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LOOK BACK: How the Almost-Nets are doing: bargains or bullets dodged

NBA: Miami Heat at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

The Nets, after a series of moves both in the front office and to the coaching staff, were in an intriguing, if not precarious position entering this past offseason.

With new General Manager Sean Marks at the helm, the team had money to spend on what was a below average free agency crop. However, that didn’t stop Marks and company from being aggressive in trying to acquire young, raw talent.

The key to their strategy was the risky restricted free agency route. It’s risky because historically, with few exceptions like Chandler Parsons ... and Jeremy Lin, a player’s team will match and the bidding team will be left with nothing. But the Nets were rebuffed at nearly every corner in hopes of landing a big free agent. Kevin Durant wouldn’t even talk to them despite a number of connections and a personal plea by his agent, Jay-Z.

The team seemed to gain the respect of players and front office minds alike by their creative strategy, going after kids with potential. Now, with the midway point of the season upon us, let’s take a look how Brooklyn’s targets are faring now that they have landed that shiny new contract, thanks to Marks and Co.

Tyler Johnson, Guard, Miami Heat

The Nets signed Johnson a four-year, $50 million offer sheet to both backup and play alongside Lin this season as well as beyond. The Heat matched Brooklyn with Micky Arison famously saying no is going to “poach” his players. He and Pat Riley may have made the right choice.

Johnson is doing quite well in South Beach despite the Heat’s record. The Fresno State product is averaging more than 13 points a game along with four rebounds and three assists. Johnson may never turn into a star but there is no denying Johnson has a complete game and can do a little bit of everything. He can shoot (38% from three this season), defend (more than a steal per game and a decent if not spectacular 107 defensive rating) and play two positions.

Here’s a recent game that shows a lot of what Johnson can do (or should we saw could have done for the Nets)...

For the amount of money the Nets offered, particularly when looking to where the salary cap is going, Johnson seems to be worth it. At the very least, he is a 24-year-old backup guard who can come in and give a team a shot of life, which is what $50 million gets you. Also, Johnson is still very young and could very well become a starting point guard in the league one day.

Allen Crabbe, Guard-Forward, Portland Trail Blazers

The Nets signed Crabbe, another restricted free agent to a four-year $75 million contract season, but struck out on him, too. To me, Crabbe was more valuable as I’ve seen serious skills from the California swingman.

However, his numbers have not matched the big number the Nets signed him to this summer. Crabbe is coming off the bench the majority of the time in Portland, a similar role to last season, but rather than a surging team moving up in the standings, his club is floundering in the bottom half of the West. Still, despite not having flashy numbers, Crabbe is shooting a career high 43% from three-point range and has become comfortable taking more three’s than last season, a trend in the league today.

He is still a negative defender so he has ways to go on that end but to me, Crabbe is still worth the money. It may take him some time to reach consistent numbers that match that contract, but there is no denying his talent that he has showcased multiple times this season, as seen this past weekend against Detroit.

For the Nets, signing Crabbe to an offer sheet may have been a losing battle from the get to. Blazers owner Paul Allen made it clear that the team was retaining Crabbe, period, no discussion. As ESPN reported last week...

Nearly a week into free agency, Portland was still without a shot-blocking center. And then there was the matter of the four-year, $75 million offer sheet Brooklyn handed Crabbe. Sources told ESPN that Blazers owner Paul Allen never thought twice about matching. There was no dialogue, no consultation. Crabbe was being retained.

ESPN didn’t go into details as to why Allen wanted to keep his sixth man so badly. Continuity could be a reason, but it’s clear the owner, now the NBA’s richest, sees something in the wing, as did Sean Marks.

The Others

Brooklyn also went after several other targets, a mixed bag of players, all of which came up short. We know the Nets offered Kent Bazemore a four-year $72 million deal, the same as the Hawks, Lakers and Rockets. This may have been a bullet dodged. Bazemore has not lived up to his contract thus far in Atlanta and has become a bit of a poster boy for the team’s disappointing performance.

