Is the Nets free agency essentially over? It sure looks that way, barring a big surprise signing or a bigger trade. They have 14 players under contract and a second round draft pick who may be their 15th man.
You can grade it anyway you’d like. If you grade the off-season from the end of the “bubble,” then it’s hard not to be happy. After going a shocking 5-3 (one shot away from 6-2) in seeding games before a sweep at the hands of the defending champs, the Nets active roster has been totally revamped. The Nets were missing NINE players in Orlando. Since then, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, DeAndre Jordan, Spencer Dinwiddie and Nicolas Claxton all got healthy. Reports out of L.A. where most of them, plus Caris LeVert, have been working out, paint a picture that’s nothing short of spectacular. Everyone raves about KD and Kyrie. So there’s that.
If on the other hand, you grade it from Draft Night through Tuesday, you could be underwhelmed. Yes, they did upgrade a couple of aspects of the roster. They filled their top priority, re-signing Joe Harris to a generous contract, added a solid shooter off the bench in Landry Shamet (who is 23 years old, it should be noted) and a perimeter defender in Bruce Brown. He may not be David Nwaba, but he has proven himself as a stopper of stars (ask James Harden.) They made up for their lost veteran depth by adding Jeff Green who looked very good in Mike D’Antoni’s system last year. And they strongly believe they got a steal late in the second round in Reggie Perry. Yes, they did lose out on Serge Ibaka which was, truth be told, a pipe dream and (some) fans watched in horror as one by one, lesser and lesser big men went elsewhere.
On the other hand, none of those moves cost them much, other than Joe Tsai’s cash. If Saddiq Bey or those taken after him, like R.J. Hampton and Jaden McDaniels, thrive, well that’s regrettable, but worth the risk at least in a win-now mode. The Draft, after all, was seen as generally mediocre.
And yes, they have retained all the pieces the Rockets might ask for in return for James Harden IF that’s what they want to do and IF the opportunity arises. They may have dangled Dinwiddie (still are, according to Bobby Marks) but he’s on the roster and Harden isn’t. Indeed, as Greg Logan writes Tuesday, “the uproar about Rockets superstar James Harden forcing a trade to the Nets has died down.” Instead, the organization went about desk-clearing Monday, announcing via formal statements the signings of Harris and Green.
As Logan noted, “So, it appears the Nets’ roster is pretty well set for the opening of training camp on December 1 with the first formal practice not taking place until December 6.”
What can we take away from all the above? It doesn’t require a lot of tea-leaf reading. As Sean Marks has said as recently as Thursday, they like their roster as is. In case you missed it, here are the operative comments...
“I sincerely mean it when I say I like this group that we have. The group has been together for a while now and we continue to add some pieces to it. Training camp is going to be competitive and it is going to be fun with the group we have and if things change, things change...”
As for rumors about some huge package for Harden, Marks said, “I don’t see us changing five or six guys on the roster.” Similarly, when asked about sending out a package of draft picks, like Milwaukee did for Jrue Holiday, he seemed to resist the idea, “If you put it like mortgage the future, I would probably say no. There comes a fine line where you say this is what we are going to do, not only in a trade for a star player but any trade for that matter.”
While ALL that was generally seen as a signal to Houston, it also could suggest that at least for the time being, the Nets general manager is putting a premium on continuity and chemistry and with a rookie head coach in Nash, that is probably a very smart, if conservative, strategy. Nash already has a lot on his to-do list. Moreover, Marks knows that integrating Kevin Durant and re-integrating Kyrie Irving is not going to be without issues. That’s just simply basketball.
As for the big complaint among a certain segment of fans, that the Nets didn’t add a big, it may very well be that Marks and his staff think they’re fine there, thank you very much. KD has played most of his career at the 4 and while he may see time at the less arduous 5 (and as Nash noted, at the 1, 2, and 3 too), he’ll certainly be playing some traditional power forward in what’s likely to be an unconventional offense. He is, after all, one of the greatest to ever play that position.
Not to mention that the Nets currently have four, count ‘em four, bigs between the ages of 20 and 22. That would be in ascending order of age, Reggie Perry, Nicolas Claxton, Jarrett Allen and Rodions Kurucs. Hell, the Knicks draft pick, Obi Toppin is older than all of them save Kurucs who has him by a month. Would any of the bigs who came off the board over the weekend be that much better of a fit? None of them are complete packages —Allen is closest— and overall they are development projects, but there’s a lot of potential there. Minutes too.
Are there “issues” ahead? Sure. As Brian Lewis notes, the Nets defense in particular could be problematic. He writes, “Who’ll guard the star small forwards seemingly every contender has: LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, Jayson Tatum and Pascal Siakam?” Could’ve used a healthy Nwaba, but we’ll see if they add or subtract a piece or two ... or someone steps up ... or there’s a trade.
Nicolas Batum, who’s only 31 but who’s seen declining production in recent years, is on the Nets radar at least according to his agent. And you wonder if KD and Kyrie have reported back on two formerly electrifying guards, Isaiah Thomas and Jeremy Lin, who now appear healthy ... and who they played with in those now legendary workouts out west. Are they worth a camp invite? Just a thought. Nothing more.
Bottom line or at the end of the day or whatever cliche’ you can conjure up, if the Nets are done, you have to believe that the guy who turned the franchise around, gave it by far its most talented, most complete roster in the organization’s history, knows what he’s doing. As we’ve said before, ya dance with the guy that brung ya.
- Marks, Nets thrilled to get KD, Kyrie on court together - Greg Logan - Newsday
- Nets no longer focused on James Harden trade pursuit - Brian Lewis - New York Post