Where to begin? Here would be good...
Olympic history. Kevin Durant with his third gold medal, the most any Olympic basketball player has ever won, tying him with Carmelo Anthony. Melo also has a bronze while KD also has FIBA World Cup gold. Patti Mills with his bronze, the country’s first, burnished by his 42 points the most ever in a medal round game. Durant keeps cementing his place as the world’s greatest while Mills is a national hero,
Congratulations to these indispensable Olympians and to Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. He may not be returning to Brooklyn but if our last impression of him is standing on the medal podium in Tokyo accepting a silver medal, that’s awesome.
Where we stand...
Sean Marks competed for New Zealand in the Olympics in both 2000 and 2004. He never medaled but he had a hell of a week in 2021 as Nets GM. Not only did he get Durant’s signature on a deal that will keep the best player on the planet in Brooklyn for what’s likely the rest of his career, but got other signatures on other pieces of paper. Bruce Brown, who many (including us) thought would be gone, signed his qualifying offer, keeping him in Brooklyn another year at the bargain price of $4.6 million. Blake Griffin was an ever better bargain. He’ll play for the vets minimum, a little over $2 million this year. Finally, he signed Patty Mills for two years and $12 million. If you didn’t think that was a great deal, you weren’t awake at 7 a.m. Saturday.
In fact, according to one analytic model, all three were in the top ten of best values so far in free agency. Based a variety of factors, here’s a list of the best “bargains” in off-season signings put together by Tom Haberstroh. The signings in blue being the best, the red the worst. The signings of Griffin, Brown and Mills rank Nos. 3, 4 and 9 in Haberstoh’s analysis.
Bottom line: It helps to be a contender. Veterans want rings.
Putting aside analytics, Bill Simmons of The Ringer said on a podcast three days ago that “my single favorite free agent signing is Patty Mills to the Brooklyn Nets for $12 million over two.” Simmons noted (accurately) that Mills plays bigger in big games and thought the signing was a bargain. He believed Mills could have gotten $20 million over two. (Simmons had Blake Griffin at the vets minimum for a year as his third favorite signing. The discussion is about 20 minutes in to the podcast.)
If Bill Simmons likes a Nets move or two, you know it’s gotta be good.
Sure they lost Jeff Green who was so capable, so surprisingly good last season. Not surprisingly at all, Spencer Dinwiddie asked for and got a big deal And both Otto Porter Jr. and Andre Iguodala turned them down and signed with the Lakers and Warriors respectively. But with the KD extension and Mills’ bargain, it’s hard not to give Sean Marks and Joe Tsai an A+ ... despite all the bizarre carping that Tsai “cheaped out.”
As of now, the Nets are a $300 million team — $306 million, to be precise — in terms of payroll and luxury taxes. Of that total, the tax load will be about $125 million. Here’s Bobby Marks take on just how much Tsai committed to with the signing of Mills, bargain or not. It’s shocking...
Brooklyn tax bill— Bobby Marks (@BobbyMarks42) August 3, 2021
Before Patty Mills: $92.6M
And that tax bill is before the projected signing of DeAndre’ Bembry to a one-year, veterans minimum deal, or anyone else. (However as Rob Perez tweeted, that tax bill, while $30 million more than the Nets have ever paid, it “amounts to not even one apartment bill for him,” a reference to Tsai’s purchase of a two-story, $157 million apartment at 220 Central Park South in midtown Manhattan.)
So where are we re: the roster? As of now, the Nets have 15 players either under contract or committed to sign. Mills had not signed as of Sunday afternoon.
Here’s an attempt at a depth chart, understanding that the Nets have embraced position-less basketball more than most NBA teams.
PG: James Harden, Patty Mills, Jevon Carter
SG: Kyrie Irving, Cam Thomas
SF: Joe Harris, Bruce Brown, DeAndre’ Bembry
PF: Kevin Durant, James Johnson, Alize Johnson
C: Blake Griffin, Nic Claxton, DeAndre Jordan, Day’Ron Sharpe
That doesn’t count Reggie Perry who the Nets tendered a qualifying offer of $1.49 million. No word on what the Nets plan with him. On the other hand, it does include Alize Johnson whose contract won’t be partially guaranteed until September 4, after the Summer League concludes.
Looking at the list, you might think the Nets could use another shooting guard. Then again, the Nets do have five guards at the 1 and 2. We may list Harden and Irving as point guard and shooting guard but as we’ve seen those roles are interchangeable in the Nets structure. Harden can be the backup shooting guard when Irving goes to the bench or vice versa. Mills can also play either position and has spent his career as a Sixth Man on playoff teams.
