As the NBA playoffs approach their conclusion, the rumor mill has begun to swirl, if only mildly. And once the buzzer hits on the last game of the Finals, a huge 6 weeks begins for the Brooklyn Nets as they try to dig out from under the mess they created in 2013.
You cannot win in the NBA without a star; every team that won a playoff series this season had a player on one of the three All NBA teams. With that, the Nets need to do anything they can to find a star.
Having the 22, 27, and 57 picks in a good draft is a start. Good players fall outside the lottery. After all, theee NBA players were second round picks and four more were not lottery picks. However, history tells us that the best chance, mathematically, of adding a star, is at or near the top of the draft.
Accordingly, the Nets need to do anything they can to move up. In addition, the Nets need to maximize the number of picks they have. After all, between Isaiah Thomas at 60, Draymond Green in the second round, and Jimmy Butler at pick 30, all picks matter, and the more shots you have the more likely you will connect.
Why try to add a star in the draft? Because that is the most likely place to do so. Star free agents only want to sign where they believe they can win – that makes the Nets a non factor on the market in that regard, given their 20-62 record. In addition, stars on the trade market, as they decide where they will resign or not, dictate the game as to where they will go, just like free agents do. That, coupled with the Nets’ asset scarcity, does not make them a player for stars on the trade market.
That is why the Nets need to turn to the draft. The highest probability chance of building a winner, for any team, is to draft a winning core, and then use free agency and trades to supplement the core. Winners are not built on the free agency market. Even the recent winners reliant on signing LeBron James had a Wade, or Kyrie and number one pick to dangle for Love, in the hopper.
Just take a look at the cores of 8 teams that advanced in the playoffs this year.
The Warriors drafted their title winning core and drew Durant that way. The Cavs drafted Kyrie, LeBron was attracted to that, and a draft pick was used to acquire Love. The Celtics drafted Bradley Smart Olynyk, and Brown, acquired Thomas with a pick, acquired Crowder cheaply for a player it drafted, and Horford was attracted to that core. The Wizards drafted Wall Beal and Porter, the Spurs Leonard Parker Manu and Mills (to whom Aldridge was attracted).
In addition, the Raptors drafted DeRozan and added Lowry by dealing a pick. The Jazz drafted Hayward, Gobert, and Hood, dealt for a rookie Favors, and dealt a pick for Hill once ready to win. The Rockets acquired Harden for picks in what was a freak trade – and the single worst trade in NBA history.
By and large, the evidence bears out that you have to draft your core and use free agency and trades as a supplement. The list of contenders that had a bad roster and bought a team on the market reads as follows: __________.
So with that, the Nets should do close to anything they can to both move up in the draft and add picks in the draft.
The question then becomes: what opportunities will they have to do that? To answer that, here is a look at all 60 picks this June, and whether there may be something there.
1-4: Boston, Los Angeles (L), Philadelphia, Phoenix – forget about it. The Nets lack the ammo to acquire these picks. These 4 will either pick players or trade for massive Paul George like names. Move it along.
Potential option #1: 5 and 10: Sacramento: there most likely is nothing here. The Kings dealing DeMarcus Cousins for Heild and picks signals a rebuild. And Brook Lopez is just not good enough for the Kings to deal a top 10 pick pick, especially with Cauley-Stein in house. Lin is an upgrade for Sacramento at point guard but they would be ill advised to deal down to 22 for his services – it’s just not worth it. However, the Kings are prone to doing stupid things. File this away as remote, but not impossible.
6, 25: Orlando: there likely is nothing here. Usually a new GM hire is given time, and that makes me believe the new hire will launch a rebuild and keep the picks, rather than deal for veteran help.
7: Potential option # 2: Minnesota: I can see this pick being in play. Tom Thibodeau is likely, as a coach, desirous of accelerating the process behind KAT in year 3. Brook Lopez makes no sense next to Towns, and Jeremy Lin is not worth the 7th pick, so I do not see a trade here that makes sense. However, dual role GM-coaches often do stupid things to win in the short term. Brooklyn should explore if the Wolves are desperate for an upgrade and undersell on their pick. File this as highly unlikely but not impossible.
