There’s a new King of Brooklyn folks, and his name is Sean Marks. Free agency honestly could not have gone better for the Brooklyn Nets as everything came together in perfect harmony, all those seeds that they began to plant in February 2016 when Sean Marks was announced as the new GM of the franchise have sprouted and grown and blossomed and now born fruit. Through lots of little moves over the last three years they’ve tended to this garden. Dumping cap space and getting after restricted free agents and G-League fellas. Acquiring draft picks. Building a team culture and playing style that could be successful in the modern NBA. The D’Angelo Russell trade.
These are the clever little deals that rebuild a franchise as opposed to the massive swings (and misses) from across town with the New York Knicks, who thought they could position themselves as a free agent destination without doing any of the yard work first, relying simply on their name. There’s only one team in the league whose brand is bigger than their considerable dysfunction and that’s the Los Angeles Lakers. The Brooklyn Nets did it all the right way, the humble way… and that’s how they were able to stun the basketball world as 2019 Free Agency opened and Sean Marks immediately bagged both his top targets.
This is a league where flexibility is essential. An ability to think on the fly and always have a Plan B (and C, D, E, F, G, etc.) is everything. But the Nets didn’t need those bonus plans here because something about as rare as a dodo egg occurred and they had a PERFECT free agency. The plan was to sign Kyrie Irving, who had long expressed his keenness, but to also use him as bait to attract another superstar: Kevin Durant. They got both and not only did they get both but they came with a bonus DeAndre Jordan too. It’s absolute headline stuff. The making of a powerhouse franchise in the space of a single day… although ignoring all the hard work and positive energy that manifested with this single day, three and a half years of toil, would be silly. It all culminated at once but that doesn’t mean this was some sudden beam of glowing luck that fell upon them, nah mate they’d prepared meticulously to be in this exact position at this exact time chasing these exact free agents.
But it gets even cleverer than that because by turning the Kevin Durant situation into a double sign-and-trade with the Golden State Warriors they were able to send D’Angelo Russell back the other way, while acquiring a cheeky future first round pick from the Dubs while dumping the contracts of Shabazz Napier and Treveon Graham (easily clearing the last bit of cap space needed for their two stars – they would have had to get rid of them one way or another and this is the cheapest way). Plus in sending D’Angelo Russell that-a-way they did right by the one major collaterally damaged figure in this whole thing.
Russell was a runner-up for Most Improved last season and a first time All Star. They picked him up in a trade with the Lakers at a time when D-Russ’ reputation was pretty low thanks to him being scapegoated for being a young player in a messy locker room (he did some silly things but where were his vets, you know?). The Nets reinvigorated him but as a restricted free agent he was forced to be their backup plan while they openly flirted with Kyrie Irving. Brookie couldn’t afford to keep both – they play in the same position after all. And while nobody can doubt they chose the more talented player, Russell was a reflection of all the great cultural work going on in that organisation, while Kyrie joins having been a significant factor in the rubble of Boston’s last season. It was definitely a tonal shift… a necessary one to make the team competitive enough to land Kevin Durant but also a bit of a regretful one.
Except here they found a way to make yet another sneaky and beneficial move which also happens to send D’Angelo Russell to a contending team on a $117 million max deal. As a RFA, Russell risked being shut out of the early market and then priced out of the late market. Even as things stood on day one there was concern that he wouldn’t have the interest necessary to spark up a max deal for himself. But the Nets gave him one anyway and then told the Warriors to pay for it. You know, at the same time that they just arranged a max for Klay Thompson with Steph Curry already getting the big bucks and Draymond Green due an extension from next year.
You can get upset at the Nets sending a quality player the way of the Warriors just as everyone hoped the dynasty was ended (the top tier dynasty is over but this lot is still a contender with multiple All Stars, let’s be honest). But they’ve also put a nail in the coffin of the future financial flexibility of the Dubs while sending them a player whose contract will be hard to get out of if he proves a poor fit – they even had to get rid of Andre Iguodala to make it work. Not saying D’Angelo won’t be good there but it’s not an obvious and immediate fit. Bottom line, though: the dude’s getting paid regardless and he has the Brooklyn Nets to thank for that one.
That’s cool, man, and it’s those little touches that make a difference for players. Compare that to the Celtics trading Isaiah Thomas away when they did to get Kyrie Irving and the way Anthony Davis’ dad used that as evidence not to want his son in Boston. Now, that’s a trade the Celtics – or any organisation – make 100 times out of 100 but they maybe didn’t have to leave IT out to dry the way they did (fingers crossed that dude has a bounce back year with the Wizards the way Derrick Rose did with Minnesota last time around).
