Saeed Ghassemzadeh takes on the challenge of figuring out the struggling Nets franchise, and how much longer its fans will have to endure the suffering of a losing team.
The Brooklyn Nets are currently sitting on the fourth-worst record in the NBA, at 7-17, and only the lowly 76ers are below them in the East. The blockbuster trade between the Nets and the Boston Celtics never panned out for Brooklyn, as they appear to be on the outside looking into the playoffs this year, while Boston is looking more and more like a serious playoff threat. Outside of the injury plagued Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Jarrett Jack, and the vastly overpaid Joe Johnson, the Nets do not seem to have much more NBA caliber players this year. Although the Nets shipped off much of their draft hopes (first round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018, as well as a right to swap first round picks in 2017) to Boston in that 2013 trade, the future may not be as bleak as some say it is for Nets fans.
The first avenue by which the Nets can return to NBA success is through the path of Free Agency. In the summer of 2016, many league executives expect the salary cap amount to be as high as $95 million, a large increase from the current cap of $70 million. This gives nearly every team loads of cap space, and one of these teams is the Nets. Depending on how they plan their offseason, they could have over $40 million dollars in cap space. This amount could be even higher if players like Shane Larkin, Andrea Bargnani, and Thomas Robinson decline their Player Options for the 2016/17 season, and if the Nets decline their Team Option on Jack. This would give them enough cap space to chase possibly two max contract players. Looking at the Free Agent class of 2016, however, it does not seem that any of the biggest players available would choose to sign with Brooklyn. Kevin Durant has been rumored to be considering leaving the Thunder, but I would not count on him leaving the only team he has played for thus far in his career. Likewise, players like LeBron James, Andre Drummond, Bradley Beal, Al Horford, Dwight Howard, and Dwyane Wade are not expected to leave their current teams, given that most of them are on better teams than the Nets. Brooklyn’s best signing this summer will most likely be a second tier Free Agent, someone like Mike Conley (who could reunite with his former coach, Lionel Hollins, in Brooklyn), Chandler Parsons(if he opts out of current deal), or Rajon Rondo. Overpaying for a point guard will probably have to happen, though, given that the Nets really need a better option than Jarrett Jack. Chandler Parsons or Nicolas Batum could be small forward targets for this team, especially since the Nets are not likely to resign Joe Johnson. They can further fill out their bench with high energy players, like OJ Mayo or Greivis Vasquez. While this path can lead to more immediate success, it also has the risk of placing the Nets on a treadmill of mediocrity, where no NBA teams ever wants to be. With the recent trend of players going to teams with fit over teams with big markets (like Greg Monroe or LaMarcus Aldridge), it will be tough for the Nets to sell players on playing for and living in Brooklyn. To compensate, they will likely have to overpay for second tier free agents, since none of the biggest names are expected to leave the success they have for a team like the current Brooklyn Nets.
Another way the Nets can improve their team is through the draft and through youth talent. Although the Nets will not own their own first round pick until 2019, there are other ways to acquire promising young players. Next season, the Nets will have their own D-League affiliate team. This is a great way to develop young talent that does not make the team rotation, but still has potential. Also, the Nets need to acquire more picks. Whether that happens through trading current rotation players, or buying second round picks, it is important that they give themselves more opportunities to find a diamond in the rough. They can also use the picks they acquire to either trade up in the draft, or to trade for a potential superstar that is unsettled on another team. They also have some youth on their current team. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, an elite and athletic defender who unfortunately suffered a fracture in his right ankle, and Chris McCullough, another young forward who is currently recovering from an ACL tear, are both rookies on this team, and the Nets organization thinks highly of both of them. Furthermore, the Nets can seek to trade players who are not in their future plans, like Andrea Bargnani or Wayne Ellington, for a young player another team is ready to move on from. It is important to realize, however, that if the Nets choose to rebuild this team through this path, it will likely take a longer time until they are ready to contend again. Therefore, it could be possible for the Nets to trade their two best players in Young and Lopez for more picks or young players. This method will require more time and effort than simply signing proven players, but if the Nets nail their prospect searches, it is possible that they can achieve a higher level of success for a longer amount of time.
The next few seasons will undoubtedly be tough for the Nets organization and its fans. However, with a few shrewd moves and some smart drafting, Brooklyn can rebuild its franchise with a new core that moves the team closer to becoming a threat in the Eastern Conference.
By: Saeed Ghassemzadeh