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ANALYSIS: For Nets and Caris LeVert, big new contract is validation all around

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Las Vegas Aces v Los Angeles Sparks Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

“That’s a Brooklyn Net right there.”

Those are the words Sean Marks used in 2016, to describe his impression of Caris LeVert after his draft interview in 2016.

And Sunday, Marks ensured that LeVert would continue to be a Brooklyn Net through 2023, with a three-year, $52.5 million extension that keeps him in Brooklyn through 2022-2023, with no player or team options.

For Nets fans who stuck with the organization through the post-Boston trade dark ages, today is a great day. Sure, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving are the best players on the Nets. However, LeVert, perhaps more than anyone (Spencer Dinwiddie and Joe Harris can stake a claim), embodies what Marks’ rebuild of the Nets was all about.

Mark’s rebuild about the Nets has been about culture, bringing in high character individuals willing to work hard, betting on player development in those hard workers, and betting again that his performance staff will maximize players with injury histories. LeVert checks every box. In a drama packed NBA filled with huge egos and personalities, LeVert is one of the sport’s genuine good guys. Even though he underwent three left foot surgeries in college, the Nets bet that, because of his work ethic and humility, he would persevere and fulfill his lottery pick potential. They trusted that their performance team would help him stave off a fourth foot surgery.

LeVert, over three years, vindicated the Nets’ faith. His year-over-year improvement, and his stellar play when healthy last year, made extending him easy.

Sentimentally speaking, the extension is the summer’s feel-good moment for the Nets and their fanbase. Sure, the fanbase loves Durant and Irving. Still, fans tend to have an extra affinity for their homegrown talent. We saw LeVert – and he saw us – at our respective low points. We saw him grow from a project into a player who has the makings of an elite two-way wing, and who was the Nets’ best player during a playoff series. The NBA business, by necessity, is ruthless at times. It feels good when a player is around for an organization’s dark times, but also gets to see things through and be there for the return to prominence. It does not happen often. LeVert is poised to do that.

Turning to the business perspective of the extension, it is a great move for both parties. Risks and benefits concerning LeVert’s injury history (he has lost approximately 32% of his career to injury) were well managed by both sides.

The Nets’ Perspective

For the Nets, an extension – even still – does pose the risk of a bad LeVert injury leaving them with an albatross. However, if LeVert had stayed healthy in 2018-2019, his pre injury (and post injury) play likely warranted something like a four-year, $90 million contract. In addition, if LeVert produces in 2019-2020 and stays healthy, he could easily have commanded that or more in the weak 2020 free agency crop.

Read that list of players, and consider that Anthony Davis and Pascal Siakam are near mortal locks to stay put. The talent level is extremely limited. That means that teams with flexibility will have scant targets to pursue. LeVert, if he entered this free agency crop, could have commanded a massive offer sheet – possibly even a four-year $126 million max offer if a suitor got frisky – because low supply means high demand. With so few good free agents, but a solid restricted free agency pool next summer, the speculated death of the offer sheet figures to play out like the death of the sign-and-trade played out in 2019. In other words, it would make a big comeback.

Marks avoided the possibility of dealing with a massive offer next summer by locking LeVert up now. The beauty of this extension is that most teams overpay restricted free agents, with the hope that they will develop into the contract by improving in their mid-twenties (see: Jamal Murray and Ben Simmons getting $170 million over five years). In LeVert’s case, even if he does not improve at all, he is worth this contract if he simply stays healthy. While his health is a question, I would bet on him improving. If he becomes a more skilled off ball cutter, develops a more consistent jumper, and becomes a more consistent individual defender, he can become an all-star. And he’ll be playing with a big fan. (Remember at Michigan, his nickname was “Baby Durant.”)

The quality of this deal echoes something we have seen time and again from Marks, something that distinguishes him from many other GM’s. His patience. Marks often waits for the right opportunities, and then executes by operating from positions of strength, not weakness. With financial leverage in part due to LeVert’s injury last year, Marks capitalized. In a similar vein with his salary dumps, he obtained a first and second round pick to acquire a solid player in DeMarre Carroll, yet only dealt two second round picks to unload a much lesser player in Timofey Mozgov. The reason Marks secured such good prices is because he did not execute the first money dump he saw. Rather, he found teams in Toronto and Charlotte stuck in luxury tax crunches, which put him in a position of strength ... and them in a position of weakness. Then, he leveraged that strength to his advantage.

LeVert’s Perspective

This was a good deal for LeVert as well. Simply put, a bird in hand beats two in the bush. Slightly over two years ago, DeMarcus Cousins was perceived as worth of a super max from the Sacramento Kings but since then, injuries have rendered him a minimum contract guy. LeVert was at risk of never securing a payday if he bet on himself, but suffered another significant foot injury. He averted that risk with this extension. And while he lost out on a larger payday in 2020 if he bet on himself, he has the chance, as Wojnarowski reported, to secure an extension or hit the market again at just 28 ... and entering his prime.

By keeping the deal short, at three years, LeVert can earn some money back on his third contract. Any second contract LeVert agreed to – even after a healthy 2019-2020 – was likely to be discounted by his foot concerns. LeVert’s third contract, however, may not be reduced by health concerns if he is healthy during his next contract. By keeping the deal term short, LeVert can make more money long-term by hitting the market faster.

The contract is also excellent for both parties because of some very specific timing: the Nets and LeVert agreed to it on LeVert’s birthday, August 25. Sentimentally speaking, this was a heartfelt touch by the Nets, another example of how Marks does little feel good things to build goodwill. They also made a big deal of it, posting video of the signing with basketball operations staffers surrounding and applauding him.

From a business perspective, the deadline for rookie extensions is October 21, and it is rare that non max restricted free agents agree on extensions this far in advance of the deadline. The deadline typically applies pressure, causing both sides to finally put their best offers on the table.

The Nets and LeVert did not need that ticking clock to reach an agreement. It speaks to their commitment to one another mattering more to them than extracting every dollar out of the negotiation. The Nets want LeVert, and he wants them. LeVert could have used the deadline to see if the Nets would have caved on a player option in year 3, which would have provided him more flexibility. The Nets could have pushed for a contract closer to $15 million per year. Neither happened.

So What is Next for the Nets?

With LeVert, Dinwiddie, and Harris signed to reasonable figures, and an array of draft picks in hand, Marks stayed true to another one of his staples: the ability, as he himself says, to “pivot.”

The plan right now is to see what this roster can do, and LeVert is a major part of that. Marks will see whether the Nets can win big with Durant, Irving, and a deep, versatile roster featuring LeVert and Dinwiddie as alternative offense carriers, Harris and an array of outside shooting, Jarrett Allen and DeAndre Jordan to patrol the paint, and a myriad of defenders who can switch across multiple positions. Ideally, that roster will win big.

However, if a worthwhile star becomes available via trade, and it becomes apparent that the Nets would be better off dealing for one, Marks can, as he likes to say, pivot. He has the trade chips to make a competitive offer, with a combination of draft picks, young, cheap pieces like Allen, Rodions Kurucs, and Dzanan Musa, midsize contracts like Dinwiddie and Harris, and, starting in 2020-2021, a larger contract in LeVert’s.

All of this felt unimaginable three years ago, even two years ago. However, good things happen to well-run organizations (and vice versa!). And Marks has now established himself as one of the best GM’s in the sport. One Nets insider, in fact, says there’s a growing reluctance to deal with Marks. So many of his are one-sided!

The Nets figure to win a lot of games and compete for titles over the next three years. Caris LeVert should be at the center of that.

That’s a Brooklyn Net right there.