Also the two “big” positions could be combined. Griffin can play the 4, Durant the 5. Then, there’s Brown, who we list as a small forward but as every Nets fan knows he can fill in at the 4 or even the 5 and played both backcourt positions while with the Pistons. Again, position-less basketball.
A number of things intrigue us as Marks and Steve Nash make their final decisions, things like how certain are we that DJ will still be with the team come training camp in San Diego? Despite a report that the “bond” between KD, Kyrie and DJ is too strong to move him, we were told that the Nets were marketing Jordan on Draft Night, offering either or both of their first rounders.
What about Perry and Alize Johnson? Are they fighting for one roster spot in Las Vegas? Then, there’s two two-way positions. Under new league rules, they can move easily between the NBA and G League. Teams don’t have to decide whether to elevate them to the NBA roster until after they’ve played 50 games. Until then, they don’t count on the cap or roster. Would Perry accept a second year in Uniondale?
That leads us to the five draft picks. As first rounders, Thomas and Sharpe are guaranteed two-year rookie deals totaling a little less than $4 million. The Nets can send them to Long Island, but they’ll count on the big team roster and cap. A lot of draftniks think the Nets got a steal in Kessler Edwards, a budding 6’8” 3-and-D candidate who was taken at No. 44 out of Pepperdine. You’d think that he’s be a good two-way. As for the other two — Marcus Zegarowski and RaiQuan Gray — they could be signed directly to a G League deal. The Nets did that two years ago with Jaylen Hands.
Finally, what do the Nets think about the two undrafted players, David Duke Jr. of Providence and Brandon Rachal of Tulsa. Chad Ford said this week that some NBA teams had penciled in Duke as a first rounder early in the season but then he “struggled” in the second half of the season and fell. (Now, we’re really in the weeds!)
Will the Nets do any more? Hard to tell. If you ask Marks if he’s done, he usually says something philosophical like, “are we really ever done?” Indeed, it’s a long time between now and September 28, the opening of training camp and when the training camp roster, limited to 20 players, gets announced. A lot could happen. Probably will.
Picks and stashes and the Nets biggest trade exception
With the acquisition of a second rounder in 2024 and a swap of seconds in 2025 in the Spencer Dinwiddie S&T, the Nets draft picture is changed. With all the picks and swaps owed to the Rockets, it will be a long time before the Nets wind up with five picks, as they did on July 29.
So, here’s the Draft picture going forward...
2022 - Nets first owed to Rockets
- Nets have their own second rounder
2023 - Rockets have the right to swap first rounders with Nets
- Nets have right to swap second rounders with Hawks
2024 - Nets first owed to Rockets
- Nets have their own second rounder
- Nets get better of the Wizards or Grizzlies seconds.
2025 - Rockets have the right to swap first rounders with Nets
- Nets have the right to swap the Warriors second with the Wizards
2026 - Nets first owed to Rockets
- Nets have their own second rounder
2027 - Rockets have the rights to swap first rounders with the Nets
- Nets have their own second rounder
2028 - Nets have their own first rounder
- Nets have their own second rounder
2029 - Nets have their own first rounder
- Nets have their own second rounder
The Nets draft prospects got better this weekend when the Nets signed Kevin Durant to a four-year extension. How so? The Rockets took a big risk when they traded Harden for picks and swaps rather than young players like Jarrett Allen and Caris LeVert. They bet that the Nets will not be able to sustain their success over the next few years. They don’t get to swap picks if the Nets pick is lower than theirs in 2023, 2025 and 2027.
With KD resigning in Brooklyn through 2026, that bet looks risky. Moreover, if Kyrie Irving and James Harden resign, Brooklyn is likely to become a destination for players — like Patty Mills and Blake Griffin — who are willing to take less money in hopes of winning a ring.
Moving on to the stashes. As we noted, the Nets presumably asked for the rights to Nikola Milutinov, the 7-foot 26-year-old who is the only first round stash held by an NBA team. He was taken by the Spurs with the 26th pick in the 2015 NBA Draft when Marks was in charge of the Spurs draft preps. The first question re Milutinov, even before asking whether the Nets are really interested in the Serb, is whether he has any interest in playing in the NBA. After that, it’s complicated. Milutinov has no NBA “out” in his contract till 2023, according to reports. Even if CSKA Moscow wants to modify his deal to permit him to play in the NBA, there would likely be an expensive buyout.
