“We are going younger, we got a youth movement here,” said Sean Marks Thursday in introducing yet another new Net, Allen Crabbe, aged 25, to local media.
Indeed, they have. The hallmark of the Nets off-season has been their willingness to take on huge contracts to get younger and more athletic players as well as draft picks.
All told, the Brooklyn Nets traded around $32 million in 2017-18 salary for around $55 million this year — a net total of about $118 million over the next three years — for a future.
D’Angelo Russell is 21, only legal to buy beer this past February. Allen Crabbe is 25. Jarrett Allen, acquired in a deadline salary dump, is the third youngest Net ever. He won’t turn 20 until after the season. And going into the 2018 Draft, where they didn’t have a first or a second, the Nets now have the Raptors lottery-protected pick in the first and the “least favorable” of the Magic and Lakers picks in the second. They could also have the Pacers pick in the second.
On the surface, it looks good ... and really expensive.
Russell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Caris LeVert, Isaiah Whitehead, Spencer Dinwiddie, Archie Goodwin and Jarrett Allen, are all 24-and-under. Yakuba Ouatarra, the two-way player just signed out of France, is 25, just like Crabbe and Joe Harris.
Quincy Acy is 26 and late bloomer Sean Kilpatrick is 27. They also have a first rounder and maybe two in the second as well.
That leaves the two vets left from last season: Jeremy Lin, who turns 29 in August, and Trevor Booker, who’s 29. Their mixed roster with its average age of around 25 ranks them about 13th in the league.
All that youthful enthusiasm leads to what would’ve been a laughable and sacrilegious discussion about six weeks ago.
Think about it. Not having their own pick for 2018 incentivizes them to go for it, not to tank. Marks, as he is want to do, will continue to be reserved in his expectations. He says he’s “not too focused on the playoffs” which means he isn’t dismissing it. He is focused on development and talent acquisition.
“We’re obviously making steps that everybody can see. We are going younger, we got a youth movement here, we’ve got guys that are versatile and still have a lot of upside. I’m looking forward to getting these guys with our coaching staff and developing them.”
That same attitude permeates the roster. Like all players they are optimistic, but at least publicly they’re trying to keep a tight perspective, look ahead with a positive vibe, just don’t get too far out there.
Listen to what Crabbe told reporters about the playoffs Thursday (after a brief aside with Marks.)
“Anything is possible. I feel like we made the right moves this off-season by bringing in the right guys, by bringing in guys who want to win. I feel like once that culture is built everybody is going to buy in.”
And here’s what Russell told Adrian Wojnarowski on Woj’s podcast earlier this week.
“We try not to talk about it. We try not to talk about the future in Brooklyn. We’re excited, we’ll work hard and see where it goes. Then, we can reminisce on it when it happens.”
You can almost hear a knowing smile, and a desire to get the hell going.
Ironically, it’s been the veteran Lin who’s the most out front, telling Taiwanese fans, “We’re making the playoffs. I don’t care what anybody else tells me.”
Playoffs aside, the Nets do head into August with a set of expectations.
Where the hell were those last year?!?
That’s a good thing. The price they paid for all this youth and enthusiasm isn’t that great when you look at the rest of the roster.
The $16.7 million owed Timofey Mozgov and the $14.8 million owed DeMarre Carroll, both of whom turned 31 this month, are balanced out by rookie deals five players are working under and minimum deals paid five others. The Nets average salary of around $6.1 million puts them in about 24th in the league.
Nicholson’s near $20 million over the next three seasons and Hamilton’s one-year, $3 million remaining are gone ... and they didn’t last long on their new teams either. Both have been waived and their contracts stretched.
And none of this should be a surprise. Back in December, Marks telegraphed what he planned.
“The (number of) teams with potential cap space shrink and shrink and shrink,” said Marks. “So, it’s not like last year when there were a couple dozen teams that could offer big salaries. It’s shrinking as it goes. There’s no secret out there now. Every team knows we’ve got plenty of cash to spend and maneuver around. We’ll just be strategic in how we do it.”
So, that strategy has now led to an identity that’s of a young, athletic and potentially exciting team. It’s a sports fans dream to have his or her team appear to be ahead of its own rebuilding process, to have a legitimate youth movement, and competent management.
The eyeball test suggests that the Nets check all of the boxes ... on paper. Can they produce on the court ... and is this the final roster?
Looking ahead, questions will rise regarding the starting-five, the sixth man, the bench as a whole, the ball boys, the popcorn vendors in the 15th row, etc. Will minutes or positions, 1 through 5, matter on a team where the coach has a rotation that’s 10 deep and talks about position-less basketball?
One thing about young teams: You don’t have to get ready if you stay ready.