8: New York: given Phil’s seeming fixation with running Melo out of town I do not see the Knicks dealing this pick for “win now” talent. There is likely nothing here.
9: Dallas: file this away as unlikely. The Mavs seem committed to rebuilding given their shedding of Bogut and Deron. However, having signed Harrison Barnes, Dallas shifting gears into “let’s surround Dirk” mode isn’t out of the question. However, Brook is not an option with Noel in house. And Lin is just not worth the Mavs dealing from 9-22.
Potential option #3: 11, Charlotte: This has always felt like the option with the most legs. Charlotte is in win because rebuilding in a small market kills revenue mode, and keep Kemba Walker happy mode. Brook Lopez would be a big upgrade for their front court and the Hornets could sell that Kemba Batum Brook MKG forms a playoff core. Brook and the 22 for the 11 is likely not enough value for the Nets but is the starting point for a potential deal.
Potential Option #4: 12, Pistons: There should not be anything here if the Pistons are smart, but dual role GM’s often are not. Maybe the Pistons would trade down to secure Jeremy Lin. Maybe they would trade Drummond for Lopez, believe it’s an upgrade, and fork the 12 over. Neither makes sense for Detroit but the Nets should make some calls here.
13, Denver: There is nothing here. Lopez is not a fit with Jokic and the Nuggets have no reason to add Lin with Murray and Mudiay in house. The Plumlee trade also signaled that the Nuggets are at a point where they do not believe late first rounders are good enough to help them.
14, Miami: With Whiteside and Dragic in tow the Nets cannot make them better to warrant trading down. Move it along.
The Rest of Round 1:
Potential Option #5: 15, 20, 26, Portland: With such elite guards and Nurkic coming on, there is no place for Lopez or Lin here, and they traded RHJ to Brooklyn. With that, there is likely nothing here. Still, with three firsts, limited roster spots, and a summer that did not go as planned, the Nets should make calls – there is smoke here.
However, I worry the smoke is not fire because the Blazers have little incentive to salary dump pieces right now, and Portland dealing Plumlee for a first rounder highlighted a desire to rebuild with youth – they are less likely to dump a first than many believe. As for the “need” to salary dump guys, there is no team building benefit. When the Blazers retained all of their RFA’s last summer the idea was simple: we don’t know if these are core guys going forward but retaining them, and trading down the line if they’re not core guys, beats letting them walk for nothing.
The Blazers derive no benefit from a money dump because thy are over $30 million above the cap. The Blazers would need to clear $45 million or so just to have a CHANCE to add a replacement piece in free agency – salary dumps do not help them. if I were Portland I would only trade pieces like Crabbe for value in return. Meyers Leonard may be poor, and a popular money dump name, but why hemorrhage assets to dump him, when you cannot sign a replacement this summer due to your cap situation? Why not try to rehab his value this year? Worst case, he sputters, and you salary dump him next summer — with one less year on his deal, and therefore requiring less assets to send out.
All of this is the long way of saying I do not see a Nets-Blazers deal that makes sense in Portland. But with so many moving parts the Nets need to be on the phone.
16, Chicago: The Bulls in their postseason presser cited a desire to rebuild. That does not come off as a team willing to trade down in round 1. And the Bulls lack a spot for Lopez or Lin. Dealing the 16 pick for RHJ is unwise. But Marks can always ask.
Possible option #6; 17, Bucks: I would not deal with the Nets if I were Milwaukee. With Giannis ball handling, Brogdon thriving, and Delly under contract, Lin is of no use. While Lopez is an upgrade who fits, the Bucks should hoard their cap space and sell stars on a chance to pair with Giannis. Trading Brook for the 17 would be a start, if the Bucks decide to add talent at a weaker position right now, but the Nets would need a whole lot more than that.
Possible option #7, 18, Pacers: the Pacers would be ill advised to deal this pick for a short term upgrade but desperate times often breed dumb measures. If the Pacers are hellbent on an upgrade they may see Lin as a helpful addition for the 18 pick. The Nets would be wise to consider this.
