The Importance of Keeping Things in Perspective

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

(AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Importance of Keeping Things in Perspective

It’s January 15th, 2017, the Brooklyn Nets are 8-31, and Jeremy Lin has played in just 12 games this season. The Nets are behind the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference but they don’t have the distinction of rolling through the next decade with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid in tow. This is all thanks to Billy King, the Nets’ former general manager that swapped a whole treasure trove of draft picks for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Jason Terry, all of whom revealed themselves as corpses in one way or another over the following year and a half. While the Nets finally moved on from Garnett almost two years ago, they’re still paying the price and their injury-riddled roster won’t even bare the fruit of a high pick as the Boston Celtics will reap their loss-sowed garden come June.

Before the season began, optimism ran rampant with Kenny Atkinson in from the Atlanta Hawks and Sean Marks wheelin’ and dealin’ in the front office. Even after missing out on two restricted free agents, Tyler Johnson and Allen Crabbe, there were whispers on Nets Twitter that, yes, the playoffs were not quite out of reach. Hell, even Bojan Bogdanovic — that’s Rio Olympics’ leading scoring Bojan to you, citizen! — bought in. A few months and a string of bad luck injuries later — hi, Greivis; hello, Jeremy — have sent a small minority of the community off the deep end.

Marks screwed the Nets at the point guard spot! Rondae Hollis-Jefferson is broken! Trade Brook Lopez immediately for anything you can get!

We’re not even at the All-Star Break and hot take season is in full swing, perhaps as worse as it’s even been since the Nets moved to Brooklyn and rivaling the animosity usually saved for Deron Williams. So in lieu of a mailbag, I’m going to take some of the conversational ideas here and attempt to quell the onrushing wave of ire, disappointment, and 140-character rants.

Let’s take these on one-by-one.

The Brooklyn Nets

Look, let’s make this very clear: as soon as the Nets dealt Thaddeus Young (more on that in a bit), the race to the future was officially on. With the draft situation in straits more dire than Mark Knopfler, the Nets have made the wise choice to look towards 2018 and beyond, whenever they may get it back. In fact, it’s fair to say that most supporters found themselves disappointed after Marks’ offer sheets were both signed by the Miami Heat and Portland Trail Blazers, and Kent Bazemore stayed at home with the Atlanta Hawks’ $72 million deal instead of the Nets’ — yet, just three months later, you’ve got tweets like this and this and this.

Following those misses, the Nets opted for the short-term and signed a roster full of season-long stop gaps — Luis Scola, Randy Foye, Greivis Vasquez, and Anthony Bennett — to slot in alongside Jeremy Lin, Trevor Booker, and Justin Hamilton. Remember how upset you were with the Nets hampered by the long, cap-heavy contracts of Joe Johnson and Deron Williams? Well, imagine that but with Solomon Hill or Joakim Noah instead — yeah, I didn’t think so. Whether or not you’re upset that the Nets didn’t snag Crabbe is irrelevant — Marks did his best and the shooting guard signed the offer sheet, many even believed he wanted to come be a starter instead of lingering behind Damian Lillard and C.J McCollum, for what it’s worth —  fans should at least acknowledge that front office stuck to their guns and stayed put.

You know what’s worse than not getting Crabbe, Bazemore, and Johnson? Panicking and signing replacements without rhyme or reason for your long-term plan — you’ve been there before, don’t wish to go back again.

There will be more drafts, trades, and free agent classes, so when the Nets have the money to throw cash at Otto Porter Jr.,  Nerlens Noel, or Serge Ibaka this summer, you’ll be glad they didn’t sign Courtney Lee or Eric Gordon to hefty deals.

Jeremy Lin

The Nets’ prized free agent signing has polarized the community completely, for better or for worse thus far. On one side, you’ve got those willing to jump into fire for Lin — the very humans that have given him the eighth-most votes for a guard in the Eastern Conference — and, on the other, there are plenty already willing to call the signing a failure and want to dump him for a second round pick. First and foremost, let’s get at least one thing straight, Lin is not injury prone, he’s unlucky: he’s played in 82, 71, 74, and 78 games over his career and these two unfortunate hamstring injuries are his worst ailments of his entire professional journey.

