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NetsDaily Off-Season Report No. 16

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And we’re back, for our 10th big year! Every weekend, we’ll be updating the Nets’ off-season with bits and pieces of information, gossip, etc. to help take the edge off 20-62.

Doug Bearak

It’s early and it’s long, which is appropriate after another big deal got done. Also, it may not seem like it, but we are two-thirds through the off-season, which for teams like the Nets are 24 weeks from the last game of the regular season to the opening of training camp. Then it’s preseason.

Welcome to the future

We commissioned Doug Bearak, he of jersey swap fame, to come up with a portrait of D’Angelo Russell and Allen Crabbe in Nets uniforms. Expect the two of them, aged 21 and 25, along with Caris LeVert, 22, and (eventually) Jarrett Allen, still only 19, to be the long-term faces of the franchise. Of those four, only LeVert was on the team six weeks ago.

The Nets may have failed in their most recent RFA showdown when the Wizards matched on Otto Porter, and the Lakers may have had more of an appeal for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. But the Nets did good.

If these four reach their full potential, the summer of 2017 could be the one fans look to as season when the Nets took their first steps back to respectability, “baby steps” as Sean Marks likes to call them. Last summer was about building a staff and a culture, taking a risk or two. This one was about adding young players, forming a core.

How’d they do it?

Salary Dumps “R” Us

It’s July 29 and the Nets have not signed a single free agent ... and yet the fans are happy with the off-season. Ecstatic even.

How so?

That’s because Sean Marks, Trajan Langdon et al have mastered the art of the salary dump. All the key acquisitions this summer have been the result of salary dumps made possible by the Nets deep reserve of cap space.

Let us review:

Dump No. 1 — The pick used to take Jarrett Allen at No. 22 in the June draft was acquired in the Nets trade with the Wizards at the February deadline. The Nets took on the $20 million Washington owed Andrew Nicholson in return for the Wizards lottery-protected first round pick. The other pieces in the mix were secondary. The Wizards hoped Bojan Bogdanovic would help their bench and he did, but they knew he was likely moving on in free agency and he did. Chris McCullough wasn’t a top prospect for the Nets. Whether he will be for Washington remains to be seen but after being assigned to Long Island a total of 21 times as a Net, McCullough was assigned to the D-League by the Wizards on arrival. He played eight minutes in two games for Washington. The Nets waived Marcus Thornton, the other piece in the deal.

Dump No. 2 — The Nets agreed to take on the remainder of Timofey Mozgov’s monster $64 million contract and dispatch Brook Lopez to L.A. as the price tag for the many talents of 21-year-old D’Angelo Russell. At the time of the trade, Mozgov was owed $48 million over three years. Ca-ching!. Other than the Knicks four-year, $72 million deal for Joakim Noah, the Lakers’ signing of Mozgov was viewed as the worst contract in the cap-busting summer of 2016. (It can also be argued that by picking up the 22nd pick in the Nicholson salary dump, the Nets were more comfortable adding the 27th pick to the package for Russell.)

Dump No. 3 — The Nets picked up two of Toronto’s picks in the 2018 NBA Draft in return for Justin Hamilton and their agreement to pay DeMarre Carroll $30.2 million over two years. Brooklyn, which had no picks in the 2018 draft, wound up with a lottery-protected first and a second rounder that will be the less favorable of the Lakers and Magic picks. The inclusion of Hamilton was critical. With Hamilton’s expiring $3 million contract added to the trade, what the Nets pay Carroll next season effectively drops from $14.8 million to $11.8 million, the difference between what they they’ll pay Carroll and what they won’t have to pay Hamilton. Every little bit helps.

Dump No. 4 — In what might be called a double salary dump, the Nets sent Andrew Nicholson to the Blazers for Allen Crabbe, straight up. The Nets didn’t see a role for Nicholson, the three-year $19.9 million dump in the trade that brought the Wizards pick to the Nets. And the Blazers didn’t want to pay Crabbe the $56.3 million he was owed over three years. Call it buyers’ remorse. Portland of course had matched the Nets offer sheet in July 2016. Again, the effective cost of what the Nets received in the deal, Crabbe’s contract, was reduced by what they won’t have to pay Nicholson. And unlike the Carroll deal, where it was a one-time savings, this transaction saves the Nets money in each of the three years left on the two players’ contracts. In effect, the cost of Crabbe to the Nets, once the Nicholson contract is subtracted, will be $13 million this season, $11.9 million in 2018-19 and $11.6 million in 2019-20. Why the drop? Because Crabbe’s salary goes down over the three years while Nicholson’s goes up. Pretty neat.

