clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Brooklyn’s Beat: If tank is on, should Nets trade DLo or Din?

New, comments

In the spirit of “We’re all in this together (poor us)”, we asked Brooklyn’s Beat, the angry young man of Nets Twitter, to give us his thoughts ... basically on anything. So, he took a look at the debate over whether the Nets should trade either of their point guards. His conclusion is surprising.

With the Brooklyn Nets sitting at 8-18, they’re currently on pace for a 25-57 record. Ugh.

With that, the focus for many fans, inevitably, has shifted toward the trade deadline, summer, and... of course, the rumor mill. It’s human nature. When the present will likely bear little, you look to the future.

“Wait till next year,” as fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers used to say.

With that shift in focus and the ESPN Trade Machine armed and ready, the two most intriguing Nets pieces are their two point guards: D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie. The reason? They fall in the sweet spot of not being clear building blocks (like Caris LeVert and Jarrett Allen), not being at the start of rookie deals (like Rodions Kurucs and Dzanan Musa), not being under contract next year (like Joe Harris), and being good enough to have significant trade value.

Why trade one or both of Russell and Dinwiddie? For starters, while both are good players, it is a stretch to say either is a star. The point guard position around the league is loaded with talent, but in this guard-driven NBA, you need a great one (or a LeBron type on the wing) to succeed. Teams rely on great guards to break down defenses and create easy looks; the Nets do not have one.

According to Bleacher Report this preseason, John Wall and Mike Conley are the ninth and eleventh best players at the position, respectively. Reasonable minds can differ on player rankings. But it is hard to dispute that a player like Conley is both not a great point guard, but discernibly better than Russell and Dinwiddie at the moment – and maybe pver the length of their careers. For this reason, the answer to the Nets’ point guard conundrum might be “someone not on the roster.”

The other reason for a trade? Acquring a high NBA draft pick in return. To win big in the NBA, you need transcendent talent. And history reveals that the most likely way to acquire that talent is through the draft. Over the last 25 NBA finals, 47 of the 50 finalists boasted stars they obtained in the NBA draft (yes, Kenyon Martin is in the group). The three outliers were the 2004 and 2005 Pistons (perhaps the most aberrational contender in NBA history), and the 2018 Cavaliers (another fluke, due to the ridiculous talent and birthplace of LeBron James). Even teams that signed transcendent free agents over the years had superstars in house whom they drafted already in house (think LeBron joining Dwyane Wade in Miami and Kyrie Irving in Cleveland, Kevin Durant joining Steph Curry in Golden State, and Shaquille O’Neal joining Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles).

Moreover, there’s Sean Marks’ strong draft track record. Using picks 20, 22, 29, 40, 45, and 57, respectively, he has acquired Caris LeVert, Jarrett Allen, Dzanan Musa, Rodions Kurucs, Isaiah Whitehead, and Aleksandar Vezenkov. The returns are excellent, when weighed against the selection range. (ESPN/Draft Express’ Mike Schmitz wrote Wednesday that Allen ranks eighth in the sophomore class.) So it’s intriguing to ponder what Marks can do at the top of the draft, and smart to want Marks to secure that chance.

Trading players who grow in your organization — given Dinwiddie’s rise from the G League and Russell’s growth after being dumped by Magic Johnson— is never easy. But it definitely wasn’t easy for the Raptors to trade DeMar DeRozan, or the Warriors to let Harrison Barnes walk. Sometimes, decisions that tug at the heart strings need to be made.

Having said that, the verdict here is that if the Nets cannot get a top ten pick or a superior player to Russell or Dinwiddie in a trade (or similar value by a combination of assets), then they should keep both players.

With the Nets sitting at 2-10 since LeVert’s injury (or 2-11, if you don’t place the Minnesota game on his ledger), it is hard to say that tanking requires trading either player who are after all 22 and 25. It does appear that the Nets, as presently constructed, are entirely capable of falling into a top five pick without doing anything that would weaken the current roster. Sometimes, tanking is easy.

Both players, particularly Russell, may improve on their next contract. That improvement could result in either player becoming the answer at point guard, or having increased trade value at a later date.

Russell has displayed individual improvement this year. His points per 36 minutes, and three point percentage, are up. By all accounts, he has worked hard and brought an excellent attitude to Brooklyn. However, Russell needs to take a substantial step forward, from “player who gets his,” to “player who helps his team win.” He can’t be “too cool for school” any longer, as one Nets insider recently noted.

Kenny Atkinson’s system – like many league wide – is predicated on fast ball —and man— movement, and quick decisions. Kenny likes ball movement because when the ball sticks, the defense gets to remain set, rather than being kept off balance. As talented as Russell is, the ball too often sticks in his hands, as he dribbles and surveys, rather than making quick decisions. This sticky ball syndrome hurts the Nets offense overall, even though Russell gets his.

The founder of this site, John Schuhmann, posited at the end of last season Russell may not be the Nets’ kind of player.

I suspect, given Kenny’s love for ball movement (consider how the Hawks played after dealing Joe Johnson when he was an assistant there), that part of Schuhmann’s opinion was grounded in this sticky ball issue as well as Russell’s lack of burst off the dribble ... although his natural craftiness can mitigate that.

There is another Russell issue: I have the sense that Kenny doesn’t trust Russell as much as he trusts LeVert and Dinwiddie. That’s based on his late game substitution patterns and who he elects to run the late game offense. As Richard Jefferson said about Dinwiddie on a recent YES broadcast, Dinwiddie’s fourth quarter minutes reflected Kenny’s confidence in him. Who coaches go to late reflects who they trust. The flip side is also true – if coach does not go to you late, it reflects a lack of trust.