The importance here simply lies in the patience category. Here’s a step-by-step cheat sheet to the Lin situation:

(A) He’s the point guard of the immediate future, deal with it.
(B) The Nets were never making the playoffs in 2016-2017, Lin or not.
(C) There’s no reason to rush him back, the long-term health is of the most importance.

Rushing him back does nothing but minimize the Celtics’ chances of landing the no. 1 overall pick by 1.5%. Yes, the Nets are more fun with Lin, nobody is disputing that much, but are a couple of January wins worth any extra injuries? There’s a bigger picture at play here, let it unfold without getting pitchforks and torches out. Y’all wanted the San Antonio Spurs’ approach to treating injuries and you got it — the only difference is that the Nets don’t have Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker, and LaMarcus Aldridge to pick up the slack.

This team would be a lot different with Lin on the floor, we saw that much in the preseason and in his handful of regular season games, but injuries happen — that doesn’t make the decision a failure.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson

After ESPN’s Zach Lowe made mention of the Nets’ willingness to listen — operative word of listen, mind you — to offers for Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, the sophomore became the latest subject of fan’s frustrations. Yes, he’s not a shooter yet and, yes, the finishing has declined since his strong rookie debut. But still, moving the promising wing defender at the first sign of stagnation is exactly the type of backward move the Nets would regret making.

Let’s face it — he’s not the perfect fit for Kenny Atkinson’s chuck-em-up system, but you still see those glimpses of the playmaker the Nets fell in love with last season. Considering their other current options at the position are Sean Kilpatrick and Bojan Bogdanovic, two generally defensively poor shooters, dealing Hollis-Jefferson for somebody more offensively minded seems like a misstep — remember, it’s about winning the war, not just the battle.

Were the Nets harboring a poor-shooting Hollis-Jefferson the year they were primed to make a run to the Eastern Conference Finals (ha!), then sure, a trade wouldn’t be insane.

Rest assured, the Nets won’t trade Hollis-Jefferson unless they’re blown away by an offer — they love his effort, passion, and happy-go-lucky attitude as a potential piece for the future. Don’t wish for the Nets to move Hollis-Jefferson just because you’re restless for a trade — he’s one of the good guys worth watching.

Brook Lopez

Naturally, this is the next step of conversation: Brook Lopez.

There is perhaps no topic more vexing than Lopez in the Nets’ community and it’s been that way since they tried to trade him for Dwight Howard in 2012. Then there was the last-second Reggie Jackson rumor in 2015. And, now, the Nets have set the entry for conversation at two first-round draft picks. Is this the year the domino finally falls? The Nets are submarining once again and he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the 2017-2018 season. In lieu of losing Lopez for nothing — not unlike the Atlanta Hawks’ situation with Al Horford last summer and their current problem with Paul Millsap — Sean Marks would do well to move the center with an eye towards the future, but only for the right price.

There’s certainly no argument for Lopez’s place in Nets franchise history, but given their draft pick situation, they must proceed with caution. Lopez is an incredible basketball player and all signs point towards him being an even better, and loyal, human being. He loves Brooklyn and apparently thought little about leaving two summers ago. Simply put, they cannot afford for him to leave for nothing — whether or not he would is a different question — but as a leader and locker room character, they must toe the line carefully.

I’ve thrown out some potential trades over the last week or so on Twitter, all that would fulfill the draft pick requirements and see a young player or two return as well — but what are the Nets looking for? For now, we’ve got no clue what Marks is offering or has been offered, but the days of Billy King at the wheel are long gone and the Nets will get what they consider value for the now three-point shooting center or they won’t trade him at all.

Certainly, there’s a middle ground between wanting Lopez to retire as a Net and looking for a trade that helps the franchise hit the reset button on a tough three years.

