We are almost a full day into free agency. And while the league is buzzing, the Nets have not one one single transaction. Naturally, the lack of moves has created some level of angst among the Nets’ fanbase. To an extent, that is human nature. Fans like, and crave, news. Fans want to see that the team is “doing something” to get better.
However, Sean Marks understands what should be a simple principle: it is better to do nothing, than to do something bad that hurts the franchise. One only needs to consider the 2013 Boston trade to see this in action. The 2012-2013 Nets were not contenders. And the Nets “did something” to get better. They’d have been better off doing absolutely nothing, and quite literally elected to bring the entire 2012-2013 Nets team back in 2013-2014.
In this regard, Sam Presti, the GM of the Oklahoma City Thunder, spoke after the NBA Draft about whether the Thunder would be active. His quote, as transcribed by the Thunder Reddit page, was rather instructive:
“Now, will we go out and look at every opportunity? Yes, we will. We’ll look at every opportunity. Because that’s what we’ve done over the course of time. But, unless somebody is willing to give us exactly what we want for limited return, or for a return that we feel comfortable with, we have no alternative other than to continue to be head down, sleeves up, working to get better with this group of players.”
Presti essentially was saying, “if there is something out there that makes us better, we will do it. If not, we will do nothing.”
And that is smart. Sure, Marks has not yet stepped into the fray. However, ask yourself about every deal struck so far. Either the Nets had no way of getting involved, or getting involved would have been unwise:
1: Situations the Nets in no way could enter:
-Steph Curry’s and Blake Griffin’s mammoth contracts: Both players were clearly staying put where they are. No suitor, Nets included, could have changed that.
-The Paul George trade: The Pacers (for some asinine reason) clearly value Oladipo and Sabonis. The Nets could not match that package because they do not have a young veteran like Oladipo, and only LeVert is a better prospect than Sabonis (other than Russell, but, there is no way you deal Russell for George so that George can walk in 12 months). Also: you cannot deal for George when your chance of keeping him in 2018 is literally 0%.
-Patty Mills re-upping with the Spurs: When a player stays with their incumbent that soon after midnight, the player never really hits the market. No team, Nets included, had a chance to snag Mills.
-Shawn Livinston re-upping with the Warriors: Livingston took less than his worth to continue with the champs. No other team had a shot to add him.
-David West: essentially rinse and repeat with Livingston.
-Tony Snell, Cristiano Felicio, and Ron Baker: When a restricted free agent resigns immediately, without taking meetings, that means the incumbent wanted them back and simply decided to make it happen. There was nothing any suitor could do.
-Wayne Selden: He was under Grizzlies’ control and they maintained that control.
2: Situations the Nets were smart not to enter:
-JJ Redick and Amir Johnson: Sure, both vets fit the Nets culture. Sure, both got one year pacts. However, the Nets are not the Sixers. The Sixers have torn it down, have acquired multiple strong young pieces (in Embiid, Simmons, and Fultz, and maybe even Saric, they have 3 or 4 young players in higher regard than D’Angelo Russell), and shifted from asset acquisition mode, to turn it into a winner mode. The Nets are still earlier in their process, in asset gathering mode. That, for one, makes them more attractive to these veterans than the Nets. More importantly, however, if the Nets signed either player, they would lose that amount of cap space to use as an asset down the road – in July or at the Trade Deadline – to absorb a bad contract for a good young player. That is a way more valuable tool to the Nets, given their current spot on the arc of contention. Simply put, abosrbing $22 million in contracts to add D’Angelo Russell and Justin Allen is infinitely better for the Nets, right now, than is simply signing JJ Redick (or Amir Johnson) outright. The Nets were smart to maintain those options, rather than signing these two veterans.
-Jrue Holiday’s $126 million deal and Jeff Teague’s 3 year $57 million deal: With D’Angelo Russell being groomed as the future lead guard, and Jeremy Lin (who is close to the level of these two) in house on a cheaper deal to provide leadership and quality play in the short term, it would have been dumb to fork over a ton of money to a solid, not great, veteran point guard.
-Jose Calderon to the Cavs: Calderon likely wanted to join a winner and did not consider Brooklyn. Regardless, he is a defenseless, old, low end reserve guard. No thanks.
That right there . . . is it. That is all that has happened so far. The Nets have not signed a player. The same goes for 16 other teams. And the opportunities above did not make sense for the Nets.
So, What Should the Nets do?
Target Money Dumps: We always forget this: cap space does NOT have to be used to sign free agents. Nor does it have to be used in July. Cap space is an asset all season long, and can be used to absorb other teams’ dead weight in exchange for quality young assets. The Nets hallmark example is the Mozgov/Russell maneuver. The move was made in June, so the Nets used their July of 2016 cap space to snare Russell in June of 2017. The Nets need to target this market further: acquiring Russell and Allen for dead money (while sending out vets) was the right play – and a way better play than simply wasting space on stopgap veterans like Redick. You can sign cheaper stopgap veterans later in free agency (after all, it’s not as though you are winning in 2017-2018 either way.
Target young free agents with upside (basically, the RFA market): Otto Porter? Kentavious Caldwell Pope? Insert the player you like here. I will use Porter as an example, as he is my favorite of the young free agents.
There are essentially three possibilities that may arise, if the Nets chase a young RFA, in order of best to worse case scenario.
- the incumbent does not match and the Nets get the player
- the incumbent matches. However, during the 2 day waiting period, none of the Nets other options, like a good salary dump or other good young player, fall off the board. Accordingly, despite the match, there was no cost to the Nets – they lost out on nothing.
- the incumbent matches. During the 2 day waiting period, other Nets’ options, like money dumps of significance and good young players, fall off the board. Accordingly, not only did the Nets wait two days for the incumbent to match, but they were hurt by the attempt to get the player. They lost out on other options.
My view on the above, is rather simple. If the Nets chase a restricted free agent that fits the team – nearly any – and scenario “1” or “2” unfolds above, the chase was worth it. Scenario “1” is obviously worth it: you got the player. So is scenario “2”: if the Nets ink Otto Porter to an offer sheet, and the Wizards match, but the Nets do not lose out on their other plans, then no harm was done, and the endeavor was worthy.
However, if scenario “3” develops, that represents failure for Marks and the Nets.
Essentially, if the Nets feel there is a chance a team balks on matching on a significant RFA, and there are no money dump options available, then inking an offer sheet is a worthy endeavor.
So, what will the Nets do in free agency? I do not know. Nor do you, because Marks plays his cards close to the vest. But if the only options available are doing something negative, then they should just do nothing at all.