Category Archives: Analytics

Nets Trade Deadline Primer: Who will be on the move?

Welcome, NBA fans, to one of the best times of the year! It’s NBA trade deadline season.

We are officially within four days (to the hour) of the trade deadline of February 8 at 3pm. For the moment, things will likely stay quiet.  Teams want to flout trades to the media and do victory laps; why get upstaged by the Super Bowl. And on Monday and Tuesday, teams may be quiet because closer to the Thursday deadline is when teams make their best pitches, and become most desperate in selling their players.

With the deadline upon us, let’s get to the nitty gritty.

What should the Nets strategy be from a “what to acquire” standpoint?

Simple. Cash out as many pieces on the roster for assets as possible. If the Nets are to contend in the 2020’s with teams as talented as Boston, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, Washington, Cleveland (?), and other star laden groups, they are going to need more high end talent than this core will afford. The last thing the Nets want to do is pay a cache of role players, and then when future opportunities for young stars arise, lack the draft capital to deal for them, the cap space to sign them, or the high lottery picks to draft them outright.

How can the Nets manufacture leverage?

Patience. Patience at the deadline is a virtue. The Nets probably can get a second rounder or two for Joe Harris, right now. They can probably dump DeMarre Carroll for a second rounder and a castoff young player, right now.

But trades in the NBA are not defined by true market value. They are defined by desperate teams overpaying for players.  What if the Cavs become desperate to unload their “Brooklyn pick” for something to appease LeBron, and a Dinwiddie-Carroll-Harris-Raptors pick package gets the job done because Cleveland is desperate to make their star happy (h/t @pscar80)?  Improbable? Sure.  But if the Nets deal Joe Harris right now for two seconds, they’ll be kicking themselves — and we’ll be kicking them metaphorically — if something that thin goes down with Cleveland and another team.

Or what if, more simply, dealing Harris to a team and taking bad money back nets a FIRST rounder, rather than two seconds, because someone is anxious to unload a deal at the last opportunity. Unlikely? You bet. Market value for Harris? No. Impossible? No.

You can always circle back to a team at noon on Thursday and get second rounders for Harris. Or something small for Carroll, or Stauskas, or another piece. Before doing that, it is worth seeing if someone will overpay, or if multiple assets in combination provide a large return (as opposed to multiple assets, in separate deals, providing multiple small returns).

The overall point? Don’t settle for simple market value deals for your pieces.  See if someone is willing to overpay, due to desperation or overvaluation.

So who can they move. 

Below is a list of Nets players and trade assets — from most to least (in my estimation using educated guesswork – I do not have a source but I am using logic) likely to get dealt.

Joe Harris: The amount of consternation about dealing Harris is unusual. Harris is a role player. Nothing more. Rebuilding teams cannot tie their cap up going forward in bench players, and then lack the flexibility for stars as a result. Harris is a guy the Nets need to deal for picks. Fans should take little stock in the “they’re not shopping they’re listening” type of talk. Listening is all you need to do to make a deal.

Tyler Zeller: Having gone from starter to barely if playing, he is a clear candidate for a deal. His value is minimal so any asset based return is a win.

Isaiah Whitehead, Quincy Acy, James Webb, and Milton Doyle: These are low value, low cost young players who the Nets can throw into a deal if it greases the skids or makes the money work. If all that stands between a deal to get assets and no deal are these pieces, neither side will balk. That makes none of them likely to fetch an independent return of assets but all of them likely to be moved.

Nik Stauskas: Stauskas has next to no trade value.  He was a clear throw in in the Nets deal and had negative value in Sacramento as well. The Nets can try to fetch an asset but that feels unlikely.

Jahlil Okafor: It’s about time we judge players by their performance and not their draft position. Okafor failed in Philly. There’s a reason: his game is an obsolete relic. Some like to say he can be an Enes Kanter – but is that a good thing? Kanter can’t play for playoff teams in important games. If the Nets can turn Okafor’s expiring into an asset they should consider it. Perhaps the way to do it is to pool his deal with Stauskas, and eat a contract into 2018-2019.

