When Jeremy Lin signed his three-year, $36 million deal with the Brooklyn Nets on July 1, many NBA fans thought he deserved better. After all, his one-year stint with the Charlotte Hornets did wonders for his reputation – as a reliable sixth man off the bench, he proved to be a canny fit in the Hornets system, averaging 11.7 PPG, 3.2 RPG and 3.0 APG over 78 games. In 13 games as a starter (for Hornets) Lin averaged 17.5 PPG and 4.8 APG and shot 46 percent from three. Compared to other free agents. Before the free agency started, Lin was seen as the ultimate prize at the point guard spot, and it seemed like he would finally be able to choose between a number of interesting options. The new Linsanity era was upon us.
And then Lin decided to sign a three-year deal with the second hopeless team in the NBA – The Brooklyn Nets.
When Billy King took over as the general manager of the Nets back in 2010, he was seen as a promising up-and-comer; fast forward to six years later, and he is the laughing stock of the entire league. While there can be no doubt that his blockbuster trade for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce was his most colossal failure, it was far from his only sin. During King’s long tenure with the Nets, he managed to trade away 11 first-round picks, spent almost $130 million on the luxury tax and replaced four head coaches in an attempt to please the rich owner of the Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, and win as soon as possible.
Needless to say, his schemes did not go so well. Garnett, Pierce and many other big-name stars on the decline King brought to the club such as Joe Johnson, Gerald Wallace and Deron Williams proved to be no more than a shoddy stopgap for the true powers of the Eastern Conference. A team that was assembled to win now managed to win exactly one playoff series during those six years, and as the years went on, it was becoming increasingly obvious that Billy King simply did not have any real plan. Nowhere is this more evident than in the fact that the Nets have no total control over their first-round picks until 2019. For a team finding itself at the bottom of the Eastern Conference year after year, this state of events is simply inexcusable.
So, why did Jeremy Lin decide to bring his talents to a place seemingly so devoid of hope? There are probably four main reasons behind his decision:
First of all, Prokhorov has finally seen the light and decided to end the “Billy Ball” era by parting ways with Billy King on January 10, 2016. By itself, this move didn’t mean much – the firing came about four years too late, and by that point, the Nets seemed like a shell of their former self, doomed to wallow in misery until a new beginning in 2019. However, it was the identity of King’s replacement that drew some attention around the league – Sean Marks, the former assistant general manager of the Spurs. Groomed by R.C Buford and Gregg Popovich themselves, Marks is a breath of fresh air in the Nets’ organization and the first ray of hope for the club’s fans in a long time.
Secondly, it was obvious that Lin wanted to secure a starting spot for himself, and this Nets roster is probably the perfect place for that. After waiving Jarrett Jack at the end of June, the squad’s depth at guard positions is practically non-existent. Multiple sources have reported that Lin was Marks’ top target in free agency, and it’s easy to see why. Capable of playing at both the point guard and shooting guard positions, Lin’s star-power and distributing skills are the perfect solution for a team that strives to prepare for the long game.
The third reason for Lin’s decision lies in his long-time connection to Kenny Atkinson. As an assistant coach for the Knicks back in 2012, Atkinson played a central role in creation of Linsanity. On numerous occasions since they parted ways, Lin gave Atkinson a lot of credit related to his development as a player. There’s a lot of mutual respect between the two of them, and it was obvious they were more than willing to work with each other again. An opportunity presented itself once Atkinson was named the Nets’ head coach in April this year, and it didn’t take long for the media to start speculating about the possibility of a reunion with Lin.
Finally, there’s Lin’s special connection to the city of New York itself. While his time with the Knicks was fraught with minor incidents, it’s obvious that the Big Apple will always have a place in Lin’s heart. It was there that he shocked the entire world during that 26-game stretch towards the end of the 2012 season and became a superstar in his own right, if only for a short while. While the Linsanity era is now a thing of the past, those kinds of memories tend to stay with a person for the rest of their life. If Lin wants to reignite the old spark and remind us why we fell in love with him for those couple of months in 2012, there’s no better place than NYC. It doesn’t hurt that the city still represents a huge market, and Lin has proven he thrives in those circumstances.
As you can see, there are a lot of reasons why Jeremy Lin would choose to tie his future to the Nets. However, the Lin signing doesn’t help the Nets deal with their biggest problem – the lack of draft picks they should’ve gotten as a reward for being a terrible basketball team. Lin will certainly help them in the short run, but the Nets are still far away from competing for a title, and Sean Marks has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to steer this franchise back on track. In addition to having to find an alternate way to get into the draft and fill the roster with some much needed young talent, he needs to give the Nets fans enough reasons to return to the Barclays Center. So, what has Marks done so far to make this dream into a reality?
