Nets Free Agency: Five Big Observations, And Next Steps

Week 1 of free agency is over.  As we move into week 2, the Nets have a pending offer sheet to Otto Porter, and presumably have various backup plans in the event the 95%-99% possibility the Wizards match, becomes a reality.

So, what are some observations that we can make, to date.

First: The Nets have been frugal. That is fine.

Among many Nets fans, there is a worry the Nets have not done anything in free agency, and that this is somehow a problem. That worry could not be more unfounded.

For starters, the Nets are not a free agency destination.  Free agents want to win, and the Nets were the worst team in the NBA last year. That puts the Nets in a position where they can only overpay to get free agents — and overpaying is a mistake.

There is a human nature element of wanting the team you root for to make news.  When your team signs a player, and people like the signing, it creates a rush of energy.  A feeling that you are doing something, anything, to improve.

But patience is a virtue.  Just look at the Miami Heat – a team all over the transaction news.  The Heat figure to lose in the first round of the playoffs next year.  If you lose in the first round, but have cap and draft pick flexibility to improve, that is good.  But for the Heat?  Where do they go from there?  The Heat are capped out through 2020, with their current roster.  They will have cap exceptions and lower end picks to add bench players, but what you see now is largely what you get, for the next three seasons. Is that a goal?

Could the Nets have done something similar to the Heat? Probably. They surely could have gone out there and massively overpaid pieces like Amir Johnson, PJ Tucker, George Hill, or Zach Randolph.  And they would absolutely be better in 2017-2018, than they are going to be.  But all of that long term money would blockade them, in 2018 and 2019, from further building forward.  Just like Miami has blockaded themselves.

Further, it has to be noted: free agent deals cannot just be judged on dollars and years.  Team context matters.  By way of example, a rebuild like the Nets adding Ryan Anderson last summer for $80 million over 4 years, given how that limits you going forward, is a disaster.  However, for the win now Rockets, with Harden in house and Anderson fitting perfectly with him, the deal constitutes great work by Daryl Morey.

Finally, for all the frustration of the Nets doing little or nothing, doing nothing is always better than setting yourself back with a mistake. The 2013 Boston trade? The Nets would be better off today if they did nothing that summer, and literally ran back their 2012-2013 roster in its entirety.  The Knicks signing Joakim Noah? Doing nothing would have been better.  The Lakers signing Mozgov?  Given they had to dump D’Angelo Russell just to shed him, they would have been better off not lifting a finger.  Fans are always uneasy about doing nothing, but if the alternatives are doing damage, then do no harm should prevail.

Second: The Nets are awaiting the Wizards’ matching Otto Porter’s contract (95-99%).  They still have other options, and thus far the contract has cost them nothing.

When the Nets signed Otto Porter, I estimated a 90%-97% chance the Wizards match any offers. I now am at 95%-99%, given the Wizards’ letting Bogdanovic go and essentially positioning themselves to match.

That said, targeting Porter was the right call.  Porter is a really good young player, a definitive program mover for the Nets.  He makes them better today, and makes them better five years from today, if they add him.  He fits into any offense, and is a two way wing, a rarity yet essential need in the NBA.

Given all that, chasing him is a worthy gamble.  Now, sure, since the Wizards can match, there is a definitive opportunity cost to signing Porter: during the matching period, players can come off the board.  In addition, if you pass up opportunities before you sign Porter, you cost yourself those opportunities as well.

But with that said, the opportunity cost for the Nets has been nil.  Just look at how little on the market has actually passed the Nets by: the following is a list of deals signed, and categorized to reflect cost to the Nets.

Players absolutely unavailable to the Nets (no cost whatsoever): Steph Curry and Kevin Durant (LOL), Gordon Hayward (he wants to win), Blake Griffin (Clippers secured him with that max deal), Bogdan Bogdanovic and Zhou Qi (stashes signed by teams with rights), Andre Iguodala (was not leaving unless another winning overpaid him), Tony Snell, Andre Roberson, Joe Ingles, and Cristiano Felicio (RFA’s who negotiate with their incumbents don’t leave), Nene, Patty Mills, Shawn Livingston, David West, Zaza Pachulia, Kyle Korver, Ron Baker, and Wayne Selden (always staying put); JJ Redick and Amir Johnson (they were clearly intrigued by Philly’s young core, it wasn’t happening here); Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka (they were staying put with Toronto ponying up); Taj Gibson (he wants to win with his old coach); Nick Young, Omri Casspi, Patrick Patterson, and Rudy Gay (veterans who targeted winning); the Paul George trade (Nets lacked the pieces); Dirk (he is a one team player)

Players you should be glad the Nets did not touch: Jeff Teague, Jrue Holiday, and George Hill (no sense in paying $19-$21M over three years to be a veteran to guide Russell – Lin does that on a 1 year $12M deal); Tim Hardaway Jr., Kelly Olynyk, James Johnson, Bojan Bogdanovic, and Danilo Gallinari (yikes at those contracts); Paul Millsap ($30M in space would have been extinguished for a player starting the career downside, all for a 30 win year) Jose Calderon, Mike Scott, Tyreke Evans, and Michael Carter-Williams (they’re bad); PJ Tucker (no need for an age 32-36 player in a rebuild); Dion Waiters (he was overpaid, and his ball hogging inefficient style is a poor thing to have around your kids); Darren Collison (he is not good and got a multiyear deal);

Players who wouldn’t hurt, but are insignificant, do not move your program forward, and are worth gambling on Porter: Zach Randolph (given this is a rebuild he’s just a more expensive Trevor Booker, insofar as his purpose to the Nets); Vince Carter; Langston Galloway; Daniel Theis; Shelvin Mack; Jodie Meeks; Ben McLeMore; Milos Teodosic; Raymond Felton; Jeff Green

Players and deals who do incur a moderate cost: Mike Muscala; Justin Holiday; the Hawks leveraging cap space to obtain the Thunder’s 2018 first rounder and Jamal Crawford.

