Category Archives: Analytics

A two year window, trades, and how that fits with fandom

The day was June 23, 2016.

The Nets were coming off a moribund 21-61 season. Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, two sturdy veterans who bought in and contributed to past playoff runs, were fan favorites.

Kenny Atkinson, prior, was interviewed and asked about Young. He said, Thad Young was “my guy,” and Sean Marks expressed a preference to retain him.

But then on June 23, the Nets traded him. The draft pick was used on Caris LeVert. It may seem silly now, but at the time, the trade was perceived negatively by Nets fans, and mixed at best. A fan favorite was traded for a first round pick. The pick was used on a player mocked lower in most mock drafts.

Fast forward four years, and LeVert is now the fan favorite. As fans, you ultimately support the team, are resilient, and move on from tough organizational decisions.

In every way, LeVert has earned the title of fan favorite. He has overcome injuries, adversity. He is a tireless worker. He seems like a genuine, good person. He supports strong social causes. He has improved immensely since his rookie year. He shows happiness when his teammates succeed, even on nights when he is not a participant in the success, or was hurt. He has accepted a variety of different roles. He is even a friend of Kevin Durant, although it should be noted he was a fan favorite regardless of KD.

Dealing LeVert would be a tough pill. You can say similar things about why it would be a difficult pill to deal any of the younger Nets who have been here since year one or two under Marks, but LeVert takes the cake.

Still, whether it is LeVert or any of the other Nets, the Nets should trade anyone, if they benefit on the court. No matter how popular, or deservingly beloved, the player. That is because the ultimate goal is a title – that matters more than keeping any player.

Certainly, Sean Marks thinks this way. He let D’Angelo Russell and Kenny Atkinson go, despite all they did for Brooklyn. It was not because of anything they did wrong. It was because Marks felt replacing them with different people (Kyrie and TBD, respectively), increased the probability of a title for Brooklyn.

NBA history tells us that three high level star teams are dominant, and win titles. Whether it’s the KD Warriors, the Heatles, or some of the old school Lakers and Celtics teams, if you had an elite superstar, and two more bonafide stars, you will likely win a title.

The Nets are the only franchise in the NBA that has the ability to enter next season with three such players. If a Bradley Beal like player is available, the Nets should jump on it. Would that require dealing LeVert? Yes, it would. But it would significantly increase the Nets’ title odds. Losing LeVert would hurt, but fans are resilient. When they see Beal (or Jrue Holiday, or Donovan Mitchell) in black and white, they’ll move on just fine.

Can the Nets win a title, as is? Yes, they can. KD and Kyrie, with the roster depth in place, can carry the Nets past the rest of the NBA. But that does not mean the Nets should be content with the roster.

Look no further than KD’s last team. The Warriors went 67-15, and dominated the NBA en route to their first title (the Grizzlies and Cavs series were not as close as six games would reflect, and a healthy Kyrie and Love would not have mattered, but that is a story for another day). The Warriors followed that up with the only 73-9 season ever, and likely win a second title if Draymond Green keeps his foot away from LeBron’s groin. The Warriors easily could have said “we will not disrupt this continuity to blow the roster up.” Instead, they relinquished two starters, and multiple rotation players, to add KD. You could argue the Warriors do not win a second title without that move – instead they won a second and third.

This Nets team, while talented, has holes. To win a title, the Nets need to go through Giannis, LeBron, Kawhi, and George. Or perhaps Tatum, Simmons, and Luka. That is going to require high level perimeter defense on guards, wings, and stretch fours. The Nets menu of options to throw at these players defensively is, quite candidly, weak.

There’s Jarrett Allen. But if he is your primary cover on ballhandlers, he is unavailable as a rim protector behind your primary cover. There’s KD; he can do it. But off a ruptured Achilles, do you want him to be your primary in that spot? After that, the options are bleak. LeVert has tools but has never put it together as a defender. Dinwiddie and Prince, same thing. Harris is too limited. The Nets simply have to improve their two way wing corps to win a title. Sure, they have the taxpayer midlevel of around $6 million per season, and minimum exceptions. But those are avenues to add reserves to shore up your depth, not high level options to start and finish games.

The LeVert Dinwiddie combo becomes the area of the roster to touch, first and foremost, in order to add anything of consequence. Both have significant value as a secondary playmaker to take pressure off Kyrie and KD, and help run the offense – this must be noted. In seeing the Lakers struggle in the Bubble, you can see the value in having that. However, there are diminishing returns with having two such players. The Nets cannot play all three together, and at times not even two of them together, because the fit is awkward; they all need the ball. This led to countless closing lineups for the Nets (dating back to DLO) where they had to bench one or two of their three lead players, and play lesser players like Temple, Chandler, Dudley, Prince, and Kurucs at the wing positions so that the parts fit.

Dealing one of LeVert or Dinwiddie to get a high quality wing who can play next to Kyrie and KD, or a true third star, is smart business. Turn those duplicative, cannot play together skills, into players who can play together and address weaknesses.

Allen is another trade piece in a similar vein. Unless your center is one of the league’s few stars (think Jokic, AD, Bam; do not think Capela), there is not much value in an expensive rim runner (which Allen will be soon) because many centers can fill the role. Note how the Lakers use Dwight and McGee. As a result, it simply makes sense to package Allen, for a star or for wing help that fits. Once again, smart business, albeit a hit to the heart.

