It's the mantra of many pundits in the preseason, just as it was in the days after the Nets traded three picks (and agreed to swap another) to acquire Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry: the Nets have "mortgaged their future" with the deal. Everyone from Chad Ford and Henry Abbott with ESPN to Ian Thomsen at Sports Illustrated have made the point.
No doubt the Nets have dumped a lot of their picks. They've traded their first rounders in 2014, 2016 and 2018 to the Celtics along with the right to swap picks in 2017. They've agreed to swap first round picks in 2015 with the Hawks (Joe Johnson). Their second round picks in 2014 (MarShon Brooks), 2015 (Mehmet Okur), 2016 (Reggie Evans) and 2017 (Johnson) are owed to Boston, Utah and the Clippers. The 2016 pick has some protection and could be traded. The first first-rounder the Nets can trade, as of now, would be the one in the 2020 draft.
So what's the Nets organization to do? Is their future "mortgaged?" Sure to a certain extent, but the organization believes that it can make up for some of those picks with some deft development moves, including a more aggressive D-League strategy plus more and better scouting, among other things. It may not work, but considering all the other things that pundits have dismissed in recent years (starting with Barclays Center), it's worth a try.
Talking with league sources, here are some of the ways the Nets think they can make up for the lost picks, which they hope won't be any higher than #20 or 25 in any event.
--Buy picks in either first or second round, focusing on talented players who've fallen. Like every other team, the Nets have $3 million to spend per year as "cash considerations," which can be used to sweeten trades or buy picks. Since the CBA, however, there have been fewer and fewer first rounders sold in 2012, the Nets were willing to buy a pick in the first round, but teams wanted the money and a future first rounder or a young player. No deal, so they bought the rights to Tyshawn Taylor from the Blazers and Tornike Shengelia from the 76ers, paying $2.75 million.. That's likely to be the route the Nets will take in future drafts: look for those who are dropping into the second round.
--Develop Euro-Stash. With those purchased second round picks, take players who may not be able to come over immediately and may have dropped as a result. The prime example is Bojan Bogdanovic, whose value should be higher than half the picks in 2014, league sources agree. In last year's weak draft, Bogdanovic was seen as a lottery equivalent, at least in Brooklyn. Even if he's older, he's more prepared. The situation is somewhat the same with Shengelia (although the Nets will have to make a decision on him by the summer.) Ilkan Karaman, the 6'9.5" PF taken with a traded pick in 2012 has not developed as quickly as hoped and this August, he underwent double knee surgery and hasn't returned to action since. Sometimes, it works, sometimes it doesn't.
--Sign European stars beyond draft age who (hopefully) can contribute immediately. The Nets signed Mirza Teletovic using that strategy. His transition has been rocky but he has the talent. This strategy is problematic because most international players have a buyout so signing for the vets minimum "might not do it," as one league source put it. Don't expect this to be a significant strategy, for a lot of reasons.
---Be more aggressive with D-League by adding developmental staff (hiring Cliff Robinson); more closely integrating coaching staffs (moving Doug Overton from Nets assistant to Armor head coach) as well as thinking more creatively about developmental strategies. In the past, players were sent down on an ad hoc basis. Now, you can expect to see more planning, like sending Mason Plumlee to Springfield early. One league source said the Nets understand the D-League "will be huge the next few years." (Adding a tough taskmaster like Overton --who once made CDR cry-- doesn't hurt.)
--Take chances on talented young players who've made bad career decisions. An example: Adonis Thomas, who was one of the top 10 high school players in the country only two years ago but never fully blossomed at Memphis, left early and went undrafted. The Nets see the 20-year-old with at least second round talent and possibly more if he's well coached. The Nets hadn't done something like this in the past: signing a young player right out of college purely for the purpose of sending him to Springfield. The downside, noted a league source, is that if Thomas develops fast and the Nets have no openings, D-League rules permit any NBA team to call him up.
--Sign more scouts not just for the draft but for the strategies above and develop better systems to measure data. The Nets quietly added two new scouts over the summer (after trading away all those picks), bringing their total to eight --and developed a scouting system internally that is seen as first-rate. With only three first rounders and two second rounders between now and 2019, that doesn't seem like a great use of Mikhail Prokhorov's money ... unless there is a plan to scout beyond the draft. One league source reports they are not done hiring scouts. There will be other additions.
--Do it all simultaneously because it's not all going to work. That's a given. The Nets still have negotiate a contract with Bogdanovic and will face competition from top European clubs. Teletovic may not reach the level they hoped for. Also, there are good reasons players drop ... or don't get drafted at all. But if two or three players work over five years, it's a bonus. And the Nets can do it all simultaneously. Prokhorov has spent money on the Nets beyond salaries, for the arena, for the "basketball campus" aka locker room, for top-flight technology and for basketball operations in general. Another team might be able to do all of this. The Nets can.
The strategy has already produced one first-round equivalent in Bogdanovic, who will be 25 next year if, as expected, he joins the Nets. It will take a lot of work, scouting, development and just plain luck but the Nets haven't flinched when asked about giving up so many picks. It's all about winning now and if they can add good players from Europe and other teams' scrap heaps, they're happy to give it a try. For them, getting a late first round pick is not the only way to develop players.
We'll have to wait to see if it works.