The Brooklyn Nets took a one-year hiatus from making moves towards the playoffs. Things weren’t gelling, especially after losing ultimate glue-guy Jake Layman to a max deal offer from the Miami Heat. All the same pieces were intact from the year before besides Layman but it proved to be a bad mix without him.
Then Rizzo finally hit the reset button.
Good bye all-world point guard John Wall. Good bye two-way power guard Dion Waiters. See ya later all-league wing defender Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. Even super sub Delon Wright was sent packing as well. Seemingly the entire backcourt plus RHJ was now gone.
With the moves made, draft picks were seemingly the biggest acquisitions as some were down on the return the Nets brought back in the form of players. Fred VanVleet is a spark plug three-point shooter with the ability to win games on his own. Jakob Pöltl was brought in to play as a third big man behind Pascal Siakam and Myles Turner.
But the crown jewel of the franchise reset was bringing an alpha scorer in Mario Hezonja. Hezonja is a scorer first, second and third and nobody thought he was capable of doing more than that. One of his deficiencies is he can be a bit loose with his handles, that leads to multiple turnovers, but he brought more to the table than just his 22 points per game. In his time with Brooklyn, he averaged 4.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists, both career-highs.
Then the offseason came. All players that weren’t in their immediate future were renounced. All players that were free agents at the end of the season were expendable. The draft lottery creeped closer and closer and the thought of possibly moving into the top-3 hadn’t crossed the minds of the Nets’ front office. The chances were slim and they weren’t getting their hopes up.
Then...it happened! We don’t know if we were named The Hulk, Wonder Woman or Spiderman but we jumped into the top-3! With hopes of landing that #1 pick and grabbing Jayson Tatum finally filling all the minds of Brooklyn brass and fans, it didn’t last long as the gold and black Nets logo popped up immediately for the 3rd overall pick.
Draft day came and went and the Nets walked away with a whopping four players. The expectation is that two will pay immediate dividends while two will be projects to bring along slowly.
The first pick made by the Nets at #3 overall was big man DeAndre Ayton out of Arizona. A ready-made 19-year old prospect is compared to a young Andre Drummond who’s ready to rebound and defend at an elite level from Day 1. With an already crowded front line, Ayton will demand playing time from the get-go.
With the 11th overall pick, the Nets were able to find a replacement for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson in small forward Jonathan Isaac. An absolute elite perimeter defender, perhaps the best in the class, with plus rebounding and shot-blocking ability for a wing and has shown the ability to stay out of foul trouble with great consistency. With a lower scoring rate than RHJ, he should refrain from taking away shots from the top scorers on the squad.
The next two picks - Dwayne Bacon at #23 and Frank Jackson at #40 - are going to be project players that could develop into solid rotational players over time. Bacon seems to be a player that has the ability to be a strong slasher to the rack with some 3&D potential as well. For Jackson, he shows flashes of defensive ability with potential in both ball handling and passing. He’s got a long way to go to be a reliable ball handler but he’s young, has great size and can be a player that needs his entire rookie contract to reach his potentials. He’s a definite D-League candidate to get early playing time.
Players weren’t the only chairs that were rearranged at this party as the coaching staff saw a bit of a shakeup as well. Mike Woodson was brought in to be the head man to lead this young roster back to the playoffs. A near-.500 career record, Woodson has made eight trips to the playoffs including winning a title. He’s a strong coach across the board and should be able to squeeze all the juice out of this roster as possible.
Woodson came in and shook up the 1st seat for his assistant’s as he relieved Kelvin Sampson of his duties and allowed him to find new work elsewhere. His replacement was the recently axed Andrei Kirilenko. The Detroit Pistons cut bait with him before the end of his contract and Brooklyn was quick to scoop him up. While he’s still learning the nuances of the strategy portion of the CSL game, the X’s and O’s he’s more than ready to help. He should develop over time and eventually could be the head coach in waiting for the Nets whenever Woodson decides to hang them up or move on.
Free agency was a whole different story for this franchise. With big dreams and aspirations heading into free agency, with a boatload of cash to spend, Brooklyn was determined to land a difference maker. Their first target: Sacramento small forward Otto Porter. To slot him in next to Mario Hezonja as a 2nd scorer and ultimate defender would have been a more-than-ideal fit. A maximum offer was submitted to Porter immediately at midnight of the first day of free agency. While he considered it for quite some time, he told management that he believed the roster was too far away from being ready to contend and decided to return to Sacramento.
From there, the Nets moved on to their next defensive stopper at small forward in restricted free agent Demarre Carroll. While offering more money and the same amount of years as the Rockets, Carroll decided to sign the offer sheet from Houston. Quickly after, the Thunder matched the offer. If he were to have signed the offer sheet from the Nets, OKC may not have been able to match.
Other targets such as Toronto’s Cory Joseph were big on the radar of the Nets but knowing that the Raptors were going to match any offer he received made them reluctant to tie up their money chasing the RFA. Their focus went to another King: the injured Russell Westbrook. Armed with a 2+1 max deal, the Nets made a strong push to land the electrifying guard. Many around the league thought this would be the deal to steal him away from Sacramento but the Kings’ shrewd GM stepped up their offer and gave Westbrook what he was asking for. Again, the Kings were able to stave off an assault from the Nets.
With all of their cap space still available, the Nets moved on to signing veterans that could help this year on one-year deals. With two open roster spots, the money was going to be more than enough to intrigue the two veterans they chose to come to Brooklyn. The first signing was a familiar face in point guard Ty Lawson. In his third tour of duty with Rizzo in Brooklyn, Lawson was brought back on a 1-year, $15 million deal. When he was re-acquired in the Dion Waiters deal last year with the Timberwolves, he was relegated to the bench as the Nets wanted to see the young players get some burn. This year, with the hope of making playoffs as the main goal, Lawson should start at point guard and lead the way for the young Nets.
The next target was another former Net in small forward Bogdan Bogdanovic. To bring him off the bench would have provided the second unit with a great all-around playmaker and scoring option to help the young guns out. Offering a massive overpay of 1-year and $13+ million clearly wasn't enough as a 3+1 MLE offer - where he will make just $3m more over three seasons than he would have in one season with the Nets - from the Memphis Grizzlies won over his services. At this point, the Nets will most likely pursue another veteran for an overpay to round out the bench unit and move on with the core they have.
The roster now looks like this:
PG - Ty Lawson, Fred VanVleet, Chris Tang, Frank Jackson
SG - Malachi Richardson, Dwayne Bacon
SF - Mario Hezonja, Jonathan Isaac, [overpaid vet]
PF - Pascal Siakam, Sani Sakakini
CE - Myles Turner, DeAndre Ayton, Jakob Pöltl, Kennedy Meeks
For the Nets it’s looking like the push for the playoffs begins this season. With the team striking out in free agency and signing Lawson and[insert name of overpaid vet] to one-year deals, the cap space should be there for them to get back at it and try to add a stud in free agency again next season.