Sean Marks’ Plan Makes Sense

Want an impossible job? Swap places with Sean Marks. 

Everyone knows the specifics, so there is no need to go into terrible detail. The Nets went 21-61 last year yet owed their next 3 first draft picks (one via swap) to Boston, with even more second rounders out the window. They did this with two starters in their thirties and no core piece under 25 other than a non lottery pick who missed most of the year injured. 

The last time a team was in such bad condition asset wise was the early 1980s; when the Cavaliers were owned by Ted Stepien. The NBA literally changed its rules and provided help to the Cavs to help them dig out.

Yes, that is how bad of shape the team was that Marks inherited. With no draft picks, tank and pick high was no option. Nor, frankly, was manipulate the market to sign bigtime free agents — those players want to win, and did not even grant meetings to the Nets. 

Marks knew heading into this offseason that he needed to build the Nets into a 30-40 win team, instead of a 20-30 win team, to pique free agent interest in the future. He also knew, however, that doing that is not enough — he also needed to do that while retaining the financial and asset flexibility to take that next step to the 45-55 win level, as opposed to hitting a plateau. 

To achieve that, everything Marks has done made sense. 

The offer sheets to Crabbe and Johnson

It is easy to criticize the offer sheets without analysis: Marks did not get the players. However, that shallow analysis ignores the logic behind the offer sheets that justified their being given out.

Yes, players like Chris McCullough, Isaiah Whitehead, and others may have NBA futures. How we, their ability to become critical components of a good NBA team is unclear. There is nothing wrong with the Nets adding pieces like that, speculative additions in the hope some young players pop, even though others kick the bucket.

But you simply cannot build a team around fringe youth. You need either lottery picks, or young players who have a proven ability to produce. Marks cannot obtain the former, not unless he deals Brook Lopez, and to do that would be to descend to 10 win territory, yet still have a dramatic pick deficit.

So Marks shot for the latter. He made every effort to recruit quality youth into his program — youth that has proven its ability and has plenty of potential to grow with the organization. He committed a combined $31.25 million per year over 4 years to attempt to coax a balk from the Heat and Blazers. It would be hard to expect bigger offers than that. 

The offers, while rebuffed, reflect Marks’ plan. He wants to address the lack of young talent by adding young talent on the market that can grow and improve, internally, post acquisition. 

The Thaddeus Young trade once again.

The plan explains the unpopular Thad Young trade. As always with this deal it must be noted: Young is a good player, a nice fourth or fifth starter on a good team. He is better than any power forward the Nets have. His deal is cap friendly. And when viewing his deal together with the Jazz dealing the 12 pick for George Hill (who is a bit better than Thad), and The Hornets dealing the 22 pick for Marco Belinelli (who is clearly worse than Thad), you can argue the Nets should have gotten a pick closer to 15 than 20. 

Still, picking five mid first picks later is not a terrible value loss. More importantly, assume the Nets two offer sheets were not matched and they kept Thad. Sub out Booker and LeVert (obviously), and one or Scola or Vasquez (due to cap constraints), and the roster would be capped out.

Then, in 2017?  The Nets would have around 10 million in cap room to spend on free agents; around $7.4 million if RHJ and McCullough were retained. That would not factor in Bogdanovic, a free agent – nor his cap hold. $7.4 million gets you an E’Twaun Moore, a DJ Augustin.

In short: if the Nets kept Thad and hit on their offer sheets, that’s it. What you saw next year would be what you get with the Nets, going forward. 

Marks did not want to be in that position and that is why Thad is not a Net. Thad would have helped the Nets win games, in the immediate term. In the long term, however, you can only pay so many non superstars, and the Nets prioritized players who, unlike Thad, have room to grow and improve — Thad is good but also is what he is. The Nets value Brook higher than Thad. They value Lin higher than Thad – a debatable choice but a reasonable one given the importance of quality guard play. 

And they also value the youth they hope to add to the roster to grow with the roster — the youth they know they need — over Thad.

More Crabbe and Johnson: why not say yes to other restricted free agents

An obvious Plan B to Crabbe and Johnson: giving free agents like Moe Harkless, Dion Waiters, or the like. That however does not make sense. 

The idea in signing Crabbe and Johnson was that the multiyear, and big dollar, commitments, reflected a belief that they could be part of the future core. There is no value to the Nets in paying pieces who they do not perceive as future core pieces, merely because “that is what is out there.” Such contracts become the precise bad contracts teams look to get out from under. 

Giving Harkless $50 million because prior offers failed may “save face” in the short run. But when it hamstrings you next summer and, as he is a 4 and your goal is to get high level talent at the 1-3 spots, does not significantly move the needle, does that save of face matter, at all? 

Giving out big money to talent that helps is absolutely something Marks wants to do; hence the offer sheets. It would be foolish to spend for the sake of it because you only regret that later. 

This is why you are seeing the one year deals the Nets have given out this week; if a player is not a program mover, he cannot get big years on a deal. If that means losing out on a player, then best of luck elsewhere.

Indeed, the Nets one year deals do not show an unwillingness to get and pay players – but an unwillingness to pay players who are not perceived as program movers.

One last Crabbe and Johnson note: who better was available to the Nets

For one last time, the Crabbe and Johnson offers were fine gambles. In addition, the “loss of targets by putting all eggs in one basket” that some are worried about, is dramatically overstated. 

Here is a nice free agent list by Tom Ziller of sbnation, for those who wish to peruse: http://www.sbnation.com/2016/6/28/12029662/nba-free-agents-list-ranking-rumors-2016-kevin-durant

Even a simple look at that list shows that the Nets did not forego any significant targets (only program movers are significant targets) by going after Crabbe and Johnson.

The Nets did not have a shot with the following players: LeBron (obvious); Durant (obvious); Drummond (Detroit would not let him leave as an RFA); Conley, Parsons and Gasol (they only met with winning teams); Bazemore (he met the Nets and they were a finalist); Horford (he declined Nets meetings); DeRozan (he was committed to Toronto); Marvin Williams (he met the Nets and chose to remain a Hornet); Wade (it was down to Heat-Bulls); Dirk and Manu (they’re lifers); Batum (he never truly hit the open market); Fournier, Clarkson, and Beal (they never hit the market);

The following critical signings play Brook’s position: Whiteside; Biyombo; Ezeli

The following players are bad fits when trying to build a culture from the ground up around impressionable young players: Dwight, Rondo, Stephenson

The following players are not program movers: 

Do you want Harrison Barnes at $94 million over 4? Joakim Noah AT 72 over 4. Eric Gordon at 53 over 4. Ryan Anderson at 80 over 4  and Evan Turner at 75 over 4. 

Translation: it is so easy to say tha the Nets by committing to the two RFA’s missed out on other targets. But simple, quick scrutiny shows that this is not the case 

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