The wing is shooting a career worst 29% from three-point range this season and has seen a considerable dip in his scoring and rebounding. Bazemore is a gifted athletic player, but it doesn’t not seem that he is worth that kind of financial commitment. He admits there’s a lot of pressure with the new contract.

ESPN’s Tim McMahon wrote over the summer that the Nets “pondered” signing Mavericks RFA forward Dwight Powell to a four-year, $48 million offer sheet, but he signed with Dallas for four years, $39 million instead.

The 6’10” 25-year-old could’ve helped in the Nets front court, considering the team’s problems on the glass this season, Brooklyn ranks 26th in total rebounds per game. Powell’s stats, expanded a bit, measure up favorably. He’s posting 13 points and eight rebounds per 36 minutes this season. Powell could be looked at as a bargain for a soon-to-be rebuilding Mavs club. Would he have been worth $48 million to the Nets?

The Nets did go after three veterans, all of whom would have been nice gets over the summer to bolster their experience and help the young players on their team get acclimated to their professional lives. Marks reportedly offered Jared Dudley two years, $18 million, but the three-point specialist signed with his former club, the Suns, for three years, $30 million. Dudley isn’t playing much, a shade over 20 minutes per, but shooting well from three, well over 40% in fact. But he has been has been a bad defender.

The team also reportedly sought after Jamal Crawford, who re-signed with the Clippers for three years, $42 million, which probably would have been too much for the Nets to commit. The Nets were also a finalist in the Marvin Williams sweepstakes. The 30-year-old power forward re-signed in Charlotte for four years, $54 million. At first look, Williams would seemed to have been a tremendous get for Brooklyn. Kenny Atkinson could’ve paired the three point shooting Williams with Lopez. But Williams isn’t matching the production he put up last season, a career year, in terms of points or field goal percentage, and he will be paid $13 million at age 34 in 2019-20.

Lastly, the Nets reportedly were the team to sign Spanish guard Sergio Rodriguez, but narrowly missed out on him to the Philadelphia 76ers, who snatched him up to a one-year deal, $8 million. The pursuit of Rodriguez seemed to off-again, on-again and internal issues with Real Madrid’s management may have hurt the Nets chances. Rodriguez is playing well for the Sixers, averaging nine points and six assists. With the Nets plagued by injuries to the backcourt this season, Rodriguez, along with someone like Tyler Johnson, could’ve helped big time this season, particularly since their back-up plan, Greivis Vasquez, needed ankle surgery and was waived.

Then, there’s the (lengthy) footnote, the Nets recent pursuit of Donatas Motiejunas. Brooklyn tendered an offer sheet worth $37 million over four ... with only $500,000 guaranteed upfront. By now everyone knows the melodrama that prevented the Nets from closing the deal and had the 26-year-old wind up with New Orleans. In retrospect, the offer sheet was more conservative than many offered during the summer. Whether that was because of Motiejunas well-known back issues or something else, we don’t know. And of course, the jury has only started deliberations on Motiejunas.

Brooklyn’s aggressive pursuit of free agents, both youths and veterans, failed this summer, but there is no denying that they didn’t mind doling out cash in order to add raw talent on their roster that they could cultivate and integrate them into a system.

Some of the players seem to be worth the cash they did shed out—or at least thought about—such as Johnson, Powell and Rodriguez, while others may work out for them like Bazemore and Williams. Others, the jury is still out on (Crabbe).

There’s every indication the Nets will go the RFA route next summer as well. The new CBA has changed the process, however. No more “poison pill” deals that push big salaries to the back end of a deal. The Nets tried that with Johnson and Crabbe and it did not work. On the other hand, teams will be able to bid for RFA’s earlier in free agency and the players’ team will have only two days, not three, to make a decision on matching. The combination of those two rules will make owners and GMs a little more wary of big commitments. On the other hand, the quick decisions by super rich owners Arison and Allen doesn’t bode well for the RFA route. It’s only money.

We shall see if the Nets next crop of free agent targets pan out, or at the very least, want to sign in the black and white. It’s a process.