Andrew Nicholson is the unheralded piece in the Nets’ deadline deal with the Washington Wizards. In exchange for scorer (and 2017 restricted free agent) Bojan Bogdanovic and Chris McCullough, the Nets received the Washington Wizards’ first round pick, Marcus Thornton and Nicholson. Thornton, the former Net was waived quickly and the Wizards’ 49-33 record granted the Nets the 22nd pick. Nicholson remained with the Nets.
Nicholson expressed real elation about the trade.
"I'm excited just to be part of the organization,” Nicholson said after his first run with the team. “It's a blessing of an opportunity to be here. I'm starting to meet everybody - players, coaching staff, I'm just excited."
But for at least the remainder of last season, it didn’t work out.
Nicholson was a reliable second unit big for the Orlando Magic in his first four NBA seasons. The Canadian provided the Magic with some bench consistency for four seasons – a consistent presence for 15 minutes a night. Former Orlando Magic head coach (and current Nets assistant) Jacque Vaughn nicknamed Nicholson “YMCA,” for his methodical but reliable low post game.
When the Washington Wizards signed Andrew Nicholson to a four year, $26 million dollar deal last summer, he was expected to be the primary backup for Markieff Morris. Along with Ian Mahinmi and Jason Smith, the Wizards had high hopes for a veteran second unit. However, Nicholson’s brief run with the Wizards was a disappointment, leaving Washington with a thin frontcourt – an issue they dealt with all the way into the Playoffs.
Nicholson’s uninspiring half season play, paired with the rise of Otto Porter, made him expendable – prompting thoughts of buyer’s remorse from Wizards fans. The Wizards’ SBNation website, Bullets Forever, dreamt of ways to rid themselves clean of Nicholson before the season’s trade deadline.
As a Net, Nicholson sat more games than he played. He saw action in 10 out of 25 games, with several DNP-Coach’s Decisions. His production as a Net matched his production with the Wizards – averaging less than 3 points per game, while shooting less than 40% from the field and 18% from three. He scored an even 100 points in 38 games for Brooklyn and Washington, capping his weakest season as a pro. By any measure, Nicholson’s 2016-2017 was a disappointment, especially after inking a big contract.
After the trade deadline deal, Nicholson’s best performance was in the Nets’ St. Patrick’s Day loss to the Boston Celtics. With Trevor Booker and Justin Hamilton out (and the Nets playing the latter half of a back-to-back), Nicholson filled in at backup center. He scored 11 points, draining some key jumpers to keep Brooklyn afloat in 16 minutes. Here’s what may have been Nicholson’s biggest bucket as a Net, a fast break three to tie the game at 71. Although Brooklyn lost a heartbreaker, it was a bright spot in a season of disappointment for the struggling Nicholson.
Aside from that outburst on St. Patrick’s Day, Nicholson saw only sporadic minutes, mostly in blowouts.
Unlike other Nets (seven are either non-guaranteed or will be free agents this summer), Nicholson is fully guaranteed until 2019-2020, with $19.9 million left on the deal signed with Washington. Nicholson is the only Net with a guaranteed salary for the 2019-2020 season. 2019-2020 is also the final year of Deron Williams’ stretch provision. But we’ve been over that before.
Compared to other contracts signed last summer, (The NBA GM horror film will be called ‘I Know Who You Signed Last Summer,’ directed by Jordan Peele) Nicholson’s contract isn’t terrible. Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov, Joakim Noah and Ian Mahinmi will all be making over $15 million until 2019-2020. All saw drop-offs in their games, a cautionary tale for a rising salary cap. Regardless, the Nets acquired a long-term contract in exchange for a draft pick.
Stretching Nicholson this summer may not be the best plan of action, adding $2.7 million (and a non-tradable asset) to the Nets payroll for the next SEVEN years. Not a typo. Per Larry Coon’s CBA FAQ, “if the player is waived from July 1 to August 31, then his remaining salary is paid over twice the number of years remaining on his contract, plus one.”
Can we rename “dead money” to “zombie money?” I’ll start the petition.
It could be in Kenny Atkinson’s best interests to maximize Nicholson’s production, either to raise his trade value, or at least to salvage him. It may have been a season-long slump, but there was much to be desired from Nicholson’s 2016-2017 campaign.
So, unless the Nets find a suitor to match salaries in a trade, Nicholson could be a Net for the foreseeable future. Ideally, he would fill in as a backup center – the NBA (and the Nets’ schemes) has become too quick for Nicholson to effectively guard power forwards. His 7’4” wingspan will help in contesting shots, but his lack of foot speed and explosiveness may cause problems guarding the pick-and-roll. If Nicholson can resurrect his Orlando groove, he could at least provide some production on the offensive end.
In a blowout against the Washington Wizards, the Nets played Nicholson extended minutes. He showed his throwback game, setting solid screens and generally getting in the way of defenders. He also showed a solid faceup jumper out of the post. Nicholson’s post game ideally could help generate baskets for Nets second units.
Kenny Atkinson at least tried to put Nicholson in situations to show his skills. He even referred to Nicholson as a “project,” after finding spotlighting every player that donned a Nets uniform in 2016-2017.
The Nets coach had been optimistic at the time of the trade.
“We still think he’s got more to give. I’ve had the opportunity to coach against him this summer with Canada and I was impressed with his skill level, his length, his 7-foot wingspan. We think he can protect the rim for us – there’s some untapped talent there – I had him at the NBA combine when I was coaching there and I was impressed with his basketball I.Q. and his ability to read the game.”
Andrew Nicholson may be a Net for the long haul. Still only 27, Nicholson will look to rebound from a disappointing season after signing a long-term contract. Like the Nets as a whole, Nicholson struggled. But after essentially bottoming out, simple progress, production and post-ups would be ideal – and needed - for his future.