The Nets’ offseason has been eventful. Most importantly, it has given us a window into Sean Marks’ plan.
The plan is very clear. First, acquire as much young talent as possible to offset the lost draft picks to the 2013 Celtics trade, and ensure that when you control your first rounder in 2019, that player comes in to bolster a young core, not start one from scratch. Second, since a 20-62 team is not attracting “A” or “B” class free agents, rather than sign “C” class free agents, add more young talent by leveraging cap space in trades to absorb unwanted contracts. Third, acquire a veteran point guard to boost development by running an organized offense within which the youth can thrive, and acquire other veterans to teach good habits to the young players.
The plan, it should be noted, does not entail any reluctance from Marks to spend on the right players. You do not offer $106 million, $75 million, $50 million and $37 million to four different restricted free agents, over four years, if you are averse to spending. Yes, those deals were matched, but the Nets were obviously willing to enter those commitments if any of the incumbents balked.
Marks’ “add youth” strategy is working. He has acquired D’Angelo Russell, Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Isaiah Whitehead, the Raptors 2018 first round pick (if they make the playoffs), the Pacers 2018 second round pick (if they miss the playoffs), and one of the Lakers or Magic’s 2018 second round picks. That provides many shots at the board to add high upside talent that did not previously exist.
Marks ate the unwanted contracts of Timofey Mozgov, Andrew Nicholson and DeMarre Carroll to accomplish this — worthy prices to pay to add young talent for a team not attracting free agents regardless. This is overly simplistic, but look at it this way. Mozgov makes Tim Hardaway Jr. money; Nicholson makes Shelvin Mack money; and Carroll makes Taj Gibson money. Would you deal Hardaway for Mozgov and D’Angelo Russell; or Mack for Nicholson and Allen; or Gibson for Carroll and a first and second rounder. You would, and you would not think twice.
This work now reveals the following roster:
- Russell, Whitehead, Dinwiddie (team option), J. Senglin (camp invite)
- Lin, Kilpatrick, Goodwin (team option)
- LeVert, Joe Harris, J. Wiley (two way deal)
- Carroll, Hollis-Jefferson, T. Booker, Acy (team option) Nicholson
- Mozgov, J. Allen
As of this moment, if the Nets declined each team option, they could in theory have as much as $22.9 million in cap room this season, to round the roster out. If the Nets did nothing, they would have a touch over $45 million guaranteed on their 2018-2019 books, subject to team options on Russell, LeVert, Hollis-Jefferson, and Whitehead, and Lin’s player option (Booker, Kilpatrick, Harris, and perhaps Wiley and Senglin would be free agents). The Nets would have between $31.7 and $56.9 million in cap room if they renounced each unrestricted free agent, depending on their decisions on the team options and Lin’s decision on his option.
In short, the Nets as they stand figure to have significant flexibility to spend in 2018.
The question from here is simple: how do the Nets round out the roster. Do they make a big play for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, or one of the numerous talented restricted free agents, like JayMychal Green? Do they decide none of those pieces are worth it, and round out the roster with cheaper, lower end free agents that fit needs (this roster badly needs bigs who can shoot the ball).
Expect Marks’ to be pragmatic. As his four massive offer sheets reflect, if Marks believes a bigger name free agent on the market will move this program forward, and become a young player the roster can grow with, he will not hesitate to make a play for that player. Not being in the war room, I cannot (and you cannot) know if Marks likes KCP, or Green, or Alan Williams, or another big free agent, but if he does, he will be aggressive. However, as Marks noted today, if he does not believe there is a piece out there who makes that type of difference, or if he believes that piece wants too much money, he is perfectly content to round out the roster with one year deals to lower end fits, and roll his cap space into 2018.
That is smart, and beats caving to a player’s demands, under the guise of having to get the player. Teams make bad mistakes when they believe they have to do certain deals. The 2013 Nets HAD TO get the Boston veterans to help Deron lead. The 2016 Knicks HAD TO make a splash and signed Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose. The 2015 Suns HAD TO break up their toxic point guard relationships by trading Isaiah Thomas for a pick that became Skal Labissiere. The logic of having to get something done often breeds mistakes.
Marks knows that, and that is why he made it clear: if he can get one of his targets on his terms, he will. If he cannot, he does not have to get him, so he won’t. That beats overpaying, and making a mistake. Essentially, Marks is negotiating with targets through the media, telling them “if you don’t want what I’m offering, that is fine; we are ok walking away from the table.” That simply makes it more likely Marks gets what he wants here.
So, who may Marks be targeting?
-Kentavious Caldwell-Pope: The Nets went 20-62; they simply need more talent. You may like or dislike KCP, and that is fine, but the Nets would be remiss to decline adding him solely based on “he is a guard and we have guards.” For now, the Nets just need talent, regardless of position. When they are closer to contention, they can worry about positions.
-JayMychal Green: A little older than the rest of the core, but a versatile four who thrived in Memphis. Zach Randolph leaving may make retention more likely.
-Jonathan Simmons: I worried about him on an overpay, and still do. But he has talent and fits on a deal that is not egregious.
-Nikola Mirotic: he is not a ball handling four as the Nets appear to like, but they need floor spacing. He is erratic, however. The Bulls may match near any offer.
-Alan Williams: An underrated target, but the Suns may match any offers. He is a physical big who rebounds well.
-Dewayne Dedmon: Would provide quality minutes up front as Allen grows. But he just played under market value to get paid; will he do it again, and for a bad team?
-Ersan Ilyasova: Could provide what Mirotic would at a lesser level but a much lesser price. Helpful if Mirotic is not a program mover in Marks’ eyes.
-David Lee: Perhaps available as a cheap bench scorer
-Tiago Splitter: Another SA guy. If he has something left, can provide minutes up front and defend.
-Jonas Jerebko: a competent four off the bench.
-Kris Humphries: can provide rebounding off the bench
-Jeff Withey: a competent reserve big who was useful with Rudy Gobert hurt this year
-Marreese Speights: Could round out the big man rotation.
-Brandon Rush: A still useful small forward.
-Alex Len: worth a cheap deal to see if he can put it together, but Phoenix likely matches.
-Festus Ezeli and Tyler Zeller: Worth cheap deals to see if they can still play.
-Tarik Black: the Lakers cast him away. Worth seeing if something is there.
-Anthony Tolliver and Damjan Rudez: perhaps can provide bench shooting, but, I would not bet on it.
-The “veteran teachers”: Tony Allen; Luc Richard Mbah a Moute; Mike Dunleavy; Jason Terry; Alan Anderson; Leandro Barbosa; Nick Collison; Udonis Haslem