The above captures what the Nets’ plan should be this summer. Plan B: turn players at positions where you can afford to become weaker (you do not need two secondary creators and two rim runners), into high level two way wings at the 2-4 spots who can shore up this significant roster weakness. In my opinion, if this means one of LeVert or Dinwiddie are moved (I would not deal both of them to achieve this plan), then that is what the Nets should do.

Plan A: get a true third star (LeVert and Dinwiddie are very good, top 50-75 players who help support your best players; stars are bonafide top 20 players who carry franchises and ARE those lead players). Become so talent heavy at the top of the roster, so tough to guard at full force, that this talent overcomes your weaknesses. If this means both LeVert and Dinwiddie must be moved, then that will need to occur.

All of this, admittedly, is tough to reconcile with fandom at times. It has gotten easier as an adult, but you still feel it. LeVert, for all the reasons I offer above, embodies everything these current Nets stand for. It hurts to see players like that leave. Dinwiddie grew from bit player to elite sixth man as a Net. Allen has been a good Net too and represented the borough well, taking underprivileged children shopping on Thanksgiving to help feed families and teach math and budgeting, supporting strong social causes, and being a genuine good person.

Still, if moving any or all of them is best for the Nets in pursing a title, then the Nets need to do it. That may sound like a tough pill but as fans, we are resilient. We also want a title more than we love any player.

As a result, when the new additions come, we will love them, and move on from the players who departed.

Just as we got over Thaddeus Young and appreciated Caris LeVert all those years ago.

If Beal is Available the Nets should Get Him

Brooklynsbeal, as they say on Twitter, is upon us.

According to Stefan Bondy of the Daily News, the Nets have internally discussed avenues to acquire Bradley Beal. Bondy did not mention, in his article, what a trade may look like, whether Washington would partake, or whether Beal wants to be a Net. For now, these are questions, and obstacles to a deal.

But for now, I will say this: if the Nets can get Beal this off-season, and if Beal wants to accept a third banana role, then they should get him.

A starting and finishing five built around KD, Irving, and Beal, would be devastating. With Kyrie and Beal’s ability to get downhill and create creases in defenses, and shoot the three, defenses would not have a place to hide bad defenders. Picture a lineup built around those three, Joe Harris, and DeAndre Jordan. What does a defender do when Kyrie, Beal, or Durant gets by his defender? Cheat off Jordan in the dunker spot? Cheat off Harris at the arc? Cheat off one of the other two stars? Any of those recipes spell death for opposing defenses.

Furthermore offensively, it is not as though the ball would stick. All three have thrived playing off the ball next to other mouths whom need feeding. Beal, unlike say, Oladipo, thrived next to John Wall for years. Kyrie thrived next to LeBron. Durant stepped into a ready made offensive system flush with others scorers and there was no adjustment period to learn how to play with him. Thinks clicked immediately, because Durant is a willing passer who does not need to dominate the ball to be effective. All three are willing passers, and fantastic perimeter shooters who excel off the ball.

The fit defensively is admittedly clunkier, but the team should survive. Durant was a legitimately great defender in Golden State. Kyrie can get lazy defensively, but when locked in in huge playoff games, he has defended well. Beal is not a good defender but was a part of multiple average defenses in Washington, and the 2015 Wizards ranked sixth in defense. He will not render the Nets ineffectual on that end. Place tough minded role players around them and a good coach can cobble a decent defense together.

Decent may be all they need. Remember, defense was the same knock on LeBron’s Cavs early in his second Cleveland stint.

I have read the various concerns about getting Beal (Twitter was the place to be today!). Fit, price, and the post KD Kyrie window. Let’s address them.

The fit concerns are understood. When you think about what KD and Kyrie provide, it makes sense to surround them with hard nosed role players who will shoot the three and defend, who will be ok without a ton of shots. Beal does not fit the mold.

And if Beal were Oladipo – a player we have never seen thrive as a second or third option – I would agree. However, we know Beal can thrive next to a ball dominant point guard like Kyrie – we saw it with John Wall. And at some level, a team’s talent level gets so high that, despite fit concerns, they figure it out and make it work. Talent trumps all.

Look at the 2010-2014 Heat. There were fit questions abound when they came together. How do LeBron and Wade share one ball? Who takes the last shot? How does LeBron or Wade play off ball, since neither is a perimeter shooter? However, they, and Bosh, WANTED it to work, and talent trumped fit.

Which brings me to my original point: the Nets should get Beal, IF he wants to be a third banana. If Beal does not want to be a third banana, then the Nets should stay away. This would not work if he does not accept his role. But if Beal wants to be part of something bigger than himself, then the Nets should make it happen.

This is why, before any deal, KD and Kyrie should talk to Beal. Is this what you want? You’re going to get maybe half the shots you get in Washington. On some nights you may only get 5-10 shots. Is this what you’re looking for and are you ready to make that kind of sacrifice?

If the answer is yes (but not otherwise), then let’s get it done. Elite big threes win championships.

