Nets Interest in George Hill: Don’t Count on It.

On an ESPN podcast, Brian Windhorst, in a conversation devoted to the Utah Jazz, referenced the Brooklyn Nets having potential interest in George Hill.  Windhorst did not rely on a source telling him the Nets were interested in Hill, but referenced what NBA executives, of other teams have been discussing with regard to the Nets.

Over on, Net Income transcribed portions of Windhorst’s conversation on the podcast in this regard.  As Windhorst stated, unnamed NBA executives essentially believe that the Nets may make a huge offer to Hill because he changed agents as, after Allen Crabbe and Tyler Johnson switched agent representation to the same agency, the Nets made bloated offers (totaling $125 million) to them.

As a point of emphasis, my commentary on Windhorst’s comments arises from my logic, as I do not have any source related to these issues.  I am simply analyzing Windhorst’s comments using my own knowledge as a NBA observer.

First, it should be emphasized: the basis for the belief that the Nets may target George Hill is that other teams’ GM’s believe they may.  I would not read much into that.  By definition, the GM’s of other teams do not know what the Nets are doing.  By the same token, the Nets do not know what the Lakers are doing, the Lakers do not know what the Bulls are doing, and the Bulls do not know what the Hawks are doing.  By definition, that is the entire idea: the NBA’s teams are in direct competition and are not telling each other what they are doing.  Accordingly, I would not believe that the Nets are interested in George Hill because other teams’ executives have speculated to Windhorst in that regard.

Second, the basis these GM’s have for believing that the Nets may want Hill is rather odd. The GM’s are not hearing through backchannels that the Nets want Hill.  They are not pointing to prior moves, or discussing the Nets plan as they see it.  Rather, they believe essentially, that the Nets sought to add Crabbe and Johnson after they retained a particular agent, that Hill retained this agent, and that this will cause the Nets to drive Hill’s price up — as they did with Crabbe and Johnson — by making him a similarly hefty offer.  The unnamed team executives come off as believing that the Nets are both targeting this agent’s players, and actively trying to drive prices up for other teams.

That theory is, in short, odd.  One reality of the NBA business, sure, is that teams do favors for agents all the time.  This is a people business, and surely there is a good amount of “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” going on.  But it is one thing to, if you are the Cavs, for example, sign a 12th man who is represented by Rich Paul (LeBron’s agent) instead of a similar 12th man of another agent, to keep Paul happy.  That is a tiny move, and the favor may outweigh any small difference in such lowly regarded players. It is quite another matter, however, to commit $125 million to two players, just to make an agent happy.  Those are dramatic commitments that a team is not going to make unless they believe in the players at issue.  It is much more likely that the Nets figured “we like these guys, and with Wade and Dragic in Miami, and Lillard and McCollum in Portland, Miami and Portland may balk at these offer sheets.

Accordingly, it is a stretch to believe that the Nets were looking to serve an agent’s interests through these deals, rather than their own.  An equal stretch, from these unnamed executives, is their assumption that the offers to Crabbe and Johnson portend a hefty offer to Hill.  Since Marks has been hired, he has, by all accounts, dumped Joe Johnson, traded Thaddeus Young for a first rounder, traded Bojan Bogdanovic for a first rounder in a deal where he ate bad money just to get the pick, and sought two first round picks for Brook Lopez.  In addition, Marks preserved cap space to take bad money on this year, rather than spend through his coffers last summer. Those moves plainly come across as a GM looking to rebuild, not a GM looking to win games in the present.

Sure, Crabbe and Johnson were offered large salaries.  They are also 24 year olds, whom Marks sought to pay for their age 24-28 seasons.  By contrast, when faced with paying Bojan through his age 28 through 32 seasons, Marks sent him packing for cost controlled youth.

Simply put, NOTHING about Marks’ plan, in dumping veterans for picks and kids, is indicative of a GM planning to make a major offer to Hill for his age 31-35 seasons.  Hill is six years older than Crabbe and Johnson — seven if you include this past year (since the signing would be one year later).  Absolutely nothing about trying to secure the pre-prime, under 25 Crabbe and Johnson portends a desire to secure a post-prime, over 31 George Hill.

This begs the question: why do opposing GM’s see the moves as interrelated?  The answer appears simple: never underestimate the ability of the NBA’s 30 franchises, given how competitive they are, to be petty, vindictive, and angry at other teams.

Sometimes, teams get angry over big events, like when Dan Gilbert flipped out about CP3 to the Lakers.  But sometimes, teams become bitter over moves that do not even register on fans’ radar, like when several NBA executives were incensed that the Heat bought out Beno Udrih to escape the luxury tax in 2016.

The unnamed GM’s Windhorst references speaking with: it feels like they harbor resentment toward Brooklyn over their offers to Crabbe and Johnson.  By offering them so much money, the Nets obviously caused Miami and Portland to shell out a ton to match, but also drove the price for other guards up, and teams are certainly aware of that over the long term.  Other agents in the coming summers will say “I want $80 million, my guy is better than Crabbe,” or “my guy has done more than Johnson did so $60 million better be on the table.”  One can foresee a GM bitter at the Nets, saying “they do not have a shot at winning for years, and all they did is drive up our prices just to do these guys a favor. They must want to price us out of the market when they are relevant in two years. And maybe they think (this agency) will just give them a player.”

The reality of the matter, of course, is the Nets did nothing wrong trying to pry Crabbe and Johnson. When a player (like them) is one year from restricted free agency, the team can avoid the process entirely, if the team is willing to give the player an extension by the prior Halloween.  The Warriors did this with Klay Thompson, for example.  Another way to avoid restricted free agency without an extension, in a way, is, when July 1 hits, telling your player you want him back and resigning him before other teams become involved, as the Pistons did with Drummond last summer.

If you do not act proactively, then you leave your restricted free agent in a spot where he has to test the market, and get an offer sheet from someone else.  If you do that, you cannot be bitter, or angry, when “someone else” makes the player an offer, and attempts to pry the player from you. You had every opportunity to avoid that scenario and CHOSE not to.  Really, when Mickey Arison proclaimed that “you’re not poaching any of my guys,” it was nothing but grandstanding.  In reality, the Heat could have locked Johnson up way before the Nets got involved; they chose not to, and they chose to let him find an offer sheet elsewhere.

The Nets, in simply trying to add players, did nothing wrong here.

Alas, bitterness over the Nets’ hefty offers seems to be exactly what these unnamed GM’s who spoke with Windhorst are referencing, in their belief that the Nets will now try to make a big offer to Hill.  Really, in what other prism does this make sense?  Under Marks’ plan of adding young talent under 25, it makes no sense.  Under the premise of large offers to 24 year olds, an offer to a 31 year old makes no sense.  Patting an agent’s back to do a favor through $125 million in contractual commitments? That makes no sense either.  However, a narrative that the Nets are trying to screw others’ teams by driving up prices, and will do the same with Hill?  When you frame the unnamed executives’ comments that way, they have some logic to them.

Essentially, you just get the feeling that these unnamed GM’s are bitter at the Nets for driving the market up when they are condemned to their losing state, and making things harder on other teams.  And it seems like they worked backwards from there, to craft this narrative that the Nets are committed to spending their time offering as much money as possibleclients of Crabbe and Johnson’s agent.

Unnamed GM’s essentially believe that the Nets’ large offers to Crabbe and Johnson portend a large offer to George Hill.  But once you take those beliefs apart, they make little if any sense.



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