Possible option #8, 19, Hawks: Lin is not a fit. But with Dwight unhappy maybe Lopez to Atlanta is possible. The 19 is a start on the return package, but more would be required. And RHJ for the 19 is an option.
21, Oklahoma City: the Thunder have a major salary crunch and value cost control very highly. The chance they deal this pick for Lopez approaching UFA (a scourge in their eyes), or for Lin with Russ in house, is less than remote.
Possible option #9, 23, Raptors: the Raptors are in a salary crunch but want to retool for next year. Getting out from DeMarre Carroll’s salary would help, so the Nets should see if the 23 is on the market as compensation.
Possible option #10: #24, #30, Jazz: the Jazz are good, but it is unclear how this core gets further than that and passes Golden State out west without upgrades. To upgrade on the market would require having space to spend beyond what they have now. A salary dump involving Alec Burks or even Derrick Favors could accomplish that and for a first the Nets would have to jump.
Possible option #11: #28, Lakers: I discussed this at length in my last piece but if the Lakers salary dump mozgov or Deng this is where you try to exploit an asset.
Possible option #12: #29, Spurs: The Spurs are huge on developing late picks so this is unlikely. However, if a big time free agent like CP3 or Lowry commits the Spurs may be in a numbers crunch to make it work. The Nets should help them alleviate such a crunch if that happens … for a charge.
31, Atlanta: Picks this high in the round likely are not for sale but this pick could be part of a larger package.
32, Phoenix: the Suns tanked with a fierce commitment and will keep this pick.
Possible option 13: 33, 35, Orlando: I expect Orlando to keep these picks because they need cheap young talent. But with 25 also in house perhaps Orlando packages picks for a piece like RHJ.
34, Sacramento: see the Hawks at 31. Likely not for sale.
Possible option 14, 36, 39, 46, 50 Philadelphia: The Sixers have 14 players in the fold before this draft and may look to be players in free agency. I could see Brian Colangelo devaluing second rounders and allowing a team like Brooklyn to cheaply poach them by packaging their 57 pick with cash to move up.
Possible option 15, 37, 53, 56 Boston: Boston has 8 roster spots to fill, but with their eyes on big fish and some critical internal free agents, they may decide they cannot carry three second rounders. The Nets should look to capitalize.
Possible option 16, 38, Chicago: The Bulls should keep this pick if their rebuilding desires are sincere but the Bulls often are not, and they are quietly cheap. The Nets may be able to parlay the 57 and cash into this pick.
Possible option 17, 40, New Orleans: The Pelicans should keep this pick as they need to develop more young talent. But they are thinking big picture team building around Brow and Cousins and their organization does not value picks. The Nets should pursue acquiring it.
Possible option 18. 41, Charlotte: the Hornets should keep this pick, but ditto as with NO here. And maybe this is part of a package to acquire the 11 for Brook.
Possible option 19. 42, 55, Utah: Last year the Nets got Whitehead by dealing the 55 and cash to Utah for the 42. Utah simply had nowhere to fit the mid second on a loaded roster. De ja vu?
Possible option 20. 43, Houston: see Utah at 42.
44, 58 Knicks: I expect the Knicks to keep this picks in spinning a youth movement. Unless it’s genuine this time.
47, Pacers: the Pacers need all the help they can get right now. I do not expect them to deal this pick for cash.
Possible option 21. 48, Bucks: I can see ownership in Milwaukee not valuing picks under Kidd’s stewardship. Or see this as a component of a Lopez trade with the 17 pick.
Possible option 22. 49, 51, Nuggets: the Nuggets sold Gobert for cash in 2013. They have a roster crunch and the 49 pick will not play for them next year. These pick are ripe for sale.
Possible option 23. 52, Wizards: the Wizards notoriously do not value picks under Grunfeld and dump late picks for cash or little else. This pick could be moved.
Possible options 24-26. Suns at 54, Spurs and Hawks at 59-60: Picks this low in the draft are ripe for sale. And should not be beneath the Nets as they need every asset they can put their hands on.