DeMarre Carroll: I view his situation simply.  If he reigns in a first rounder (or a comparable young player far from his extension year), the Nets need to pull the trigger because this may be the peak of his value.  If he does not, trading him for a paltry return is pointless because he is under contract next year.  In that latter instance, I would bring him into 2018-2019, and see if he has more value as an expiring deal, rather than cashing him in for little.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson: It is hard to see RHJ becoming more than a role player in the NBA. A role player who cannot shoot and is not versatile defensively, at that. The Nets should maximize his value by getting a pick or rookie at some point in time before his 2019 free agency.

Spencer Dinwiddie: Dinwiddie is an amazing story. But when he gets his next contract, and when the Nets try to contend in the 2020’s, what will matter is talent, not stories. Dinwiddie is a below average or fringe starting point guard, and he does not figure to progress much further than that because he does not shoot and score consistently enough. Can the Nets commit to that going forward? If a team offers a mid first or other comparable goodies, the Nets can’t just shut their ears.

Jeremy Lin: This is similar to Carroll in that you likely get more value for him next year — that is especially true considering he will opt in. His injury kills his value so much that dealing him now is unlikely; you are better off waiting to see if he recovers value next year.

Caris LeVert: LeVert’s upside given his age is not quite Allen’s or Russell’s but he is a key part of the future. It would take a significant return to pry him. Still, the Nets cannot shut their ears if he gets them into the lottery, where players have larger growth curves. LeVert is a critical piece. But he’s far from untouchable.

Timofey Mozgov: He has 0 trade value. Perhaps a buyout is possible, but the Nets would be remiss to stretch Mozgov’s money over further out salary cap seasons than 2020, and it is unlikely he agrees to a buyout under any other condition — would you?

Allen Crabbe: Crabbe is tough to move with 2 years, $37 million left after this year. The Nets should not dump assets to unload him unless a gigantic acquisition requires that — unlikely — and Crabbe is unlikely to bring an asset in with his contract. He is most likely to continue playing for Brooklyn.  Quietly, his non shooting skills are improving. Hopefully he starts shooting it well.

Jarrett Allen: At 19, and developing rapidly, he is what the Nets WANT, not what they want to trade.  Perhaps he can be dealt for a GIGANTIC young player return but that feels unlikely.

D’Angelo Russell: Since his injury he flat out has not looked good. However, I am confident he will find himself. And he is the clear cornerstone of the roster. Barring a top 5 pick in return, it is hard to trade him in a smart deal for the Nets.

 

 

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Should the Nets keep Players they develop? Not so fast.

It was the summer of 2013, and two franchises – the Nets and the Celtics – infamously went in different directions.

After “the trade,” the Celtics, make no mistake about it, thrust themselves into rebuilding mode. At that point in time, they had a barren roster, and they were not a free agency attraction.

Their first franchise defining move to combat the abyss of rebuilding? They hired Brad Stevens due to their belief that he could be masterful at player development.

Stevens excelled at just that. In his first 2 seasons (2013-2014 and 2014-2015), he worked hard to foster the development of a young group of players that included, Avery Bradley, Jae Crowder, Marcus Smart, Kelly Olynyk, Evan Turner, Tyler Zeller, Jerryd Bayless, Jared Sullinger, and Jordan Crawford.

Brad’s development legitimately created results. The 2014 Celtics exceeded expectations winning 25 games. The 2015 Celtics were on pace to again exceed expectations and win 32 games until the Isaiah Thomas trade propelled them to 40-42, and a playoff berth.

Throughout those formative seasons of the Celtics rebuild, a theme emerged: Brad Stevens was a player development wizard. Evan Turner played his best under Brad. So did Avery Bradley, and more famously Jae Crowder (a bit player before arriving) and Isaiah Thomas (a reserve before arriving).

Brad did not care how flawed a player was before he got him. Or how lowly regarded. Or if his former team cast him away. Once he got him he made every effort to maximize him.

As a result, by year two of his coaching tenure, the defining aspect of his Boston Celtics was clear – they were not the most talented but they played hard, and players improved.