In short, the cost to the Nets in trying to acquire Porter, so far, has been Muscala and Holiday – two nice reserves, but nothing of significant value that represents a known program mover, and a salary dump to acquire a pick that should fall around 25.  Was some value lost? Sure.  But it also should be noted that if the Wizards match on Porter, the Nets can target players similar in level to Muscala and Holiday, and salary dumps similar to the Hawks’ acquiring the Thunder’s first rounder (for which the Hawks paid a premium price).   Given how good Porter is, this gamble was worth it – no matter what happens from here.

Third, the complaints from teams (and fans) that the Nets are “screwing” teams in restricted free agency are nuts — and that goes both ways. 

Every team with a restricted free agent handles the process differently. Some extend their player the fall prior to the free agency summer, to avoid the process altogether (think the Bucks and Giannis last fall).  Some negotiate with their player in June, and reach an agreement with him before he hits the market, to avoid offer sheets (think the Bucks with Tony Snell, and Jazz with Joe Ingles this summer). Some choose NOT to lock their player in, giving their player only one option – to secure an offer sheet from another team.

When a team makes that decision, the team cannot complain that the player goes and gets an offer sheet in the player’s best interests.  Or complain that the team offering them a sheet creates one designed to — imagine this — obtain the player!

So the Wizards have absolutely no right to complain about the Nets’ offer sheet with Porter.  Nor due the Heat, Blazers, and Rockets — the prior teams Sean Marks dealt with in this regard.  The team, and its fans, also have no right to complain that those players, coming off cheap rookie deals, tried to get an offer that was best for them.

Conversely, there is consternation among Nets fans that the Wizards would “screw” the Nets, if the Wizards drag out the process of matching on Porter, essentially by delaying his reporting and physical.  If you sign a free agent to an offer sheet, the incumbent team has the right to burn six days to match, and complete the process of the player reporting for a physical.  You knew that when you signed the player, so you cannot complain that the incumbent exercised that right.

 

Fourth, the idea of the Wizards killing the Nets’ ability to add players, for four days after they match, is dramatically overstated.

It is true, that prior to the time at which the Wizards match, there is still some chance above 0% that they do not match.  As a result, there is some chance above 0% that the Nets’ cap space never gets released back to them, and that the Nets cannot become players for their alternative targets.  In this regard, there is some risk, from this moment, and at all times prior to the Wizards informing the Nets of their matching the offer sheet, that other targets of the Nets come off the board.

Sure, a piece like Kentavious Caldwell Pope, JayMychal Green, or the like (if the Nets have interest), can, and may, decide to wait it out.  But if they receive offers that are 75%-95% of what the Nets would offer IF the Wizards match, but those offers are off the table by night’s end, do those players ignore those offers, and take the chance that the Wizards do not match and they are left out in the cold with no offer?  They may, but they also may not.

However, suppose the Wizards match, and drag out Porter’s physical over four days. Now, the scenario is completely different.  At that point, the Nets, and everyone, know, with 100% certainty, that the Nets will have their cap space back. The only thing, at that point, in the way of a free agent committing to be a Net, is paperwork.  If you are a Nets target after Otto is matched, and they offer you a big contract, the only hitch is “you just have to wait four days to sign the contract, because of logistical paperwork on the Wizards’ end of our offer sheet.” That is not an issue for a free agent, in any way, shape, or form.

Essentially, so long as the Nets’ desired targets are available after the Wizards match, the Nets can target them freely.

Fifth, there are plenty of good free agents still on the board, across multiple categories, as follows. 

Program Impacting Young Free Agents (subject to interest): Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JayMychal Green, Nerlens Noel, Jonathan Simmons, Nikola Mirotic, Alan Williams,

Other Young Free Agents: Mason Plumlee, Dewayne Dedmon, Jeff Withey, Alex Len, Dante Cunningham, James McAdoo, Reggie Bullock, Tyler Zeller, Maurice N’Dour, Tarik Black, Christian Wood

Veteran Leader Free Agents: Pau Gasol, Tony Allen, Thabo Sefolosha, Tiago Splitter, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, Kris Humphries, Mike Dunleavy, Jason Terry, Alan Anderson, Gerald Henderson, Nick Collison, Udonis Haslem, James Jones, Dahntay Jones

Other Veteran Free Agents: CJ Miles, Ersan Ilyasova, Ian Clark, Aron Baynes, David Lee, Jonas Jerebko, Festus Ezeli, Sergio Rodriguez, Marreese Speights, Brandon Rush, Brandon Bass, Anthony Tolliver, Damjan Rudez, Leandro Barbosa, Anthony Morrow, Aaron Brooks,

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