Perspectives are a funny thing. While we’re all out here dissecting the Oklahoma City Thunder’s first round exit from the NBA playoffs, the Brooklyn Nets are getting widely praised for… a first round exit from the NBA playoffs. But that’s the difference between being a team that’s been dropped in this round three seasons in a row compared to a team which, three years ago, was heading into its first postseason with Sean Marks aboard, about to hire Kenny Atkinson as the 1B to his 1A, without their own first round draft picks for the next three years, and with bugger all on the roster to brag about.
How exactly Marks and his crew were able to rebuild their entire franchise from the top down and back up again was a matter of recent literary celebration and you can read the hell out of that one right here. Please do and get the context for what follows (and support TNC’s efforts on all the platforms, sweet as). Because, sure, the Nets got popped by the Sixers. They won the first game but couldn’t live with Philly once Joel Embiid turned up and as much as Ben Simmons can’t shoot a three pointer, the dude does a fair bit else and as much as the Sixers don’t have much of a bench, their starting five is superb. Jared Dudley tried to be the bad guy and spark up his mates. It was fun while it lasted but even Evil Dudders couldn’t swing this thing and the Sixers won it in five.
Sean Marks didn’t see that fifth game live. He was suspended for pulling a Ron Artest and taking it beyond the court when he waltzed on into the referees’ locker after a testy game four defeat. By then the series was getting very feisty, with Joel Embiid whipping an elbow into Jarrett Allen in game two which the Nets thought shoulda led to a straight ejection rather than just a flagrant one foul. So when Embiid joked about it in his post-game presser with Ben Simmons, safe to say that tempers began to flare. Embiid got at Allen again in game four and Jared Dudley, the self-appointed vigilante who’d already started a beef with Ben Simmons through the media, rushed in to throw some force upon Embiid, causing Jimmy Butler to retaliate against Dudley. Then Simmons tried to restrain Dudley and they fell into the front row of fans. Both Dudley and Butler were ejected and Marks kinda notably gave Dudders a high five on his way out.
But Brooklyn went on to lose the game and it put them on the brink of elimination, so Marksy took it further with a little chat in the ref’s room despite knowing full well that it ain’t in the rules. And, let’s be honest, as much fun as it would be if Sean Marks had told the jokers to meet him in the carpark, he really doesn’t seem like the confrontational sort. His work with the Nets has been characterised by a level head and a long-term plan. So when news came down the next day of a $25,000 fine and a one-game suspension for the Nets GM… suffice to say that it felt like there was more than a little bit of plotting behind the whole incident.
Because look what it’s done. First off, it’s a way of showing the players that the front office has their back. Jared Dudley was probably an inside man with his heel turn too, spreading that attitude within the team. This kind of us-against-the-world stuff solidifies the team spirit that they’d been building. Everybody’s got each other’s back. It’s Brooklyn Hard. But there’s far more than just Nets players taking a peek too. Prospective free agents will look at this and wonder whether Brookie’s a place they wanna be, where they’ll be supported from the top down. There’s no doubt at all that the team started prepping for free agency ages ago either. It was the talk of the damn town from the second they were eliminated.
Oh and let’s not forget a certain restricted free agent and first time All Star D’Angelo Russell, who has already said he’s keen to stick around as long as the right offer comes his way. Russell kinda famously got the exact opposite style of support from the Los Angeles Lakers. No sooner had he left the building than Magic Johnson and others were taking pops at his immaturity.
And then obviously there was some legit frustration at the refereeing in that series which got everyone riled up too. The Nets ownership wasted no time in throwing down their support for Marks and a supporters group even started a crowd fund to pay for his fine.
This all matters because for the first time in ages the Nets are a free agent destination. They’ve had cap space for ages but it’s mostly been used to leverage in trades for better players. Like, they don’t get Russell if they don’t take on Timofey Mozgov’s contract at the time, for example. But now that they’ve established themselves as a competitive team again, having made the playoffs, and having done that through great scouting, coaching, and team chemistry… you can make the argument that they’re one big All Star signing away from being a team that can make a proper playoff run. Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson and the crew have built a team that ticks the boxes.
Jared Dudley: “Players want to play for a stable organization where the owner, general manager and coach are all aboard. They want to see young talent, which this team has. Then, financially, people want to get paid. Living in New York has probably been my best experience, just living in the city. It’s bright for the future for Brooklyn.”
