Brett Yormark, admittedly the CEO not the GM, twice offered his thoughts on the Nets free agent strategy this week, suggesting the team will use its younger players to woo free agents, saying he expected Brooklyn to be a "player" come July. In doing so, he identified who he thinks are the team's lures.
"We’ve got a good story to tell -- with the addition of our $50 million practice facility and the D-League franchise -- and I think we’ll be in a position where we’ll be able to add to Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Bojan Bogdanovic and some of the other younger pieces, and bring in the necessary pieces to turn things around quickly."
Although Yormark is not directly involved in basketball operations, presumably he's in tune with team thinking.
The list presupposes the Nets won't trade any of those players for draft picks or even younger players in the interim or try a quick fix ... neither of which we are told is not in the cards, at least for now. So lets' take a look at that list -- and the roster -- to see who is a "keeper," beyond what has become a lost season.
--Brook Lopez. With fears of recurring foot issues now less of an issue --he's played 85 straight games-- Lopez would seem to be the cornerstone of the Nets free agent strategy. Still only 27 and under contract for two years and $43.8 million, Lopez may not be the thoroughly modern NBA center, but he's putting up 20 and 9 and showing off better passing skills.
--Thaddeus Young. Another 27-year-old --a few months younger than his front court mate. Young is having his best season ever. He's rebounding as well as any power forward the Nets have had since Kenyon Martin while scoring in ways that have surprised the NBA. As Mike Fratello predicted in preseason, Young has dramatically improved his game. With three years guaranteed at $38 million, he's a good bargain under the next TV rights-infused salary cap.
--Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Here's why late first round picks are the best bargain in the NBA. RHJ, taken at No. 23 and traded for Mason Plumlee, will make $6.6 million total in the first four years of his NBA career, or about $1.6 million per year. That will amount to about 1.5 percent of the cap over the course of his rookie deal. Put aside that he's injured. Hollis-Jefferson showed that he can put up numbers across the board. He's more than a keeper. He's a potential star. He turns 21 next month.
--Bojan Bogdanovic. The big surprise on Yormark's list. The 26-year-old finished last season strong -- Rookie of the Month strong, but had been a disappointment until recently, with some brights spots on offense ... and some true ugliness on D. He's improved over the last few games and over the last 10 games is finally shooting at near 50 percent from deep. The Nets keep giving him chances ... and ESPN keeps writing that the Nets are testing the waters with him, which the front office strongly denies.
Beyond that, who might "some of the other younger pieces" be? Two names are obvious...
--Chris McCullough. The Nets mystery man. He's likely to start practicing in a couple of weeks and maybe play around the All-Star Break, around when his rookie mate, Hollis-Jefferson, returns from a broken ankle. IF the 29th pick in the draft is as solid as the Nets believe, he would be an even bigger bargain than Rondae at $5.8 million over four. The Nets would also have an easier time spinning that he's the equivalent of a first round pick in 2016. He's a month younger than Rondae.
--Shane Larkin. He's probably no more than a career back-up point guard, but he's shown that he's a better player than the Knicks thought he was last year when they declined his third year option before the season. Larkin has played well this season and has been improving. His three-point shooting is the big surprise. No one figured the 5'11" speedster would hit nearly 50 percent of his shots from deep. He's also played well in the pick-and-roll and hustled, hustled, hustled. He just turned 23. However, he's likely to opt out of his player option come July. The Nets owe him $1.5 million if he doesn't. In the new environment, he's likely to command more and over a longer contract.
What about the others? It's unlikely the Nets would bring back their two oldest players, Joe Johnson and Jarrett Jack. Joe's an expiring and Jarrett's owed $500,000 if cut this summer. The Nets have declined their fourth year option on Sergey Karasev. Thomas Robinson, their other young signing last July, is bolted to the bench. (However, T-Rob is signed through next season at the vets minimum of $1 million. He too has a player option.)
Willie Reed could be a "younger piece" as well. He's taken Robinson's place in the rotation and is only 10 months older that his teammate. As the season wears on, the Nets should get a better idea of his value. His model, of course, is Hassan Whiteside. THAT's not likely but if he keeps improving, the Nets have his Early Bird Rights.
Andrea Bargnani and Wayne Ellington have player options next season that pay them around $1.5 million, bargains, of course, but would they make the cut?
So that leaves the Nets with two BIG holes, at starting point guard and swing man, one of whom will have to be a go-to scorer if things are going to "turn around quickly," as Yormark says. Of course, if things change in the front office, the idea of "keepers" may not be popular with the new guys.