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Nets movers, not shakers during free agency

No Big Splash for Brooklyn as it Practices New Patient Approach

July 7, 2016 By John Torenli, Sports Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Nets brought in point guard Jeremy Lin from Charlotte for a reported three years and $36 million, but has done little else to excite the fan base during the ongoing NBA free agent frenzy. AP Photo
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Practicing patience over panache sounds a lot better than it looks, especially in the whirlwind that NBA free agency has become over the past decade or so.

The Brooklyn Nets, coming off a disastrous 21-61 season during which Barclays Center crowds dwindled and the fan base suffered after three straight playoff appearances, are sticking to their credo that the best way to build a consistent contender is through player development and prudent spending.

So while the Golden State Warriors plucked Kevin Durant out of the free agent pool, and the Chicago Bulls wound up grabbing Dwyane Wade, a move that could cost the Nets Tyler Johnson, whom they signed to a lucrative offer sheet, the Nets inked Jeremy Lin to a reported three-year $36 million pact, and picked up backup center Justin Hamilton and forward Trevor Booker.

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Not exactly the type of moves that exhilarate a championship-starved fan base that was all in during the franchise’s first three years in our fair borough, averaging just over 17,000 loyalists a night on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues.

Making the Nets’ lack of ground-shaking signings even more hard to swallow is that the arch rival New York Knicks, spearheaded by team president Phil Jackson, orchestrated moves that brought former NBA MVP Derrick Rose, Poly Prep alum Joakim Noah, sharp-shooting guard Courtney Lee and speedy point man Brandon Jennings to Gotham to play alongside Brooklyn-born Carmelo Anthony.

In other words, the Knicks are making major splashes while the Nets are skipping stones across a still lake.

But that’s the plan for Brooklyn in Year Five here, and general manager Sean Marks and new head coach Kenny Atkinson are sticking to it, at least for the foreseeable future.

Bereft of control of their own first-round pick until at least 2019, the Nets did pull off a few deft moves during last month’s NBA Draft, trading power forward Thaddeus Young, and the remaining three years and $39 million left on his contract, to Indiana for the draft rights to combo guard Caris LaVert with the 20th overall pick.

Marks also traded up to get Lincoln High School legend and Seton Hall standout Isaiah Whitehead with the 42nd selection, meaning the Nets now have a quartet of 21-year-old players they hope will build a strong foundation for the future of the franchise.

Second-year players Chris McCullough and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson join Whitehead and LaVert as part of Brooklyn’s youth movement, putting the onus on Atkinson to live up to his reputation as one of the best player-development gurus in the NBA.

“Thaddeus is a heck of a player and has been a starter in this league, but I think our mindset we’re looking down the line a little bit, into the future,” Atkinson said Thursday, when the Nets officially announced the draft-day swap.

“We really wanted to get into the draft and get a piece, a young piece that we thought could help us going forward,” added Atkinson. “We’re excited about LeVert, he’s been a really good player, we’ve done a lot of homework on him. Interviewed him, we think he can be a very good player in this league.”

Again, this isn’t a move designed to help the Nets reach the playoffs as soon as next season.

It’s thinking two to three years ahead, with the hope that Brook Lopez and company can find their way back into serious contention in an Eastern Conference that has been thoroughly dominated by LeBron James for the last six years, regardless of the millions upon millions Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov spent since the team’s arrival here in 2012.

“Where we’re going, we’re happy with that kind of direction,” Atkinson noted. “Although it was difficult giving up a guy who started in this league – no doubt about it – we’re looking down the line.”

Johnson, whom the Nets signed to an offer sheet of $50 million for four years, could easily go back to Miami now that Wade departed South Beach for his native Windy City.

If that deal falls through for Brooklyn, which it is expected to in the next two or three days, the team will still have approximately $20 million under the salary cap to chase more players in the coming weeks.

But judging from their refusal to deviate from their mantra of patience since this free-agency frenzy began, the Nets aren’t likely to look much different than they do right now come Opening Night at Barclays Center.

Nothing But Net: Hollis-Jeffferson, McCullough, Whitehead and Sean Kilpatrick are among the named listed on Brooklyn’s recently released Summer League roster, though LaVert will likely be added now that his move to the Nets has been made official. The team’s summer slate will begin Saturday against the defending NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers at Las Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center. With games to follow against Atlanta on Monday at the Thomas and Mack and Tuesday vs. Washington at Cox Pavilion before the league’s Championship Tournament commences on July 13. … On the eve of free agency, the Nets bid farewell to veteran point guard Jarrett Jack, who was a steadying presence on the Brooklyn bench and hardwood over the previous two seasons, averaging 12.2 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.4 rebounds per game during his stint here.


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