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What The Nets Did On Their Summer Vacation
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
The Nets are like the proverbial young adult male who once simultaneously dated three starlets. Except the first two treated him like garbage before dumping him in public and then the third one, with whom he thought he had forged a commitment, suddenly had second thoughts and also bolted.
The young man was devastated, but unbowed. Even if it meant starting over, his pursuit for happiness would not be extinguished. He did what he could to look younger. He hit the gym to become more athletic. And he vowed to learn from his past mistakes.
It’s not like he didn’t have assets as he moved forward. He was what they term “good people”. He resided in fancy digs in a desirable section of New York City and he had money to burn.
Sure sounds like the Nets after boasting and then being unceremoniously rejected by, in order, superstars James Harden, Kyrie Irving, and Kevin Durant over the last 18 months. As personified by well-liked Head Coach Jacque Vaughn and core players Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson, this franchise, which counts tony Brooklyn as its home and is financed by wealthy Governor Joseph Tsai, should not be automatically dismissed as permanent damaged goods, doomed to never again be mentioned as a preferred NBA destination.
Like the young man’s, the Nets’ future, then, might not look so dank as some might think--so long as they stick to the plan. In Brooklyn’s case, it started with this past offseason.
So, how did Nets General Manager Sean Marks and his staff spend his summer vacation after the last vestiges of smoke from the team’s demolition in February cleared the Brooklyn air? They could have engaged in a rebound relationship by going all in on another superstar like Portland’s Damian Lillard. From my perspective, that would have been a waste of time, constraining the team to a string of early-round postseason exits.
I was happy to see that the organization instead took the necessary baby steps, focusing on, yes, getting younger and more athletic.
Remember, Marks has been here before, taking the reins in 2016 after the earlier Kevin Garnett/Paul Pierce blockbuster trade left the team in far worse shape. Back then, Marks didn’t have a boatload of future draft picks at his disposal like he has now. In fact, other than one pick swap with Boston, he initially had none tabbed for the first round for his first four Drafts. Marks also has a heck of a lot more quality assets under contract than he did seven years ago, all of which should make this rebuild easier.
The process, though, isn’t all that different, nor is the mission—to build a sustainable NBA Championship contender. It started with looking under every rock to find raw talent that could be developed into NBA fixtures. Marks then must patiently wait until the right opportunity presents itself before deploying any of the ample Draft capital acquired through the trades of the Big 3 in new deals.
Sure, it might take a few years, but champions aren’t created overnight. Before any star wants to jump on board a new team, they usually game out whether they think it has a chance to win.
They want to see that the team has the right complementary players in place—no better way than to showcase measurable improvement from guys the program developed. That should be right up Marks’ alley.
In the short term, after the 2023 Draft netted a trio of players with upside, Marks went bargain shopping for young and undervalued players. One new tweak: Whereas those first few Nets squads under Marks were loaded with guards and undersized wings, he seemingly shifted his fascination this summer towards tweener forwards in the 6-foot 8 to 6-foot 10 range. The team will bring to next month’s training camp a host of new faces who fit that that mold, with Wednesday’s official announcement that Harry Giles III will be joining fellow free agents Darius Bazley and Trendon Watford in addition to 2023 Draft picks Noah Clowney and Jalen Wilson (signed to a two-way contract). Since only first-rounders Clowney and wing Dariq Whitehead will be under guaranteed contracts, the others will have to compete for roster spots before they can earn rotation minutes.
After years of complaining that Marks neglected the bigger positions, I’m not going to argue the logic here, though I will return to my curmudgeonly ways if Vaughn opts to pigeonhole these players as solely small-ball 5s. Nic Claxton remains the club’s only true center, which remains an unresolved roster issue.
Still, my reaction to the news on Giles, whose knee woes contributed to his being out of the league since 2021, was, “Why not?” Only 25, he’s always been considered a highly-skilled player. Nets guard Spencer Dinwiddie managed to resurrect his career in Brooklyn’s development program after being discounted in this manner.
Speaking of Brooklyn’s backcourt, Marks did bring in a pair of free agents who will help with depth in Dennis Smith Jr. and Lonnie Walker IV. Again, the thinking behind the signings was the same—they’re both in their mid-20s with the athleticism to suggest substantial potential for growth.
Of course, I don’t see any of these acquisitions supplanting a returning member of Brooklyn’s projected starting five (Bridges, Johnson, Dinwiddie, Claxton, and Dorian Finney-Smith) plus sixth man Royce O’Neale or wild card Ben Simmons by the end of training camp. Nor do I expect all of these offseason additions to bear bountiful fruit this season. For every Dinwiddie or Joe Harris that rose from relative obscurity to earn substantial long-term NBA contracts from their Brooklyn ascensions, there were probably four Sean Kilpatrick’s and Justin Hamilton’s who didn’t pan out.
But that’s not the point. All the Nets need this season from their revamped development program is a few singles; something that jumpstarts their path towards becoming attractive enough to make NBA stars take notice again.