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Off-Season Grades: Looking like the Honor Roll again

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2021 NBA Playoffs - Milwaukee Bucks v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Of course, it ain’t over till it’s over. Yogi said that. And “over” in this case means training camp or more likely, Opening Night which is now 60 days away.

Still, the roster seems to be shaping up — and shaking out. Sean Marks will never pronounce that he’s done, but even he said last week that the Nets are “90 percent complete, 99 percent complete.” The Nets are known around the league as having a very aggressive, very active front office. And while Marks talked in terms of being 90 to 99 percent done, he also said this...

“We’ve got to continue to tinker with the roster, and just see what happens; see what happens with the remaining free agents that are out there and also what happens even into training camp. I think we’ve seen in the past where other teams make cuts, and so forth, and we’re able to adjust because of that.”

So all that said, how did they do ... so far? Lets break it down... AND give them some grades.

EXTENSIONS (A+)

The Nets top priority was getting the signatures of Kevin Durant, James Harden and Kyrie Irving on contract extensions. KD is already signed and Marks has said he expects Harden and Irving to be “signed, sealed and delivered” by training camp. Assuming that happens — and you can be sure Marks feels very confident — it’s huge. As more than one pundit has said, getting the best player on the planet to commit for another five years (next season plus the four-year extension) was the single most significant move of the off-season.

It’s going to be costly, probably more than a half billion dollars through 2026. And that’s the other positive out of the extensions: It shows that Joe Tsai is willing to commit enormous resources going forward. There are other ancillary benefits: the three remaining first round swaps might not even happen if the Nets with their “Big Three” keep winning. And it’s one more reason for a free agent (like Blake Griffin) to come onboard at a bargain rate.

No word yet on whether Nic Claxton will extend. He can get around $50 million over four starting in 2022-23 or wait a year and see what his value is in (restricted) free agency.

DRAFT (A+)

When you go into Draft Night with one late first rounder and three seconds, also late, and you come out of it with five players, one of whom is looking like the steal of the Draft and was named Co-MVP of the Summer League, you did good. Not only has Cam Thomas dominated the Summer League, he’s shown star quality and in New York City, that is a big plus. Some draftniks still lament that he has a quick trigger but he’s a bucket. Averaging 27 points in less than 30 minutes per game is an accomplishment no matter what the league.

Beyond that, Day’Ron Sharpe showed that he’s elite rebounder. He went from being the leading offensive rebounder in the NCAA to the leading offensive rebounder among rookies in the Summer League. Not bad for the prospect taken next to last in the first round. As for the second rounders, taken at Nos. 44, 49 and 59, they had moments even in limited minutes. And Kessler Edwards played well enough to get a two-way contract.

Then, there’s David Duke Jr. who averaged 7.3 points and 7.3 rebounds as an undrafted rookie and showed some defensive chops as well. (He also played more minutes than any Nets Summer Leaguer other than Thomas.)

TRADES (B+)

Start with the Draft Night deal that sent Landry Shamet to Phoenix (where he has a big fan in Monty Williams) for the rights to the 29th pick, Day’Ron Sharpe, and Jevon Carter, who was the Suns’ third string point guard ... and is likely to see a similar role in Brooklyn.

Shamet was, to say the least, inconsistent on offense, particularly in the post-season. He shot 25 percent from deep in both the Boston and Milwaukee series and when it came to Game 7, with all the injuries in the backcourt and all the chips pushed to the center, he played only seven minutes and didn’t score.

The trade also had financial benefits for the Nets. They would’ve had to make a decision on Shamet’s rookie extension by October 18. That would have meant a contract starting at around $6 to $7 million in 2022-23. The alternative would have been to let him go without getting anything in return. Carter on the other hand makes $3.6 million this year, $3.9 million in 2022-23. Also, Sharpe could be a bargain if he meets expectations. The Nets have him for four years and $10.3 million. (The Nets also got a small — $118,342 — trade exception.)

