Nets point guard Jeremy Lin

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Lichtenstein: Lin Decision Will Determine Nets’ Free Agent Strategy

Team Should Hang On To Popular Point Guard

Steve Lichtenstein
June 29, 2018 - 12:42 pm
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The NBA’s free-agent frenzy returns Sunday. Much of the public’s attention has been on where/if any of the league’s superstars will be changing addresses.

The Nets operate on a different plane, but the decisions they make in the next 10 days will also have repercussions for their 2018-19 season and beyond.

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The first such decision, at least according to many experts, is not an easy one: What should be done with Jeremy Lin?

The Nets point guard, who will enter the final season of a three-year, $38 million contract he signed in the summer of 2016, would seem to be an obvious trade chip. The Nets already have D’Angelo Russell and Spencer Dinwiddie on their depth chart, with Caris LeVert also capable of playing the position in a pinch.

Lin is an experienced player who would be a nice fit on a team with a group of young bucks like the Suns, according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe.

Put aside for a minute that Lin is one of the most popular players in the league as an underdog Asian-American and a favorite of new Nets minority owner Joseph Tsai. The only question that I’m interested in is whether the Nets will be better off trying to deal Lin now.

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And the answer is no -- with a caveat.

The growing consensus, not that anyone has direct insight into general manager Sean Marks’ thinking, is that Brooklyn will be a bystander when it comes to major bidding next week, preferring to save up for a run at the 2019 free agent candidates. Orlando forward Aaron Gordon, my personal preference should Marks choose to make a grand gesture in the form of a generous restricted-free-agent offer sheet, reportedly isn’t taking any meetings with other clubs at the market open. As for others such as Lakers forward Julius Randle, why would Marks go through all the trouble to clear cap space to overpay on a long-term deal for a player who isn’t a fit in coach Kenny Atkinson’s system?   

If that’s the case, then there’s no need to dump Lin, or similarly expiring veteran wing DeMarre Carroll for that matter, for little return just to create cap space for a max offer sheet that won’t be tendered. Marks has enough room (approximately $11 million, assuming the giveback on center Dwight Howard’s buyout would cost the Nets something close to what they would have paid center Timofey Mozgov, who reportedly will be dealt to Charlotte when the Howard trade becomes official on July 6) to re-sign wing Joe Harris using cap space, an alleged priority even though I see him as nothing more than a good backup.

Good business means buying low and selling high. Lin’s value has deteriorated after two consecutive injury-plagued seasons. He was on the court for all of 25 minutes last season before a fall in Indiana ruptured a patella tendon in his right knee. He also missed 46 games in 2016-17, mostly due to hamstring woes.

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What do fans who want Lin dealt think the Nets are going to get at this point? Would the Suns part with 20-year-old forward Dragan Bender in exchange for potentially damaged goods when, as Lowe noted, there are less risky options?

If there are no plans to use the incremental cap space this summer, the Nets should wait to see how Lin progresses in the season’s first half. Then a determination can be made before the trade deadline on his future in the organization.

Lin has reportedly worked diligently to rehab his injury, even travelling to Vancouver’s Fortius Sport & Health facility to “rebuild my body from the ground up,” per his Instagram post.

It must have been fairly successful, since the Nets hired Stefania Rizzo earlier this month directly from Fortius to be their director of performance rehabilitation.   

Lin never had a chance to form the on-court chemistry with Russell that the Nets envisioned last season. Russell had his own injury issues, but it is also fair to say that his performances when healthy were wildly inconsistent. Maybe having a steady hand like Lin could have saved some of the gut-wrenching defeats the Nets suffered last season.  Brooklyn played 50 games in which they were within a five-point margin in the last five minutes, second most in the NBA. They went 19-31 in those contests, the league’s fifth-worst percentage.

I would prefer the Nets pare their point guard glut by investigating a trade of Dinwiddie, who parlayed a few solid months into a third-place finish for the league’s Most Improved Player award. Dinwiddie is a bargain, scheduled to earn about $1.65 this season. He would fit a lot more easily into some team’s cap situation. 

After this season, though, he will be an unrestricted free agent. Like with Harris, I don’t think the Nets should be using their cap space on players who put up decent numbers on very bad teams.    

Marks reportedly had offers for Dinwiddie at February’s trade deadline but passed on them. However, maybe that was because Lin was out. Though Dinwiddie struggled a bit down the stretch, he still should have value as a cheap backup. Again, sell high.

What Marks decides to do with Lin will portend his overall strategy for the next steps in the Nets’ rebuild. A trade would signal a desire to be a player in the free agent market, even though no one the Nets have a shot at besides Gordon would be worth the effort. 

My view is that Marks should just let the contracts of Lin and Carroll expire on their own after the season to maximize the team’s 2019 cap space. 

No need to dump salary now if you’re not refilling it with better substance.

For a FAN’s perspective of the Nets, Devils and Jets, follow Steve on Twitter @SteveLichtenst1