2016-17 record: 20-62. 15th in the Eastern Conference
Transactions: There is no worse position for a team to be in than the Brooklyn Nets. They were by far the worst team in the NBA last season and don’t even own their own pick thanks to one of the most short-sighted trades in sports history when in the 2013 off-season they included their 2014, 2016, 2018 first round picks and the right to swap picks in 2018 in a package for a year of 36 year old Jason Terry, a year of 36 year old Paul Pierce and two years, and a season and a half of 37 and 38 year old Kevin Garnett.
The result was one playoff series win followed by the bottom completely falling out with a 21 win season in 2015-16 and a 20 win record last year. The Nets have become the worst team in the NBA and don’t even have their draft picks to show for it.
Sean Marks succeeded Billy King (the architect of the Nets destruction with the Garnett/Pierce/Terry trade) as GM in 2016 and has begun the slow and painful process of rebuilding a team that doesn’t have its most valuable picks and has very little in terms of assets to move to acquire anything of value.
Impressively, despite the Nets terrible situation, Marks was able to put together one of the more successful off-seasons for any team in the NBA.
It started with the first major move of the summer when Brooklyn shipped incredibly talented but often injured centre Brook Lopez (the franchise’s all team leading scoring leader) and the 27th pick in the NBA draft to the Los Angeles Lakers for 21 year old point guard D’Angelo Russell and Timofey Mozgov.
Parting with Lopez is definitely bittersweet in that he’s still an all-star calibre talent who provided the Nets organization with one of its only bright spots through some truly terrible seasons. Lopez did find himself grounded with injury issues at times but when he was on the floor for the Nets was still the one of the most offensively talented big men in all of the NBA.
Still, moving Lopez was a necessary move as he is on the last year of his deal and could have walked for nothing. The fact that the Marks got such a great return for him is a huge bonus and speaks well to the future of the franchise.
In D’Angelo Russell, the Nets likely have their future star.
He came into the league as the second overall selection in the 2015 draft and many felt it would take a few seasons for him to truly blossom as an NBA star but that he would develop into one of the league’s best passers and a lethal deep threat. While he’s shown signs of that potential with the Lakers, he definitely struggled in his rookie year under the mercurial Byron Scott in his rookie season but showed steady improvement with a larger role under Luke Walton last season which saw him average 15.6 points on 40.5% shooting including 35.2% from three point range and added 4.8 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.4 steals.
Russell will benefit from being the undisputed man in Brooklyn. There will be no Kobe retirement tour (which was the focus for the Lakers during his rookie year) or other young talents like Brandon Ingram or Jordan Clarkson to share the spotlight with on the Nets. Russell will be the man. He’s the biggest and youngest star that the franchise has had in a while and it’s a major coup for a team that’s bottomed out to have a young talent of that calibre end up on a team that had minimal assets and owed its most valuable picks to the Boston Celtics.
There are without a doubt some concerns about maturity issues stemming from his time with the Lakers (who can forget the video Russell shot and may have leaked where then-teammate Nick “Swaggy P” Young admits to cheating on Iggy Azalea?) and he clashed with both Byron Scott (understandable) and Luke Walton (less so) at times, but the presence of a mature and stabilizing veteran like Jeremy Lin in the locker room should really help mitigate those issues.
Kenny Atkinson will undoubtedly give Russell every opportunity to succeed and the 21 year old should blossom in a situation where he will be the top option and also be given a ton of room to operate and to make mistakes on a team with little else going for it and where his development is going to be one of the biggest priorities for the Nets.
Russell is exactly what the Nets needed in the worst way to begin the long journey of bringing the franchise back to respectability.
The price to pay was taking on Timofey Mozgov’s albatross of a contract that is so bad that it got Mitch Kupchak fired as the Lakers GM and allowed Jeannie Buss to finally take the team away from her idiot brother Jimmy.
Still the Nets can easily absorb his 16 million+ cap hit over the next three seasons which will likely be about when they are ready to start making some moves. Mozgov also offers a physical presence in the lane which the Nets have sorely lacked and is an elite rim protector. The big Russian will enjoy a major role in Brooklyn and will likely have the opportunity to resurrect his career in Brooklyn. As bad as his contract is, he’s still got a lot to offer the Nets on the floor.
