Nets on ‘Plan C’ as Summer League heats up
Failing to Land Johnson and Crabbe Doesn’t Deter Marks from Long-Term Vision
The Nets struck out twice in their pursuit of restricted free agents Tyler Johnson of Miami and Allen Crabbe of Portland earlier this week, meaning new Brooklyn general manager Sean Marks’ vision of adding a pair of 24-year-old building blocks has been smashed to bits.
Marks, who was unable to land or even get close to signing big-time, buzz-inducing free agents like Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade or Dwight Howard this summer, offered Johnson and Crabbe a combined $125 million in the hopes that they would buy in and be a part of new head coach Kenny Atkinson’s much-ballyhooed “player development” program.
But the Heat and Trail Blazers matched both lucrative offers the Nets put on the table, forcing Marks to look elsewhere for players who could actually aid former All-Star Brook Lopez in returning Brooklyn to the playoffs next season, or even in the next several years.
“Obviously it’s disappointing,” admitted Marks during the Nets’ 72-65 Summer League win over Atlanta on Monday at Las Vegas’ Thomas and Mack Center.
“It is important to have Plan A, B, C and so forth,” said Marks. “We have some nice young guys on the team. Real solid individuals.”
Solid individuals and nice young guys do not necessarily make the Nets any better than they were during a disastrous 2015-16 season at Downtown’s Barclays Center, a 21-61 campaign that hastened the arrival of Marks and Atkinson and put in play the organization’s promise to practice patience over panache.
Marks did ink Jeremy Lin of “Lin-sanity” fame to be his point guard over the next three years of this rebuilding project.
In doing so, he brought to Brooklyn a player that should increase jersey sales and lift suddenly dwindling attendance figures after the Nets averaged upwards of 17,000 fans per night here during their first three seasons.
But as for winning anytime soon?
That will rely heavily on players Marks selected in this year’s draft, first-round pick Caris LaVert and second-rounder Lincoln High School legend Isaiah Whitehead, as well as the development of second-year returnees Chris McCullough and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson.
“We pinpointed [LaVert] as a target,” revealed Marks, who swapped power forward Thaddeus Young and the three years and $39 million left on his contract to Indiana for the combo-guard, who is not competing in Summer League due to a lingering foot injury.
“He fits the skill set that we need,” added Marks. “He can play the 1, 2 and the 3. His shooting stands out. I can’t wait to get him with the coaching staff. We’re just taking him along slowly.”
Whitehead, who also is likely to drum up business on the corners of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues if he proves he can crack the Brooklyn rotation in Year One, scored 10 points and dished out a pair of assists in the Nets’ win over the Hawks while logging 24 minutes on Monday.
“Really with Isaiah, he’s tough as nails,” Marks said of Whitehead, who led Lincoln to a PSAL crown before guiding Seton Hall to its first Big East Tournament title since 1993 this past March.
“You watch him play out there, he’s already got an NBA physique. He’s raw. I think we’ve been surprised with how good his vision is and he’s another player who will play several different positions for us.”
Though Marks’ grand design of bringing in Johnson and Crabbe failed, he has peppered the roster with a pair of recent additions, signing free-agent center Justin Hamilton, who spent last year in Spain, to a multi-year pact, and adding veteran big man Luis Scola, previously of Toronto, on a one-year flyer.
“Justin is an energetic big with the ability to stretch the floor,” Marks said. “He is coming off a successful season in one of Europe’s most competitive leagues and will add depth to our frontcourt rotation.”
If Lin winds up being the sexiest move the Nets were able to pull off this summer, and hope for the immediate future is locked into the fates of young, unproven players, how long can Brooklyn seriously hope to build around Lopez, who already has a long history of foot and ankle injuries?
“Brook’s been great. He’s been terrific,” Marks said of the most valuable asset on the roster. “He was with us during the whole free-agency pitch, selling our story, selling our vision. Just to have [Johnson and Crabbe] sign offer sheets with us, shows people where we want to go.
“We hope to put some other players around [Lopez],” Marks added. “He’s really looking forward to being a real leader on this team.”
By this coming February, if the Nets aren’t any more competitive than they were last season, and a team comes calling with attractive offers, including future draft picks, the Nets will likely be tempted to move Lopez to a contending team.
In the meantime, they are sticking to their long-term goals, and pointing out very clearly that making big-money splashes in free agency is no longer on the agenda.
“We’re not just going to go out and spend for the sake of spending,” Marks insisted. “We have a lot of flexibility next year, so hopefully I’m standing in front of you next year with a couple of guys who sign offer sheets that didn’t get matched.”
This type of “flexibility” hasn’t been seen in Brooklyn since billionaire owner Mikhail Prokhorov made the Nets the highest paid-team in the NBA during their first three seasons here.
If Marks is prudent, and Atkinson actually can develop this group of players into a solid foundation for the future, then patience may eventually pay off.
But not before some very lean years, and some empty seats in an arena that was abuzz on a nightly basis from 2012-15.
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