The beauty of the last two dumps, besides the savings, is that Toronto waived and stretched Hamilton (who’s headed to China) and Portland did the same with Nicholson. Don’t have to worry about those guys returning to Barclays to wreak revenge! As one NetsDaily poster noted, the Nets traded their two worst players last year and got a first round pick, a second round pick, a veteran presence in Carroll and the NBA’s second leading three-point shooter in Crabbe. Nice work.

And you can now say, quite clearly, that the Nets won that deadline deal with the Wizards. The big asset they sent to Washington, Bogdanovic, signed with the Pacers and the Nets reputedly got who they wanted in the Draft. They are very high, long term, on Allen. Nicholson’s contract is 3,000 miles away.

Will they do another dump? It gets tougher because the Nets are almost at the salary cap. Their big asset, cap space, has been diminished, used up. Then again, each of those deals was a surprise. So why not one more?

And it should be noted, there is a downside. If the Nets start to succeed, they will have little to no cap space in the out years of these deals, 2018-19 and 2019-20, to take the next step, sign the big free agent.

As Daniel Zimmerman writes in the 94-feet Report, there could be unforeseen consequences ... as there were when the Nets traded all those draft picks to Portland and Atlanta and Boston. Zimmerman writes...

If this team won 40–45 games in the next three years, it’s combination of young talent and franchise prestige, along with an attractive market could make the Nets an attractive destination for players. However, the potential downside of having these contracts on the books means it may restrict their future attempts to sign a big time free agent or two that would catapult them into playoff conversations.

As Zimmerman notes...

Only time will tell if the Nets actually suffer from these large contracts in any way other than financially, but perhaps foresight is necessary here as it would have been quite necessary in 2013.

Amid all the excitement, it’s a sobering point. Of course, it's possible that Marks thinks Russell or Crabbe could become that player who helps them take the next step.

Crabbe’s expanding role

Somewhat lost in the Nets press availability for Allen Crabbe Thursday were comments by Crabbe and Sean Marks on how the Nets believe —and believed last July as well— that the 6’6” California product is more than a marksman from deep. He can be developed. His game can be expanded.

Marks was asked if he thought Crabbe had changed since the Nets tendered him that $74.8 million offer sheet on July 10, 2016. Some pundits have suggested that Brooklyn dodged a bullet when Portland matched, that Crabbe had not improved much. Marks obviously feels differently.

"I don’t think he’s changed at all except for the fact that he’s matured as a young man and I think his role will expand here. I’m excited to see him with our coaching staff especially with Kenny [Atkinson] and the development pieces here.

“It was one of the reasons when we talked last year and sat with Allen was ‘Look, we think we can up your game.’ We think we can take it to another level. ‘Let’s not just be a shooter.’ He’s excited about that, I know he’s got a chip on his shoulder and he wants to take his game to another level so it’s not just shooting. It’s defense and such."

Indeed, Crabbe did express excitement when he replaced Marks in front of a pack of beat writers and reporters.

"You know, the more I’m put in a situation the more I’m going to learn; run it effectively and do certain things. It’s what any basketball player can ask for … an expanded role.”

When we asked how he reacted to the critics in Portland who said he was nothing more than a three-point specialist, Crabbe smiled.

"Like I said, my role will be expanded here so I’m excited. I’ll just leave it at that."

What might that expanded role look like? First of all, he is likely to be the starting 3. Very likely. In his four years with the Blazers, he started 24 out of 226 games, only seven last year. Of course, he was stuck behind Damien Lillard and C.J. McCollum. He hinted that while he appreciated them, they may have held back his development.

“In Portland they had two great guards but sometimes you have to make a move for your own career…”

Just as D’Angelo Russell told Woj this week that Kenny Atkinson promised to challenge him on defense, Crabbe told reporters Thursday that Atkinson did the same last July when they talked about his role on the Nets.

“I talked to him last year when the whole offer sheet went down. He spoke about incorporating me into the team. I definitely understand the defense and just the new system – I’m just really excited to start training camp and the season.”

He does have some physical attributes that should help make him a better defender. He has a near 7-foot wingspan and is more athletic than advertised. He rang up a 36” max vertical at the Draft Combine in 2013 and ran the floor well in Portland. He expects his new team to do the same.

