Nets Offseason Primer: Setting Up the Next Five Years

The 2018 Nets offseason will be a significant one, and may defines Sean Marks’ tenure.

Before this summer, Marks’ moves, while deserving of praise, have been mostly obvious, given the stringent handcuffs the prior regime (stewarded by current ownership) imposed.  The Nets had no choice, as a 60 loss team without picks for several years into the future, but to dump veterans and add picks, to climb to a baseline level where he obtained actual options.

Marks, it should be noted, has done well within that strategy, given what he inherited.  On the other hand, it should be noted that the strategy itself was an obvious one, and that he has lot of work left to build a contender.

Marks now, however, has some options regarding where he elects to take this rebuild.  He can start pushing chips in the middle of the table, building out from the core he’s carefully crafted.  He can start acquiring picks for the core he’s crafted, and move into a tank. With picks on the near horizon and 60 losses off the present day ledger, there is more flexibility.

Heading forward, the cap situation bears out a clear reality – the Nets need to stockpile more draft picks, and create more options to obtain the one thing that teams need to contend – stars. 

Here is a look at why.

  1. The Nets 2018 cap space? Not as much as advertised.

If the Nets, let every free agent but Joe Harris depart, they will only have approximately $15.1 million in cap space in 2018, as follows:

Under Contract: Crabbe: $18,500,000; Mozgov: $16,000,000; Carroll: $15,400,000; Lin: $12,516,476; DLO: $7,019, 698; world’s worst person (stretch): $5,474,787; RHJ: $2,470,357; Allen: $2,034,120; LeVert: $1,702,800; Dinwiddie: $1,656,092

Cap Holds: 29th pick: $1,618,320; Harris ($1,544,951)

Assumed as gone: Whitehead, Stauskas, Cunningham, Okafor, Acy, Webb, Doyle

 

Keep in mind that under this construct, the Nets have virtually no chance to get a star this summer.  Their trade assets and 29th pick are typically not enough to add a star.  And $15.1 million in space is not getting you a star.  That figure may allow the Nets to sign a quality tole player to a multiyear deal – but why should a 28-54 team handcuff future flexibility for a role player? And while in theory they can dump a piece to open space, that likely cannot occur without dumping draft picks – so that is not something the Nets should do.

The kicker? The Nets, as follows, are in a similar spot in 2019.

  1. Even if the Nets keep the powder dry this summer, they lack cap space next summer.

The Nets’ 2019 salary structure – if all they do in 2018 is draft at 29, 40, and 45, and resign Harris, leaves them with $85,466,649 in commitments, and about $18.3 million in space, without their 2018 second rounders, as follows:

Under Contract: Crabbe: $18,500,000 (assuming he opts in, which financially he should) Mozgov: $16,720,000; Harris: $6,000,000 (assuming the 3/$18 extension some have bandied about); world’s worst person (stretch): $5,474,787; LeVert: $2,625,718 (assuming option exercised); Allen: $2,376,840 (assuming option exercised; 2018 29th pick ($1,895,400); 2018 40th pick ($900,000 low estimate); 2018 45th pick ($900,000 low estimate)

Cap Holds: DLO ($21,059,095), RHJ ($7,411,071), Dinwiddie ($1,603,638); 2019 10 pick assumed ($4,201,200)

Cap Holds to Renounce Whether Brought Back or Not due to excess salaries: Carroll, Lin

Assumed as gone: any “one year contract” players signed to round out 2018 roster

 

Once again $18.3 million in space is simply not enough to add an impact player, and should not be wasted on role players.

Going forward, the Nets would have substantial cap space in 2020.  But that poses an obvious problem – a capped future ceiling.  With a core of Russell, LeVert, Allen, Dinwiddie, RHJ, their 2018-2020 first rounders, and whoever of Harris and Crabbe they decide to keep, the Nets likely would be in the worst place a team can be – the 30-40 win range.  Tank for a high draft pick and potential star? They would likely be too good.  Trade for a star?  How, with so many long term deals? Sign an elite free agent?  The Nets at this point would likely be a sub 40 win team for six consecutive seasons.  Who is signing into that?

This approach would maximize the Nets’ victory output in 2019 and 2020.  But the approach has an absolute – and obvious – ceiling.

What SHOULD the Nets do? Really, the same thing every bad team should do. Open up as many OPTIONS to add stars as possible.

That means that for all the Nets’ non star assets, and players without star or high level starter potential, they should be looking to acquire draft picks. Draft picks are chances to pick stars in June, and, when stars are traded, they carry more value than decent players on long term deals.  The Nets need as many of those picks as possible surrounding DLO, LeVert, Allen, and their upcoming first round picks over the next few years.

That means testing the market for RHJ.  For Dinwiddie. For, if he is resigned, Harris.

The Nets trading their developed role players for picks would serve multiple purposes.  If they decide to tank, frankly, they will be further along.  If DLO explodes and they want to add names on the market, they will have oodles of space, rather than anchoring their cap with deals for guys like RHJ, Dinwiddie, and Harris.  If a star becomes disgruntled and asks out, they will have a much deeper stash of picks to trade – AKA the top assets teams want when they deal stars.

One note on this: the Nets should take a cue from the team their fans now hate more than anyone – the Boston Celtics. When the Celtics hired Brad Stevens in 2013, one must remember that NOBODY believed the picks coming from Brooklyn were poised to be high lottery ones. Like Kenny Atkinson, he was brought in to develop low rung players in a rebuild, and build the Celtics up on a foundation of player development.  That approach, largely due to Isaiah Thomas being acquired, bred a playoff appearance in 2015, Brad’s second year on the job.

However – and CRITICALLY – despite the hard yards the Celtics put in developing their players from 2013-2015, the Celtics NEVER said, “we spent two years developing these players, we need to keep them and we should build around them.” And the Celtics said that without any guarantees or assurances regarding their future.  As we sit here today, just one Celtic, Marcus Smart, is around from that 2014-2015 roster.  The Celtics were anything but attached to that group of players.

And the Nets must show similar detachment. When the Nets have players in house – they should, as they have, treat them incredibly well, and make them feel welcome and part of their family.  That does not mean that they should commit to those players being a long term member of the family.

The time has come.  Will Sean Marks acquire as many picks as possible and position the Nets as a high asset team, with options to acquire stars across a multitude of avenues?  Or will he take a shortcut, give extensions to all of the members of the current core, and place limitations on the Nets’ future ceiling?

Time will tell.

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