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NetsDaily Off-Season Report No. 2

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And we’re back, for our 11th 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 28-54.

Brooklyn Nets

Searching out the strategy

There’s a lot of speculation out there about what the Nets are planning this offseason ... tanking for the 2019 pick? Going for broke with a big free agent? Tendering another offer sheet for a restricted free agent? Or banking on continuity?

Here’s our take from reading between the lines of comments made by Sean Marks, Kenny Atkinson, and even some of the players over the last ten days since the season ended...

The Nets are looking to become competitive this coming season with the hope of making a splash next summer when they will have 1) their own first rounder (as well as the Knicks’ second); 2) maybe $30 to 35 million in cap space with the expiration of some big contracts and 3) a chance to sign their top talent to a long-term deal. It also should be noted that both Marks and Atkinson will be going into the last year of their contracts next summer.

Becoming competitive —at least making the playoffs in our opinion— is critical to the team’s long-term success. We keep harkening back to what Luis Scola told Zach Lowe last summer.

“Once they win, they will get everyone they want,” said Luis Scola, who played part of 2016-17 with Brooklyn. “But all those other things don’t matter until you have a good team.”

You’re not getting a superstar to join your team until you can win. Playing in New York doesn’t matter (ask the Knicks); great amenities, same (ask the Mavericks). What matters most is Ws.

Constructing a competitive team this summer and maybe enhancing it at the deadline will not be easy. There is some value in continuity, as Marks has said, and the Nets have some assets they can move on Draft Day, as they have the last two years, but jumping from 28 wins to 40 is not something that happens that often in the NBA. Say what you want about injuries and L2M reports and those 50 games with a margin of five points or less within the final five minutes... it’s still 28 wins.

When he met with the media this week, Marks certainly hinted that the Nets could be switching from “progress” to wins as a measure of success. Specifically, he said...

“At the start of the season you asked how was progress going to be measured. I [said] it was never going to be measured with wins and losses. That’s not something myself was looking at or ownership was saying,” Marks told beat writers assembled at the HSS Training Center on Monday. “At some point, that’s going to change. Whether it’s this coming year or a year in the future where we [say] wins and losses, now we’ve got to start winning games.”

Of course, Marks also said he doesn’t want to “skip steps” in the rebuild. He also addressed this offseason in a chat we had with him courtside back in February. We mentioned that some have suggested that as a result of the previous regime’s monumental mistakes, the rebuild could take 10 years.

“I think we’ll be systematic in our offseason plans and I would hope that it’s not 10 years,” he responded. “I think for us, it’s going be, look, we’re going to keep hitting singles and every now and then, we will tend to be opportunistic. Where can we strike, where can we make a move that we feel fits this organization as a whole and does that accelerate that build, that process.”

And as he did Monday, he didn’t rule out going for the “home run” this offseason.

“I’m not sure when those (moves) are going to come. They could come this offseason. I would never say, ‘look, we’re going to do absolutely nothing,” because why would we do that.”

So what kind of moves do we expect? The Nets, as they currently stand, don’t have the cap space they had the last two offseasons which permitted them to make big offers to RFAs and other moves, but in relative terms, they’re in the top five or so in cap space. They have a roster imbalance, too, made even more lop-sided by Jeremy Lin’s optimism about next season.

We expect they will look around at those free agents, restricted and unrestricted, in hopes of getting better up front. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if they have already targeted one or two, maybe even made some inquiries of agents. That happens.

We expect as well there will be a Draft Day trade, but more likely it will be about moving up. How far? The Nets like this draft, but believe there is a big dropoff after 10 to 12. The only way they could get that high is if they offered Caris LeVert. Would they?

And we expect Joe Harris will be back. As for the other free agents —Dante Cunningham, Quincy Acy, Nik Stauskas and, of course, Jahlil Okafor, your guess is as good as ours.

One thing Marks hopes he can do is reduce roster turnover we’ve seen the last two years. Last year, 23 players were under contract at one point or another during the season. The year before, it was 24. The previous franchise high was 22. It’s all well and good to say, “sign everyone and let Kenny sort it out,” but it’s not productive if you want to win.