“I know they shoot the three ball so that’s something I’m really excited about. This team is going to get up and down the floor so I’m excited.”

One other thing from the press conference that encouraged us. Crabbe admits he knows only one player, Spencer Dinwiddie, on the Nets and barely knows him. Still, he said the Nets are getting a reputation

“You hear a lot of positive things about the organization and coaches and where we’re headed -- building with the right guys together with the mindset of turning this organization around, try to make the playoffs and be successful.”

So, it is catching on.

Getting a big?

Lots of rumors that the Nets are still in the market for a big. As noted above, the Nets have limited cap space —about $5.1 million— to take on yet another salary dump, but they do have some assets, like

—four expiring deals in Trevor Booker ($9.1 million), Quincy Acy ($1.7 million), Joe Harris ($1.5 million) and Sean Kilpatrick ($1.5 million);

—a partially ($50,000) guaranteed minimum contract in Spencer Dinwiddie;

—the rights to Randy Foye which could be used in a sign-and-trade;

—the $4.38 million room exception, and

—Dare we say it, one, perhaps two second rounders in the 2018 Draft.

At the far end of the range of possibility lies Jeremy Lin’s contract. If the Nets believe he will test the waters at year’s end, they have to consider whether to offer him around, although after such an injury-plagued season last year, his market may be limited right now.

There’s a lot you can still do with those assets. The question is targeting.

There are four restricted free agent bigs out there: Nerlens Noel, who will re-sign at some point with Dallas; Mason Plumlee, who the Nuggets similarly want to keep; Nikola Mirotic, who the Bulls are waiting on; and two others, whose teams seem uncertain about what they want to do with them: JaMychal Green of the Grizzlies and Alex Len of the Suns.

The Nets can’t put together an offer sheet at this point. It would have to be a trade. You can theorize and fantasize about one of those free agents’ teams sitting down with the Nets, so to speak, and working out a sign-and-trade. But know this: in each case, the player has little to no leverage. The team does not need to make a trade. They can just wait and get them cheap when the player and his agent says, “Okay, we surrender.. Let’s talk.”

And you can thank the Nets. Once they traded for Allen Crabbe, the last reserve of cap space needed to make a big offer to a big evaporated. No one has the money to scare the RFA’s current teams ... and that includes the Nets.

Matt Moore of CBS Sports explained the situation to Chris Herrington of the Memphis Commercial Appeal on Thursday. Here’s what Moore said about the fate of the RFA’s on Herrington’s “Pick and Popcast”...

The RFA market has just been crushed by the market correction from last year. I was talking to a few people in Vegas about whether I was surprised at how the market corrected itself and I said, ‘No,’ because there was that moment when after the summer was over and you wake up after a hangover. When you wake up after a hangover you think, 'Oh God, what did I do?!' That's very much how last summer's spending spree was.

And you look at this year and everything has been suppressed and with the RFA's, nobody wants to tie up their cap space because there's only a limited amount of impact guys and then you had a lot of teams come off the table in terms of what money they can spend.

So Philadelphia gives JJ Redick $18 million (actually $23 million). Boom! Immediately that's a big spender that's off the table. They go their big acquisition, they don't need to make another big time move. And that has a ripple effect. Philadelphia isn't involved in other deals so that Brooklyn lands someone for less than they expected and it just fills up cap space.

Now, we are always prepared to be surprised. We have been all summer! As we’ve said, everything we thought was true wasn’t and much of what we thought wouldn’t happen did.

There is evidence the Nets have been thinking outside the box.

According to one (usually reliable) source, the Nets did offer Jared Sullinger a contract, but that it wasn’t fully guaranteed. Instead, the source said, he’s bound for China, where he will be lavished with cash. Is that definitive? I assume we’ll find out for sure next week when Sullinger’s Scarlet and Grey team in the TBT travels to Baltimore for the Final Four of that $2 million winner-take-all event.

Asked by Shlomo Sprung about any NBA offers? any European offers? Sullinger was non-committal. “I don’t know. We’ll wait and see.” (By the way, Sprung’s story about Sullinger’s mental breakdown —his words— is a great read.)

Don’t forget this either: the Nets like Acy a lot. He’s developed nicely as a stretch 4, has a great work ethic and can rebound. He’s only 26, too. If the Nets don’t get another big, expect him, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Booker and Carroll to all see time at the 4. There are worse options.

