In less than three weeks, the NBA playoffs will begin in earnest. When they do, the focus, deservingly so, will be on the league’s playoff teams. However, up to five of those teams will be newcomers to the playoff scene who watched from the lottery last season. And all playoff teams were once lottery teams themselves. So before we reach the playoffs, where do the league’s lottery teams stand, and what may they look to do this offseason to approach the playoff precipice? Here’s a look at one of those lottery teams: the Nets.
Players Under Contract: Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Bojan Bogdanovic, Sean Kilpatrick, Chris McCullough
Free Agents: Shane Larkin (Player Option), Markel Brown (Restricted), Sergey Karasev, Henry Sims, Willie Reed (Restricted), Donald Sloan, Thomas Robinson (Player Option), Jarrett Jack (Team Option), Wayne Ellington (Player Option)
A look at the Nets’ offseason outlook requires an evaluation of the worst draft pick situation the NBA has seen in recent memory. The Nets’ 2016 and 2018 first round picks go to Boston, their 2017 second round pick goes to Atlanta, and their 2018 second round pick goes to Charlotte or Philadelphia. The Clippers get to swap second rounders in 2016 unless it falls from 56-60, which is unlikely. And the Nets and Celtics swap 2017 first rounders if the Celtics are better than the Nets, which is likely, although that allows the Nets to swap second rounders with the Celtics, unless the second rounder falls between 31-45 (which appears unlikely).
In short, the most likely scenario is over the next three drafts the Nets will have a 2016 second rounder in the 50’s, 2017 first rounder in the early 20’s, and 2017 second rounder in the early 50’s, barring trades: that is it.
That has to affect the Nets’ team building outlook. For a typical 24 win team (give or take) with two good, non-star players under contract like Brook Lopez and Thaddeus Young, logic would dictate trading them for draft picks and rebuilding ground up. But given the draft pick debt, can the Nets do that? Even if the Nets retrieved pick based compensation for those two players (no other veteran on the roster is bringing in draft picks), they would not come close to replenishing their pick debt: imagine being the 76ers, without lottery picks?
Sure, the Nets should listen on Lopez and Young offers, but if they are not blown away, it may be best to stick with them, and focus on the one asset they do have: cap space in free agency. But the Nets will likely face the problem the Knicks faced last summer: their record is a big turnoff. That means the Nets should not think about hitting a home run, but should look to hit singles and doubles, to incrementally improve from the 25 win range to the 35 win range. Then, at 35 wins, with actual draft picks in 2017, they can try to take another incremental step, into the playoff picture.
Free agent target the Nets would be wise to look at, given they need time to build a contender, are younger players who can grow with them, like Jordan Clarkson, Chandler Parsons, Evan Fournier, Allen Crabbe, and Jeremy Lin.