Then, there’s the Spencer Dinwiddie sign-and-trade. After what seemed to be an interminable back-and-forth, the Nets dealt their back-up point guard to the Wizards in a five-team deal on August 4. In return, the Nets got:

  • A second rounder in 2024 ... the more favorable of the Wizards and Grizzlies pick Washington controls;
  • The right to swap Washington’s second round pick for the Warriors second the Nets control in 2025;
  • The draft rights to top European center, Nikola Milutinov, taken by the Spurs in the 2015 Draft; and
  • An $11.45 million trade exception that can be used for up to a year after the sign-and-trade is officially executed.

It’s not what most Nets fans had expected and the biggest benefits may turn out to be the TPE or Milutinov’s rights. Assuming Joe Tsai is willing to keep spending on a grand scale, the TPE could come in handy at the deadline. Milutinov, 26, appears to be a long shot .. at least for now. The Nets also came away with an intangible: their willingness to help Dinwiddie land in a preferred destination. Dinwiddie publicly thanked Sean Marks, Joe and Clara Wu Tsai for “saving my career.” Good will is always good.

FREE AGENCY (B)

In both the Draft and free agency, moves have to be graded based on what’s realistic that is how high are the picks and how much cap space (or exceptions) is available. So, taking that into consideration, you’d have to applaud the limited moves the Nets made.

Signing Patty Mills to a two-year, $12 million taxpayers’ MLE has to be considered a good deal (and it looked a lot better after the Olympics!). Mills provides a nice fit on a number of levels. He can fill in for James Harden or Kyrie Irving when they’re on the bench or injured. He hit a career high 161 3-pointers and he provides both a veteran’s presence and championship experience. Bill Simmons called it his “favorite free agency signing” because of the fit. It’s also a positive that the Nets beat out the Warriors and Lakers for his services.

Re-signing Blake Griffin for the vets minimum and Bruce Brown for his $4.6 million qualifying offer were also big bonuses for a team so far above the luxury tax threshold. Griffin was the starting center in the playoffs and is likely to look even better after a summer with the Nets performance team. Brown, who had to be disappointed with other offers, is now supremely motivated. Then, there’s the continuity factor. Losing Jeff Green hurt but the Nets retained all their other key pieces.

James Johnson, he of the black belt in karate, and DeAndre’ Bembry, bring defensive mindsets as does Jevon Carter. Again, when you have as few assets as the Nets did in free agency, the haul has to be seen a positive.

However ... the Nets frontcourt is a bit stretched and even with the addition of Johnson and rookie Day’Ron Sharpe, it is the big question mark and one that hasn’t been fully addressed. Steve Nash has shown he won’t play DeAndre Jordan with his meager offensive game and his lack of mobility on defense. Nic Claxton has looked good on occasion but he’s only played 47 NBA games due to injuries and illness. The Nets are putting a lot on him.

ANYTHING UP?

As of Wednesday morning, the Nets still have a two-way slot open. Kessler Edwards was signed to a two-way on Monday. That was expected. So who will be the other two-way? David Duke Jr.? RaiQuan Gray? Jordan Bowden? Or maybe Isaia Cordinier, the French stash who still hasn’t signed with a European team despite a number of offers? Last we heard is that it’s all being “worked out.”

Then there’s DeAndre Jordan’s future, which we addressed Tuesday. And yes, they are still out there looking. Reports out of Las Vegas had Nets representatives at workouts for Lance Stephenson, the Brooklyn native who’s been out of the NBA for two years, and Isaiah Hartenstein, the 7-footer who’s shown potential in his time with the Rockets and Cavs organizations and who the Nets liked before the 2018 Draft. He’s still only 23.

One thing to note as all the moving pieces get sorted out: Sean Marks raised the possibility of going into the season with an open roster spot. Also, twice in his five-year tenure he’s added key pieces late in the off-season: Tyler Zeller in mid-September and Timothe’ Luwawu-Cabarrot the day before Opening Night. Then, there’s the trade deadline!

“I think we addressed a lot of the needs. We won’t have addressed all the needs until probably post-trade deadline, and that’s when we’ll really know what we’ve got. But we wanted to make sure we were deep, we wanted to make sure we were healthy, and certainly address some of those needs from a defensive standpoint.”

So maybe it’s not quite over just yet, but as of now, you gotta give them credit, from Tsai and Marks down to the scouts. They did good.