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Pundits galore: Nets had an ‘A’ off-season ... and it wasn’t just KD and Kyrie

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Chicago Bulls v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Not that it’s news, but ESPN’s Kevin Pelton has made it (sorta) official: Sean Marks et al had the best off-season in the Eastern Conference. Pelton gave letter grades to each of the East’s 15 teams and although no one got an A, the Nets came closest with an A-.

In fact, he and three other pundits —from CBS Sports, Sporting News and Basketball Insiders— all gave the Nets some variant of an A. There were two A+, one A and one A-. Nothing lower.

While the grades might have varied a bit, the sentiment was the same: the Nets were one of the biggest —if not the biggest— winner of the off-season.

Pelton, who grades every significant NBA transaction, gave the Nets good grades not just for their free agent haul but also for the creative way they pulled it off ... as capologist Albert Nahmad said, creating nearly $10 million in cap space “out of thin air.”

Here’s his analysis:

It’s not just that the Nets landed two of the top free agents on the market in Irving and Kevin Durant that yields a top grade. It’s also the way the Nets positioned themselves to add two max players while sacrificing relatively little from their roster. Brooklyn brings back four of the six players who played at least 100 minutes in the 2019 playoffs.

The Nets did have to give up two first-round picks to clear Allen Crabbe’s salary, but they also brought back likely starter Taurean Prince in the trade. From there, they landed Durant via a creative sign-and-trade deal with the Golden State Warriors that yielded a possible 2020 first-round pick and preserved cap room to sign DeAndre Jordan to a four-year, $40 million deal that helped sell his friend Durant on Brooklyn.

With Durant likely to miss the 2019-20 season, the Nets are unlikely to take a step forward this season. By 2020-21, however, Brooklyn should be a contender in the East.

Two teams, Indiana and Milwaukee, got B+ while the Knicks wound up with a D and Charlotte got a big fat F.

As it turns out, Pelton was the toughest grader of the three reviews out this weekend. Basketball Insiders and CBS Sports both gave the Nets an A+, obviously the top grade, and noted the dramatic rise of the franchise under Marks.

Ben Nadeau of Basketball Insiders wrote...

In one fell swoop, the franchise direction pivoted. In a joint-maybe-not-joint decision that may have been plotted out far, far beforehand, the Nets made the two biggest free agency signings in club history. Naturally, the swap from Russell to Irving has brought debate to a fever pitch over the last 30 days, but that is a topic destined for dissection down the road. Durant tore his in Achilles after coming back during Game 5 of the NBA Finals, a league-altering injury that will shake up the prime of a future Hall of Famer — but now, he’s in the hands of the Nets’ thoroughly-praised medical staff.

Colin Ward-Henninger, over at CBS, had similar thoughts.

Nets GM Sean Marks can take a bow after winning the Kyrie-K.D. sweepstakes, but he also added veteran wing depth with Temple and Chandler and got a protected first-round pick from the Warriors in the Durant-Russell sign-and-trade. Overpaying Jordan was the cost of doing business with Irving and Durant, but they were also able to pick up Prince, a potential fill-in starter while Durant recovers, for Crabbe’s bloated expiring contract and two first-rounders. Minor moves aside, getting Kyrie and Durant puts the Nets among the NBA elite, something that we never would have dreamed at this time last year.

And Jordan Greer of The Sporting News gave the Nets an A. tied for the top grade with the Jazz, Clippers and Pelicans.

Previously stuck in NBA purgatory with no assets, the Nets completed an incredible turnaround by signing both Durant and Irving. That should open a title window once Durant returns, though his recovery from an Achilles injury will be something to monitor. Sure, Brooklyn overpaid Jordan and watched a few key contributors leave for other teams, but the Nets got their stars. This is a huge win for general manager Sean Marks.

Meanwhile, Bobby Marks reports that the Nets were second in the NBA in off-season spending, tallying $360 million in new deals.