Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks and head coach Kenny Atkinson have preached patience as many ways as they can. They’ve talked about building the right culture. They spoke of incremental progress. They touched on not repeating past mistakes that buried the Nets in the hole they’ve been in since the Paul Pierce-Kevin Garnett trade fell flat. And in his most recent media session during Vegas Summer League, with questions floating about trade rumors, Marks insisted Brooklyn wasn’t rushing into any moves any time soon.
“There’s absolutely no need for us to go through and rush to do any particular deals to solve the so-called glut at point guard or get a shooting forward,” he said via BrooklynNets.com. “This is just how do we build this thing and hopefully not affect long-term, the long-term growth.”
The Nets don’t have a viral catchphrase like “Trust the Process,” nor do they have a player who’s as lively and entertaining as Joel Embiid to push said catchphrase. But Brooklyn is following a similar path to the one Sam Hinkie paved years ago when he blew the 76ers up, stockpiling as many draft assets as he could along the way. Marks did so by trading cap space for draft picks, absorbing bad contracts from teams willing to part ways with future unknowns.
Remember: It was Hinkie who traded Jrue Holiday to the Pelicans for the pick used to draft Nerlens Noel and the pick that became Elfrid Payton, which Hinkie flipped to Orlando for the picks that later became Dario Saric, De’Aaron Fox and Willy Hernangomez. It was Hinkie who took on two years worth $23.25 million of JaVale McGee for the first-round pick that became Furkan Korkmaz. It was Hinkie who took on Carl Landry’s contract, along with Nik Stauskas and Jason Thompson, for the Kings’ pick they traded to secure Markelle Fultz. And it was Hinkie who, all along, put together a team bad enough to keep Philadelphia at the bottom of the standings year after year, giving Philly shot after shot at the best players in successive draft classes: Jahlil Okafor, Noel, Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. (The Nets couldn’t replicate this last step before 2019 because of the disastrous Kevin Garnett-Paul Pierce trade, but they can now if they choose).
The Nets are walking the same yellow brick road. Brooklyn dealt with the Toronto Raptors, taking on DeMarre Carroll and the remaining two years worth $30.2 million on his contract. As the prize for taking on his salary, Brooklyn secured both the No. 29 and No. 40 overall picks, used to select 19-year-old Boznian Dzanan Musa and Latvian prospect Rodions Kurucs in this year’s NBA Draft. Brooklyn also traded two years worth $32.7 million of Timofey Mozgov and a pair of second-round picks to Charlotte for one-year worth $23.8 million of Dwight Howard, whose contract they reportedly bought out for around $19 million. Late Thursday night, the Nets traded Jeremy Lin in a deal that landed Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, a top 12-protected 2019 first-round pick, and a future second-rounder from Denver. Faried and Arthur’s contracts expire at the end of the 2018-19 season, ensuring the Nets have around $50 million in cap space to sign free agents.
But even if Brooklyn misses on the biggest names in a free agency pool that includes Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker, Jimmy Butler, and Kawhi Leonard, they’re still in the driver’s seat of their own future. The Nets finally own all of their own first-round draft picks going forward after the Celtics robbed them. Now, much like Hinkie’s 76ers and Danny Ainge’s Celtics, Brooklyn is building its asset stockpile to jumpstart their rebuild the right way.
Brooklyn has remained patient while taking calculated risks along the way. The Nets traded Brook Lopez and the pick that became Kyle Kuzma for D’Angelo Russell, the tentative face of the franchise. He averaged 20.9 points, 5.6 assists and 4.6 rebounds per game before missing 46 games after a minor knee surgery to remove loose bodies in his knee, whereas Kuzma had a terrific rookie season in L.A. Brooklyn also traded Trevor Booker for swings at both Jahlil Okafor and Nik Stauskas, neither of which worked out.
It has been a painfully slow grind for the Nets, who have watched as the picks they forfeited in that Pierce-Garnett trade bud into high-talent players, some of whom have star potential: Kelly Oubre Jr., Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Collin Sexton, who went No. 8 to Cleveland this year. But the dark clouds have parted, and the sun is shining through.
Atkinson coached the Nets to an eight-win improvement last season, and that was with injuries to Russell and Lin. Brooklyn re-signed sharpshooter Joe Harris and signed rim protector Ed Davis. Faried will get minutes on this Nets team in a contract year, and Arthur is the type of player Atkinson likes: a versatile defender up front who has turned himself into a consistent three-point shooter in recent years. Their pair of rookie draft picks beam confidence and have a perimeter stroke to back up their talk.
Brooklyn has built itself slowly, methodically, patiently. And fans should only expect more deft deals like the ones Marks has already pulled off.
After all, Hinkie also helped facilitate the deal that sent Kevin Love to Cleveland, trading Thaddeus Young — who was due a pay raise — for expiring contracts and the pick that became rotation player Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. And Hinkie also traded Michael Carter-Williams for the 2018 NBA Draft pick that became Mikal Bridges, whom Philly flipped for No. 16 pick Zhaire Smith and Miami’s unprotected 2021 first-rounder.
It would be corny to say the Nets are trusting the process. That catchphrase is reserved for the 76ers only. But they are being patient, following the smart steps Sam Hinkie walked before Sixers brass fired him. Brooklyn is gritting it out, and the Nets’ future, finally, looks brighter than ever.