The Brooklyn Nets were the most confounding team in the league this past season, at least in this writer’s humble opinion.
While they “boasted” the highest payroll in the NBA by more than $2 million, they were clearly a team without a plan and without any real expectations to boot. They appeared to be content riding out the waves of the crippling and hasty roster-building decisions made only a few short seasons ago that set this franchise so far back.
At the forefront of those decisions was Mikhail Prokhorov, who at the time of acquiring ownership in 2010, vowed to make the Nets a global phenomenon. Less than five years later, he made an oddly public acknowledgement of his failings by stating that he was willing to listen to offers for his majority stake in the team. Forget global phenomenon. The Nets couldn’t even draw their fellow Brooklynites to their arena, as they finished the season 20th in total attendance.
The Nets top two earners, Deron Williams ($19.7 million) and Joe Johnson ($23.1 million), remained mired in the mediocrity they’ve become so accustomed to since becoming two of the highest paid players in the league in 2011 and 2012 respectively.
The team was mentioned in countless trade rumors as the deadline approached, revolving mostly around Brook Lopez as a centerpiece, but nothing came to fruition, which only further compounded the confusing blueprint on which Prokhorov, or whoever is now in charge, continues to operate.
Put simply, nothing the Nets did the season made any sense, including making the playoffs. They would have been far better off putting their name in the hat for a high lottery pick than pushing the Atlanta Hawks to the brink in a surprisingly competitive playoff series.
If there’s one thing the Nets have an abundance of, it’s weaknesses. They ranked 15th or lower in 12 of the 13 statistical categories I used to measure a team’s strengths and weaknesses.
In fact, the only thing they weren’t completely marginal or downright terrible at was taking care of the ball. They averaged the 12th fewest turnovers per game out of all teams. But, then again they were 24th in the league in overall pace so the few number of possessions they used per game certainly minimized their opportunities to turn the ball over.
They were 20th in offensive rating (104.4) and 23rd in defensive efficiency (107.4), so they were equally awful on both ends of the court. Hey, at least they were consistent.
But, beyond the numbers, all you have to do is look at the Nets’ roster to understand why there is little hope for this team turning things around in the near future.
Where Do They Go Now?
I think the short answer to this question is, nowhere. At least not next year.
They have two virtually unmovable salaries at the top of their roster in Johnson and Williams. Johnson becomes a little more enticing this upcoming season since his $25 million will be coming off the books in 2016-2017, and teams will undoubtedly be posturing for cap space when the new television money hits.
Lopez has a player option for next year, but I highly doubt he chooses to exercise it with the high stakes feeding frenzy of the summer of 2016 looming. He probably decides to come back and collect his nearly $17 million and take his chances in free agency the year after.
Thaddeus Young once again proved he has value as a versatile big, but he is in a similar boat as Lopez with an early termination option. Even if he chooses to leave, that only opens up about $9 million in salary to spend in free agency. Mirza Teletovic becomes a free agent this summer so that could be another $3 million opening up if the Nets don’t re-sign him.
Outside of those players, the Nets really only have Bojan Bogdanovic and Mason Plumlee as young, cheap building blocks. Given the Nets massive need for talent, $12 million isn’t going to buy them nearly enough to build up a contender. They are probably best suited holding out for one more season when real money starts to come off of their books.
Next season should be more about changing culture and perception than anything. Entering the summer of 2016 with a lack of identifiable strategy could be disastrous.
However, if the Nets can begin laying the groundwork of an actual plan, generate some optimism for their fanbase and potential signees, and nab a high lottery pick in the process, they could very well be big players in the extravaganza that awaits.
My advice for Nets fans, as sparsely populated as that classification may be, is to remain patient for one more season. I know that’s easier said than done, but hope may not be as far away as you think.