The trade deadline has come and gone, with the Nets doing very little. They traded $110,000 in cash to Toronto for their 2021 second rounder, and Greg Monroe, whom they immediately waived. In addition, since they needed to open a roster spot to add Monroe before making the deal, they waived Mitch Creek to do just that, leaving them with one roster spot as of now.
As for the trade itself, the reasoning was simple. The Nets only had $243,000 in cash to trade until June 30, and instead of sitting on it, bought a pick. The money does not count against the cap, so instead of Prokhorov saving money for himself, it gets invested in the team. Can’t complain about that. Monroe does not fit what the Nets are doing and waiving him made sense. The nets prefer playing rim running 5’s who defend well, next to stretch 4’s. Monroe does neither. For Toronto, rather than cutting Monroe for buyout candidates and paying his salary, they save money by shifting that burden to Brooklyn – with the price being the pick.
The pick, it must be noted, could have real value if Leonard leaves this summer, as that could spiral Toronto into a rebuild. Rodions Kurucs was picked 40 – every asset matters.
With that said, it is fair to say the Nets did very little at the deadline – their roster is the same minus Mitch Creek, and if the resign him, which they could, their roster will be identical.
Without a doubt, the Nets could have upgraded their 4 position, or upgraded in general, if so inclined. The Pelicans did not get a first for Mirotic. The Bulls got Otto Porter for Bobby Portis and Jabari Parker. A young big in Skal Labissiere was dealt cheaply. James Ennis was moved for virtually nothing. Even the price for Marc Gasol was not exacting.
When you consider the low market price for these pieces, the Nets, if they wanted to, could have been involved. They were not.
Should they have been? You can argue this both ways, and that is the million dollar question that will be answered this summer. I do tend to agree with the Nets approach. But you can make the strong argument that they should have made an upgrade, and you might wind up right after the summer.
On one hand, upgrade the roster, and the Nets in theory increase their chances at making the playoffs (that is no guarantee given the brutal upcoming schedule), and not getting destroyed once there (the east’s top 4, on paper, are brutal). In theory, that, in turn, makes the Nets a better sell to big targets this summer. And while you could retort, “wait for the buyout market,” typically, bought out veterans target ring chasing. The Nets do not offer that. They have to hope a bought out veteran looking to win is ok joining a team fighting for a low playoff seed, which is not common.
On the other hand, there is nothing the Nets could have done at the deadline that was going to get them past the top 4 in the east. The Nets, if they make the playoffs, will be a massive round 1 underdog – small upgrade or not. And through 57 games, the Nets have the league’s 18th best net rating – 12th during the 20-6 streak. The data reflects that the Nets are something like a 28-29 or 29-28 team – not far off their 30-27 record.
Nothing the Nets could have added would make them a contender. And at all levels, the cost must be considered.
The Nets could have added small fry type pieces, like say, Anthony Tolliver for a second round pick. Pieces like that are simply not moving the needle. And then there is the asset cost. You lose a second round pick. Using that pick in the draft could breed a higher upside piece, like Kurucs. Keeping that pick keeps in asset in the coffers for a BIG trade in the future – a 2024 second rounder just helped Toronto deal for Marc Gasol. Wouldn’t you rather use many trade chips on a big addition, then burn a few heat and there on small fry types?
The Nets level of player the Nets could have added? Mirotic. Given the optics of first round picks, the way to get him was probably putting their Denver first on the table. But the same principle as to asset wasting applies. If Mirotic leaves in the summer, you just wasted a first rounder on a first round losing noncontender. If he stays, the big salary figure to keep him cuts into their flexibility to add the thing they actually need – a tentpole Star.
Perhaps the Nets could have looked at Gasol or Porter. But at their salary figures, you are killing your flexibility going forward – again for pieces whom I do not believe make the Nets a contender right now. The Gasol deal works for a contender like Toronto – go all in to maximize said contender. The Nets aren’t there yet (nor is Chicago – I dislike the Porter deal for them).
Marks could have even done something like what Sacramento did for Barnes. Using flexibility and assets to get a player who definitely would make the Nets better, and is on their timeline. He chose not to do that.
Still, I like all of this because it harkens back to a comment Zach Lowe made that was critical of the Wizards short term building strategy — http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/25187751/zach-lowe-john-wall-bradley-beal-washington-wizards-nba — he said that sometimes, if you keep making these small B-/C+ additions, the loss of flexibility coalesces into a collective D in the end.
Putting all of this together, it at least appears Marks has big ambitions for this summer. He mentioned the summer of 2019 last summer when recapping his moves. Zach Lowe, in his deadline recap, noted that the Nets are ambitious right now and may have reason to be – clearly, his assessment of their inactivity was that they are maximizing flexibility for the summer. Plenty of tea leaves tend to indicate this. His moves indicate that he has placed collecting cap room and draft picks at a premium.
The Nets deadline can be recapped simply. They passed on good B (Barnes and Porter) C (Mirotic) and D (Tolliver type) level upgrades, because they did not want to mortgage any future flexibility that they can use on an “A” level upgrade. Marks felt fortifying an at best scrappy round 1 loser did not warrant that cost.
All of this means Marks faces a critical summer. For the first time, the Nets actually enter a summer under him with the ability to be a major player. Nobody wants to play for 54+ loss franchises, which effectively required Marks to settle, in each of his three summers, on a combination of money dumps for picks, short term veterans for culture purposes, and swings at RFA’s.
Marks is going to take swings this summer. And the fan base will expect him to connect. The advantage of not hedging against your future with pieces like Barnes and Porter is a clear runway to shoot for better. The disadvantage is that your shot at better might not work out the way you want it to.
If it doesn’t work out the way Marks wants it to, Marks is going to need to get creative. The Nets’ future flexibility will not last forever because his young players – Russell LeVert Allen Dinwiddie Kurucs and Harris – are not going to remain cheap forever. Marks either needs to get a star before those guys get paid, or, in what would be a gut punch, trade those guys for picks and rotate the wheel back to square one.
None of the deadlines for those events are coming in 2019. But they are coming.
For the moment, Marks’ choice to prioritize flexibility at the deadline over any upgrades to the roster is a defensible one.
But the next step – turning that flexibility into a team that can compete for a championship – will be much harder.