Sean Marks diplomatic response

At the press availability Thursday, we asked Sean Marks how he felt about the Wizards extending the matching period on Otto Porter from two days to six by invoking obscure rules that permit teams two days to schedule a physical and other two days to review the doctor’s report. Until the Wizards blessed the physical, the deal was incomplete, the Nets money, more than $20 million in cap space, was tied up.

Marks was diplomatic in his answer, even suggesting that the Nets may have benefited. Once the Nets knew the Wizards plan, Marks et al shifted their focus from restricted free agency to salary dumps, concluding the deal with the Raptors early in the four-day window.

“I mean, that’s the way of doing business. It’s the whole going after restricted free agents is what we had in our toolbox so they’re completely entitled to stretch it out and we knew that’s what it was.

“And in a strange set of circumstances, it may have helped us in that it tied up our money and had to go after some different things. You know we have DeMarre [Carroll] in here now, so we’re ecstatic about that as well.”

All well and good, but the Wizards’ reaction was punitive. They wanted to teach the Nets a lesson, that you can’t poach their players. You know, like Paul Allen did last July in matching on Crabbe. Owners and GM’s are not crazy about the Nets use of the RFA. Players and agents however don’t share that disdain. We don’t expect the Nets to stop using RFA offer sheets.

As Amin Elhassan said shortly after midnight on July 1, “We saw Sean Marks do this last summer: ‘I’m going to keep throwing darts and one of these darts is going to hit and someone is going to balk on matching.’”

Or maybe a year later, an owner will think he shouldn’t have matched and call Brooklyn.

Nets World, Nets World

As we exited the HSS Training Center after the Crabbe availiability, we noticed something new on the wall of the lobby. A world map and not just any world map. It was a map of Nets World (our phrase, not theirs)

NetsDaily

The map is dotted with silver dollar-sized metallic plates, each with the name of a player (the white ones) or basketball operations staffer (the black ones). The plates are very specifically placed. For example, the plate for Juan Pablo Vaulet —yes, they included Draft stashes on the map— doesn’t sit randomly in Argentina, but right smack over Cordoba, his hometown. Timofey Mozgov’s is placed over St. Petersburg, Russia, which is where he grew up. Aisling Toolan, the Nets director of physical therapy, has hers near Dublin. There’s a clump, of course, around New York and Los Angeles and a few in Texas.

And hovering over Russia is a larger rectangular plate that says only “ONEXIM GROUP.” That, of course, is Mikhail Prokhorov’s holding company and the ultimate owner of the team.

Anything newsy? Sorta. Christian Drejer, the Danish player the Nets drafted in 2004 and stashed in Europe, has a plate. Now 34, he’s long since retired from basketball with a bad back. Despite that, it appears from his inclusion on the map that the Nets still retain his draft rights. That means those rights can be traded.

The map is another one of those “little things” that’s part of the Nets’ culture, things like the family room or the oversized lounge chairs for big and tall people. And if you’re wondering, Allen Crabbe’s plate hadn’t yet been posted when we left Thursday. We’re sure it will be soon.

Meanwhile in Bulgaria...

There were some tense moments Friday night when Aleks Vezenkov, the Nets No. 57 pick in the Draft, went down during a friendly, i.e. exhibition, game between Bulgaria and Macedonia. Vezenkov, a 6’9” small forward, had to be helped off the court, as this picture posted on Bulgarian Basketball’s Facebook page shows.

Bulgarian Basketball

Vezenkov returned to the game (which seems a little crazy) and finished the “friendly” game with 12 points. It was the last warm-up before Bulgaria flies off to Portugal for the FIBA World Cup European Pre-Qualifiers which begin on Thursday.

As we all know, sprained ankles can be tricky things. Vezenkov may have felt comfortable returning on Friday night, but Saturday or Sunday he may feel differently.

As they said on the Bulgarian Basketball Facebook page, “fingers crossed.”

Final Note

Getting back to the reason for our use of Doug’s portrait... Fans should understand that the first deal the Nets did this summer was the most important one. No one addition is more significant than D’Angelo Russell. Sean Marks wants him to succeed big time.

If you don’t believe us, first take a look at the Nets homepage, then listen to what Woj said about how the Nets see Russell, how Marks had been “pursuing” the young Laker guard for “several months,” trying to figure out how to get him.

Now that they have him, Woj said Marks hopes that Russell will make the Nets “his team,” running it as “the lead guard” and that he will be ”the guy who they build around.”

‘Nuff said.