Offseason Outline: Brooklyn Nets
As teams depart from the postseason field upon their elimination, we can begin to look forward to what the summer might bring for each of this year’s fallen squads. We’ve already surveyed the offseason ahead for the Milwaukee Bucks and Denver Nuggets, and now we turn our attention to the more recently ousted Brooklyn Nets.
• Did P.J. Carlesimo deserve to be relieved of his duties as head coach?
It’s a tough break for P.J. and a tough question, as Carlesimo’s shift at the head of the bench legitimately helped the Nets to turn their season around. Even though he may not have revolutionized what Brooklyn was running on either end of the court, Carlesimo did a decent job of nudging the limits of an exceedingly rudimentary offense, helping to accentuate some of the Nets’ best assets. This was an imperfect roster that played an imperfect season, and Carlesimo can’t rightly be faulted for all of the problems incurred by haphazard, top-loaded roster construction.
Still, there’s little question that Brooklyn would be better off with a more thoughtfully constructed offense and a more accountable defense, not to mention a coach willing to make the necessary lineup shifts to open up driving lanes and entry pass angles. Carlesimo made some minor tweaks to his playing rotation over the course of the Nets’ first-round series, but he remained committed to counterproductive lineups to the point that Brook Lopez’s touches dried up toward the end of games and Deron Williams had trouble penetrating off the dribble in spite of favorable matchups. The underlying problem is that the best players on the Nets’ roster are more versatile than they’ve shown, in part because a lack of top-down direction made the Nets frustratingly predictable.
And so the Nets decided to go in a new direction, hopeful that a change at the top will translate across the roster. To be fair: Carlesimo never had much of a chance to instill this team with his basketball values, as the interim tag hung heavy around his neck and undoubtedly taxed his coaching capital. His possible dismissal loomed over the Nets throughout the season, and that did Carlesimo no favors as he looked to revitalize his team without the benefit of off-season preparation or a culture-setting training camp. Perhaps we would have seen a very different product had Carlesimo been afforded that opportunity, but instead the Nets have severed ties following what has to be considered a playoff disappointment. He ultimately failed to coax much verve out of a talented group with pronounced positional advantages, and in that claims responsibility for Brooklyn’s inadequacy. The mark of a great coach lies in his team’s ability to exceed expectations, and Carlesimo’s Nets fell well short of theirs.
• What’s the biggest priority for Brooklyn this offseason?
Repurposing the assets available to build a more flexible roster. The Nets are a quality team that rightfully earned the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference this season, but they often won in spite of some considerable lineup limitations. There’s a very real challenge in maintaining a roster with so many offensive liabilities, no matter how helpful those players might otherwise be — a fact of basketball life that may have cost Carlesimo his job. It’s good to have Reggie Evans around for his bulk rebounding, but smart defensive opponents will ignore him completely and live with the consequences. There’s also value to having Wallace around for his hustle and defense, but his offensive game has dwindled to the point where opponents only need cover him around the hoop. Similar problems can be found with Kris Humphries and (to some extent) Andray Blatche, as the Nets lack the floor spacing necessary to enable Deron Williams and Brook Lopez to do their best work.
Finding a way to facilitate both of those players while building toward a steadier team defense remains Brooklyn’s primary goal — albeit one that may be difficult to achieve given how heavy the Nets’ cap sheet is with eight-figure salaries.
• How can the Nets improve this offseason? Through free agency? The draft? Trade?
Trade and free agency figure to be Brooklyn’s best bets, though navigating either market will require considerable finesse. As far as trades go, the Nets are functionally trapped. They have some essential pieces (Williams and Lopez), some overpaid players that would prove difficult to move (Joe Johnson, Wallace), the expiring contract of Kris Humphries and a handful of marginal assets (Reggie Evans, MarShon Brooks, Mirza Teletovic) that wouldn’t return much value. Maneuvering those elements into a trade package that would actually make the Nets immediately better would range somewhere from tricky to impossible, and yet flipping players remains one of the only means of improvement for a team well above the luxury tax line.
For that reason, free agency isn’t likely to pull any big-ticket player into the Brooklyn fold, though King did do a fine job of filling out his roster with minimum-salary types last summer. Andray Blatche and C.J. Watson had fine seasons on bargain deals, while Keith Bogans and Jerry Stackhouse each made for useful rotation filler at different stages in the season. Nice moves, all, but King will essentially need a repeat performance — or better — if the Nets are to keep improving. Brooklyn doesn’t have Bird rights on any of Blatche, Watson, Bogans, or Stackhouse, which puts the Nets in a difficult position in terms of keeping the best of that group (Blatche and Watson). It’s still possible, but would likely require Brooklyn to cut into its taxpayer mid-level exception as a means of making a competitive offer. Unfortunately for King, the likely group of minimum-salary players in this summer’s free agent pool isn’t so inspiring.
There’s always the possibility that some player or another could take less for a chance to play for a good team — for example: I never would have pegged Watson for the veteran’s minimum after his sturdy 2011-12 season in Chicago — but otherwise you’re looking at additions in the tier of Ryan Hollins, Daniel Gibson, Nazr Mohammed, Earl Watson, or Joel Przybilla. Not a promising lot, and frankly I’d be a bit surprised if another low-cost gamble signing pans out as well for Brooklyn as Blatche did. Best of luck to King as he makes another dig in the bargain bin, but the pickings are slim and the Nets’ cap exceptions slimmer.
• Does Brooklyn have any hope for internal improvement?
A bit, but only because Williams and Wallace are both likely to have better seasons, and neither Teletovic nor Brooks could crack P.J. Carlesimo’s rotation. If either of the latter players are able to give the Nets anything next year, they could help to counterbalance some of Brooklyn’s free-agent departures while the rest of the core builds up its chemistry. Considering all of the spacing and lineup issues in play, every bit of experience and familiarity helps this bunch. Brooklyn may not have the means to become a realistic contender, but the core as-is does stand to improve slightly as they build on all that was established this season.