Brooklyn Nets: Progress Despite Missing Out On Young Free Agents

Mar 24, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Sean Marks general manager of the Brooklyn Nets talks at a press conference announcing the Long Island Nets D League team before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 24, 2016; Brooklyn, NY, USA; Sean Marks general manager of the Brooklyn Nets talks at a press conference announcing the Long Island Nets D League team before the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Barclays Center. Mandatory Credit: Anthony Gruppuso-USA TODAY Sports /

Despite missing out on a couple of restricted free agents, the Brooklyn Nets have made remarkable progress under new general manager Sean Marks this offseason.

Sean Marks took on a job that I described as the most thankless position in the NBA when he was hired in February to clean up the mess left by Billy King as the general manager of the Brooklyn Nets.

We know the history: The Nets went all-in on veterans in the summer of 2013, trading or swapping their next five years worth of draft picks in order to bring in Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry from the Boston Celtics.

The dreams of an NBA title were unrealistic at best.

One season was lost when Brook Lopez reinjured his troublesome foot and the other came undone when Pierce bolted to the Washington Wizards in free agency, Garnett was a shell of his former self and was sent home to the Minnesota Timberwolves and Terry was long gone.

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The Nets missed out on a pair of unrestricted free agents on Sunday, when Allen Crabbe‘s four-year, $75 million offer sheet was matched by the Portland Trail Blazers and the Miami Heat matched the four-year, $50 million offer sheet extended to Tyler Johnson.

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That was an aggressive attempt by Marks to add youth and skill to a roster that was short on both when he inherited it.

Brooklyn added Jeremy Lin in free agency, as well as veteran Trevor Booker and journeyman center Justin Hamilton. They traded Thaddeus Young to the Indiana Pacers on draft night to acquire a first-round pick they used on Michigan wing Caris LeVert.

Marks also jettisoned incumbent point guard Jarrett Jack, waiving the veteran who missed 50 games with a torn ACL last season after declining his $6.3 million option for next year. Instead, the Nets ate a $500,000 guarantee and sent Jack on his way.

Crabbe was to be the Nets starter at shooting guard, a hole created when Joe Johnson was waived in March.

Brooklyn still has Bojan Bogdanovic, who averaged 11.2 points per game in his second season and had a strong finish with 20 and 29 points on 18-of-30 shooting (10-of-16 from long range) in the final two games of the season.

Youngster Rondae Hollis-Jefferson should be healthy after missing 53 games as a rookie with an ankle injury. He was a defensive force with 1.3 steals in just 21.2 minutes per game, but is a raw commodity on the offensive end.

LeVert isn’t participating in Summer League with the Nets as he recovers from a foot injury sustained in his final season at Michigan.

He is a high-risk, high-reward prospect taken at No. 20 overall—he averaged 16.4 points per game last season, but was limited to just 14 games and had two seasons cut short by a troublesome left foot.

The Nets did add some backcourt depth after missing out on Crabbe and Johnson, signing free agent Greivis Vasquez to a one-year deal. Vasquez played in only 23 games for the Milwaukee Bucks last year before missing the rest of the season after ankle surgery.

Throw in second-round pick Isaiah Whitehead and last year’s first-round pick, big man Chris McCullough, and there is reason for Nets fans to have cautious optimism about navigating the next two seasons before getting control of their own first-round pick again in 2019.

Marks has no reason to go fully in the tank because of that; the Celtics would be the beneficiary of any high picks secured by Brooklyn over the next two seasons, as they were in 2016 when they got the No. 3 overall pick from the Nets.

Boston can swap positions with Brooklyn in the first round next season and holds the Nets’ first-rounder outright in 2018 as the final two pieces of King’s ill-fated deal with the aging devil in 2013.

Can the Nets be a playoff team in 2016-17? A lot of pieces would have to fall into place for that to happen.

But they should be much more competitive than they were in a nightmarish 21-61 campaign just completed under coaches Lionel Hollins and Tony Brown.

New coach Kenny Atkinson has a reputation for developing young talent, which is encouraging for the likes of McCullough and Hollis-Jefferson.

And the wild card in all of this is Lin.

For the first time since the 17-game stretch in February-March 2012 that thrust Linsanity into the national consciousness, Lin has his own team to run.

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During that 17-game stretch, Lin averaged 21.1 points and 8.6 assists per game, thrilling the New York Knicks faithful with his fearless drives and his dishes to open teammates.

He’s coming off a strong season with the Charlotte Hornets, during which he averaged 11.7 points, 3.2 rebounds and 3.0 assists in a role mostly as a reserve.

The last time Lin was a full-time starter was in 2012-13 with the Houston Rockets, when he put up 14.6 points, 6.1 assists, 3.0 rebounds and 1.6 steals in 32.2 minutes per game.

He’s not a great 3-point threat, hitting just 33.6 percent last season and 34.6 percent in his six NBA campaigns, but if he can provide drive-and-kick opportunities for Bogdanovic, that will be a dynamic the Nets offense hasn’t had.

Throw in an old-school low-post presence in Lopez, who averaged 20.6 points, 7.8 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game last season, and Brooklyn has a chance to at least make life interesting for opponents.

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The Brooklyn Nets are far from a finished product. But Sean Marks should get high marks (pardon the pun) for what he’s already done to put Brooklyn in a position to be better sooner rather than later.