Ian Eagle spoke at length this week with John Schmeelk and Steve Lichtenstein of WFAN about the Nets and in doing so, laid out a long road map for Brooklyn to reach credibility. It’s not about 2017-18, the YES announcer said, more about 2019-20 and beyond.
In fact, Eagle suggested that the big question this off-season may have less to do with what players they seek in the Draft or free agency than how Sean Marks and Kenny Atkinson are perceived, one year into what he called “one of the biggest rebuild challenges in NBA history.”
“At this stage, it is a work in progress,” said Eagle. “We have to see if this first year did change the perception of the Nets among agents and potential free agents.”
He said one area where the Nets brain trust showed their ability was in the draft, where “they've taken chances” and did well with both Caris LeVert and Isaiah Whitehead, both of whom were perceived as risks going in. Of LeVert, Eagle said, “If he stays healthy and you do a redraft of the 2016 draft, he is probably a top 7, top 8 talent.” Whitehead, he suggested, “has shown he's a legitimate NBA player,” something that wasn’t such a sure thing a year ago.
“Are you talking about stars you can build a team around? No, but they've got to fill out a roster.”
Eagle, while claiming no inside information, also said Marks “is going to need to have that happen again.” He added that he wouldn’t be surprised to see Marks take on salary like he did in the Bojan Bogdanovic trade with Andrew Nicholson’s $24 million commitment.
“I could see that happening again,” he noted.
Eagle also said he wasn’t sure whether the Nets would go the restricted free agency route again this season, as they did last year with Tyler Johnson, Allen Crabbe and Donatas Motiejunas.
“I think they had a general philosophy of how to build a team initially but they may have a different philosophy right now after sitting for a year and watching everything else unfold,” he told Lichtenstein.
“I think Miami made a good decision in matching Tyler Johnson. Portland if they could have that one back, maybe they wouldn't have matched Allen Crabbe. He still would have fit what the Nets were doing a 3-and-D kind of guy but for Portland to pay him and Evan Turner the money that they're paying, maybe they would not have made that decision.”
The problem, he said, is loading up the roster with big money deals just to show you can. There has to be a strategy.
“The goal is not be mediocre in 2017-18, the goal is to be the goal is to build a team that they believe can really compete in 2019-20. And that means being shrewd and coming up with a roster that they have a belief in. Young athletic versatile roster.
“So what you just mentioned, Otto Porter, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and Geoge Hill, who will be available for big money, you might be able to outbid teams even their own.
“I don’t know if Ernie Grunfeld right now would match a max deal for Otto Porter. I don’t know if Stan Van Gundy would match a max deal for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But you cant offer those just to give you credibility, you have to believe that these guys re part of the core moving forward not just in 2017-18, but in 2019-20, 2020-21, 2021-22 when this team believes it is finally going to clear the smoke and have a team they can really say that they built, they created.”
Short term, things are still a work-in-progress, but he remains unsure just how good the Nets would have been with a healthy Jeremy Lin.
“Look, there's no doubt if Jeremy Lin was healthy, there's no doubt this team would have had more wins. How many more wins, I don't know. It wouldn't have been the 20 wins they finished up with.”
And they have to make a lot of decisions on the roster as it is.
“I think they got a free look at a lot of these guys and that was the hope. They hoped to see if Joe Harris was a legitimate NBA plays, if Quincy Acy could help them down the road, could Spencer Dinwiddie and Sean Kilpatrick be part of the future. If Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and K.J. McDaniels factor in.”
Eagle also touched on Billy King’s trades, particularly the lack of lottery protections and the inclusion of swaps in both the 2012 Joe Johnson deal and the 2013 Paul Pierce - Kevin Garnett trade. He didn’t understand the need for the swaps in particular.
The YES announcer also said that King’s worst decision was pushing through Lionel Hollins. Hollins was hired without meeting either Mikhail Prokhorov or Nets chairman Dmitry Razumov.
“Looking back on it, truly I think that Billy could have stayed in his position, I think, “he said. “The Lionel Hollins decision, believe it or not, had more to do with Billy eventually losing his job than ALL of the personnel decisions.”
Bottom line for King’s successor?
“I think Sean when he took his job realized it was going to take a lot of creativity. There was no other situation like this in the NBA where a team was looking at a blank canvas but did not have the draft picks...
“The Boston trade has such far reaching effects on their decision making.”