It’s hard to argue that any other team in the league is in a worse spot than the Brooklyn Nets.
When Mikhail Prokorov bought the New Jersey Nets in 2010, he instilled a win-now attitude within the organization. With a new arena being built and a rebrand coming, general manager Billy King was put under a lot of pressure to piece together a contending basketball team on the floor. That following February, King made the shock move of acquiring Deron Williams from the Utah Jazz, kick starting the move away from a young, rebuilding team. The next year, the Nets traded away a lottery pick that ended up becoming Damian Lillard for two-way hustle man Gerald Wallace. In the summer, they traded for All-Star Joe Johnson, giving away more first round picks in the process.
King threw everything on the table when he traded with the Boston Celtics in 2013 for Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Jason Terry, sending three first round picks and a pick swap for the future Hall of Famers. The franchise couldn’t have sold themselves out any more after that, giving all of their draft picks essentially through 2018 and creating the largets luxury tax bill in the history of the NBA.
All those assets and all that money didn’t ever materialize into the championship that Prokorov and King envisioned. The Nets made a second round appearance, only to lose to the Miami Heat and watch Paul Pierce walk for nothing in the offseason. Garnett was a shell of himself for the Nets and they ended up dumping Jason Terry to get his salary off of their books.
The 2014-15 season was barely saved by the team scrapping their way to the eighth seed in the playoffs, putting up a good fight with the top seeded Hawks in a six game defeat. After the season, however, they agreed to a buyout for starting point guard Deron Williams just a few years into his max contract that he signed with the team. Knowing that they are going to lose their pick to Boston next June, the Nets doubled down on staying competitive rather than bottoming out, bringing back free agents Thaddeus Young and Brook Lopez this past summer.
Unfortunately for them, the 2015-16 season hasn’t been competitive for them at all. Their point differential is the second worst in the league, only in front of the putrid Philadelphia 76ers. Their devoid of any draft picks and the players they decided to invest in long-term aren’t performing to the level they had hoped. Most teams that are this bad at least have a high draft pick to look forward to. For the Nets, there is no silver lining for this season — no draft pick and no talent creates the most grim scenario for any team in the league.
The Nets are the next team in this Rebuild and Retain series going through each NBA squad not considered a title contender and assessing the young players they have on their roster. Player development is key in building a championship contender, and this series looks at whether or not the young players these teams have will help them reach that level in the future. Is there any hope for Brooklyn that can be found amidst the few young guys on their roster?
Note: Only players on their rookie contracts will be considered for this series. If a team has signed a player to a second contract, that more than likely means that they are considered a core member of the roster.
If there is any hope to be found in the young guys on this Nets roster, it is going to be in the potential upside of their rookies, particularly Hollis-Jefferson.
It only took five games for Brooklyn to insert Rondae into the starting lineup. His reputation going into the draft was that he could be one of the best defenders in the league someday. Coach Lionel Hollins prides his teams on that end of the floor, making it easy to see why the former Wildcat was able to win the coach’s favor a lot earlier than most rookies. His 3.5 steals per 48 minutes ranks 5th in the league, a great way of showing his hounding presence on that end.
The length also comes in handy on the boards, where Hollis-Jefferson has led his team in two games already and reached double figures three times. He is averaging 12.7 rebounds per 48 minutes, 59th in the league and 1st amongst all wings in the entire NBA. It’s early, but that’s an impressive mark for a rookie small forward. It helps having a 7-2 wingspan to crash the boards, allowing him to not just battle with wings but big men as well.
The offensive end is a completely different story, which was always going to be the case with Hollis-Jefferson. His jump shot is a work in progress (to put it nicely) and he doesn’t really do anything in the way of ball handling and playmaking. He has a shaky handle that makes you nervous every time he puts the ball on the floor more than once. Other than a straight line drive to rim or a dunk in transition, there isn’t much that he offers.
If the shooting continues to be a struggling point for Hollis-Jefferson, it could hinder the other parts of his game and the rest of the team’s offense. His man can simply cheat over and guard other players.
The ceiling for Rondae is probably somewhat similar to what the Hornets’ Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is currently, and for the 24th pick, that would be tremendous for Brooklyn. He doesn’t have much to work with, but fortunately for him and the Nets, the things he can do have translated right away.
