It wouldn't be a Brooklyn Nets offseason if you weren't left scratching your head and praying to the basketball gods that the plan goes accordingly. As free agency is quieting down, the Nets roster for the 2016-2017 season is starting to settle in ... as long as the two restricted free agents are allowed
After trading Thaddeus Young and freeing up close to $55 million in cap space, the Nets objective was clear: rebuild by overpaying restricted free agents that haven't reached their prime yet. Mostly 23-24 years olds. It's risky but with their horrid pick situation, there aren't many other options. Not to mention, top free agents were not going to play for a 21-win Brooklyn Nets team... unless they offered the max. No thanks.
"We're following our plan so far. It's a plan we stated from the beginning and we're sticking with it,'' Kenny Atkinson said Thursday. "It's not always the big, splashy headlines. I think where we are and our stage right now, I think we're very happy with how things have gone so far. I like the place we're in."
Still, they did what they do best: spend.
Assuming both Tyler Johnson ($50 million) and Allen Crabbe ($75 million) both end up with Brooklyn, they should have about $5 million in cap space --and a $2.9 million exception-- with only 12 guys on the roster. They've yet to find a reliable backup center for Brook Lopez, and they're woefully short up front. Justin Hamilton is what he is, a journeyman who might be more of a 4 than a 5. Chris McCullough has shown signs of promise for the future, but stepping in and starting is another story. Trevor Booker, too, has shown signs of potential but isn't the ideal starting power forward, particularly in a running game.
Ah... rebuilding. The fun. How is the roster taking shape? One thing we know is that it won't have continuity. Only Brook Lopez and Bojan Bogdanovic are left from the 2014-15 season.
People inside the Nets see Tyler Johnson as the backup point guard to Jeremy Lin, and the sixth man as well. Johnson averaged 8.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, and 2.7 assists in 24 minutes per game in 2015-2016 before hurting his shoulder in January. After him, the Nets see Caris LeVert as a long-term point guard. He's got Shaun Livingston length and might benefit learning from Kenny Atkinson. We expect this to be a slower process, though, and with his height he can certainly play either guard positions ... or even the small forward.
Is there a natural on the roster? No, but Yogi Ferrell, the 5'11" summer league invite, has a partial guarantee.
According to Jason Quick of CSN, Allen Crabbe has been promised a starting spot, presumably at shooting guard. Last season, he averaged 10.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in a career-high 26.0 minutes per game. He shot 36.4 percent from three during the regular season and 42.9 percent from deep in 11 postseason games.
Isaiah Whitehead is an interesting case because he told reporters Thursday that the Nets are working him out at both positions. He noted that with the exception of one year at Seton Hall, he's been a 2 his whole life and after all, he is 6'5". Someone close to Whitehead insisted to us that he's a one. Period. Clearly that is not the case.
Does LeVert fit here at least initially? Will Sean Kilpatrick get minutes?
On a rebuilding team, one has to imagine that Rondae Hollis-Jefferson will be starting at the three on opening night. But where does this leave Bojan Bogdanovic? Nets insiders believe Tyler Johnson will be the sixth man on this team, and Bogdanovic will not be happy being an afterthought on an expected struggling team like the Nets.
With Johnson, Crabbe and even Hollis-Jefferson, Bogdanovic is starting to look like the outcast of the bunch.
It's hard to get a feel. Chris Fleming, the new assistant to Atkinson's staff, took a trip to Croatia and spoke to Bojan about his role next season. That being said, you'd expect him to be a starter and legitimate focal point of the offense now that Thaddeus Young is gone. Who else other than Lopez can score the rock? Lin can, but that only makes two. Bogdanovic dropped 44 in a game last season and has shown signs of brilliance, but way too much inconsistency. Too many promises going around with only so many minutes to spread out.
It's an odd position for the Nets and Bogie, who as of right now, seems to be the odd man out. This is his contract year so maybe, just maybe, he'll find the confidence he had back with Fenerbahce --and is displaying this week in the Olympic Qualifying Tournament -- and return as the starter.
This is where things get a little blurry. Trevor Booker is solid, but a starter? Not so much. The most games he started in any year was 45 with the Wizards back in 2013-2014. He averaged 6.8 points and 5.3 rebounds. He can't stretch the floor all that much and he may clog the paint for Lopez. Not ideal. That being said, this might open the door for Chris McCullough, the 6'11" stretch power forward. He'll undergo his first summer league, training camp and preseason. Not to mention he's already gotten NBA experience. The issue? His size. He's 21-years-old and only weighs 212 pounds. There's still time for growth, obviously; but he's likely to get bullied down low and Lopez needs to conserve his energy for offense. Thaddeus Young will be missed.
In order for this team to even be a respectable bunch, Brook Lopez is going to have to play 30+ minutes a night. Health shouldn't be a concern, as he played 115 straight games following his foot surgery before Sean Marks decided to rest him at the end of last season. Justin Hamilton is his backup right now (and some league types will tell you he's not really a center, just a 7-foot streth 4. Enough said.
There's still time for moves to be made but the questions certainly loom. Is Bogdanovic's role in question? What's the rotation at the 4?. Heck, the entire frontcourt situation seems to be in flux. But like I said, there's still time and money to be spent. They have three roster spots to fill and $5 million in cap space --plus a $2.9 million exception.
If you expected a top-tier free agent to come and save the day, you were wrong. Things are different... and realistic. Instead of rushing the process and trying to compete with the team across the river, the Nets are doing things their own way; the Sean Marks way -- and with the hand he was dealt, So far, and it's early ... he seems to be doing a decent job with the two of diamonds and seven of clubs he entered the casino of free agency with.
But like all poker games, we'll just have to wait and see if he makes the right moves.