Inside the Tank: Brooklyn Nets

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After Billy King mortgaged their future, the Nets under Sean Marks are slowly picking up the pieces.

@Garland_SP

After the infamous KG/Pierce trade of 2013, awful contracts given to players like Gerald Wallace and Deron Williams, turnover in the coaching staff and organization; the Nets are in basketball hell, and are going to be for a long while.

As it interests Celtics and NBA fans, Boston is done collecting their return for KG and Paul Pierce next year, with Brooklyn giving its 2018 first-rounder. The previous Nets picks landed in the lottery and it looks like the third time’s the charm. However, the Nets with their past few moves show that their franchise now has a direction. Their plan: acquire young talent, however they can find it.

With an Eastern Conference more watered down than a soda from the movie theater, any trade that would make the Nets immediately a better team poses a threat to the value of the draft pick.

One example of a move that makes the Nets better is the D’Angelo Russell trade. Marks sent Brook Lopez out-of-town in exchange for the young point guard at the cost of swallowing Timofey Mozgov’s albatross contract.

For as good as Russell could be, the move should not shock anyone. In losing their lottery picks to Boston, Brooklyn is currently at a major disadvantage. They’re stuck with trading their roster players with upside, such as Thaddeus Young and soon players like Trevor Booker, to replenish their supply of draft picks and young players. Brooklyn will take the draft picks even if it means eating an ugly contract like Mozgov’s.

On Thursday, the Brooklyn Nets made an offer sheet to restricted free agent Otto Porter Jr. Why would they try something like that? The Nets know their likely lottery pick is gonezo, and making their team a little bit better would screw the Celtics over. But why would Brooklyn wanna sign a player to a $100+ million dollar deal at this stage? The answer: they don’t.

The Nets are using their wealth of cap space in the free agent market essentially to play spoiler. Their secret weapon makes use of loopholes in the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement to deviously inflate the value of restricted free agents and possibly trap the team into paying a luxury tax. This tool goes by one fitting name: “poison pill”.

Right here is the bulk of what’s gone right with the Nets under Marks. Brooklyn offered multiple poison pills, offer sheets that back load money in contracts so that the team is potentially forced into cap trouble in the near future. These were given to young restricted free agents all within the last calendar year, with Porter Jr. being the most recent poison pill.

In forcing Washington’s hand to match Brooklyn’s offer and keep Otto Porter Jr. Marks was able to not only drive the price up on Porter, but to make him nearly impossible to trade, by way of the trade kicker in his contract. Porter would gain a “kick” of 15% of his remaining salary for the season he’s traded, so if Porter doesn’t play like a max player, the Wizards are very much screwed. The Wizards would also have trouble dumping Porter’s contract given his trade kicker, because it also becomes a wait for it… poison pill. All that for Brooklyn kicking the tires on a guy that had little interest in signing there.

Days later, the Nets traded for the ugly contract of DeMarre Carroll and received a first and second-round pick in exchange for Justin Hamilton. Although Carroll was a great player for the one-night stand, top-seeded Atlanta Hawks. The Nets don’t plan on adding the now 30 year-old to win now. The Raptors signed Carroll to a hefty deal and now wanted to get out of it. Given the Nets wealth of cap space, they were willing to take on Carroll’s contract to gain two draft picks.

Look at it this way: NBA teams that swallow bad contracts are almost never trying to win now. In a sport with a soft salary cap, it’s almost unheard of for a competitive team to take on an ugly contract with plenty of term left on it, since that limited cap money is meant to be spent solely on player that will help the team compete for a championship. Obviously, the Brooklyn Nets are not trying to win in the short-term, so contract money for the next three to five years is irrelevant, while they continue to tank for draft picks.

By the way, this is straight from the Sam Hinkie Book of Tanking. Brooklyn is acquiring draft picks and young players while also saving cap space. The cap space is not for signing hefty unrestricted free agents, but for screwing with restricted free agents through the previously mentioned loopholes, and to be a town dump for bad contracts until the team develops its young talent. In this time, Brooklyn will only use the free agent market to gamble on players who are down on their luck, so that Brooklyn can generate value to later deal them for picks and players.

With the albatross contracts acquired by trades, the Nets have the option to cut bait and save cap space, or to trade them again. Why would anyone want that though? Simple. The tanking team offers to take on a chunk of the player’s contract so he can be more affordable for the team looking to add a piece at the trade deadline.

Say a contender would like to take a chance on DeMarre Carroll. He’s 30 years old, only scoring about eight points per game and making $14.8 million this year. Yuck! But how about that same player at a quarter of the cost? Less yuck, but a contending team may be desperate enough. Teams that are in a cap space bind such as the Warriors and Cavs, may be hunting for value players to fill out their bench after losing free agents in the offseason. If Brooklyn can make these bad contract players affordable, they can take less of a hit to their wad of cap space.

The 76ers did this for years under Hinkie, with guys like Andrew Bynum being acquired to then be cut a day later for cap flexibility. The Nets are already adopting a version of this under Marks, but their problem is their lack of resources, the picks and young players.

The bottom line is, if a team is taking on atrocious contracts like Timofey Mozgov, they don’t wanna win right now. (Relax, Celtics fans) They’re hopping in the tank and gunning for a brighter future. Maybe, just maybe, the former Spurs assistant GM can help Brooklyn land on its feet in a few years.

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