(FASTFORWARDS TO 2017-2018)

Doesn’t this all sound familiar, Nets fans? It should. In Kenny Atkinson’s first two seasons, he has been, in my humble opinion, nothing short of fantastic at player development, just like Brad before him. Look at what Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris were before Kenny worked with them. Look where DeMarre Carroll’s career went before he reunited with Kenny. Look at the growth we are seeing in Jarrett Allen, Caris LeVert, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, and even Tyler Zeller.

Kenny has maximized the players he has. And just like the 2015 Celtics (especially before the Isaiah trade), the 2018 Nets are a young, feisty group that plays hard for its coach, has players on the upswing, and often surprises more talented teams.

With the comparison made, it comes time for a significant point: look how the Celtics responded to Brad’s player development.

Despite investing significant time and energy in player development, and even seeing that development lead to quality playoff results in 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, the Celtics never became too attached to their players. Rather, they looked for and found upgrades Over time.

Just look at the roster turnover. The 2017-2018 Celtics have just four players from 2016-2017. And they have just one player from 2014-2015 – Marcus Smart, who is a potential candidate to be traded.

Simply put, the Celtics never said “we developed these players, and therefore we must keep them going forward.” Rather, the Celtics capitalized on their development by building trade value, and by making the organization attractive to bigtime free agents. Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder were acquired for minimal trade packages. The Celtics built their value, and turned them into Kyrie Irving. Other player development created a strong perception of the organization and when it become feasible to add Al Horford and Gordon Hayward, Boston bid farewell to guys like Avery Bradley and Kelly Olynyk.

Simply put, you don’t HAVE TO pay guys you developed to make good on the work you did.

Not should you. The Celtics could have a Isaiah-Bradley-Crowder-Jayson Tatum-Jaylen Brown core and filler around them, relying on players Brad develops to contend. Why did they refuse that outcome? Because their playoff results in 2016 and 2017 show that, barring Tatum or Brown immediately blossoming into superstars, the Celtics would have been in no mans land, nothing but a speedbump against elite playoff teams, for the foreseeable future.

And now where do the Celtics sit? Atop the easy, built around Kyrie Irving. For the first time, they look like an authentic title contender.

It is true that the 2015 Celtics had more future assets than the 2018 Nets. As a result, for the Nets to become contenders, they will need to be more creative, more patient, than the 2015 Celtics were.

But just because Billy King’s wreckage requires that Marks execute this as a five year project rather than a three year project, does not mean that shortcuts should be taken. As Marks likes to say, no skipping steps along the way.

Like the Celtics, Marks would be remiss to commit to a core of players not good enough to win a title, simply because the Nets invested time to develop them and the Nets are a feel good story. Feel good stories stop feeling good when you are capped out and unable to approach title contention.

Russell, Dinwiddie, LeVert, Allen, RHJ, Crabbe, Okafor, Harris, et al – this is a fun group of good, high character people. It is also a group that, without substantial, superstar level upgrades, is not good enough to compete for a championship. So the worst thing Marks can do is start handing our contract extensions, robbing the Nets of the flexibility they need to get those players (by losing cap space, not getting picks for the players, and drafting higher than they would in 2019 with less talent).

That is not said to be harsh. Check the cores of current contenders (Warriors, Cavs, Rockets, Celtics, Spurs, perhaps Thunder and Raptors), and the cores of some burgeoning up and comers (Sixers, Wolves, etc). The Nets simply do not have enough talent right now to be in lockstep with those franchises – and you need that talent to win big.

Pay this core, and enter a future built around this group and your upcoming picks, and the current feel good vibes will be swallowed by a future of mediocrity.

Some of this might sound harsh. After all, the Nets have built a bond with their players. They are, truly, a family. But the NBA is also a business. There is nothing wrong with telling players “we love you, but it is also our job to do what we must for the Nets. That means that while you are here we will do everything to make your time wonderful and make you a better player. But at the same time, if an opportunity to become better comes along, we do need to seize it.”

Sean Marks has gotten the Nets through the initial, easier part of the rebuild. He’s traded veterans, changed the culture, found his coach, and shed dead weight.

