The Brooklyn Nets have finally hit the "reset" button on their six-year plan to take the NBA by storm or was it five years? . It started when Mikhail Prokhorov took over the team in 2010 and it ended Sunday morning when the team announced that Billy King was stepping aside as General Manager, and the team had fired Lionel Hollins. So, after years of chasing stars and throwing money at the problems, what should the Nets do?
Well, they have two routes, it seems. The first is that they can maintain the core they have now, consisting of two All-Star level players this season in Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young (yes, the team isn't very good, but those two have been more than solid all season long) upstart rookie Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, who is currently nursing a broken ankle, and hopefully Chris McCullough if healthy,. (Prokhorov includes Markel Brown as well while Brett Yormark has mentioned Bojan Bogdanovic). They would parlay that with the Brooklyn market, the Barclays Center, the HSS Training Center and a lot of player amenities to attract free agents.
This seems to be the route Prokhorov is taking after his press conference Monday morning when he suggested the Nets could be a championship contender next year. With two talents, two young pieces, and in theory one or two more talented players, yes the Nets can be right back into playoff contention, but it runs much deeper than that. Past Lopez, Young, and a still very raw Hollis-Jefferson and maybe McCullough, there isn't anyone who is necessarily part of the "core" of this team.has the potential to be part of it, for example, but he has been rumored in trade discussions already and he is way too inconsistent for the front office not to consider moving him for the right price (a future, protected first round draft pick?)
With this method, the Nets would have learned their lesson of not throwing money at a problem by...throwing money at a problem. But do they have a choice? The team emptied out the cupboard to chase a ring so that there is nothing left right now. The team can't use the Draft because they don't have any picks and they can't develop much young talent on the roster because in reality there isn't much young talent beyond the aforementioned RHJ and CMC. Prokhorov did mention in his press conference and letter to season ticket holders that he saw a need for "player development." The question is whether that extends beyond getting Yormark to design some cool uniforms for the Long Island Nets.
So, Prokhorov seems to be taking a more methodical approach: chasing free agents to improve the team, but not giving out max contracts just for the sake of acquiring talent. The Nets need to focus on improving the team from the bottom up, which means acquiring role players and players who have shown flashes of potential and develop them from within. That would mean no flashy signing like DeMar DeRozan, for example, this summer, but rather a player like Corey Joseph, who signed with the Toronto Raptors this past summer and is playing well as a backup point guard to Kyle Lowry. The team could look at more of the second tier of stars—like Mike Conley—this summer. Foundational pieces to a new roster.
However, here's the problem with the Nets: the organization is not one that is particularly desirable right now. The Nets can get players because of their market and the thought that they have an owner who has, and probably will again, invest a lot of money into the team, but people won't forget the fact of what the Nets have done over the past several years. The way the Nets have been run exposed a flawed system and that they are in such a chaotic state year after year since they moved to Brooklyn has not helped. Of course, winning helps, but winning won't come soon enough to save Brooklyn. So would a smart hire as GM. Overall, the big New York market can only do so much, because the product on the court is what reigns supreme to basketball players. The other stuff may be nice, but it's on the margins.
This is the Nets likely route, it seems, which will keep them somewhere in the middle of the East but out of "worst team in the league" territory they currently occupy. Lopez, Young, and a few more pieces can drag a team up a bit but is it satisfying for the fans, the players, the owners?
No superstar is coming to Brooklyn to save them. If this is the plan Prokhorov has, the rebuild will be slow, and possibly painful to watch.
That's what brings us to the second path: blow it all up. It's radical, and will make the Nets very, very bad for a few years, but it can salvage what is left of the team. This idea would mean offering everyone up for sale, which includes Lopez and Young (not RHJ, who is exactly what the Nets need right now). Lopez is a known talent in the league and had he been traded to Oklahoma City last season, he could be chasing a ring this season, while Young has been a double-double machine for the Nets all season long. Those two could net Brooklyn some first round picks down the road and some young prospects, trades like the kind Zach Lowe suggested recently: Lopez for Enes Kanter, Mitch McGary, and two 2nd rounders or Young for Brandon Jennings and a lottery protected first.
Would OKC or Detroit do it? Is that worth it? But It would mean the Nets are going to be playing as bad as the 76ers for at least the next year-and-a-half. This would be a big decision that ownership would need to think deeply about. It would hurt the brand of the team and everything that they have built in Brooklyn but it could jumpstart their rebuild if prolonging the inevitable.
This is a bold step that Prokhorov will likely avoid. He doesn't want to go through a long rebuild. With a new GM and Coach in place the Nets can build from the bottom up and become a contender the same way the Thunder have over the past decade. As unlikely as it sounds, blowing it all up and letting players develop overtime into a consistent system will likely yield the best long-term result for the franchise.
That is no guarantee, of course. Philadelphia took some big chances that haven't worked out, stopped and started more than once. It's has been a disaster for its fans, other than those who "trust the process" laid out by Sam Hinkie. Their attendance cratered (although now, it's higher than Brooklyn's) and ownership had to do a modified bailout of The Process last month. But if now 7'2" Joel Embiid is healthy, well, things could turn around in a big way.
Who Prokhorov hires as GM will be a huge indicator as to what he sees in his franchise going forward. If ownership were to hire someone like Bryan Colangelo, a proven executive despite his fair share of mistakes, would hint that they believe the team can be fixed relatively quickly with a few moves. Colangelo could be a good hire for the Nets. He started a movement in the 2000's with Mike D'Antoni in Phoenix, and Brooklyn should be looking for an innovator to run the team.
Still, what I believe will happen is that they are going to interview a wide range of General Managers, both young and old, bold and tedious, who will present their views on how to fix the team. If ownership likes a vision that offers some risk/reward, I think they're smart enough to reconsider what seems to be their current mindset. Brooklyn is in a big enough hole that they need to take on some risk if the right result is presented.
There is no getting past the fact that hole. Now, there is no real sense of direction, no coach, no GM, no future, but it can be fixed in due time, however long that is. The worst thing Prokhorov can do is rush this thing. If his next move blows up the way the five-years-or-bust plan did, then the Nets may never recover at least under his watch.
The Nets can try and attract free agents to Brooklyn, but Kevin Durant won't be coming through that door if this is the product ownership is going to sell him. The Nets need to start over and begin to develop talent, and a culture, as Prokhorov said, an identity. It will be difficult, but it has to start now.
Mikhail Prokhorov's great plan has officially failed, and now we wait to see what he has in store for his next plot.