When the Nets fired Billy King and eventually hired Sean Marks, the signal was one for a new day. Gone were the days of reckless acquisitions, and chasing short term thrills and splashes over sustainability. The new goal, it was posited, was not to make waves in a new city, beat the Knicks, or sell tickets. It was to create a team that could win year in and year out in sustainable fashion.
In this regard, it must be noted that Marks has done an acceptable job to date. Getting pieces as good as Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen for Thaddeus Young, Bojan Bogdanovic, and cap space? Getting Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris for nothing? To say Marks has not done some good as GM is to be blind.
In noting the good one needs to note the bad, surely. All that cap room on Allen Crabbe? Dealing Lopez, a first, and eating a deal as bad as Mozgov’s just for D’Angelo Russell? Those substantial investments have not worked out however one slices them. That said, even if Russell and Crabbe never improve, both moves, while bad, were not crippling. The Nets did not nuke their future ability to rebuild or give up substantial assets in the deals. Kyle Kuzma stings and is better than Russel, but while he is a good young player, his reliance on scoring, the franchise he plays for, and his age capping his ceiling, all conspire to make him overrated.
So with all of that said, I think Marks can stake a claim to having done a good job for the Nets to date. For what he inherited, he has boosted the Nets position.
It is also helpful that, to date, Mikhail Prokhorov has done well to empower Marks to rebuild, largely by authorizing his strategy and steering clear from meddling.
Notwithstanding the above, the moment of truth comes for Marks and Prokhorov over the next nine months.
Why is that, you ask? Because options make decision making harder.
Let’s start with Prokhorov. When he bought the Nets, he talked big about owning New York and competing for championships. Through Brett Yormark, there was a push to win immediately to brand the Nets as belonging to Brooklyn. The win now direction led to an infamous set of short term win now moves that backfired. Thus, at a minimum, we know Prokhorov has it in him to mandate an irrational win now approach at the price of a future. We have seen it.
Has Prokhorov been this trigger itchy since he hired Marks? No. But, it should be noted, he has not really been able to. The Nets when they hired Marks had no first rounders in the top 28 for three years out, and were a 60 loss franchise. As such, Prokhorov’s options were incredibly limited. Nobody was going to sign with them, and they had no trade assets to go get anyone. There really was no choice in building the roster, other than to do what the Nets have done: hope fringe youth pays off, use cap room to add more youth, and see what happens.
Using a “regular guy” analogy, if you walk into Best Buy with $5.00 and no credit card, you will not spent recklessly – but you also couldn’t if you tried. So on one hand Prokhorov has not meddled to force the irrational, but on the other, he has not had the ability to do that.
Now, however, Marks’ strong moves have opened the door to the ability to be irrational. They have cap space now. They have enough roster talent to at least get in the room with solid free agents. They have the trade assets to get players down that avenue.
Those assets will test Marks and Prokhorov. The roster is not atrocious, and fans would be sold, pretty easily, on additions of B class (non star) free agents like Tobias Harris, or trade targets like Otto Porter. Such assets would make the Nets playoff contenders in the east.
However, such acquisitions would likely box the Nets into a future where they are a 43-39 team with a hoard of players on long term deals eating their flexibility to improve. The contracts these players demand would necessitate this result. That is a bad place to be – and that was not the goal in hiring Marks. Title contention was.
Stated differently, the free agency avenue of team building will not work unless the Nets sign a superstar, but signing a superstar feels unlikely. As such, the Nets are MUCH better off building through the draft.
A decision by the Nets to build through the draft could work wonders. With their pick, Denver’s pick, New York’s second rounder, and LeVert Allen Kurucs and Musa under their control, Marks has set up a huge opportunity for the Nets to come out of the 2019 with a treasure trove of high and medium upside young players who are far from free agency, and the cap room to build that core even further.
And perhaps, Marks punting on Butler is a sign that he knows this roster is not ready to compete – that he needs to get a transcendent star, that the way to get him is on draft night.
Will the Nets make the decision to build this way? That is where the test for Marks and Prokhorov comes into play. With a fan base starving for wins, the public hype that the Nets can score in free agency, and the reality that the Knicks will try their hand at 2019 free agency, it may not sit well with fans to punt on free agency, and Prokhorov may not be able to stomach it. He may see it as surrendering to the Knicks in a sense – an implicit admission that the Nets can’t beat them as a “destination.”
So that is the test for Marks and Prokhorov. Is Marks willing to lengthen this rebuilding process? If he is, is Prokhorov willing to sign off? Signing off on a rebuild when the Nets had no other choice, that was easy. But now, they have other choices, the choice is hard.
If Prokhorov signs off on the continued rebuild from this stage, he deserves immense credit, as does Marks for getting him to realize this path must be taken.
If he doesn’t, however, it shows that he has not really changed.
So, will Prokhorov show that this rebuild is for real? Or, with free agency around the bend, will he fall into old patterns?
The answer to that question will define the next half decade for Nets fans.