Nevertheless, there has to be some anxiety inherent in trading him without a significant return — just to trade him. Put simply, it’s the fear that if Russell learns to channel his individual abilities into quicker decisions that fling defenses into uneasy rotations, he can become an excellent player. He is that talented.

The key, however, is Marks will need to understand Russell’s market, and avoid paying him north of $85 million over four years. Do that, and Russell becomes near untradeable, with your wagon hitched to him.

As for Dinwiddie, he isn’t as talented as Russell, and is likely close to his ceiling. So the logic of dealing him to boost the Nets’ asset profile is obvious. That said, if the Nets retain him on that $47.5 million extension they can offer, he should have trade value over the life of the deal. He could be the Nets’ Robert Covington – a role player they developed from scratch who also has trade value if they decide to go in that direction. And until or unless that major deal comes, he will produce, just like Covington (who got a similar extension a year ago.)

Essentially, Russell and Dinwiddie have enough upside and ability in the present, such that the Nets should hold onto them absent a significant return. And absent overpaying Russell, both could become core pieces, and hold higher trade value than they do now at worst.

There are other issues to consider as to the Russell-Dinwiddie question, but when they are weighed, they still show that holding the line is the best play.

One issue that quietly could emerge is that both players certainly want to be starting point guards, going forward. What if one leaves this summer for nothing because the Nets pay the other? What if they clash? This is one area where the Nets’ culture has intrinsic benefits. In his phenomenal LeVert profile, Zach Lowe said in discussing Dinwiddie and LeVert, “in other situations, envy might grow between Dinwiddie and LeVert. Not in Brooklyn. Dinwiddie’s success doesn’t threaten LeVert. He welcomes help from anyone. He wants to be great, but not at the expense of others.”

I can see the relationship between Dinwiddie and Russell functioning the same way. Yes, culture gets overstated because it is no replacement for talent – but what culture can do, is prevent talent from undermining the team through dysfunction. I think Dinwiddie and Russell would coexist in a way that, say, John Wall and Otto Porter apparently are not.

Lastly, one reason to keep Russell and Dinwiddie is that, even with both in the fold, the Nets would retain plenty of cap space in 2020.

Yes, extending Russell and Dinwiddie would eat into their 2019 space. But the Nets should focus more on 2020 anyway. In 2019, the Nets will face an uphill battle making headway with free agents, because recent free agency history shows that stars choose to play with other stars, not to play in huge markets. This trend emerged in 2010 when LeBron James chose Miami over L.A., Chicago, New York, and New Jersey/soon to be Brooklyn. The proliferation of social media has enabled athletes to make money and reach the masses with products, regardless of their city ... even overseas.

Many recent free agent moves reflect this — this topic could be the subject of its own column— but the most obvious ones are Paul George to Oklahoma City, and LaMarcus Aldridge to San Antonio and maybe Kawhi Leonard to Toronto. None of the markets are big, but the players sure are.

Unfortunately, the Nets appear headed for a 50+ loss season, which puts them at a disadvantage in free agency next summer With that, I wouldn’t worry about the impact that keeping Russell and Dinwiddie has on 2019 (and as a technical matter, since Russell’s cap hold exceeds $21 million, keeping him actually won’t eat into 2019 space). The Nets have done things like instill a family and player-friendly culture, constructed an impressive practice facility, built an impressive medical/performance infrastructure, and the like. Those things are positives, certainly. But they simply do not have the sway with stars that playing with other stars has.

So 2020 should be the free agency target. And, armed with an impending high lottery draft choice, other draft assets, the cap space ... still, and potential internal development, the Nets might just win enough in 2019-2020 to make that happen in 2020. And Russell and Dinwiddie would help the Nets win more in 2019-2020 and make that 2020 space palatable to free agents.

In fact, the Nets could enter the summer of 2020 with nearly $40 million in cap space, under the following assumptions

  • Dinwiddie is back on the $47.5 million extension;
  • Russell is back on a four year, $80 million deal;
  • In no brainers, the Nets do not renounce LeVert’s $7,877,154 cap hold, before his restricted free agency, and exercise their $3,909,902 option on Allen;
  • the Nets do not renounce Harris’s $14,566,667 cap hold;
  • the Nets pick at Nos. 5, 25, and 35 in 2019, and at No. 10 in 2020 (there is no cap hold for their two 2020 second rounders)
  • the salary cap, as previously projected, is $118 million

Variables – moves by Marks and team records affecting the picks – will affect these figures, of course. But they still show that the Nets could enter 2020 with massive cap space, and a stronger pitch than 2019. And while pieces added before 2020 can cut into their space, renouncing Harris can open space up (the Nets still could resign him with cap space).

So, should the Nets part with Russell or Dinwiddie? For a significant return, or to avoid giving Russell a monster contract, they should. But again, absent those circumstances, keeping them on reasonable numbers is beneficial to the long-term plan. They would help the Nets win games in 2019-2020, one could become a very good point guard, and if all else fails, they would have trade value going forward – just like Covington did for Philadelphia in acquiring Jimmy Butler.

Finally armed with the Nets’ own draft picks, and a ton of cap space, Marks has the ability on paper to truly rebuild the Nets. In rebuilding them, he may not believe that Russell or Dinwiddie is the answer at point guard. And that might be correct.

But keeping them – for now – might be the best play.