Tuesday night was a tough one for the Brooklyn Nets. The NBA held its annual draft lottery, and they watched—or rather, we think they watched—as the Boston Celtics ended up with the No. 1 pick, which they landed via a selection swap owed to them from Brooklyn.
But that swap is on the previous regime (as is the 2018 Nets pick the Celtics are due)—the one that traded to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry. The Nets have put leadership figures in place, namely general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson, who understand the value of patience and have the stomach to endure the latest process.
Part of this process will be finding creative ways to acquire potential building blocks. The Nets have, to date, traded Thaddeus Young (in 2016) and Bojan Bogdanovic (2017) to pick up late first-rounders. But with their own asset well running a tad try, they remain willing to take on bad contracts in exchange for picks and prospects.
“Brooklyn will be out there on the market looking at teams who have a bad contract they want to get off, but only if you’re willing to attach a good young player or a draft pick,” said Woj.
This is a smart stance by the Nets. They have tons of cap space—money they can, and will try to, use on big-name free-agency acquisitions. Once the dust has settled, though, there’s a chance they’ll exit the early-to-mid July fray empty-handed. Brooklyn has vastly improved its culture and the optics of its inner-workings, but it’s tough to hit on offseason pursuits when your primary targets are restricted free agents who don’t control their own destinies and stars who can extract identical money from better situations.
Using flexibility to absorb bad deals—Woj specifically named Luol Deng’s and Timofey Mozgov’s pacts—is a more foolproof approach. Teams desperate to offload long-term money will often include first-round sweeteners or semi-promising prospects to get an agreement through. Other squads can only serve as salary-dumping grounds if they have the stamina to outlast them without experiencing absorber’s remorse, but the Nets needn’t worry about that. They’re in this rebuild for the long haul. It’ll be a while before they’re at the level they want to be—at which time any contracts they take on will have likely expired, while the picks and players they landed as compensation may have turned into something special.