Milutinov becomes the Nets fifth stash, as many as they’ve ever had overseas. Along with 24-year-old Frenchman Isaia Cordinier, he’s the best prospect of the group. The others are not NBA-ready. Juan Pablo Vaulet, 25, will play in Poland this year and showed in the Olympics that he’s nowhere near an NBA player. The other two are 28-year-olds, Aaron White, a 6’8” forward who’s an Ohio native, and Nemanja Dangubic, a 6’8” shooting guard who’s Croatian. White, who was once in line for a Wizards camp invite, will play for Crvena zvezda in the Adriatic League while Dangubic will play for Partizan Belgrade in same league.
So what’s the use of keeping all of them around ... other than hoping lightning will strike? Oftentimes, complicated, multi-team deals require small pieces to make things work. Milutinov’s rights were the last piece in the Dinwiddie S&T. Also, in the Harden trade, the Nets needed to send the rights to Aleksandar Vezenkov, a 6’9” Bulgarian, to Cleveland.
The final return in the Dinwiddie deal is the $11.45 million trade exception. It’s the largest exception ever generated by the Nets, topping the $10.3 million exception the Nets got in the Kenyon Martin S&T. back in 2004. It can be used in a trade, claim players off waivers. It can be broken into pieces and used in smaller deals. It cannot be used to sign players and if it is used in an S&T to acquire a player, it would trigger the hard cap. It’s good for a year from the date the trade was executed, that is August 7, 2022.
There’s something else to consider, though. The Nets didn’t just acquire a second rounder, a swap of second rounders, a stash and generated a trade exception. It also generated good will. The Nets did Dinwiddie a solid. They didn’t hold out, didn’t say they wouldn’t participate in an S&T, leaving him to fend for himself in the free agency market. Instead, they negotiated and after the smoke cleared, he wound up with generational wealth — up to three years and $60 million — and a landing spot next to Bradley Beal.
As Dinwiddie posted in his farewell video on Instagram, “Quite simply, Sean, Joe, Clara and the @brooklynnets saved my career. Thank you to each and every staff member and teammate. @adampharrington and @stefania__rizzo especially.”
One final piece of housekeeping on the Dinwiddie deal. It’s not a guaranteed $60 million over three. Keith Smith of Spotrac reports that the deal is more complicated than that. The contract includes “unlikely” bonuses that could reduce his salary in the first two years. Plus, the third year is only partially guaranteed. The details...
Spencer Dinwiddie's contract with the Washington Wizards includes some unlikely bonuses and partially guaranteed year:— Keith Smith (@KeithSmithNBA) August 8, 2021
Final season is partially guaranteed at $10,000,000.@spotrac
Still, good for him.
We are Australia’s team
The Nets connection to Australia has been strong since Sean Marks took over. He may be a New Zealander (“East Australian” according to some Down Under) but he’s brought a number of Aussies into the Nets organization.
Australians form the core of the Nets performance team. Dan Meehan, director of sports science, Les Gelis, the director of medical services, and Daniel Jones, one of two physical development coaches, are Australian. In fact, they’re all from Melbourne on the continent’s southeastern coach and are known colloquially as the “Melbourne Mafia.”
Then, last month, the Nets hired one of Basketball Australia’s best development coaches, Adam Caporn. He had been director of its Centre of Basketball Excellence and a Boomers’ assistant in Tokyo. Among his proteges have been Dante Exum and Jock Landale, the Aussies 6’11” center who was just signed by San Antonio. On Saturday morning’s broadcast of the Olympic men’s basketball bronze medal game, Fran Fraschilla, said Caporn had found Landale on a farm! Apocryphal or not, it goes to Caporn’s ability to find and develop young players.
Well, now, the deal is sealed! With the decision to use the taxpayers’ MLE on Patty Mills, the Nets have truly become Australia’s team. Mills isn’t just the country’s basketball captain, he is a national hero, the flag bearer for the Australian Olympic team ... and the first indigenous Australian to do so. As the Sydney Morning Herald, Australia’s leading newspaper, wrote Sunday, “It’s not hyperbole to suggest Mills is somewhat of a national treasure and perhaps Australia’s most beloved athlete.”
Mills accepts that role willingly, as he said Saturday after winning the bronze medal in Tokyo.
“It’s our culture at the end of the day, the Australian culture, our Aussie spirit, the boys being able to hang together and realize what it means to be able to represent your country, for it to come pouring out in moments like this,” he said after the historic win over Slovenia Saturday.
His teammates love him.
“He’s exceptional,” Australian teammate Nic Kay said earlier in the Olympics. “The way he leads the group on and off the court, the stuff he does behind the scenes for everyone is unreal.”
