Sean Marks speaks to the media during a press conference before a game against the New York Knicks at Barclays Center.

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Lichtenstein: Trading Up In Draft Could Cause Nets To Step Back Next Season

Steve Lichtenstein
June 12, 2018 - 9:29 am
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Are the Nets willing to risk taking a step back to take a chance they can possibly leap forward in the future?

I know, the Nets aren’t all that far above rock bottom, making any possible fall next season a mere stumble.  But they did seem to take great pleasure in hyping their eight-game victory improvement in 2017-18 from their 20-62 debacle two seasons ago.

They seem to believe in their own momentum, that another year of development in this Sean Marks/Kenny Atkinson cabal will bear slightly improved results next season.

It’s why any decisions Marks, in his third offseason as Brooklyn’s general manager, makes in advance of the 2018 NBA Draft will be telling as to the direction this franchise will be heading next season.

Speculation abounds that Brooklyn would like to move up from the 29th overall selection on June 21, a pick it received alongside a second-rounder (40th overall) last summer in Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll salary dump.  The Nets, of course, haven’t been able to pick from their own slot since 2013 thanks to their prior regime’s oft-discussed failed gambles, with this year’s pick (eighth overall) having made its way to Cleveland via Boston in the Kyrie Irving mega-deal last summer.

With such a handicap, Marks has had to be creative in his rebuild.  In each of the past two offseasons, for instance, he was very busy making news in the normally quiet days leading up to those drafts.

Two years ago, Marks sent forward Thaddeus Young to Indiana just before the 2016 Draft for the 20th overall selection in the first round, which became guard Caris LeVert, and a protected second-rounder that has yet to be conveyed to Brooklyn.

Marks went for a bigger bang last year, dealing face-of-the-franchise center Brook Lopez and a late first-round pick that the Lakers used to select Kyle Kuzma in exchange for promising point guard D’Angelo Russell plus the anvil that is useless center Timofey Mozgov’s contract.

A reprise of such a strategy in the next ten days, should Marks barter similar assets (useful veteran players, salary cap space) for the chance at a hotter prospect, would signal to me an intention that the Nets would willingly accept a suspension in their upward trajectory.

For if the Nets decide that taking on another monstrosity of a contract (like with Denver’s Kenneth Faried or Milwaukee’s Matthew Dellavedova or John Henson) into their cap space or surrendering a rotation player (like Carroll or Spencer Dinwiddie) is a fair price to move up to a pick in the mid-to-late teens, then you can forget about any improvement next season.  At best, the Nets could be expected to tread water.     

The odds of the Nets landing another Donovan Mitchell-type star that steps in to help them win games right away from those slots are remote.  And unlike the flush early days of Marks’ reign, it won’t take much salary for a dump to fill up Brooklyn’s cap space, closing the Nets’ door on making key additions in the July free agency market.  The Nets will start with about $16.5 million in cap space before cap holds for their own free agents and draft picks.    

This isn’t to suggest that Marks should refrain from making such a bet—surely I would suffer through another woeful campaign if Marks found a mid-round gem like Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kawhi Leonard with the swapped pick, a player who might need a year or two in the league in order to sprout.

But would Marks, since he can’t know for sure?

In all conversations with the media, Marks has denied he has any tanking ambitions for next season, after which Brooklyn finally won’t have to skip its turn in the 2019 draft.  He seems genuine in his desire to maintain the current pace of the rebuild, as if even a temporary setback in Year 3 would be damaging to the franchise’s psyche. 

I would tend to agree with the more conservative course.  The Nets should keep their options open in the summer, trying then to add a few more pieces that would give them a better chance of rising a little bit further up in next season’s standings.

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