There is also the question of price and the future. The Wizards would be dealing a top 15-20 player with two years left on his deal here. The Nets, lacking a blue chip asset (like a Jayson Tatum, or a Zion or Ja Morant) would have to go deep into their pool of assets. LeVert (approaching 26 and not a star or top 40 player), Dinwiddie (a decent starter and nothing more), Allen (a year from a payday), picks in the 20s, and Claxton (who was just drafted 31 and has had maybe three decently solid games as a pro) is not exactly a great pool of assets. The rest of the pieces on the roster are worth little in deals. The Wizards would definitely demand Dinwiddie and LeVert, and probably a combo of Allen or Claxton and 2-3 firsts.

That’s steep, I get it. But why are the Wizards dealing a star on a long term deal for less?

Here is the thing with trades though. Yes, depth is lost. But the Nets would presumably retain pieces in house. They likely still have Harris, one of Claxton or Allen, Jordan, and Temple after the deal. From there, they have the taxpayer midlevel and minimum exception slots in free agency, with a trio that free agents will be dying to play with. The Nets can use free agency, and any remaining 2020 draft picks, to mitigate the loss of depth (and can do so again in the 2021 summer).

As for the concerns of a post KD Kyrie window? Right now, the Nets should be all in on winning a title while they are here. Title windows are precious and even when you think they will last forever, they can close in the blink of an eye. So, you cannot hedge against your window to focus on the future. The 1990s Magic and 2010s Thunder were supposed to be the next NBA dynasties. The 2010s Bulls were supposed to challenge the Heat for East supremacy behind Derrick Rose every year. The Warriors went from “it’s not fair how great they are” to 15-50 in the blink of an eye. The burgeoning 2002 Kings were going to see the Lakers again before Chris Webber got hurt.

Sure, KD and Kyrie purportedly want to retire here. Well, LeBron wrote a love letter pledging to stay in Cleveland forever. PG told OKC he was there to stay. Kyrie for his part said he would resign in Boston. Stars change their minds constantly. The Nets have to operate as though KD and Kyrie will leave in 2022, and maximize their title shot through that date. The same goes for the Lakers Clippers and others with their stars.

Also, the issue is a red herring — there is no post KD Kyrie window because there is no player or asset that can be built around. Suppose KD and Kyrie walk in 2022. LeVert, who is not a star, will be 28. Dinwiddie, a decent starter, will be 29. Even if Allen grows as a rim protector, players of his ilk are not cornerstones. Claxton is fun, but if he really had massive potential to be an elite player, would he have fallen to 31 in the draft and barely played this year? The rest of the roster, in terms of the future cornerstone conversation, is not in the conversation, and the impending picks in the 20s and below cannot be counted on to acquire a blue chip, either.

Translation: if KD and Kyrie walk in 2022, the Nets will be doomed to a long rebuild, with no blue chip in house to build around, no matter what. If the future is bleak regardless, you may as well maximize the present.

Plus, if anything, Beal actually improves the Nets future. He gives them a blue chip to build around, or trade for a hefty sum of picks and kids, if KD and Kyrie defect.

This is a big impending offseason for the Nets. They have a real championship window here, and they have to seize it.

How can they do it? By getting Bradley Beal.

The Last Dance, and KD and Kyrie: Let’s Embrace the Drama

Bar none, if you are a NBA fan, you are glued to the Last Dance.  If you are reading this article, you are most definitely glued to the Last Dance.

The Last Dance is a phenomenal, compelling documentary.  The easy takeaway is that it displays Michael Jordan’s brilliance.  The other takeaway, bubbling under the surface?

That the 90’s Bulls dealt with their share of drama, their share of reported issues that they may not have wanted out in the public sphere.

That dealing with drama, as a NBA franchise, is perfectly fine.  In fact, as long as the drama does not evolve into dysfunction, it is a good thing.

The Last Dance puts on full display that the Bulls managing their share of interpersonal issues, negative reports, and a slew of talking heads getting their licks in.  Michael Jordan was crucified during the 1993 Eastern Conference Finals for going to Atlantic City the night before a game. He responded by shunning the media for two weeks. Jordan and Scottie Pippen detested the Bulls’ general manager, Jerry Krause, and appeared to hate their own future teammate, in Toni Kukoc. Jordan did not want the ball to be passed to certain teammates.  Tension brewed between Jordan and Pippen concerning how Pippen handled his summer of 1997 rehabilitation and contract demands. Dennis Rodman fled from the team to go to Las Vegas. Jordan, if you read content from historians of the era, coach killed Doug Collins.

And yet, despite all of that reported drama — documented then and now — much of it was barely recalled, before the Last Dance.  Why is that?

Hint: number 23 can give you six reasons.

All of this begs a question.  The 90’s Bulls seemed content letting this drama be made public.  There was no rush to dance around these issues, or pretend they were not going on.  The Bulls simply let their results speak for them.  So, why is it that when teams and players face drama today, there is a rush to quiet the noise? Why do we feel that need?

The answer, of course, is social media.  When the teams of yesteryear dealt with drama, the issues were reported by a select few newspaper reporters covering the team, and maybe a national beat or two.  The reporter documented what happened, and folks took the report for what it was. There was no need for the reporter to sensationalize the story for clicks — with fewer voices covering teams, why force it?

