With the Nets contractually obligated to pay their as-of-now starting backcourt of Deron Williams and Joe Johnson a combined $46 million next season, Brooklyn had to be frugal in its pursuit of a reserve squad. And they did it with the signings of Shane Larkin and Wayne Ellington.
Coming into free agency, the Nets had a $3.4 million mini-MLE. They split that and signed both Larkin and Ellington. On July 3, the Nets signed Larkin to a two-year, $3 million dollar deal, and then signed Ellington to a similar deal, using all but a few hundred thousand of the remaining $1.9 million from the mini-MLE.
The two deals follow the recent Brooklyn trend of getting younger, more athletic ... and spending as little as possible to get there. Larkin (22-years-old) and Ellington (27-years old) should inject much needed energy into a lineup which, at times last season, had as much vitality as a tranquilized horse.
Larkin, whose deal includes a $1.5 million player option for the 2016-17 season, is undersized, standing at a diminutive 5'11", but possesses exceptional athleticism and speed and operates well in the pick-and-roll. The 2013 first-rounder played last season with the New York Knicks, playing in 76 games, starting in 22 and averaged 24.5 MPG. He hit baskets at a 43.3% clip, averaging 6.2 PPG and added 3.0 APG. A product of the U of Miami, Larkin was named the ACC Player of the Year in 2013.
He did not work well in the triangle, which he admitted at the team's introductory press conference.
"(The triangle) just wasn’t the best fit for me," Larkin said. "It’s a good system but I’m a pick-and-roll point guard. That’s how I got in the NBA, playing pick-and-roll in college. That’s how I got here and now being back in a system where I can play the pick-and-roll."
Even in the triangle, Larkin's speed, athleticism and skill can be seen in this thorough highlight video from last year:
It's worth noting Larkin is the fourth point guard on the roster, joining Williams, Jarrett Jack and Steve Blake. Considering his youth, it's likely one of the other older guards will not be on the roster in October. The Nets would like to move Blake who at 35 can still shoot and is a crafty veteran.
The signing of Larkin is a solid one, but adding Ellington could be the more critical move. After shooting 33.1% from deep last season, good for 26th in the league, the Nets have lost both Alan Anderson and Mirza Teletovic, two of their best three point threats, in free agency. In addition, Johnson's spot on the roster is far from certain, so the Nets could certainly use Ellington, a career 38.2% shooter from beyond the arc.
Playing for the Lakers last season, his fifth team in six years, Ellington averaged 10.0 PPG while shooting 37.0% from three. The UNC product also played 40 games on the 2012-13 Memphis Grizzlies, a team coached by Lionel Hollins. He also wins, at least at the levels below the NBA. He won the NCAA championship in 2009, being named the Most Outstanding Player in the tournament.
Ellington had one of his best games on March 30 against the 76ers. He scored 20 points, including 4-of-6 from three-point land:
They aren't the big name signings of years past, but signing two young players who will contribute immediately for only a combined $3 million is a resourceful move by the Nets. Brooklyn also will likely continue to shop Williams and Johnson to create even more cap space for this season and for next year's free agency.
Who knows, maybe these cost-conscious moves will get the Nets under the cap this season. A pipe dream perhaps, but not impossible.