Greivis Vasquez

Here’s where things have gone off the rails: Greivis Vasquez.

The 29-year-old point guard was brought in to backup Jeremy Lin following an ankle surgery that kept him out for much of the 2015-2016 season. Unfortunately, after just a few games, he required another procedure done and the Nets promptly waived him. However, does that make the signing a mistake? A failure, surely, but a mistake? In this case, it means you fall on one of two sides to this argument: do you trust the front office or not?

It seems like a very large jump to assume that the Nets did not do their due diligence on Vasquez before signing him. Of course, the situation becomes more of an issue with Lin’s recent injuries, but let’s not forget that Vasquez has played 70, 66, 78, 79 games over his career and all 82 of them in 2014-2015. If the Nets were so unlucky to lose Vasquez, they likely banked on Isaiah Whitehead, Sean Kilpatrick, and, yes, perhaps even Yogi Ferrell to keep the ship afloat.

Without Lin, of course, that weakness becomes more glaring, but context is key.

At a shade over 4 million, Vasquez would’ve been one of the most cost-efficient contracts in the entire league and a perfect pairing for Lin. It didn’t work out, no, but now Whitehead is getting a crash course at the point guard position — and isn’t what this season is all about?

Thaddeus Young

And, finally, the man Marks moved for Caris LeVert last summer: Thaddeus Young.

There still remains a staunchly-certain portion of the community that dislikes the trade still, to this day, because with Young, Lin, and Lopez, the Nets could’ve pushed for the seventh or eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. Which is, uh, great, but the Nets are 1-11 against the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors over the last two seasons — so, yeah, good luck with that. If the tide hasn’t turned on LeVert yet, it should soon.

The lanky rookie that has been called “Baby Durant” in some circles has started turning some heads since his December debut. When the Nets eventually unleash LeVert in the coming months, there’s a strong likelihood that you’ll look back at the trade as a shrewd move when it’s all said and done.

And, don’t forget, Young is averaging just 11.7 points and 6.3 rebounds, numbers that Trevor Booker (9.8/9.1) is matching at a much cheaper price. With that extra money, the Nets also signed Justin Hamilton — so, in reality, wouldn’t you already call the trade a victory for Marks and the front office?

Conclusion

Guys, it’s less than a month into 2017 and the Nets have the worst record in the NBA.

Lin got hurt (twice), Vasquez got hurt, LeVert is finally playing, and Lopez is on the trade market for the right price. Even if all those things went away — Lin stayed healthy, the Nets signed a different backup point guard, Lopez was moved for a blockbuster package (or not), and Young was still occupying that power forward spot — guess what? They’d still be on the outside looking in, Atkinson would still be experimenting with different lineups, and we’d still be talking about swapping picks with the Celtics.

The world has not ended with Lin’s injury and they’re still a few years away from any making waves again anyways — so, just take a deep breath and keep this season in perspective. Frustrating? Yes. Unwatchable at times? Oh, you bet. But was it all part of the plan? Yes. In the past, King would be ramping up to trade more draft picks for Rudy Gay right now, so I promise you that this timeline leads to a better future. Who knows if Lopez will be on this team in a month, or if LeVert will continue looking like a building block, or even if Hollis-Jefferson will regain his confidence in the coming years.

In the past, King would be ramping up to trade more draft picks for Rudy Gay right now, so I promise you that this timeline leads to a better future. Who knows if Lopez will be on this team after February’s deadline, or if LeVert will keep impressing those that watch a single-win Nets team, or even if Hollis-Jefferson will regain his confidence in the coming years — but so what?

This is what the Nets have to do now and they’ve committed to, for a lack of a better term, the process. It’s all about #NetGrowth, baby — just give it some time to develop before denouncing the entire system.

But, for once, the Nets are taking the road less traveled — don’t let injuries, missed restricted free agent signings, and Joel Embiid distract you from the prize: getting back to normalcy.