After a series of trades and years of patience, GM Sean Marks has the Nets thinking big in the summer of 2019.
Brooklyn’s now infamous trade with the Celtics left the franchise without three of its first-round picks from 2014-18 and included a pick swap on a fourth first-rounder. The Nets didn’t get close to contending against the best teams in the East and because there weren’t protections attached to the picks, Brooklyn was surrendering lottery talent consistently.
The Nets hired Marks in 2016 to clean up the mess Billy King left behind. He came from the Spurs organization with experience as an assistant coach and an assistant general manager and faced a monumental task. With limited draft picks and financial flexibility, Marks wouldn’t be able to undergo a traditional rebuild.
Marks struck immediately in the 2016 draft, dealing veteran Thaddeus Young for Caris LeVert. After being eased into the rotation during his first two seasons, LeVert has exploded to start 2018-19. He’s averaging 21.3 points per game on an efficient 51.6 percent mark from the floor. LeVert’s usage rate has jumped significantly, but his turnover rate is slightly down, which is encouraging for his potential as a secondary ball-handler and creator. He’s attacking the basket more this season, taking 10 percent more shots than he did last year within 10 feet of the hoop.
Marks did have one holdover from the old regime. He exercised the team option on Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, a first-round pick acquired in a draft-day trade in 2015. Hollis-Jefferson has taken a backseat this season, but still provides a reliable defensive presence for the Nets off the bench. He’s also playing most of the fourth quarter in games, showing Nets Head Coach Kenny Atkinson has confidence in him in crucial situations.
Because he didn’t have draft picks already in the fold, Marks got creative. He acquired protected first-round picks to take on veterans with long-term contracts in order to replenish the roster with young talent. He took on Andrew Nicholson and Marcus Thornton from the Wizards to get a first-round pick, which turned into Jarrett Allen. He added Timofey Mozgov’s albatross contract into the acquisition of D’Angelo Russell, a lottery pick that had fallen out of favor in Los Angeles. Both Allen and Russell have shown significant improvement in their second seasons in Brooklyn. Marks eventually found a trade partner to take on Mozgov’s contract.
Two of Marks’ transactions have yet to pay off completely. He added DeMarre Carroll and Kenneth Faried to get draft picks from the Raptors and Nuggets, respectively. Toronto’s pick turned into Dzanan Musa, a 19-year old Bosnian small forward with a strong reputation in the Croatian League. Marks can use Denver’s draft pick as early as the 2019 draft.
There was one big free agency move Marks pulled off, landing Allen Crabbe from the Trail Blazers in restricted free agency. The Nets had been aggressive in restricted free agency, but failed to close the deal multiple times. Crabbe has seen his role reduced and he could opt back in to a $18.5 million option, but the Nets will hope he finds his rhythm again as the season goes on. In an under-the-radar signing, Marks was also able to bring back Joe Harris in free agency after the second-round pick had a career season. Harris is currently rewarding that investment, shooting 53.3 percent from behind the arc to give the Nets a solid perimeter threat.
The young core Marks put together appears to be making a jump this season. Take a look at some of these lineup combinations.
|Five-Man Lineup||Minutes Played Together||Point Differential|
Although the Nets don’t use this lineup much, this would ideally be their lineup of the future and it went very well in a limited sample size.
|Four-Man Lineup||Minutes Played Together||Point Differential|
Every three-man lineup featuring some combination of Russell, LeVert, Harris, Crabbe, Hollis-Jefferson, and Allen has a positive point differential. Marks has put a core in place that has shown it can hold its own, but the Nets still don’t have a star to compete in the East. And that’s where this summer comes into play.
For the first time in what seems like an eternity, Brooklyn actually has all its future first-rounders intact. If Denver’s draft pick falls outside the top 12, the Nets will go into the 2019 draft with two first-round picks. That’s two more pieces Marks can add or deal before entering free agency with potentially two max salary slots.
Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard headline a loaded 2019 free agency class. The Nets were reportedly on Butler’s list of preferred destinations and reports around the league suggest Durant won’t be with the Warriors after this season. If Brooklyn’s core can build on a 28-win campaign from a season ago, Marks will have put together an impressive platform to pitch star free agents.
LeBron James joined a 35-win Lakers squad last summer. Will another star make headlines by going to Brooklyn in 2019?