Today, on the other hand, there are hundreds of voices closely covering and discussing teams, at various levels.  Inevitably, competition leads to some media members wanting to stand out, which leads to sensationalism of the issue to ensure that said media stands out. Jordan skipping town for AC today? We would have seen hitpiece after hitpiece, tweet after tweet.  “He lost his desire to win.” “He wants out of Chicago.” “Did you see the grimace he gave Scottie? He’s done with Pippen as a teammate.” Fringe folks wanting in on the action would take something Jordan did or said (like a glare towards Phil Jackson), and used that to launch a hit piece as well.  Different coverage leads to a different fan response.  When a dependable newspaper voice simply documents that Jordan was in Atlantic City, fans can accept that at face value.  But, when media sensationalize the events as something way more dramatic than what it is, the natural response from teams, players, and fans, is to oppose that, take umbrage to the characterization.  It leads to an overly drastic market correction, wherein the Bulls and Jordan likely would have denied the claim he was in AC, and fans would have run with that denial.

This cycle leads to an interesting phenomenon.  The response to teams or players dealing with drama, is to attack the reporting of said drama.  The perception: “drama is bad, and we must deny that we are facing it.”  This leads to outcomes like LeBron James denying his personnel power in Cleveland and Los Angeles, Kevin Durant denying reports of drama within the 2019 Warriors and his having one foot out the door, and the like.

But as we saw with the 90’s Bulls, there is no reason for that.  The 90’s Bulls were loaded with drama and interpersonal issues.  But it does not matter, because they won six championships.  As the Bulls showed us, drama is fine, as long as it does not lead to dysfunction.  Just look at the Shaq and Kobe feud.  The feud predates their three peat.  So, clearly, drama between the two superstars did not harm the Lakers.  However, the feud, eventually, grew into dysfunction in 2003 and 2004.  The Lakers handled drama just fine — we all do.  It was only when drama veered into dysfunction, that things went off the rails.

This brings us to the Brooklyn Nets. Just about one year into the KD Kyrie era, there has been plenty of drama.  Jackie MacMullan Jackie MacMullan reported, after spending days with the team, that KD and Kyrie were reluctant to engage in portions of the Nets’ daily routine for players. KD and Kyrie reportedly had no desire to play for Kenny Atkinson next season, and he was fired.  Kyrie said it was glaring the Nets needed more players to complement just six players on the roster — a quote that implies that the non listed players are not part of the core and must be upgraded. And, in a move that was just too on the nose, it was reported that KD and Kyrie’s tension as to Kenny arose in part from their wanting DeAndre Jordan to start over Jarrett Allen, and Jordan “won” the starting job in interim coach Jacque Vaughn’s first game.

That makes for a lot of drama.  And, you know what, that is good. Embrace it.  If the media is not uncovering drama within your organization, that means you are not relevant.  The best teams deal with public drama, whether it was the 90’s Bulls, the Shaq and Kobe Lakers, the Heatles (between this “accidental bump” and LeBron-Wade tensions over whose team it would be, the issues in Miami were real until they won a title), or the Warriors.  LeBron’s Cavs? One issue after another, after another. Tim Duncan’s Spurs were the exception, not the rule. All of these teams won, because all is well in paradise as long as drama does not become dysfunction and affect performance. In fact, when you win, you recall the drama fondly.  Jordan tells tales about Rodman with a smile, not a frown.

The Nets will encounter drama during this KD Kyrie run.  Who knows what exactly it will be, but it will be reported.  Maybe KD or Kyrie will give a dirty look to a teammate, or to each other. Maybe KD and Kyrie will be reported as wanting some substantial trades to upgrade the roster.  Maybe they’ll say something passive aggressive about their teammates.  Without a crystal ball, who knows what it will be, but it will be something. Some of it will be exaggerated, sensationalized.  Some of it, however, will be true.

My suggestion? Embrace it.  Enjoy the drama, the colorful rumors, the explosive reports. It is a sign of relevance — only good teams are covered that way.  As long as KD, Kyrie, and the rest of the Nets focus on their play, and do not let the drama become dysfunction and affect their on court performance, the Nets will be just fine.  They might just win a NBA championship.

The Warriors do not deal with drama now.  The Nets did not deal with drama during 2017-2018.  Things are pretty calm in about 20 NBA cities.

They can have the quiet.  I’ll take the drama, and a shot at Larry O’Brien.

 

Nets Coaching List Revealed: What Does It Tell Us

Thursday night may have been dominated by the NFL Draft.

But Thursday afternoon? The Brooklyn Nets seized the day.

According to Marc Stein of the New York Times, “Tyronn Lue, Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson, Jeff Van Gundy and the incumbent interim coach Jacque Vaughn are among the names on the Nets’ developing list of coaching candidates.” In subsequent tweets, Stein lists Mike Brown as a name to monitor, notes that the Nets’ process has not yet hit “top speed,” and notes that Tom Thibodeau is not a candidate for the Nets head coaching job.

Before diving into my takeaways on what the Nets are thinking here, the way I rank these candidates, is as follows: Lue; Kidd; Jackson; Vaughn. Van Gundy has not coached in thirteen years, making it too difficult to project how he would coach in the modern game.  I prefer Lue strongly over the other candidates, all of whom I have no interest in seeing coach the Nets.