The Nets took on another salary dump in order to acquire more assets when they took on DeMarre Carroll and the Toronto Raptors first and second round picks in 2018 in exchange for depth centre Justin Hamilton (who the Raptors subsequently waived.
The Raptors were desperate to avoid being in a luxury tax situation and needed financial flexibility to make further move and the Nets were the beneficiaries of that in another home run by Marks. Toronto’s 2018 first round pick is lottery protected but the Raptors are a playoff team so it will likely come in the later third of the draft. The second round pick, however, will come from whatever team finishes lower between Orlando and the Los Angeles Lakers which could put Brooklyn in a position to find a quality prospect in what promises to be another solid draft class.
Carroll’s tenure with the Raptors was disappointing. He spent his time in Toronto dealing with knee injuries and it translated into a sub-par performance that fell well below expectations when he was inked to a 4 year, $58 million contract in the 2015 off-season coming off a career best performance with the Atlanta Hawks where he was one of the best 3 and D wings in the NBA.
Coming to Brooklyn reunites Carroll with coach Kenny Atkinson who worked closely with Carroll while on the Hawks coaching staff and who Carroll cites as an instrumental part of his rise that saw him shoot 48.7% including 39.5% from the field in his career 2014-15 season.
The move also gets Carroll away from what was a bad situation for him in Toronto. Carroll expressed that he never quite fit in with the ISO-heavy Raptors offense and it the Nets promise to a much better fit for him. It’s not hard to see him finding quick chemistry with D’Angelo Russell and talented distributor Jeremy Lin.
Carroll has also recently stated that his health problems are behind him, which will be the biggest determining factor in him having a bounce back year in Brooklyn. He’s only 30 years old and if he can stay healthy has a lot to offer the Nets and will be a big piece of the team as well as a valuable mentor to younger players looking to make a big leap this season like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LeVert.
Marks made another bold move by offering Washington Wizards restricted free agent Otto Porter a four year, $106.5 million deal. Ultimately the Wizards matched, but this bold strategy (Marks had signed RFAs Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe and Domantas Motiejunas in the past) is important to a team that needs talent to build around. The Nets have the long-term financial flexibility to make these contracts difficult for teams to match and have the ability to offer “poison pill” provisions if they do (see Tyler Johnson’s contract with the Heat). Eventually an offer sheet will allow them to land a quality player, but they’ll keep trying until it does.
However, they did snag Crabbe in a move they were able to make using their financial flexibility to take on his contract in exchange for Andrew Nicholson’s slightly less inflated one.
In Crabbe, the Nets add another sharp-shooter who hit 44.4% from three point range last season. He gives Brooklyn an excellent catch-and-shoot option from the wing and is also an extremely talented defender and ended last season with a 108.9 defensive rating on a Portland team that was incredibly weak on that side of the ball for the most part.
At only 25 years old, he fits in with Sean Marks plan of adding younger talent and an inflated contract of $37 million over the next three years will seem like a deal if he’s able to continue to improve. He should thrive in a more featured role on the Nets than the one he enjoyed in Portland.
The Nets also re-upped with Sean Kilpatrick, Joe Harris and Quincy Acy while parting ways with swingman K.J McDaniels.
2017 NBA Draft: The Nets off-season success was in full effect at the NBA Draft when talented centre Jarrett Allen fell to them at the 22nd pick.
It’s not hard to see why Allen was expected to higher. The 6’10” centre has a wing span measuring a quarter inch over 7’5” and a standing reach almost 9’2” to go along with an NBA ready 234 pound frame.
Allen projects to be an athletic rim runner and shot blocker on the defensive end. Offensively, the 19 year old will be a top level pick and roll finisher. He’s also got great hands for a big man and has shown a lot of offensive creativity during his time at Texas. His mid-range game also really started to flourish at the end of last season as the centre shot 68% from the field.
If Allen continues to develop and adds some strength and stronger screens to his skill set, he could definitely be the Nets big man of the future. Learning under Mozgov will be extremely beneficial in that regard.
