Coming into the NBA trade deadline, Nets fans should not lose sight of two points:
- Sean Marks has done a very good job.
- Sean Marks understandably has not brought the Nets to a point where they can shift from asset acquisition mode into win now mode.
As to the first point, Marks has turned a 20 win team built around veterans in Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Bojan Bogdanovic, and lacking first round picks for years into the future, into a perhaps 30 win team built around younger talent, that actually has a smattering of picks going forward.
Marks turned Lopez into D’Angelo Russell by eating Timofey Mozgov’s contract. To date, Russell has only shown that he can put up big numbers for a losing team. However, the potential of a top 10-25 player is there. Whether he gets there is a question, but the Nets need upside like that and Marks found it against the odds.
Marks has had other successes, like finding Spencer Dinwiddie, Caris LeVert, and Joe Harris, and hiring Kenny Atkinson. Atkinson has fostered significant improvement in Dinwiddie, LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Joe Harris, and even Tyler Zeller, and Nik Stauskas; Jarrett Allen has also grown as a rookie while Jahlil Okafor has regained a pulse. Based on player notoriety, given the Russell injury and other injuries to parts of the roster, the Nets have no business being 18-29. They are there due to substantial player development.
As for the second point, however, Marks still has a lot of work to do. A harsh reality must be noted: the Nets need more high end talent. The Cavs are built around LeBron Isaiah and Love; the Celtics around Kyrie Horford Hayward Tatum and Brown. The Raptors are built around Kyrie and DeRozan; the Wizards Wall Beal and Porter. The Sixers have Embiid Simmons Fultz and Covington; the Bucks Giannis Middleton and Parker. And this is the talent level among the top teams in the WEAKER conference.
The Nets’ roster, in the face of that, will not get it done. Not without 1-3 more star level talents.
This is why flexibility is PARAMOUNT. The short of the matter: if the Nets keep all their developmental pieces and projects, they will find themselves capped out through 2021 and essentially foreclosed from contention barring a huge breakthrough from Russell and a coming first round pick.
The math is not fun. Assuming a Jeremy Lin opt in, the Nets only have about $18.2 million in space this summer with 10 players under contract. That’s not elite player money. In 2019-2020, if they extend Harris, Okafor, and Stauskas this summer (suppose the 3 players earn $18 combined annually, to be conservative), the Nets will have around $10 million in space due to cap holds for Russel and RHJ, and their 2019 first rounder, together with salary numbers for their 2018 picks. Then into the summer of 2020, factor in Russell, Dinwiddie, and RHJ on extensions (suppose they combine for $45 per year which is conservative), options on Allen and the 2018 rookies, the 2019 rookie salaries, the 2020 first rounder’s cap hold, LeVert’s pre extension cap hold, and the Okafor/Harris/Stauskas money, and the Nets — yet again — would have under $20 million in cap space — and no space at all without renouncing (and as a result perhaps losing) Allen Crabbe.
This future would likely place the Nets in purgatory: they would be nearly capped out, without the flexibility to add elite talent, and without high enough draft picks to find elite talent that way. Good luck competing with some of the awesome cores listed above.
It’s one thing to compromise future flexibility for a solid starter, or a player you think will be a bonafide starter. It’s another thing to do it for a role player off the bench, when you can find role players every summer in free agency. The Nets, simply, cannot tie up their future flexibility in their core of role players. They can keep SOME of their younger pieces, and with most not free agents this summer can table some of these decisions into 2019, but they cannot keep everyone. The Nets will need to, simply, capitalize on player development in part through “sell high” trades, rather than extensions.
In doing this, the focus of the trades is not, “the pick we get for RHJ or for Harris must turn into a better player than RHJ or Harris.” You cannot compare the incoming and outgoing parts in a vacuum because the salary cap is not a vacuum. In trading a role player about to get paid for a pick, you receive optionality — more ways to get elite talent. You get cap flexibility, so that if stars are free agents, you can sign them. You increase your asset pool so that if stars are on the trade market, you can get them that way (picks have more value than role players on long term contracts). You also receive the small chance lower end picks become stars — a non zero chance at a star that a role player does not provide is valuable, because stars are required aspects of contenders.
As for the idea of paying everyone and sorting it out later? Look at the Blazers; they did that. The result is nobody wants the pieces you paid, and they become hard to unload (check out the Crabbe deal and inability to deal Leonard, Harkless, and Turner).
Finally, NONE of this is to say the Nets should strip this clean, and lose all capital they have built with agents since Marks took over. However, paying everyone is not a viable option.
With that, let’s take a look at fibr Nets trade deadline options.
DeMarre Carroll for Kenneth Faried and a first round pick.
This trade represents the Nets capitalizing on Carroll’s value by turning him into a first rounder, for another two year deal — thus allowing them to maintain 2019 summer flexibility. The Nuggets cannot wait to dump Faried and Carroll would help them win games now, so that would be their impetus.
DeMarre Carroll for Jon Leuer, Boban Marjanovic, and a first round pick.
If a deal like the former is not available, the Nets can take on a 2019-2020 salary for Carroll in order to turn him into a first rounder. The pitfall for the Nets: they may want to transition in 2019 into a win now spender, and this bloats the 2019 books. The pitfall for other suitors like Detroit: not many teams yet know their 2019-2020 plans. Can teams dump a pick for 2019 cap space when they do not know if they prefer a pick to cap space yet?
Joe Harris to Washington, with Tyler Zeller, Timofey Mozgov, Isaiah Whitehead, and Quincy Acy, for Jason Smith, Ian Mahinmi, Jodie Meeks, Sheldon Mac, and a first round pick.
Preliminarily, Joe Harris is a certain trade asset for the Nets, and it is most likely that the return is one or two second rounders — NOT a first rounder. And that is fine — the goal is optionality, not comparing the player in return to Harris. Nevertheless, it can’t HURT the Nets to try to get a first rounder, either by pushing Harris hard or offering a secondary item of value — like here, where the Wizards almost totally escape the luxury tax.
RHJ to the Pacers for a first round pick.
By alleviating the Nets’ 2019 books of RHJ’s cap hold, and their future books of his extension, this deal would open up future flexibility for the Nets to chase stars, rather than extending a player who as of now is not a playoff caliber starter. The Pacers are perpetually looking to win now and could sell RHJ as a playoff push addition, and a young guy to grow with.
Okafor and Stauskas to the Knicks for Lance Thomas and two second round picks.
This is the construct of a deal the Nets should investigate. Rather than lose projects like Okafor or Stauskas, and rather than pay them, can they turn them into value? Here, since both players expire in 2018, but Thomas expires in 2019, the Nets would essentially be providing the Knicks with cap space, and charging two second round picks to do it.