McCullough was the late first round pick that the Nets swapped with Atlanta from the Joe Johnson trade. They chose McCullough, a raw yet high upside forward out of Syracuse. During his freshman season, McCullough tore his ACL, forcing him to miss the majority of his one year at Syracuse. Chris decided to enter the draft anyway, and will more than likely sit out the whole season.
McCullough has the chance to be a multi-positional defender, guarding both forward spots and working between the three and a small ball four in some instances. His best position may be as a power forward, where he can use his athleticism and length to dominate slower matchups. He doesn’t have any range on his jumper, but that could be just fine if he is able to use his athleticism to find ways to impact the game.
FLASH IN THE PAN
Brown is probably the most peculiar of any of their young guys on the team. A second round pick in 2014, Brown started 29 games for the Nets in the regular season and even made an appearance in the starting lineup in one of their playoff games against Atlanta.
When he is at his best, you can see flashes of a solid NBA player. His athleticism is off the charts and he parlays that into some impressive highlights throughout the course of a season.
However, Brown is a streaky shooter — he can get hot or shoot you out of a game — and it prevents Hollins from playing him more. He started one game in the playoffs last year, only to appear in one of their final five games. This year, he has only played in seven of their 14 games but has started in three of them. He averaged 15.4 minutes per game over the first five games, only to see that drop to 11 minutes in the two games he’s played since.
If he wants to stick in this league, Brown is going to need to string some of those better performances together in order to earn more consistent playing time from Hollins.
Karasev was a throw in for the Cleveland Cavaliers in an attempt to make cap space to sign LeBron James in the summer of 2014. Karasev has had some moments, starting in 16 games last year and averaging 16.8 minutes in 33 appearances. This year, however, he hasn’t been in the rotation, leading him and his dad to reportedly demand a trade.
Karasev’s situation is a weird one and has been since he entered the league. Karasev hasn’t ever shown anything beyond maybe being a secondary playmaker on the wing and a potential long distance shooter. It wouldn’t surprise anyone if he eventually does get moved, if not for the sheer purpose of getting a small asset back and lowering their roster bill this year. The Nets declined his fourth year option, making it more likely that we see him back in his home country of Russia than in the NBA next season.
This is more like Robinson’s fourth chance. He he was drafted to Sacramento, traded to Houston, then traded to Portland, who decided not to pick up his fourth year option before trading him to Denver, where he was waived and claimed by Philadelphia.
Yes, it’s just as confusing explaining it as it is reading it.
While Robinson has already been a journey man in his short three year career, he may have found a place in Brooklyn where he is going to have an opportunity to finally settle in. Robinson plays hard and can be a serviceable player on the defensive end, but where he can really earn his stay is on the glass — Thomas currently ranks sixth in the entire NBA in rebounds per 48 minutes (18.2). If Thomas can prove to be more consistent, Brooklyn might be his home for a longer term than just one year.
Larkin has also seen his fair share of run with a few teams before signing a deal with Brooklyn this offseason. A year after they drafted him, the Mavericks traded him to the Knicks in order to acquire Tyson Chandler. The Knicks didn’t pick up Larkin’s third year team option, leaving him on the market this summer to sign with the Nets.
Larkin has shown flashes of being a capable back up point guard in the league. He has been the Nets second point guard so far this season, backing up Jarrett Jack and averaging 6.9 points per game along with three assists per game. He has been super hot from behind the arc, shooting 50 percent on the year, albeit on only 22 attempts. He can be a solid pick and roll guard if he gets more confident in his shooting and playmaking ability.
His height will always make it hard for him to finish at the rim and will more than likely make him a liability defensively his whole career. That being said, he isn’t ever going to be asked to guard the other team’s best perimeter player and as your backup point guard, he isn’t going to necessarily be called on to shoulder a heavy offensive load, either. Larkin could definitely stick in the league as a third or fourth guard in a rotation.
Is there any hope?
The future does not look bright whatsoever, to put it bluntly. There are a few nice players on this roster that may be worth keeping around but in the end, their ceilings don’t go very high. If Hollis-Jefferson never develops a jumper, he won’t be any better than a fifth or sixth man. Chris McCullough is a complete unknown. Thomas Robinson and Shane Larkin have already had chances, and Brown and Karasev have virtually been faded out at this point.
A roster with no hope, nothing to look forward to, and no means to replenish anything makes for a probable disaster for a franchise and fanbase that has poured insane amounts of dollars into the Brooklyn Nets.