Now, the harder part – the attempt to return to contention – approaches. Marks now must make harder decisions on how many current players he can commit to without losing future flexibility.

He would be wise to avoid keeping anyone for sentimental reasons just because the Nets developed them.

Nets deadline deals?

Coming into the NBA trade deadline, Nets fans should not lose sight of two points:

  1. Sean Marks has done a very good job.
  2. 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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evaluating Sean Marks’ Tenure, and Wondering What Trades Comes Next

Ever since Sean Marks arrived in Brooklyn, much of his tenure has been positively received.

To be clear, there is good reason for that. The evaluation of GM’s is based on two components. One is results. After all, the goal is to build winners, and GM’s select the players. It is incumbent on a GM to make the correct choices in the draft, to find players that fit, and to sell stars on their program. 

At the same time, results do not tell the entire picture – especially in rebuilding situations where results are not yet expected. Grading GM’s on their process also accounts for the fact that much team success, or lack thereof, is outside a GM’s control. Is David Griffin an elite GM? Or did LeBron just decide to go to Cleveland independent of him, thereby putting him on third base to start the job? On the other end of the spectrum, is Rich Cho a bad GM in Charlotte, or is he doing well despite bad lottery luck and unreasonable ownership win now mandates?

No GM can guarantee results, good or bad. All GM’s should be evaluated on whether they instill a good process. A GM instills good process by making move types and having a strategy that are sensible given the organization’s timeline and place on the arc of contention, by building a productive culture, and by having a modern vision. 

These are areas where Billy King failed, essentially by making the Boston trade – the type of trade that only makes sense if it will bring you a 55 win team for at least three years. The trade clearly did anything but. 

Marks does deserve credit for his bringing a good process to Brooklyn. He has properly recognized that the Nets are years from contention, and he has properly pursued moves that fit that timeline – stockpiling draft picks, acquiring and developing as many young players as possible, and using cap space to rent for more young players instead of on middling free agents. He has created a culture of high character for his young players to grow, and properly avoided players with talent or veterans who do not fit those values. And he has brought a modern, pace and space offense to Brooklyn that, if it is one day led by high level talent, would be a perfect fit for big time NBA success. 

However, it must be noted: this is a results business, so none of that is enough to declare that Marks is a good GM. To get there, he will have to turn this around. 

In that regard, it is too early to declare that any of Marks’ notable moves have been successes or failures. Many of these moves will take years to evaluate. 

The D’Angelo Russell trade? Good process for sure (you deal 29 year old centers and the 27 pick for a kid with that much upside in a rebuild), but given the investment in Mozgov’s contract to add Russell, Russell’s ultimate outcome as a player must be really good to vindicate the deal. Dealing Bojan for a first than choosing to use that first on  Jarrett Allen over Kyle Kuzma and others (the Nets did not deal Kuzma for Russell, Kuzma was on the board when the Nets drafted, but they did choose Allen over him)? Good process, but the result only works if Allen outplays those selected below him over time. Thad for a pick that Nets chose to use on Caris LeVert? Good process, but Caris must vindicate the decision to pass on those below him – to date the results are uninspiring.  Absorbing Allen Crabbe? Understandable given his age but the results are also to be determined.

With that, my take on Marks is that he has the correct approach, but we do not know if he is a Good or bad GM yet. 

How Marks navigates from here will go a long way to showing if Marks is good at this. The major question. How will he navigate the Nets’ much underdiscussed salary cap dilemma. 

As of now, assuming Jeremy Lin opts in given his injury, the Nets have $84,559,900 in guaranteed salary in 2018-2019, going to ten players: Russell, Lin, Dinwiddie, Crabbe, LeVert, Hollis-Jefferson, Carroll, Mozgov, Allen, and the Raptors’ first rounder they acquired(this assumes, as now, the pick would fall at 20). That leaves them with $18.4 million in cap room if they renounced all free agents – enough to add a rotation player, but nothing close to a star. That is not a lot of flexibility, for a team that is currently not close to playoff caliber.

