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Allen Crabbe ... Was he Sean Marks’ big mistake?

NBA: Memphis Grizzlies at Brooklyn Nets Nicole Sweet-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Deeks, the respected British basketball writer, has a detailed and (admittedly) lengthy report on the Nets rebuild, breaking into pieces and offering his take on how successful Sean Marks has been in his two-and-a-half years as GM.

For the most part, it’s a solid recitation of Marks’ moves, from turning Thaddeus Young into Caris LeVert (and a still unused second rounder) to this season’s multitude of moves. But Deeks, like Zach Lowe, Tim Bontemps and Bill Simmons, believes that the Nets GM made one big mistake, not getting more for Allen Crabbe. In fact, Deeks thinks Crabbe, with his big price tag, was a mistake.

To recount, the Nets tendered a four-year, $75 million offer sheet to Crabbe, then a restricted free agent, in July 2016. Portland, somewhat surprisingly, matched, but within a year, they experienced buyers’ remorse. They needed to get under the luxury tax threshold and Marks et al were willing to take Crabbe back, his contract now $58 million over three. So a little more than a year ago, they traded Andrew Nicholson’s $20 million (also over three) contract for Crabbe. The Nets had never wanted Nicholson, but he was the price they had to pay to acquire the Wizards’ first round pick.

Deeks and the others suggest that the Nets had the Blazers in a bad position and Marks should have extracted more from Neil Olshey, like a pick. Bontemps has said the deal saved Portland as much as $60 million in salary and luxury taxes. Deeks argues it was a bad deal in a lot of ways...

The cap space that Crabbe now takes up is the issue here. As the Nets have proven in the above, they have sought to acquire assets from other teams in exchange for burning up their cap space on buyer’s remorse contracts. And yet with the biggest contract of all, with a team pretty desperate to shift it, the Nets got no such sweeteners. The Blazers were trapped in a situation of their own making, and yet the Nets let them out of jail, purely it seems because they rated Allen Crabbe that highly.

While admitting that in terms of fit Crabbe’s “one plus-NBA skill” is ideal for the Nets, he suggests that the 6’6” Californian is too expensive and will never be worth what the Nets are paying him.

[T]he cost going forward is highly detrimental. For Crabbe to have any trade value going forward, he needs to perform at a higher level much closer in value to that large contract, and considering the limited improvements throughout his NBA career to date, that does not look likely. Crabbe is still not active enough off the ball, still does little with it, is too passive at times, needs more motion, and makes no significant impact defensively. He may have been essentially free to acquire, but he will not be to rehome.

Deeks also notes that Joe Harris, now re-signed to a two-year, $16 million deal, may be better than Crabbe and that he “outperformed” Crabbe last season. The loss of cap space, Deeks notes, hurt the Nets as they tried to extract draft picks from teams that overspent in 2016.

Crabbe’s contract has not cost Harris his spot. But Crabbe’s contract is no virtue, and his presence is more awkward than beneficial. At a time when teams around the league are feeling the cap space pinch due to the 2016 overspend and would be more prepared than before to give up assets in order to move bad deals, the Nets spent a big chunk of their potential to help with that on Crabbe’s bench-player-for-All-Star-price play.

Of course, the Nets like Crabbe a LOT. They liked him in 2016 when they tendered him an offer sheet, they liked him in 2017 when they trade for him and they liked in 2018 when at the end of the season he went on a tear and showed he could be the team’s best wing defender.

After the All-Star Break, Crabbe (finally) became more aggressive. He not only shot 41.7% from deep over his last 25 games (February 6 through April 11), but his scoring average improved more than anyone else on the team, going from 11.6 to 16.3 points per game, including 10 games with 20 or more points and 10 with 5 or more three’s made. He had a career best of 41 on April 9, his 26th birthday.

The Nets are hoping for more of the same this season. Crabbe will make $18.5 million this season with a player option come July. He’ll be 27 and if he has a good year, in line with that contract, he might be tempted to opt out. But a good season would also justify the Nets faith in him. So there’s that.