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DEADLINE DAY: Brooklyn Nets’ unremarkable NBA Trade Deadline is just another step forward

The direction of the franchise remains as clear as ever. But is it the right path?

Brooklyn Nets v Sacramento Kings Photo by Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images

This season’s NBA Trade Deadline came and went without much fanfare, for any NBA team, really. With big names like James Harden, Pascal Siakam, and OG Anunoby moved well before the calendar flipped to 2024, we were set for a calmer trade deadline than in years’ past. In large part because there would be no future Hall-of-Famer requesting his way off the Brooklyn Nets.

Gordon Hayward, who made one All-Star team seven years ago, was likely the biggest acquisition on trade-deadline day, made by the first-place Oklahoma City Thunder. And the Nets, who appeared in every trade rumor imaginable over the past month, played their part in the lack of spectacle.

Brooklyn traded Spencer Dinwiddie to the Toronto Raptors for Dennis Schröder and Thaddeus Young, the latter of whom they subsequently waived. Sean Marks then pulled the trigger on the long-rumored Royce O’Neale deal, sending him to the Phoenix Suns for three second-round picks and fringe-rotation players Keita Bates-Diop and Jordan Goodwin.

In sum, Brooklyn traded a couple of veterans on expiring contracts, taking back some decent talent and draft capital that makes you say ... well, not much.

Last summer, Brian Lewis of the New York Post reported that O’Neale had “garnered first-round pick offers.” Last summer, Spencer Dinwiddie was coming off of an excellent stretch of point-guard play, dropping double-digit assists in just about every game he played after re-joining Brooklyn at last season’s trade deadline.

Sean Marks & co. declined to trade either player then. Since, O’Neale and Dinwiddie are both a year older, and the latter played some of the worst basketball of his career on a 20-30 team. Do the Brooklyn Nets regret their decision not to move off either player? Are they making the same mistake with Dorian Finney-Smith, retaining the wing with a player option for the 2025-’26 season through this year’s deadline?

Probably not. It’s too early to have regrets. Stuck in an intentional holding pattern, perhaps strongly encouraged by ownership not to rebuild too fast, Sean Marks held his veterans just a little while longer, hoping to make his current team a tad more competitive, a tad more watchable. It worked — the Nets were indeed once 13-10, and fun as hell — until it didn’t.

Is a trio of second-round picks (what the Indiana Pacers got for Buddy Hield) that much worse than a protected first-rounder? Maybe a little.

Does Dinwiddie’s bitter end in Brooklyn make the road ahead that much harder? Eh. Dennis Schröder is better than the version of Dinwiddie Brooklyn has been getting in recent months, and the German is under contract for next season as well, at a $13.0 million price tag, currently leaving Brooklyn with $37 million in cap space this summer.

This isn’t very exciting stuff, is it? It’s certainly no Dejounte Murray arrival, sweepstakes that Brooklyn quickly popped in and out of, sweepstakes that nobody ended up winning. The Atlanta Hawks weren’t going to deal Murray for anything less than two first-rounders, and the Nets simply weren’t going for that. That became apparent almost immediately:

Marks is expected to speak with the media in the coming days, if not tonight, but we don’t need his words to figure out Brooklyn’s direction:

  • Duck the luxury tax this season.
  • Duck the luxury tax next season, resetting any penalties.
  • Develop in-house talent, take Jordan Goodwin-sized swings on the margins, keep an eye on the trade market, and swing for a star by the 2025-’26 season.

Everything the Nets have done since jettisoning Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant has pointed in this direction. That now includes their unspectacular actions at this deadline.

“So we just have to be ready for whatever comes our way,” said Marks at last year’s exit interviews. “And if we can make a change that we can compete, we’ll be strategic about it. Because I don’t think we want to put ourselves in a place where we’re costing the future for right now either.”

“Strategic” in this case means measured, even conservative for now. The Nets are re-tooling, but don’t dare say rebuilding. The current roster is, ideally, ‘competitive’ and ‘feisty’ even capable of sneaking into the playoffs in best-case scenarios.

But there is wiggle room. An 11th-place finish in the East doesn’t tank the plans, as long as players like Mikal Bridges, Cam Johnson, and (now, since the looming free agent survived the deadline) Nic Claxton don’t grow totally hopeless. Those three, assuming Brooklyn re-signs Claxton this summer, will all be making role-player money in the coming seasons. (And hopefully, they’ll return to being role players.)

There’s wiggle room in the other direction too. Getting maximum value for O’Neale and Dinwiddie was not the sole priority, as it would be for a truly rebuilding team. Instead, Marks held onto them to try and make these current Nets just a bit more fun (or less miserable).

These are the peculiarities of Brooklyn’s non-rebuild, which hasn’t gotten off to a very exciting start. How could it? As Thursday’s trade deadline once again evidenced, the Brooklyn Nets are not focused on building the best possible team right now. They’re not hellbent on getting the most value out of their assets either.

It may work. As dangerous as banking on a star to magically drop in and save the team can be, it’s happened before. The Nets are as well-positioned as any team to make it happen.

We won’t know whether Brooklyn made the right call for some years. Early returns haven’t been overwhelmingly positive, but they haven’t sunk the team either.

The most you can say is ‘eh.’