After posting a league worst 20-62 record, whom should the Nets pursue in free agency in order to start building up for the future?
This summer represents a pivotal moment for the Brooklyn Nets. Under the direction of GM Sean Marks and Coach Kenny Atkinson, the franchise has an opportunity to begin gathering assets and slowly laying the foundations for a brighter era of Nets basketball. One week ago Brooklyn pulled off a blockbuster trade with the LA Lakers, exchanging Brook Lopez and the 27th pick in the 2017 Draft for D’Angelo Russell and Timo Mozgov. Moreover, the Nets finally get their own pick back in 2019 and almost all of the team’s current salary commitments will come off of their cap sheet by the summer of 2019 (Deron Williams is off in 2020). Things don’t look all that hopeless anymore!
With that said, the Nets are still in a tricky spot. As free agency looms, they will have about $25-$30 million in cap space to work with this summer (per Spotrac), depending on whether or not they choose to waive some of the non-guaranteed players on the roster. The Nets need to take a long view here. An all-out tank job next season doesn’t help because they owe their pick to the Celtics (again!), but adding long-term contracts right when the fallout of the Garnett/Pierce trade is subsiding could have destructive consequences.
The Nets have numerous holes to fill, so the temptation to spend now will be strong. This team is bereft on the wing, could use more playmaking across the roster and needs help at the four spot and five spots. With the acquisition of Russell, Jeremy Lin might now be expendable. He’s on a solid deal and might be able to attract interest as a trade chip. The Nets certainly don’t have to move on from Lin, but they should at least consider trading him.
At this point Brooklyn has to be diligent and patient. The team’s most important objective this season should be to find out what it has in Russell, and establish a timeline moving forward. Brooklyn shouldn’t add any contracts that extend beyond two years unless they are absolutely convinced that the player they are acquiring will be an integral part of the team for years to come.
The Nets should look to accomplish three things in the summer of 2017: put together a competent roster, restock the barren asset cupboard and avoid signing any contracts that have the potential to become albatrosses; they can still take on dead salary if it would mean receiving a solid asset, just like they did with Mozgov. To achieve these goals, they should continue to pursue young talent with upside and sign veterans to short deals.
If we’re looking at this situation through that strategic lens, here are some players the Nets should chase in free agency:
5. Tyler Ennis
A lack of consistent playmaking has derailed the Nets over the past two seasons. The team couldn’t survive Jeremy Lin’s injury plagued season, ranking in the league’s bottom five in both offensive efficiency and assist percentage (per ESPN Hollinger Stats). Taking a chance on a young player like Ennis definitely won’t solve many of the problems of this Nets backcourt, but it would be a low risk move that could yield future dividends. If they can get Ennis for about $4 million per year over two or three seasons, the Nets should pull the trigger and sign him.
Ennis has bounced around the league for the better part of three years now, but he’s only 22 years old. Poor jump shooting, finishing at the basket and an inability to guard opposing playmakers kept Ennis from receiving significant playing time in any of his previous stops. He showed flashes of improvement late last season for the Lakers, as they shockingly (and stupidly!) transformed into world beaters down the stretch. As Serena Winters of Lakers Nation reported in April, Ennis impressed Coach Luke Walton with his defense, finishing and playmaking poise. In addition, he shot about 39 percent from 3-point range on almost 3 attempts per game in L.A. (per Basketball-Reference).
We should keep in mind that Ennis’ success came in a small sample size; he only played 22 games for the Lakers after a brutal 31 game stint in Houston. Even so, signing him for a low cost as a backup or third guard would be reasonable gamble.