The Nets face one of the biggest offseasons in their recent history in 2017. Sean Marks must move the needle for the Nets insofar as the rebuild is concerned (not in the win column, necessarily) by accruing assets or a base of players from which to attract free agents in future years.
The next phase of their offseason outlook brings me to the Chicago Bulls roster: what pieces can the Nets extract from Chicago’s pool of players and assets this summer?
The Bulls were 41-41 this year, and despite a great playoff start, they flamed out of the first round once Rajon Rondo went down. After a season of Jimmy Butler trade rumors and rumored Dwyane Wade angst, drama is high in Chicago. To complicate matters further, this Bulls front office has often placed making a splash or winning the headline over sustainable team building. The Hoiberg hire to change the offense, then signing Rondo and Wade despite their not fitting in his offense (but they’re big names!) highlighted that.
The first domino for the Bulls is Jimmy Butler. Since he is not free until 2019, the Bulls dealing him rather than using their flexibility to surround him would be ill advised. I believe the Bulls will reach the same conclusion. From there, the Bulls are faced with trying to upgrade despite Rondo and Wade’s gigantic holds on their cap and Mirotic’s restricted free agency. If all three stay the Bulls will largely be stuck in neutral.
So how does that all relate to the Nets?
For starters, do not expect the Bulls top quartet of Butler, Rondo, Wade, or Robin Lopez to become Nets. If the Bulls actully deal Butler, they will look for either a trove of picks the Nets lack, or win now pieces better than Brook Lopez and Jeremy Lin. Wade will either take the money on his player option, or leave to win more. Rondo is almost certain to be back after the Bulls looked downright good with him healthy in the playoffs, and pathetic when he went down; the Bulls have a team option. Robin is under contract, and a trade to Brooklyn makes little sense. The Bulls will likely look to win next year and will likely keep Robin around to help them do that, as he is useful at the 5.
Nikola Mirotic could and should be a piece to consider for the Nets. They need a stretch 4, and he is only 26. It can be easy to forget that he was a viable component of the 2015 team that was a LeBron turnaround 3 from going up 3-1 on the Cavs. He also started late in the year for these playoff bound Bulls. Signing Mirotic would be a gamble that a good fit in Brooklyn on paper – a stretch 4 in a motion offense – would thrive here. A model for success, while he is a better player, would be Ryan Anderson, who looks much better as a Rocket than Pelican because he fits much better.
Mirotic is phenomenally streaky, however, was downright bad this year before March, and while his rim protection is underrated his defense overall leaves something to be desired.
Still, Mirotic may represent the rare obtainable restricted free agent. The Bulls weird management group turns hard on players when it turns, and it turned on Mirotic, going from trying to make Thibodeau play him more to making him an afterthought, despite Hoiberg eventually starting him. He may be obtainable at a reasonable figure. The Bulls, if Wade stays especially, may worry that if they keep him next to Wade, Rondo, and Lopez, that they will largely be locked into the same roster as this past season.
Beyond Mirotic, the Nets should target Cristiano Felicio, who has thrived in Chicago as a rim running center who plays solid defense. A huge asset to a motion offense is a rim protecting big that allows you to go small at your other positions, and who can finish inside. Felicio can be that guy, and given he is unheralded, he may come at a reasonable figure. The Nets, in deciding what players to add, need to assess who out there may balk on keeping a piece. Last summer, Marks gambled that the Blazers wouldn’t want a near record setting payroll full of pieces like Crabbe, Turner, Aminu, and Harkles. He also gambled that keeping Wade would price the Heat out of keeping Tyler Johnson. Both gambles did not work out – but they were reasonable in foresight and represented a sound strategy regardless of the result.
The Bulls have a similar situation brewing, with Mirotic and Felicio. If the Bulls keep Butler, Lopez, Rondo, Wade, Mirotic, and Felicio, then that is largely it for them. They would be capped out with that core. After last season, they cannot possibly want that – right. They have to desire flexibility to add a bigger fish that fits next to Butler.
Trying to add one or both of Mirotic and Felicio is worth the Nets’ effort.
Beyond Mirotic and Felicio, there is the draft.
From there comes the draft. The Bulls have the 16th and 38th picks in the coming draft. The Nets should test the waters here on Jeremy Lin: would the Bulls take Lin and the 27 in exchange for the 16? That is something the Nets would have to strongly consider at the least: they need assets and better young talent. Lopez is worth testing the waters on as well, although the Bulls already have his brother, and moving to the 16 from 27 would not be fair value.
Lin could be a useful piece to the Bulls after they cratered with Rondo out. Their win now effort can certainly use higher quality point guard play. The Bulls likely seek a bigger fish to appease Butler, but the formula for the Nets in moving up in the draft is to target teams with higher picks and win now desires. The Bulls are likely one such team.
The rest of the Bulls pieces make little sense for the Nets.
As much as Anthony Morrow brings back fond memories, his defense makes him unplayable, and the Nets need developmental pieces, not veterans. He lacks the experience to be much of a mentor, although his status as an undrafted who stuck could be useful to the Nets fringe pieces.
Michael Carter-Williams’ plight has been depressing since his rookie year, and it seems he has passed the point of being redeemable.
Bulls management just overpaid to acquire Cameron Payne and spun it as a quality move despite the early results. They will not dump him now before seeing what he is.
Denzel Valentine was terrible as a rookie despite shooting better late in the year. He is only worth adding if the Bulls give him away; they will not.
Joffrey Lauvergne can shoot, but does next to nothing else. The Thunder needed shooting desperately and still did not hesitate to deal him this year, which is telling. Isaiah Canaan, similarly, is worthless.
Finally, Jerami Grant, Bobby Portis and Paul Zipser have played their way into or near the Bulls core, and are under contract at tiny figures that help the Bulls retain flexibility in their roster building.
All told, the Bulls will likely look to upgrade around Butler this summer. The Nets should see if Mirotic, Felicio, and the Bulls’s picks are available as the Bulls look to win now and chase grander options.