However, what I think is not necessarily what the Nets think, and the list gives us a window into the Nets thinking in three aspects. They are threefold.  First, subject to the rest of the candidate list and hiring result, it appears possible that Marks has ceded some organizational control to KD and Kyrie, and that is a good thing. Second, it appears there is smoke behind Lue’s candidacy.  Third, it appears Kidd is a strong candidate for the job, and that the Nets have begun a PR campaign to push his candidacy, in an effort to sway fans whom feel jaded by how Kidd ended his first coaching stint with the team.

Let’s dive into the how and why, as I see it.

 

Organizational control to KD and Kyrie: The Stein lists tends to show that Marks has ceded some organizational control to KD and Kyrie, and that is just fine for the Nets.

From the moment the Nets hired Sean Marks (and shortly after, Kenny Atkinson), the Nets’ commitment to analytics has been steadfast, in their offensive and defensive systems, how they allocate minutes, their roster moves, and in their hires. In this good article by Bryan Fonseca on Netsdaily, Fonseca provides excellent insights into the Nets’ analytics philosophy and how it helped spearhead the Nets’ rebuild. In this good Ringer article by Kevin O’Connor from earlier in the Nets rebuild, he delves into similar details. As the articles and hires detail, the Nets’ commitment to analytics originates with Marks, not Kenny Atkinson, and has been a staple of the Marks regime.

The commitment to analytics is seen on the court, too. A significant analytics tenet is to take as many layups and threes as possible. The Nets offense and defense under Atkinson? It was designed to maximize the amount of threes and layups the Nets shoot, while forcing opponents to shoot as few layups and threes as possible. Another significant analytics and modern organizational tenet? Minutes and load management.  The Nets? This regime has committed to limiting minutes, even for its best players, in the interests of load management.

Marks’ dedication to analytics simply does not line up with the beliefs of Kevin Durant on the subject, who has expressednumerous times, his disdain for analytics as they pertain to, for example, the value of midrange jumpers. Whether it is condescension about graphs in basketball (read: an way to share analytics), or his belief in going to his “middy” (a term of endearment for a midrange jumper, much unlike how analytics folks see the midrange), Durant is just not a believer. Kyrie Irving? Not exactly an analytics guy, either.

Which brings us to the Nets’ list of coaches.  The list is not congruent with an organization that is committed to analytics; the list is congruent with someone who does not value analytics. The list, as a result, tends to show that Durant and Irving, not Marks, are pulling the strings in this coaching search. We cannot finalize any conclusions until we see the full list and who the Nets hire, but that is where the results trend at the moment.  Just look at the names.  Jason Kidd? His systems in Milwaukee, replete with midrangers and a pressure based defense that surrendered corner threes by design (read: anti analytics). When Mike Budenholzer replaced him, the team, modernized its principles on both ends (read: embraced analytics).  Mark Jackson? The same issue but to an even further extreme.  When replaced by Steve Kerr, Kerr basically stripped away Jackson’s anti analytics, post the mistmatch offense, with a modern offense built around generating threes. Jeff Van Gundy? He is known for using commentating as a soapbox to bemoan the sport’s recent commitment to analytics and load management.

That is a Durant-Irving list of names.  A major former player in Kidd whom they respect for his talent. A figure in Jackson who, for some folks less inclined toward analytics, is perceived as not getting enough credit for the growth of the Warriors. A glamour name in Van Gundy who stars recognize.

As this all reflects, Marks appears to have ceded control to KD and Kyrie.  Which, for the record, is more than fine.  Durant and Irving know what coach will make them tick, inspire them to play their best, and get the Nets over the top.  They know Atkinson is not that coach, and they think the names on this list — all of them — might be.  GM’s may make all the decisions with no player input when they have a roster of role players and non star starters. But GM’s don’t dictate to stars — they partner with them.  And in the Nets handing out Jordan’s contract, starting Jordan, firing Kenny, and creating this list of coaches, we are witnessing that partnership unfold.

Stars having power is not scandalous, but it is reality. NBA stars have more impact on winning than the stars in any other sport. Titles and deep playoff appearances are driven almost entirely by where the NBA’s fifteen or so best players play. This gives stars major leverage and, yes, personnel power, because they use their leverage to obtain the ability to both choose where to play, and choose how that team operates.

This all begs the question: why are teams, and players, so reluctant to admit, either in leaks or their own voices, that stars have personnel power? The answer is in the optics. NBA fans are often fans of other sports, where superstars have less impact and thus you do not see stars with power, or see it much less. It feels, to some, like overstepping, and it is inconsistent with cultural norms about franchise power coming from the organization instead of the player (did you see any reports that NFL teams were drafting who their stars demanded, or hiring the coach their star wanted?).  As a result, an absurdity develops — both teams and stars have a vested interest in presenting a fictional reality that teams have autonomy and stars lack power.  We saw this in Cleveland and LA, where LeBron camp has regularly denied assertions of his power over both franchises. Players do not want to turn off fans who see players with power as entitled, spoiled, or whatever other bad adjective.  And teams know that they must convince fans to believe in them in a way that survives the star leaving the franchise.  It is harder to do that if the star gets credit for bringing in other good players and the head coach.

Really, we should move past this. The premise that KD and Kyrie have power with the Nets is an expression of the reality of the NBA. It is not an accusation directed at them, or at the Nets.  The large DeAndre Jordan contract, the coaching list, Jordan starting over Allen, and arguably the firing of Kenny itself, are all demonstrations of KD and Kyrie’s power with the Nets. And that is ok.

