Did the Nets actually improve their bench this offseason?
Last year was a painful one to endure for fans of the Brooklyn Nets and their 21-win season came without the gift of a high lottery pick. Although they didn’t technically have the worst record in the league, one could make the case that the roster assembled was the worst in the entire league. The so-called ‘youth movement’ from a season ago seems dead and gone as two of those players are now overseas, Shane Larkin and Sergey Karasev, one of them may not make a roster this fall, Markel Brown, and a long-time journeyman, Thomas Robinson, may be getting his last shot at staying in the NBA,
Seriously, just look where the majority of last year’s team is playing this season and the contracts they were signed to — it speaks volumes.
|Andrea Bargnani||Spain — Baskonia|
|Markel Brown||Invite to Cavaliers’ Training Camp|
|Wayne Ellington||Miami Heat — 2 years/$12M|
|Sergey Karasev||Russia — Zenit Saint Petersburg|
|Shane Larkin||Spain — Baskonia|
|Thomas Robinson||Los Angeles Lakers – 1 year/$1M|
|Donald Sloan||China — Guangdong|
|Willie Reed||Miami Heat — 2 years/$2M|
There’s no doubt that the losing will be plentiful this year in Brooklyn. In fact, according to multiple Las Vegas sportsbooks, the Nets have the worst odds to win a championship and sport the lowest over/under win projection at 20.5. Despite all of this, believe it or not, the Nets could have a productive season even as the losses quickly add up.
The roster figures to be inferior to most around the league, but, while looking at the bench’s construction, it seems as if there was a more thought-out plan this time around. Sean Marks has preached the importance of building the right culture in Brooklyn and the players he brought in this summer appear to align with the system, style of play, and organizational philosophy, even if many of them are on short-term deals.
This year’s supporting group seems to be a nice blend of youth and experience, something the Nets have certainly lacked for a couple seasons now. Signing the likes of Randy Foye, Luis Scola, Trevor Booker, and Greivis Vasquez didn’t generate a franchise-changing splash that adding, say, Kevin Durant brings, but there’s still plenty to be positive about. These veterans have racked up over 40 years of NBA experience and can only help in the mentoring of the younger players, most notably Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Chris McCullough, and Caris LeVert.
For various reasons, mostly health, all three of those youngsters fell on their respective draft nights, but, according to NBA experts, they possess the type of talent and athleticism that easily could’ve made them lottery selections. If the aforementioned trio can stay healthy, heed the veteran’s advice, and develop into what their best-possible versions, then the Nets would’ve certainly hit the jackpot in terms of rebuilding through the draft when their situation seemed dire.
Aside from Hollis-Jefferson, McCullough, and LeVert, there are other intriguing players who could still carve out a niche in this league, not dissimilarly to Sean Kilpatrick’s emergence a season ago. Not much ballyhoo was made over the signing of Justin Hamilton, but the transaction received great praise from ESPN’s Kevin Pelton who labeled him as his “Rip Van Winkle-level sleeper” back in July. When the Nets lost Mirza Teletovic to free agency, Andrea Bargnani seemed to be a suitable replacement at the time, but obviously things didn’t work out. With Hamilton, the Nets hope to have found that big who could stretch the floor with his outside shooting, making life that much easier for Brook Lopez in the paint.
Behind newcomer Jeremy Lin, the Nets have also addressed one of the squad’s biggest weaknesses, the backup point guard. In Vasquez, they’re getting a gritty (hey, we know that buzzword!) pass-first veteran that finished third in assists per game in 2012-2013, only trailing Rajon Rondo and Chris Paul. The Venezuelan will be leaned upon heavily and could find success playing next to Lin, just as Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets did last year. Considering they’ll have an asset like that off the bench instead of the revolving door of Donald Sloan and Larkin, there’s reason to be excited.
Finally, the signing of Anthony Bennett is a compelling one. The former no. 1 overall pick of the 2013 NBA Draft has already been declared a bust by many and may be down to his last chance in the league — but, at the still young age of 23, perhaps it’s not too late to salvage his career. Chances are high that he’ll never reach the lofty expectations that come with being the top selection, however, there’s no reason why he couldn’t develop into a useful rotational player with the right coaching and player development — cough, cough, Kenny Atkinson.
Make no mistake, the Nets will struggle this year, but they can still find success in amongst the stacked-up loss column. In the long run, the win total amassed this year will be nothing more than eventual trivia, but the forthcoming culture is something that will, ideally, lead to positive results. Think back to that 2013-2014 season when Brad Stevens took the head coaching reins for the Boston Celtics and consider this:
Does that 25-win season even matter now? Considering that the Celtics are now contenders in the Eastern Conference and just added Jaylen Brown (sorry, all), it would seem as if the answer to that question is a definitive no.
Let’s hope the Nets can follow that same blueprint to success.