He started off his reign by waiving Andrea Bargnani, Joe Johnson and Jarrett Jack after failing to find a team that would take on their contracts. The reason behind buying our their contracts was simple enough; in addition to saving cap space, the Nets have gotten rid of players who do not fit into the franchise timeline anymore. The very fact that Marks couldn’t find a team willing to trade even a second rounder for one of these players speaks for itself. For a franchise starting on the long road of recovery, spending cap space and roster spots on players in decline was simply not an option.
One of the rare players on the roster with some trade value was Thaddeus Young, and the Nets managed to move him to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for the 20th pick in the 2016 draft and a future second rounder. Much like the three players mentioned above, Young was set to earn an eight-figure salary during the next three seasons with the Nets; however, Young is just entering his prime, which made him an excellent bargaining chip. While you could argue that Marks could’ve gotten more than two picks for Young, it can’t be overstated enough just how desperate the Nets were to get back into the draft. Since the entire league knows about their predicament, it’s not much of a surprise to see them get away with a relatively small profit.
That 20th pick in the 2016 draft became Caris LeVert, a former Michigan guard that led the team to the NCAA championship in his freshman season. If you consider LeVert’s long injury history, it becomes obvious that this is a high-risk, high-reward pick that could become a major steal down the line. In a situation where your near future is this bleak, this type of gamble is the only correct move to make. LeVert’s was a lottery-type talent before his injuries got the better of him, and the potential is still there. If they strike out on him – which is a big possibility – the Nets won’t feel any real consequences. For his first pick as general manager, Marks made a smart choice.
A couple of days ago, it was announced that the Nets offered a four-year, $50 million offer to a restricted free agent Tyler Johnson. Provided that the Heat don’t match this offer, which seems to be a very unlikely scenario as it stands, the Nets will have gotten a young and athletic shooting guard capable of playing at both guard spots, which should make him a great fit next to Jeremy Lin. Johnson was mostly utilized as a spark off the bench during his time in the Heat, but it seems like Sean Marks believes he can hold down a starting spot as well. His work ethic, high-pressure style of play and solid shooting range certainly make him an interesting prospect. Once again, this is an intriguing gamble that could pay off dividends down the line.
As it stands, the Nets would start the new season with Jeremy Lin and Tyler Johnson at the guard spots, Bojan Bogdanovic and Trevor Booker as the forwards and Brook Lopez at center. Of course, there will likely be additional signings. The Nets have been inquiring about multiple mid-level free agents in hopes of adding another power forward to the team, but have so far been unsuccessful about luring them to the Big Apple. This is something that Sean Marks predicted even before the free agency started – many free agents don’t see Brooklyn as an enticing option, even with decent money being thrown in their direction. Still, the Nets have eleven players on the roster right now, with another $21 million in cap space to spend on free agents. It’s hard to imagine they will miss on a chance to add more young talent to the roster.
However, let’s imagine the new season starts tomorrow and that the Nets are ready to return to playoff contention. Their main offensive weapon will undoubtedly be the appropriately-named Brook-LIN™ pick & roll, which should turn into one of the most potent combinations in the league. Brook Lopez has long been known as one of the best finishers around the rim, and Lin’s skills as a facilitator and shooter are certainly good enough to punish teams who give him enough space. If their opponents double down on them, the Nets have enough perimeter shooters to take advantage.
On the other hand, the team will likely struggle on the defensive side of the ball. With none of their players being so-called “plus defenders”, it’s easy to predict that most Nets games will end up being run-and-gun showdowns with a lot of transition points and offensive rebounds. It remains to be seen whether Kenny Atkinson will try to establish the small ball style of play, but either way, there’s no doubt that this Nets roster will be heavily centered around offense. While they’re probably not good enough to be a playoff contender just yet, things have looked a lot brighter in Brooklyn ever since Sean Marks took over as general manager. Compared to the meandering and pointless style of basketball under Billy King, this team is basically a gift from heaven for the Nets fans.
And make no mistake – if Jeremy Lin rediscovers the magic that once made him the most popular basketball player in the world, the Nets could get a lot more than they bargained for. His starting averages for the Hornets suggest he still has a lot to say in this league. In addition to that, if one would assemble a list of NBA players with something to prove, Lin would be near the top. Many of his NBA colleagues still consider Lin to be a flash in the pan, and this is his perfect chance to finally assert himself as a leader. He is back in a city that made him a star, playing for his favorite coach, and most importantly – this is the first time he can really be the the floor general. Will we see another period of Linsanity and excitement in Barclays center in the first year, or does the supporting cast need more time to develop? Nobody has an answer yet, except maybe Lin himself.
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