money to go around, they want to pay pieces like that, not pieces who cannot help the organization get better by improving over time. That is a worthy endeavor.
III. The Vasquez signing is exciting not because of Vasquez …
But because it reinforces a disciplined commitment to the Nets’ plan. The worst thing a team can do, after losing out on a target, is make a panic “save face” signing, to say that they got SOMEONE. The quintessential panic move: the Wizards finished second or third in the Al Horford sweepstakes. Moments after losing out, they gave $64 million to Ian Mahinmi; Mahinmi is not worth that figure and his fit with Marcin Gortat is unclear. Simply, the Wizards panicked and said “after that, we need to get someone.”
Vasquez, a 29 year old on a one year deal, clearly is not a panic signing. A slightly smaller offer sheet to a poor choice to add to the organization? That would have been.
Vasquez will give the Nets some production, and a veteran to help mentor their kids . . . without saddling their books long term.
IV. So What’s Next
Even assuming a $10 million commitment to Vasquez over one year, the Nets would have 11-13 players in house (depending on if you count the partial guarantees), and $25 million in room. The Nets would likely wish t add young talent to grow with, but options may be limited, and the Nets cannot spend recklessly and kill future flexibility.
Tyler Zeller is a sleeper of a free agent. Dion Waiters, for all the criticism, was a useful part for a 55 win group last year. He can be useful, but the Nets would need to be prudent with the salary, arguably even the years, there. Moe Harkless is out there, but again, prudence would be wise. Donatas Motiejunas is a piece to be careful with because of severe back issues, as is Terrence Jones; Jones flat out has been bad for over one year. Jared Sullinger has talent, but money and years again are an issue.
Further down the line, PJ Hairston is a young wing with talent who cannot put it together or stick anywhere; he could be worth a look. Luis Scola, Anderson Varejao, Tayshaun Prince, and Matt Bonner are all good veterans for your kids to learn from. Christian Wood is a speculative young talent worth a look. Anthony Bennett is close to his last chance but not quite there yet.
Another subject for another day and article: the Nets timeline is set back a little by not getting Crabbe and Johnson. Trading Brook Lopez, or Bojan Bogdanovic to avoid paying him next summer, is no guarantee, but at least has to be discussed.