Going forward more problems arise. In 2019-2020, the Nets will have, assuming a GENEROUS cap increase to $108 million, about $60.2 million in cap space, with a roster of Crabbe, LeVert, Mozgov, Allen, and the Raptors pick at 20. However, accounting for cap holds for Russell, RHJ, Dinwiddie, and the Nets’ draft pick (assuming they pick 10th, which frankly is ambitious) drags that number closer to $31 million. Accordingly, the Nets will have room for a near max player, but not an authentic superstar, in 2019. 

Heading into 2020, factor in salaries for $22 million for Russell and $11 million for RHJ and Dinwiddie apiece (again, being ambitious – they can easily earn more, especially Russell), the Nets cap numbers, factoring in their 2018-2020 picks, would provide for $63 million in salaries before addressing LeVert’s free agency. That would require relinquishing Crabbe after his three years under Atkinson. That would further require the Nets adding no players to the core that they choose to retain, thus relying on Russell, LeVert, Dinwiddie, RHJ, Allen, and their 2018, 2019, and 2020 first rounders. Keep Crabbe, or players like Harris and Whitehead, and things become even cloudier. 

From there, in 2021, DLO, RHJ, LeVert, Dinwiddie, and Allen would take up as much as 70% of the salary cap? If that core is not a 45 win core – and as of now it is hard to envision it becoming one – how can Marks justify that type of investment.  

Such an investment would result in a harsh reality where the Nets are stuck with their core, a core that to date has been near the bottom of the league, and stuck with no clear routes to contention. 

Continuity is not a bad thing. That is true. But in short, if a Russell-LeVert-Dinwiddie-RHJ-Allen core cannot, without major, star level reinforcements surrounding it, win games, the Nets cannot pay all five players their market value when their rookie deals expire between 2019 and 2022.

Some may feel that, given the way young players develop, that the Nets should simply pay all of these players. Then, if it’s not working, ship them out later? Nevertheless, look no further than the Crabbe deal, and the Blazers’ payroll saddled roster, to see that paying a rookie extension then trading the player is easier said than done. The Blazers cannot dump any of their middling young players without attaching assets, or in the case of Crabbe absorbing bad money. 

The best time to get value for a young player is on their rookie deal, when teams get them cheap and control the decisions they may make on them. Does Marks need to start moving players tomorrow? No. But he needs to start assessing their market value so that decisions can be made prior to the summer of 2019, when these players still have authentic trade value given their small salaries.

The reality facing Marks is he will need to make financial decisions on this core. Those business decisions extend to every single player on the roster. Despite Marks’s and Kenny Atkinson’s praise of many on the roster, there are no untouchables. Be honest with yourself: besides LeBron, Curry, Durant, Harden, Westbrook, Anthony Davis, and maybe another couple of players, who in the NBA is untouchable? Certainly not a single Net. 

Marks has not shied from business decisions as GM yet. Despite effusive praise by him and Atkinson of players like Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Bojan Bogdanovic, Marks shipped them away once he found deals he felt appropriate. However, it must be noted that it is easier to deal players you inherit, than players you acquire and build into talents. 

Time will tell if Marks spots the financial issues the Nets have down the road 

Nets Done Shopping? Maybe It’s For the Best.

As free agency drags on, it appears possible, if not likely, that the Nets are maintaining cap space, rolling it into next season and summer. For a team unable to sign impact free agents given it is hundreds of miles from contention, that is a prudent approach.

One reason it is prudent: nearly one third of the NBA is deep into the luxury tax.  As of now, the Cavs, Blazer, Warriors, Thunder, Wizards, Bucks, Rockets, and Clippers are staring at a tax bill.  The Warriors will stomach it given how great they are.

However, after that, teams may try to evade the tax by dumping money and giving away assets for free, or close to it.  Just look at the Demarre Carroll trade.  The Raptors gave the Nets a first round pick, a high end second rounder, and Carroll — who started for them and has a pulse — for nothing.  All they acquired in return was Justin Hamilton, and they waived him on arrival.

