Since the Warriors downed the Cavs to take the 2017 NBA title back on June 12, NBA teams have undergone a number of changes over the long summer offseason.
NBA.com’s Shaun Powell will evaluate the state of each franchise — from the team with the worst regular-season record in 2016-17 to the team with the best regular-season record — as we look at 30 teams in 30 days.
Today’s team: Brooklyn Nets
2016-17 record: 20-62
Who’s new: D’Angelo Russell (trade), Allen Crabbe (trade), Timofey Mozgov (trade), DeMarre Carroll (trade), Jarrett Allen (draft).
Who’s gone: Brook Lopez, Bojan Bogdanovic.
The lowdown: Mired in a tailspin, they won 20 games and have fewer wins over the last two seasons (41) than their entire win total in the 2012-13 season (44).
For the last few summers the Nets were forced to be out-of-the-box thinkers in terms of reinventing a franchise that was left in ruins by the ill-fated trade of a few years ago, when they swapped what became prime No. 1 picks for a pair of old Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett sneakers. We know how that turned out; the Nets became the rare team that lacked a present and a future.
They’ve had to try and steal young restricted free agents with upside, using their ample salary cap room as a weapon. They chased Crabbe, Tyler Johnson, Donatas Montiejunas and Otto Porter Jr., signing them to offer sheets at a combined $270 million, only to come away with Crabbe, and only a year after signing him to that offer sheet.
GM Sean Marks went another route with that cap room, turning the Nets into a salary-dump site, taking Mozgov’s hernia-causing contract from the Lakers and being rewarded with Russell, the No. 2 pick in the 2015 Draft, in the process. (They tossed Lopez in the deal and a 2017 first-rounder that the Lakers used to select, alas, Kyle Kuzma, a promising swingman.) They also absorbed another overpaid player by taking Carroll off Toronto’s books with the Raptors tossing a 2018 first-round pick to sweeten the deal.
Marks simply didn’t have a choice — how else could he rebuild a bad team that was stripped of its first-rounders by the previous regime? The creativity shown by Marksgave the Nets a young point guard in Russell (21) and a possible five Draft picks next summer. The Nets won’t have their own first-rounder until 2019 and it’s very likely that pick will land in favorable lottery territory, since the Nets aren’t built to go anywhere fast anytime soon.
And so, they’ll use next season to groom Russell, Crabbe, Allen, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Caris LaVert, all of whom are 22 or younger. Those players will be given playing time and will give the Nets an idea of their talent and if they can be assets to keep, or pawned off.
Did Marks bring in the right young players who can blossom into potential stars or valuable starters, or will some (or all) turn out just OK?
The Nets are banking on Russell to be the breakout of the pack. He had an uneven two seasons in LA, mainly caused by maturity and leadership issues. Russell butted heads with former Lakers coach Byron Scott and his antics didn’t go over smoothly in the locker room last season. However, Russell improved steadily as a player in the spring. In March, he averaged 18.6 points and nearly five assists, dropping 40 points on the Cavaliers (Kyrie Irving, the man he guarded, had 46, however).
When Russell was traded and Magic Johnson threw shade at his lack of leadership skills, it was a humbling moment for the point guard. He comes to Brooklyn perhaps a bit wounded, ego-wise. But maybe it was a good lesson and experience and will serve as a career-changing moment for Russell, at least that’s what the Nets believe. Marks has applauded Russell’s approach in the wake of the trade, and Russell is saying all the right things. That’s a start.
Russell will have a good mentor in Jeremy Lin and must develop keener point guard instincts. Russell qualifies as a “shoot-first” point guard, which is OK if you bring the consistency of Irving or Isaiah Thomas. For his young career, Russell is only shooting 40.8 percent overall and 35.1 percent from deep, which are pedestrian numbers for the position. The best way to win over a new locker room is by finding teammates on the floor; that should be Russell’s top priority this season.
Likewise, the Nets need Carroll to serve as a locker room role model, which is likely to happen. Carroll played in winning environments in Utah, Atlanta and Toronto and brings a good reputation, personality-wise. His contract, along with Mozgov’s, won’t hurt the Nets right now, and will be gone in a few years.
Crabbe turned out to be a pricey player for Portland to keep last season, and the Blazers unloaded him to Brooklyn in exchange for Andrew Nicholson (which was essentially a salary dump). Crabbe is an excellent shooter but his track record is only in a supportive role. How much will he do if given starter’s minutes? The Nets are likely to find out, since there’s not much competition.
Getting him was still a super move by Marks, who essentially flipped an expiring Bojan Bogdanovic contract into Crabbe and Allen, the Nets’ No. 1 pick.
Allen didn’t play in Summer League because of a hip injury. The Nets are high on the center from Texas because of his length and athletic ability, but again, he’s a project who’ll need plenty of instruction and patience, which the Nets can give him.
Until then, Mozgov will fill the space vacated by Lopez. In a best-case scenario, Mozgov will play well enough to attract some interest on the trade market by midseason, enough to bring another Draft pick to Brooklyn.
The Nets remain a work in progress but smart fans will buy into the process. The leadership seems solid and ownership is on board. Marks will try to round up talent by any means possible while coach Kenny Atkinson will use the season as a classroom; the goal is to get the young players ready to produce when the Nets are finally ready to win.
That could be a few years away. Good times are ahead, simply because it can’t get any worse.