 

The Smoke behind Lue: Per Vince Goodwill of Yahoo!, Irving wants Lue to be the next Nets coach.  While Kyrie’s camp denied it, he knows Vaughn is the coach and, as described above, wants to avoid the appearance of power — as such, his denial is basically worthless. Per Stefan Bondy of the Daily News, Lue would like to coach Kyrie.  Per Joe Vardon (who knows Kyrie better than any reporter) of The Athletic, any prior issues between Irving and Lue are more or less water under the bridge. Per Richard Jefferson (who works for YES, which, as the Nets’ broadcasting partner, does PR and marketing for the franchise like any other broadcasting partner), Lue is a great candidate. None of this goes as far as to say Lue is a frontrunner, but there is certainly smoke there. Often, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

PR push behind Kidd: Five days ago Anthony Puccio of Netsdaily advocated for some sort of embrace for the point guard from his former team , in an article that focused on embracing the franchise’s NJ roots.  To be noted, the article did not mention Kidd with respect to the Nets’ coaching search.  Two days ago, Kidd appeared on an interview on YES as part of the network’s “We Are Here” segments, essentially reminiscing about his good times with the franchise.  Subsequently, Kidd was on the Nets’ list of coaches, and Netsdaily tweeted, “no real surprise he’s on list. He’d be on any smart team’s list of head coaching candidates.”  This all feels a little too coincidental. The Nets know that there are bitter feelings within the fanbase about Kidd’s power play in 2014. Were they to hire him as head coach, they would, naturally, want to convince fans that, despite what happened in 2014, this is a good hire.  The Nets having him on YES to effectively smooth over hurt feelings and remind people of the good times, right when he appears on their list, is quite the coincidence. There is smoke here, as well.

Bonus: A note on Jacque Vaughn: It is true that Marks has been complementary of Vaughn since dismissing Atkinson.  However, I would not read into it for a few reasons. First, as was mentioned by John Hollinger on the Glue Guys podcast and was said in other places, the Nets are looking for a big name – Vaughn, unlike the others, is not a big name. Second, in theory the best case Vaughn could have made for the job was coaching well during the close to the season.  While I will not speculate on the coronavirus, it is fair to say that it is far from certain that the 2019-2020 season will ever resume.  Third, there are optics: when Steve Stoute of the Knicks mentioned that the team would be hiring a new coach after this season, Stefan Bondy tweeted as follows: “Mike Miller and his staff understand the situation but it’s unfair and ridiculous to hear from Steve Stoute on ESPN that they’re not returning. They’ve grinded with this team for two seasons.”  Bondy said that because it is disrespectful for an organization, when a coach (or any employee) is under contract, to openly discuss the job as being vacant. The classy thing to do — the right thing to do — is to publicly sing the praises of the incumbent.  You still conduct a clandestine search because this is a business.  As a result, Marks’ public comments concerning Vaughn are not significant in terms of what Marks actually believes.

A Pivotal Nets Offseason: What Comes Next?

In the dog days of quarantine, the world has stopped.

But once the quarantine lifts, the Nets must be ready to go.

Once the 2019-2020 season ends, a two year championship window opens for the Brooklyn Nets, and it is imperative that every decision they make is directed toward maximizing their ability to win it all, within that window.

One may wonder: why is the window only two years, when KD and Kyrie indicated they intend to retire in Brooklyn? The answer? Stars in this era constantly say they are staying put, but move from franchise to franchise. Thus, for all contenders built around stars, their window closes when the contracts of those stars expire. LeBron said he would not leave Cleveland until he brought the region a title; then counted more titles in Miami at a ticket holder rally than years he played for the team; and then pledged to remain in Cleveland forever. Kyrie promised to resign in Boston. KD was reported in OKC as not being one to lust for free agency, and then in Golden State he bristled at reports he had a foot out the door. PG13 resigned in OKC and told fans “I’m here to stay.”

Stars have the right to change their minds about staying put, or to lie about staying put to avoid an awkward situation.  With that said, stars do this so commonly, that for all teams with a star under contract, it is imperative to win a title during that contract.  The future is promised to no one.

As a result, the Nets must go “all in” on their upcoming two year window.  Will going all in compromise the ability to rebuild after KD and Kyrie leave?  Maybe But the Nets are in for a rough rebuild when KD and Kyrie leave, no matter what.  There is no Ja Morant, Zion Williamson, or Trae Young like piece to launch a rebuild around.  As a result, any move that limits this two year window to focus on a “post KD Kyrie core” is a mistake — there is no post KD Kyrie core to speak of.

The necessity of going all in on this two year window also makes it foolish for the Nets to decline trades that make the team better, on the ground that, “you need to see how it looks with this core, first.” Why do you need to see that? It is Sean Marks’ responsibility to maximize the Nets’ chance to win a title in these two years.  If that maximization means dealing fan favorites, or players who paid their dues under this regime, then so be it. Marks displayed his understanding of this when he fired Kenny Atkinson and let D’Angelo Russell walk.  You can contend that both were the two primary faces of what Marks constructed, pre KD and Kyrie.  Marks let both go because his sole obligation is to win a championship, not to reward past contributions.