“If every offseason, it’s ‘Kenny, here’s 15 guys, go and teach them and develop them again,’ I’m putting a lot on our coaching staff,” Marks admitted, saying that slowly, he’s hoping to increase the number of players that return. Again, continuity.

In other words, this is a crucial offseason for taking the next step in the rebuild. Winning.

Ownership Change and the Future

From bits and pieces of intelligence we’ve picked up, it appears that Mikhail Prokhorov and Joe Tsai are looking at their new arrangement as more of a true partnership than as majority/minority. Tsai bought 49 percent of the team for more than a billion dollars. That’s not a controlling interest of course, but we are told that everyone understands that Tsai is going to be the principal owner in 2021-2022, which in NBA terms means major decisions taken now will likely affect the team in that season and beyond.

Sean Marks said last Monday that he has met Tsai (and we know he attended at least three games).

“Mikhail and Joe are both committed owners and they’ll be hands on to a certain extent,” said the Nets GM. “The fact that Joe saw something that he liked in Brooklyn, saw something that he liked with the Nets organization, I think there’ll be a great partnership between the two.

“I think we’re very fortunate to have that amount of knowledge and that amount of commitment shown by two individuals – arguably either one could own a team outright if they wanted to. So the fact that they are both in here, showing that level of partnership and commitment to us is intriguing for sure.”

Tsai is likely to have several seats on the Nets board of directors. When Bruce Ratner owned a minority share, he nominated three people to sit on the seven man board. Meanwhile, we’ve heard that under terms of the deal, Prokhorov can retain up to 20 percent of the team once Tsai takes controlling interest ... or he can sell it all to Tsai. That decision, of course, is a ways off.

Walking for Mom

The fight to find a cure for multiple sclerosis is a personal one for Caris LeVert. His mother is affected by the disease. LeVert walked with his mother, Isaiah Whitehead and Kenny Atkinson from Pier 97 on Manhattan’s west side through the Hudson River Greenway last Sunday. After the MS Walk, LeVert spoke about his mother’s fight against MS. To donate to Team LeVert, click here.

Draft Sleeper of the Week

Back to Bosnia. Dzanan Musa is a 6’9” small forward from the town of Bihac, Bosnia, who plays for Cedevita in Croatia. Although his heritage is the same as Mirza Teletovic, his game reminds people of Bojan Bogdanovic (which after this year’s playoffs is not a bad thing ... at all.)

He can score, in bunches and has NBA three-point range. Sometimes, it seems, that he deliberately fires up three’s from well beyond the international three point line just to prove he can make what Croatian announcers call an “NBA troika.” He can also play a bit of the 2 and even the 1.

Here’s highlights from his best game this season...

Yes, he is skinny and might need a year or two in a weight room before he can meet up with his NBA potential. He is 18, turning 19 in a few weeks. Right now, he is projected in the early 20’s by most draftniks and ESPN has him ranked as the second best international prospect (in what is seen as a weak year for Euros.)

Jonathan Givony of ESPN wrote of Musa last week...

Musa’s size, scoring instincts and aggressiveness could be intriguing at this stage of the draft. He’s one of the youngest players in this class, but he already is productive in Europe, playing at a fairly high level.

In the latest ESPN mock, Musa is at No. 20.

Stefanos Makris of NBADraft.net has similar thoughts.

Dzanan Musa is one of the best scorers of his generation in Europe if not the best. His ability to score is uncanny and he has already proved it’s his most translatable skill at the next level, along with his ability to play multiple positions. For him to play at the next level though he has to bulk up his body considerably, learn how to control his emotions and improve his motor on defense.

In the latest NBADraft mock, he’s at No. 22.

And yes, the Nets appear interested. When Sean Marks made his European scouting trip last month, the first stop was Croatia so he could get a good look.

There may be a medical issue although he hasn’t seem to miss any significant time. Austin Green who covers the Euroleague wonders if a back issue will slow his march to the NBA.