So what’s it all gonna look like? This is where it gets complicated. Just because you have the pieces doesn’t mean you have the completed puzzle and where this team was working with zero expectations before now they’ve suddenly got a target on their backs. They’re supposed to be winning games and going deep in the playoffs now and we know that’s not easy to do. The Milwaukee Bucks and Philadelphia 76ers have re-upped already. The Toronto Raptors are defending champs. The East isn’t the pushover conference (minus LeBron) that it once was.
The first thing to say is that obviously Kevin Durant will not be playing next season. He’s got an Achilles tear to recover from and that sucker takes some time. Even when he’s back there’ll be questions about whether he’ll be the same player he was before – personally I think he’ll be pretty close, plenty of careers have been ruined by this injury but not too many when they were still in their prime and modern medicine is only getting more effective… and either way you still push the button on this deal because first of all in the very least KD is not about to forget how to shoot and second of all this was a monumental announcement to the rest of the league that Brookie means business.
Also the Nets can afford that first year to be a transitional one because this rebuild has already happened so far ahead of schedule. They still have Kyrie Irving anyway. Now, Irving left some salt behind him in Cleveland and Boston but this should be different for him. He chose Brooklyn. He wasn’t drafted there or traded there, he chose it as a boyhood Nets fan and New Jersey native. Plus you have to assume that they trust Kenny Atkinson’s team culture is strong enough to handle this new era... plus don’t forget that this team culture is part of why these dudes chose this team. Kyrie’s not a dick as he’s sometimes portrayed. He’s just a weirdo who likes conspiracy theories and outside the box thinking. He’ll be fine.
The one that gets weird is DeAndre Jordan, who just had a rubbish year with the Mavs and Knicks but maybe that was more because he was playing for the Mavs and Knicks? Dallas wasn’t too keen on his attitude there while NYK were tanking. The dude has learned how to shoot free throws so that’s nice but he’s a strange addition when this team already has Jarrett Allen who looks the goods and is only 21 years old. Allen started 80 games last season… does he go to the bench now to accommodate DAJ?
That’s one for Kenny to figure out but it’s worth noting that Jordan is in town on a very team friendly deal. The exact details are foggy so far but a 4-yr/$40m contract’s what’s been reported so roughly ten mill per season after he earned $22.3m last season. The Nets without a doubt needed more big bodies around there and Jordan remains a great rebounder. The exact fit is tricky but his leadership for the two young centres and his relationship with KD and Kyrie (who each took less than the max to fit DAJ into the cap – effectively they’ve got him for free if you look at it that way) makes him more of a plus than a minus. The back end of that contract might get nasty, four years is a long time in this sport, but surrounded by shooting he oughta be sweet for now.
As for all those quality fellas that the Nets have been working on, the ones that got them to the playoffs? They’re now a readymade role-playing cast. Caris LeVert already has KD vibes about him and had he not injured himself last season then it might have been him in the All Stars and not D’Angelo… now he’s working with the real KD as he prepares to hit that next level. Joe Harris is one of the top three point shooters in the league about to get some mad spacing, even without KD on the floor. Spencer Dinwiddie is a supremely intelligent backup guard. They’ve also added Wilson Chandler and Taurean Prince for some wing depth as well as Garrett Temple and rookies Nic Claxton and Jaylen Hands. Definitely a lot more going on beneath the two supercar acquisitions, in case you thought Sean Marks had gotten distracted from the little things.
The main question is who starts at PF this season while Durant is out. Prince is an option sliding upwards, while the Nets are big fans of Claxton who they expected to go higher in the draft than the 31st overall that they got him at. Latvian forward Rodions Kurucs might be an option too. But a frontcourt with Irving and LeVert with Harris out there at SF… probably Jordan starting at the five… there’s a lot to work with there even without KD. You’d still have to think that next season is a dummy run for the one after though. Make a little run, get some playoff experience, then inject a future Hall of Famer into the mix. If all goes to plan, of course.
Bringing this all the way back around to Sean Marks, old mate was fifth in the voting for the NBA’s Executive of the Year last season. Jon Horst of Milwaukee was a narrow winner over Denver’s Tim Connelly, although had voting taken place after the playoffs you’d figure Masai Ujiri woulda made a teal run at it. Sean Marks had one first place vote and two seconds for the steady and subtle job he did with the Nets last season… but you’d better believe he’s sitting pretty as the favourite for next season already following the week he’s just had. After all, every king needs a crown.
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