The Nets are not just on a six-game losing streak. They look dispirited, particularly after the double overtime loss to the Grizzlies. Their best player is out for probably another month ... the Nets aren’t saying how long. And there are questions about how they deal long-term with their next two best players: D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie.
“It kind of becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Dinwiddie after the Grizzlies game. “If in the minds for some of the people out there this one’s going a certain way — and they have the ability to control that — then it’s going to go that way.”
The Nets are two and a half out of the playoffs ... and dropping ... and with the same record as the Knicks, who on Saturday night beat the Bucks in dramatic fashion. Truth be told, New York looks like a better bet long-term with Kristaps Porzingis in the wings.
On the other hand, the Nets currently have the fifth pick —their own— in the June draft, which could be North Carolina’s 6’9” forward Nassir Little or Oregon’s 7’3” center Bol Bol. They also have two other picks they don’t control, the Nuggets first rounder which is now 27th and the Knicks second rounder which is 36th. The draft is seen, at least for the moment, as very top-heavy with a big drop-off perhaps even before the end of the lottery. So the higher the pick the better.
So, all that said, is it time to tank? Let’s get one thing straight: players don’t tank, organizations do. And no organization will admit they’re tanking. Instead, they might start giving more and more minutes to their youngest players — “play the kids” — or trade assets for more picks rather than for immediate help.
It should also be noted that tanking in this year’s draft is different than it’s been in the past. The three teams with the worst records at the end of the regular season will have an equal shot —14 percent— at the overall No. 1 pick, unlike the past when the worst team had a 25 percent chance. The fourth worst team has only slightly worse odds, 12.5 percent. As Neil Paine of 538.com wrote last May...
The new lottery will definitely change teams’ incentives in the right direction. It makes having a bottom-five record less valuable and improves the fortunes of teams in the rest of the lottery (particularly the Nos. 8 and 9 picks, which gain the most value under the new system).
The Nets are in a slightly different situation than other teams considering tanking. Brooklyn had hoped to win more games this season, but Sean Marks has said —repeatedly— that the Nets have a “long, long way to go” and “we don’t want to skip any steps along this rebuild,” meaning it’s unlikely the Nets will try to make short-term moves. (Adrian Wojnarowski said the same thing this weekend in an interview with WFUV, Woj basically dismissed the idea that the Nets might use their flexibility to go for a big player in a trade.)
It may be that there’ll be no need for a decision to “tank” or whatever you want to call it. Just play it as it lays. Don’t stop trying to win while waiting for LeVert and yes, “play the kids” as part of a natural process. Let’s not forget, Dzanan Musa and Rodions Kurucs are transitioning not just from international basketball to the NBA but from Europe to the USA. They’re also learning new positions. Theo Pinson is also working on new aspects of his game.
Bottom line, then, is that the Nets aren’t that good right now. They’ve lost LeVert for a significant amount of time. They’re young: the preferred starting line-up has an average age of 23. They are inconsistent both individually as a team. So maybe they make a deal here or there. The Nets are still stockpiling picks.
But there’s not much of a need to do much of anything. No need to panic. They can start talking to Spencer Dinwiddie next Saturday about an extension but they can extend him at anytime between December 8 and June 30. They can see what the market is for DLo and try to recruit better players in free agency. As a general rule, top free agents don’t look at draft picks when considering their next destination.
And of course, things will change. They always do. In the meantime, while the idea of tanking may sound like a choice, is it? Or is it simply the reality that the Nets are likely lottery-bound anyway.