One thing is certain, Musa is a known quantity. As NBADraft.net points out, there are few players in his draft who have been more heavily scouted than Musa.

He has played professionally since he was 16 years old... He was the MVP of the U16 FIBA European Championship in 2015, leading Bosnia and Herzegovina to its first title at national level... He was the leading scorer at the U16 FIBA European Championship in 2014, as well as at the U16 FIBA European Championship in 2015 and at U17 FIBA World Championship in 2016...

Also, as we’ve noted, we believe the Nets might buy a late pick in this year’s draft so they can stash some European talent. Our belief is based, in part, on Trajan Langdon’s decision to scout Yussuf Sonan, a 6’4” shooting guard, in Athens last week. The 18-year-old has declared for the Draft, but no draftnik has him higher than No. 70 on their top 100’s.

They have $5.1 million which should be more than enough to grab a pick in the 50’s.

A 2019 Draft Note...

This may be the rare case where it is too early to talk about the Draft, the 2019 Draft that is, the one when the Nets will control of their own pick for the first time since they drafted Mason Plumlee at No. 22 in 2013.

Both ESPN and NBADraft.net have their 2019 mocks up. Projecting another eighth place finish for Brooklyn, ESPN has the Nets winding up with 6’11” Daniel Gafford of Arkansas who dropped out of the 2018 Draft while NBADraft.net has Kris Wilkes, a 6’8” small forward who’ll play for UCLA this year, at No. 8. As we’ve noted, the 2019 Draft is seen as weak.

Stash Report

This hasn’t been the best year for the Nets second round stash from last June. Aleksandar Vezenkov, taken No. 57, became the Jahlil Okafor of Spain this season when, almost inexplicably, F.C. Barcelona’s coach deactivated him after a series of losses.

There was some indication the coach wasn’t satisfied with his defense but he didn’t play a minute for two months from October 29 to December 31, 14 games total. Eventually the coach, Sito Alonso, was fired and he got some minutes here and there. Then, suddenly, he’s back in the rotation and producing.

The 6’9” Bulgarian shooter, who plays power forward in Europe, played 16 minutes on April 11 in a blowout win, scoring 13 points and going 3-of-4 from deep. Then on Sunday, he played 26 minutes, scored 12 points and added 5 rebounds, shooting 2-of-4 beyond the arc. No word on what the Nets plan to do with him, if anything, this summer. Vezenkov has said he and the Nets will review his status at season’s end.

He reportedly has a large NBA buyout of around 1 million euros, which is $1.25 million or roughly double what an NBA team can pay out without dipping into cap space. A player can pick up the difference —as Mirza Teletovic did— or the NBA team can pay out the remainder as a one-time bonus, but again that money counts against the cap. Buyouts can be negotiated down, of course.

Meanwhile, in Argentina, Juan Pablo Vaulet, who just turned 22, seems to be finally rid of the after effects of his off-season ankle surgery, his third since being drafted by the Nets in 2015. Over the last eight games in the Argentine National Basketball League, the 6’7” forward has averaged 13.1 ppg, shot nearly 60 percent from two point range; 33 percent from three and 70 percent from the stripe, the latter two numbers big improvements from the past several years. He’s also averaged six boards a game in that stretch. Again, we don’t know what the Nets are thinking about his future. The owner of his team, Bahia Blanca, has suggested Brooklyn sign him to a G-League deal.

And a fun fact: who was immediately drafted after the Nets traded two future second rounders and paid $880.000 for Vaulet’s rights? Josh Richardson of the Miami Heat. (Sometimes we think we should do a piece on all the little things the Nets did wrong under Billy King. Then we think, ‘why bother?’)

Final Note

Brooklyn Sports and Entertainment, the Nets’ parent company, will move its business offices next month from MetroTech, the Bruce Ratner-owned office complex, to 168 39th Street in Sunset Park, the same building where the HSS Training Center is located. The business offices will be on the seventh floor, one floor below the basketball courts, training facilities and basketball operations offices.

We are told there will be a staircase connecting the two floors, but no fireman’s pole, as there is in the Google offices.