Lastly, one rationale sometimes noted for the Nets staying quiet on the trade market is that they “have enough to win right now.”  Maybe, they do.  But it is Marks’ job to make the Nets as great as possible — ignoring chances to improve because what he has might be enough would be organizational malpractice.

To be clear, none of this is to say that the Nets must make a trade/transaction.  As Marks has done from day one, his stance on trades/transactions should be as follows.  If a trade/transaction makes the Nets better, and the opportunity cost is worth it, then the Nets should make the trade.  If a trade/transaction does not make Nets better, or the opportunity cost is not worth it, then the Nets should not make the trade.  If that means LeVert, Dinwiddie, and Harris get moved, then they get moved.  If that means TLC, Kurucs, and Musa are not moved, then they are not moved.

The opportunity cost of a trade, or the lost of alternatives, as mentioned above, is important.  Suppose you have $2, and a bottle of Pepsi and bottle of Sprite each cost $2.  If you buy Pepsi, you cannot buy Sprite.  That is the opportunity cost.  From the perspective of the Nets, suppose they can trade Taurean Prince and two first round picks for JJ Redick.  On value, this trade makes the Nets better.  However, the opportunity cost might not be worth it — if Bradley Beal is available, are the Nets unable to get him now, because they burned two firsts on Redick?

Lastly, before we dive into each player on the roster, let’s consider the Nets’ cap situation, as this affects the Nets’ options this summer.  In short, the Nets will be over the cap, and thus only have available to offer free agents one taxpayer midlevel of $6.025 million (which can be given to one player or distributed among multiple players), and unlimited minimum exceptions.  Using pre-coronavirus cap projections, if the Nets renounce all of their free agents (including Joe Harris.  Note that renouncing him, given his ability, would mean letting him walk), they would be $21.59 over the cap.

In short, the biggest free agency weapon available to the Nets is a touch over $6 million.  This is one reason the Nets are reportedly being aggressive in the trade market — if they want to make a significant addition to the starting linep, the only realistic avenue is a trade.

With all of this said, let’s take a look at the players.

I. The Untouchables – Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving

This one is easy. Marks has built this team around Durant and Irving — they, and they only, are the core of the team. Everyone else is here to support them.  Marks should and will keep them, and explore improving the roster around them. Both will be back.

II. The Guards – Caris LeVert and Spencer Dinwiddie. 

Marks should be aggressive exploring trades involving each of these players.  If the Nets are able to attain a third star, they should trade one, or both if the player is as good as Bradley Beal.  When is the last time a team with three players that excellent did not win a title?  If the Nets can get away with trading one, my preference would be to trade LeVert, due to Dinwiddie’s durability, and better body of work as a sixth man (the ideal role for either player).  However, the tea leaves appear to show that Marks prefers to keep LeVert and deal Dinwiddie.

Kyrie Irving is going to have the ball constantly next season, and Durant will obviously have it a lot as well.  The Nets starting lineup, and finishing five, should either feature a third star, or players who do not need the ball to thrive, and can play off of them. Think about, for example, how well Klay Thompson fit with Curry and KD in Golden State – or how well Buddy Hield would fit next to Kyrie and KD.

A star next to KD and Kyrie taking possessions from them is one thing.  Bradley Beal is so good that the Nets can live with Irving and KD ball watching for a little bit.

LeVert and Dinwiddie are good players, but they are not that caliber.  In a league of arguably 20-25 or so stars, LeVert and Dinwiddie simply are not at that level.  Having one of them anchor the second unit helps, but the fit between them and Kyrie, as it was with DLO before Kyrie, has been awkward by the eye test.  The numbers on Kyrie and Dinwiddie together are good, but the sample is small. The Nets would be much better served with a player who can dependably start next to Kyrie and KD, as opposed to a player who looks great in flashes but does not fit with the stars.

The Nets, with LeVert or Dinwiddie’s salary, other salaries (notably Taurean Prince), Allen’s value, and their warchest of picks, have the assets to add a star, or a very good third piece that would fit around Kyrie and KD like a glove. If they can get that player, they should pull the trigger, as opposed to continuing to force the fit of LeVert and Dinwiddie next to Kyrie and KD. If the Nets can get a player comparable in level to LeVert and Dinwiddie, who fits better, they should pull the trigger on dealing one of them.  If they can get a third star, they should do so as well, and should perhaps be ok dealing both.

The verdict: LeVert is likely to be a Net, at around 60% odds, while Dinwiddie is unlikely to remain a Net, at around 40% odds.  Marks, by all accounts, has been aggressive.  He dumped Atkinson and DLO, and would not hesitate dumping LeVert or Dinwiddie.

III. The Other Notables Under Contract – Taurean Prince, Jarrett Allen, and DeAndre Jordan

Taurean Prince is an interesting asset this summer. The Nets apparently hoped he would settle in as a solid two way wing, comprising the start of a group of players whom the Nets could use by committee to guard Giannis, Kawhi, and other starry wings.  It has not worked.  With his $12.25 million salary, his figure will help them salary match in deals for upgrades.  However, it is possible that he has negative value at this point.

My prediction and desire here are the same – Marks will try to use Prince’s salary in trades for a significant addition.  However, if that does not work, and if dealing him requires offloading assets just to move him, then Marks will keep him. He will likely be moved.