With the 57th pick, the Nets drafted Aleksandar Vezenkov. The 22 year old out of Cyprus averaged 8.7 points in 18.8 minutes per game while shooting 69.4% from 2 point range and 35.6% from beyond the arc with Barcelona in the EuroLeague and looks to be a solid stash for the Nets. He is already showing signs of being an elite scorer from the power forward position and should benefit from continuing to develop his game in Europe for the time being.
Outlook: Jeremy Lin has predicted that the Nets will make the playoffs. While I wouldn’t go that far, this could potentially be a much better Brooklyn squad than we’ve seen in a long time. A lot of that, however, depends on health. Primarily that of Lin, himself, who spent all but 36 games on the injured list which is unfortunate given that he was putting up his best numbers since the height of Linsanity while active.
With a healthy Lin, the Nets offense promises to be much more dynamic and aggressive. Lin can attack the rim in very unique ways. He’s incredibly creative on the court and can often improvise and think outside of set offensive systems. With a coach that will allow him room to be himself, Lin will thrive in a variety of situations and should be a huge asset both off the ball and potentially as a facilitator.
Lin will play an instrumental role in the development of all the the Nets young players. He’s an ideal guard to get Jarrett Allen going on pick and rolls. I am very excited to see the Nets role out line-ups that utilize both Lin and Russell as that should allow them to disrupt opposing defenses and provide for some fun basketball. I’d expect Russell to get some quality looks as Lin draws defenses as well. The energy and uptempo play Lin brings will do wonders for the younger and developing players on the squad.
Caris LeVert is one such young player. The 23 year old swingman is coming off a solid rookie campaign that saw him average 8.2 points on 45% shooting to go along with 3.3 boards and 1.9 dimes. However, the most impressive stat for LeVert is that 11 of the Nets 20 wins came with him as a starter. It’s not hard to see why given that he stands at 6’7” tall and is able to play any front court position as well as the wing which provides the Nets an ability to stretch the floor.
In an era where flexible line-ups and position-less basketball are more necessary for success than ever before in the NBA, LeVert promises to be a big piece of the Nets core going forward. I’d expect him to enjoy an increased role this season and benefit from working alongside Jeremy Lin and DeMarre Carroll in different sets.
22 year old forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should also continue to grow into a big role for the Nets this season. He made a big leap in his second year going averaging 8.7 points, 5.8 boards, 2 dimes and 1.1 steals per game. He’s also the only player remaining on the Nets roster from when Sean Marks took over which likely reflects the potential the organization sees in him which is a lot intensity, commitment and is very good at pressuring the ball on defense and hurrying opposing offenses as a result. His numbers shot up after the all-star break to 10.3 points and 7.2 boards which bodes well for his future as a starter with Brooklyn.
The Nets held onto veteran guard Sean Kilpatrick who they have been able to count on for around 13 points per game and to provide a deep threat when needed. He’ll be called upon to anchor the scoring on a much improved second unit which could see an increase in production and will likely be the Nets leading scorer off the bench.
The team also surprised many with the decision to bring back Joe Harris who many view as only a catch-and-shoot option but the team views as potentially much more. He was limited by injuries last season but did average 8.2 points on 42.5% shooting including 38.5% from three point range. This season will determine the 25 year old Chilean’s long-term value with the Nets.
Of course, the most important player on the team will be newly acquired D’Angelo Russell. If he lives up to his potential as a deep threat and facilitator, Brooklyn will have a lot to celebrate. For a team that’s been without its lottery picks, being able to go out and get a player of that calibre with that potential who was the number two selection just two years ago is a massive coup.
Russell will be the face of the franchise going forward and the Nets direction and ability to drag themselves out of the hole the franchise has been in for far too long will largely depend on whether or not he can develop into the all-star the team believes that he can be.
I believe he can and that the Nets are headed in the right direction.
They won’t make the playoffs. They will likely still finish in the lottery, but unlike the Bulls, Hawks and Pacers, the Nets are coming out of the tank rather than heading further into it. Brooklyn basketball fans will have a lot to feel optimistic about this season.
Prediction: 29-53. 13th in the Eastern Conference. (Note: Revised after the Knicks preview)