We cannot know which teams WILL seek to evade the tax — we are not in the war room with ownership and management.  But we can read tea leaves.  The Blazers are in tax hell and Paul Allen may not stand or it.  The Thunder may look to slash money if Paul George is leaving, or may do so regardless.  The Wizards committed to Otto Porter and may seek tax avoidance in other ways.  The Bucks are a potential tax team despite being somewhat mediocre (unless Giannis takes another leap), and have dead money in John Henson and Spencer Hawes, and Greg Monroe’s large deal, on the ledger.  The Cavs figure to make another run around LeBron, but if they decide, during the season or after the finals, to start shedding role players (either in an attempt to surround LeBron or save money if he leaves), the Nets can come calling. The Clippers, too, may decide the tax is not to be paid for mediocrity.

Do teams make deadline (or summer) deals to evade the tax?  It feels likely. And the Nets should be at the phone waiting.  They need as many assets as they can obtain.

A second reason it is prudent: a bubble is bursting in the NBA.  The salary cap in 2015-2016 was $70 million, and expected to spike over the coming years because cap smoothing was not agreed to.  The cap then did spike, to a whopping $94.1 million in 2016-2017.  Teams in 2016 assumed the cap would continue, and therefore they did not hesitate to give out big contracts.  Inking players then, felt smart long term.  When the cap spiked later, players locked into deals under the lower cap would be bargains, as they would earn a lower percentage of the cap in the future.  So players like Jon Leuer signed $42 million deals. And Kent Bazemore at $72 million, or Chandler Parsons at 4 years, $94 million.  If you simply scan the signings from last year, you will see how hefty the commitments were, as a whole.

However, something funny happened this year.  The cap stopped spiking, unexpectedly.  It rose to just $99 million for 2017-2018, and will level off going forward.  As a result, deals inked in 2015 and 2016 at elevated figures in reliance on the coming cap spike are not going to age well due to assuming lower cap percentages — rather, those deals are mostly albatrosses.

All of this relates to 2018’s star studded free agency class, built around LeBron, Durant, Russ, Paul, George, Cousins, and more.  The group is loaded, and deep.  Typically, teams target such loaded free agency classes, and tons of teams enter the summer with droves of cap space, to make headway.

However, due to the excessive spending of 2015 and 2016 in reliance on a cap spike that never really came, a majority of the league lacks max space to chase the cadre of max players available in 2018.  Teams spent less in 2017 to mitigate the damage they did in 2015 and 2016, but they still, by and large lack the type of cap space they will want in 2018.

Enter the Nets.  In 2018, STILL without their first round pick, and likely coming off another unavoidable subpar season, the Nets are not going to be a free agent destination. They would be better served helping others get cap space (and as for whether those teams succeed at getting free agents, who cares), than hoarding space for themselves to use on the C level pieces they can sign.

Once again, we cannot know, outside of the war room, what teams will desire shedding deals to pry open 2018 space, but tea leaves can be read.  The Lakers dream of two max slots but lack them as constructed.  They may look to deal a piece like Deng or Clarkson to get there.  The Spurs will lack max space in 2018 (after a quiet 2017 summer) if Aldridge, Green, and Rudy Gay opt into their deals.  With the cap flattening, opting in is more appealing to free agents than it was; the Spurs may make a deal to avoid that scenario.  The Nuggets have Kenneth Faried, Trey Lyles, and a hoard of 4’s.  A deal from surplus to open flexibility to reconfigure may be out there.

The Pelicans are interesting.  Their best chance to surround Brow, Cousins, and Holiday with more talent is to add someone before they resign Cousins in 2018, while he is under his low $18.9 million cap hold.  They may aggressively shop pieces like Solomon Hill, Omer Asik, and Alexis Ajinca to open up the space to do just that.

Other options exist, too.  Maybe the Wolves relent and dump a first to dump Cole Aldrich.  Maybe Alec Burks is an odd man out in Utah, for a similar price.  Maybe the Sixers are ready for a big strike but need to dump Jerryd Bayless to get it done.  Maybe the Knicks, Pistons, and Heat deal to obtain cap space.

With so few teams in position to strike on the 2018 market, the Nets can acquire assets to help others take a plunge.