As for Jarrett Allen, his value to the Nets is not as high as to a rebuild.  Allen provides nothing to the Nets that DeAndre Jordan does not.  Both are asked to block shots, defend, rebound, and score off layups and dunks as rim runners – Allen is better at some skills, and Jordan at others, but they are largely duplicative.  The Nets, rather than paying Allen $15 million per year on an extension, would be well served using his asset value to a rebuild to bring in a significant starter, by dealing him with one of LeVert or Dinwiddie. Moreover, reports from Shams Charania, Zach Lowe, and John Hollinger all implied that Allen starting over Jordan was a source of friction among other players on the team. Once Atkinson was fired after a locker room blowup, the Nets immediately started Jordan over Allen.  What that sequence of events says about Allen’s place in this Nets core is obvious.  And that comes before mentioning that Kyrie listed out the players he sees as in the Nets core, yet omitted Allen. That was no accident.

The verdict here: Allen is likely moved to help provide the Nets with better wing play.

Finally, concerning DeAndre, he is likely to be back.  He is still productive.  KD and Kyrie want to play with him.  And, if Marks were to shop him, he would find that Jordan has negative value, requiring the attachment of picks to offload his deal.  It makes no sense for the Nets to deal a rotation player at a loss right now.  Jordan will be back.

IV. The key free agents: Joe Harris and Garrett Temple

Due to the Nets’ way over the cap status, they should keep Harris and Temple.  They are basically in “bird rights prison.” Because the Nets have Bird rights on Harris and a $5 million option on Temple, they can exceed the cap to retain both players – they can max Harris, even. However, if the Nets let either player walk, the only way to “replace” them, is to sign a player for the minimum exception.  That player will not be as good as Harris, and likely not Temple, either. As a result, they must keep both, regardless of the price.

I do expect Marks to keep both — ultimately, it will be Joe Tsai’s call on whether he is willing to spend to win. It must be noted that Tsai, himself and through sources (and through Marks) has declared his willingness to spend.  However, many owners before Tsai have pledged to spend, only to pull back on that pledge when it comes time to write the check.  Nothing is official until the owner opens the checkbook. In that vein, it also should be noted that Hollinger, Lowe, and Harris himself, have expressed uncertainty about the final outcome. Harris said he would stay “in an ideal world,” which sounds like code for “if they pay me.” The world is not always ideal.

The verdict here is that the Nets should and will retain both players.

V. The kid: Nic Claxton

Claxton is a unique player on the Nets roster.  Skill wise, he is the only big the Nets have who can push the ball, and shoot the ball (based on his G league stats).  He can pass. He profiles as a player who can guard multiple positions.  If he puts it together, he can help the Nets win a title.

With that said, Claxton is raw.  Just like LeVert and Dinwiddie, Claxton may be a trade chip, as the Nets look to add a third bigtime player to this roster. Would the Nets prefer to keep him? Absolutely.  But if a team deals a player as good as Beal, John Collins, Karl Anthony Towns, or the like (just examples), that team is likely going to seek kids far from RFA and picks in return, and Claxton fits the bill. If that team demands him, will Marks be able to keep him out of the deal? Can Marks justify not acquiring a great player in the short term because of Claxton?

I hope the Nets keep Claxton. And the verdict here is that Marks finds a way to add a bigtime player without dealing Claxton.  But this is a discussion worth having.

VI. The fringe: Chiozza, Kurucs, TLC, Musa, Chandler, Pinson, and Martin

When you are not contending for a title (ie: rebuilding, or a playoff team not in the mix), it makes sense to stock your roster (more so during a rebuild), with as many fringe young players as possible. The hope is that, among the fray, you find gems, like the Nets did with Dinwiddie and Harris. Many of these players amount to nothing (see: Anthony Bennett, Justin Hamilton, Sean Kilpatrick, and other early Marks Nets legends), but since you are not winning a title, that is the risk you take, to uncover a gem who can be significant piece down the road.

However, now that the Nets are chasing a NBA title, the risk of multiple fringe players flaking out is not worth the reward. The Nets need to stock their bench with as many win now, ready made vets as possible.

Can the Nets convince a Serge Ibaka to play for the taxpayer midlevel? A Kelly Olynyk? Paul Millsap, if we get frisky? Can they coax a Kent Bazemore to sign for the veterans minimum? A Wes Matthews? Does Jeff Teague play for the minimum to ring chase in a hopeful career revival as a third string point guard? Does Robin Lopez?

The answer to all those questions, is “who knows.” But with that said, that is where the Nets are at in terms of their roster building.  The focus on building the bottom of their roster should, and likely will, be on selling as many established veterans as possible on the idea of taking less money than they are worth to join the Nets, because they have a chance to win a title.

That makes each of these players — Chiozza, Kurucs, TLC, Musa, Chandler, Pinson, and Martin — an afterthought this summer.  If they are back, they are back.  If they sign elsewhere as the Nets chase win now vets, c’est la vie.

The verdict here is that Chiozza and Musa will be back, with the rest departing.

 

It’s title chase time in Brooklyn. After rewatching game two of the 2003 NBA finals last week, I cannot wait any longer.

Game on, NBA.