Specifically how much money they can spend depends on what happens with D’Angelo Russell first of all. As a restricted free agent the Nets have the right to match any offer that Russell gets. Chances are some jokers out there chuck a max one on the table for him and that leaves the Nets with a decision to make. Russell’s had a great campaign but is he worthy of a max deal? Debatable. The fella had a fantastic season but with it all on the line he shot 3 of 16 from the field and was a minus-31 in that elimination game. Not really the ideal shop window decoration.
If he continues to develop like he has in Brookie then a max deal could turn out to be a bargain… still, it’s a gamble either way. Wait and hope that nobody bites on Russell. Match them when they do and risk a chunk of that cap space. Don’t match and hope you can find a free agent or two of higher quality. It’s a tough one.
And it’s more complicated than that too. That’s because the cap hold for Russell is $21m, so if they renounce him early then that’s all money they can throw at a free agent... but they have to keep that number against the cap if they’re going to use his Bird Rights to exceed the salary cap in re-signing him. Gotta spend money to make money, as the saying goes.
The max that D-Lo could get for next season is $27.5m and the word is that he wants every dollar of it. As it stands the Nets don’t quite have enough money for a max free agent, even with DeMarre Carroll’s contract expiring and with dead money from Dwight Howard and Kenneth Farried drying up. Spencer Dinwiddie’s extension is about to kick in and Joe Harris will be due for an extension soon too with only one more year on his deal. Along with those two they have Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert on favourable rookie deals… although LeVert is also eligible to be extended this offseason. Euro duo Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa are locked in as well. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is a RFA. Allen Crabbe has a player option for $18m.
The free agent pool this offseason is ridiculous. Kevin Durant. Kawhi Leonard. Kyrie Irving. Klay Thompson. Kemba Walker. Tobias Harris. Jimmy Butler. Khris Middleton. Looking at the Nets roster and their performances in the playoffs, the thing they need most of all is a floor-spacing forward who can rebound a little, which makes Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard such absolutely ideal options. But they need to clear some space before they can do that… which probably either means flipping Allen Crabbe or reneging on D’Angelo Russell.
Hence it’s Crabbe who they basically have to move now in order to free up the necessary free agent space. The irony is that with Russell being a restricted free agent he’s the exact sorta player they would have targeted a couple years ago with one of those poison pill offers and with Allen Crabbe’s $18m player option next season getting in the way, well, who do you think it was that offered that brutal contract in the first place? Would be hugely entertaining if the Miami Heat or Portland Trail Blazers come at Russell for revenge on Marks and the Nets… and to get rid of Crabbe in a trade it’s likely to require a draft pick or two to swallow that contract which is just what the Nets did for others these last couple seasons. Fingers crossed that a few other front offices try to copy the Sean Marks Blueprint and help out the lads.
For once, the Nets have draft picks to offer. Three of them, even. They’re due to pick at 17, 27, and 31. Lots there that could bait the line because Crabbe simply hasn’t played like a player worth that amount of money, injuries were a part of that in all fairness, and the upside of getting rid of him is just too big to ignore. It would be unlike the Nets to ignore the draft entirely but chances are they don’t end up with all three of those selections.
Sean Marks: “It goes back to really establishing an identity and establishing that we’re going to go out there every night and our guys are going to compete. Kenny and the staff have got them playing at a high level, competing, they’re never out of games. It’s going to attract free agents. People are going to want to play here. They’re going to want to play for Kenny. They’re going to want to play in Brooklyn. They’re going to play for this ownership group. And I think we have a lot of things going for us.”
As to some of their other free agents, with only six dudes plus Crabbe’s inevitable player option, under contract for next season, decisions will have to be made there too. Jared Dudley’s been a great veteran on this team but he’s only coming back if he does so on a team-friendly deal… which actually feels pretty likely. But Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Shabazz Napier, DeMarre Carroll, and Treveon Graham are surely gone because of the need for that money. Ed Davis might stay if the two years and $11m that the Nets can offer outside the cap through Bird Rights are tasty enough for him.
The Nets are poised to be the team with the third most cap space available, behind the New York Knicks and Los Angeles Lakers. Plenty of other teams can rip up enough room to get a max offer in there, teams like the Bulls, Suns, Mavs, Kings, Pacers, and Clippers, plus a cheeky trade could change everything. Not to mention that those top free agents all have current teams that are gonna go hard to retain them.
As exciting as the free agency scrap can be, plenty of teams have been busted by swinging for the fences and missing out. Every plan needs about six backup plans in this league. But right now, as things stand, the Brooklyn Nets have come through three years of careful and slow rebuilding and are now dining large with a seat at the big boy’s table.
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