“Just give him the ball,” Exum added. “He’s an amazing player.
It’s more than that. A lot more. Mills is perhaps the country’s greatest advocate for Australia’s aborigines whose history is filled with the kind of abuses and atrocities familiar to many indigenous peoples of the world ... as well as people of color.
In an interview back in 2014, while the Spurs were pursuing their sixth NBA title, Mills had this to say about that culture.
“First, it’s a matter of pride just being an indigenous Australian,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, nothing that I do or nothing that gets in my way will even come close to my culture and my heritage. It doesn’t matter if it’s an Olympic Games or NBA Finals games, my family and my culture, where I come from, is by far first and foremost.”
He has done more than talk about the issues of racism and deprivation. Last year, he decided to donate all his salary from playing in the “bubble” to organizations that reflect his principles.
“I’m proud to say I’m taking every cent from these eight games that we’re playing, which for me will turn out to be $1,017,818 and 54 cents, and donating that directly back to Black Lives Matter Australia, Black Deaths in Custody and to a recent campaign that’s called We Got You — dedicated to ending racism in sport in Australia,” Mills said in a video posted by the Spurs back then.
“So I’m playing in Orlando because I don’t want to leave any money on the table that could be going directly to Black communities.”
And in a Sports Illustrated video earlier this year, he spoke about how he’s determined to educate the rest of the world about the variety of Australian culture and the challenges...
Marks, of course, knows all of this, knows Mills well. He and Mills overlapped in San Antonio for five years, Marks as an assistant coach and assistant GM, Mills as a player. They won a chip together in 2014. A New Zealander, he’s well aware of indigenous cultures on both sides of the Tasman Sea and the challenges Mills faces.
Sounds like a Brooklyn Net to us. In fact, it would seem that the Nets and Mills were ultimately destined for each other! Fair dinkum, we’d say.
We may have asked James Harden at his initial press conference about his conditioning. And he might have answered “Great,” with a smile. It wasn’t but now, it looks like Harden is getting there. Here’s an image of a svelte Harden from last week.
He’s been working out in Houston at T.J. Ford’s academy with, among others, Gerald Green, the former New Jersey Net.
Farewell to Chris Chiozza
There was another report on Twitter Sunday that Chris Chiozza and Virtus Bologna, historically Italy’s top team, are close to an agreement. Chiozza took exception to the original tweet, not denying it but saying fans will know where he’s headed when he tells them. “You will all know when I announce something”
But it seems like it’s going to happen, with the latest report saying he will sign a two-year contract. Bologna Basketball reported Sunday afternoon, “There are no signatures yet, but everything seems to lead to a positive conclusion of the affair. The idea of the club is to close with Chiozza in the next few hours.”
One telltale sign that Chiozza wouldn’t be returning, other than the Nets decision not to extend him a qualifying offer, is that his uniform number, No. 4, has been given to Jevon Carter, acquired along with the rights to Day’Ron Sharpe, in the trade for Landry Shamet.
Indeed, Chiozza wasn’t just blowing smoke. On Monday night, Woj reported that Chiozza has signed a two-way deal with the Golden State Warriors. Talk about landing on your feet!
Speaking of uniform numbers...
Etienne Catalan, the guru of NBA gear, disclosed the numbers the Nets draft picks will wear in Summer League and presumably when and if they take the court in Brooklyn.
Cam Thomas will wear No. 8, last seen on Jeff Green’s back. The others are numbers not seen in a while. Day’Ron Sharpe will wear No. 21; Kessler Edwards No. 14, Marcus Zegarowski No. 17 and RaiQuan Gray, a Barkleyesque No. 34. Adjust your customized gear purchases accordingly.
With only the Summer League games left, the first part of the off-season will soon be done. It was, other than the Clean Sweep of two years ago, the most active in memory. The Kevin Durant extension, Patty Mills impending signing, their historic success in the Olympics and five, count ‘em, five Draft picks plus the Spencer Dinwiddie sign-and-trade melodrama (not to mention the intriguing acquisition of Nikola Milutinov’s draft rights) made it one exciting and exhausting two weeks.
Ya never know how things will work out, but at this point, you’d have to say, the Nets came out of it all a better bet for long term success than we they started. As Sean Marks has said, the Nets are in good shape and his goal was not to screw things up. And he didn’t.
The Nets Summer League team tips off at 5 p.m. Monday when Brooklyn takes on the Grizzlies. It’s on ESPN2. Enjoy! And get some sleep!