The Nets were the laughing stock of the entire NBA in the years after their trade with the Celtics for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce in 2013. That immediate attempt to bring a championship to Brooklyn failed miserably, and it came at the expense of three first-round picks and an additional pick swap. That’s set their rebuild back drastically.
It will take years to right the wrongs of the Nets’ previous administration, but the franchise has taken a “Trust the Process” type of approach to mine misfits and undiscovered talent from around the league. We saw it with D’Angelo Russell over the summer, and Jahlil Okafor on Thursday afternoon.
Brooklyn’s trade for Okafor was the perfect example of buying low on a talent with upside. In exchange for Trevor Booker, whose contract is set to expire at the end of the season anyway, the team picked up the No. 3 pick in the 2015 NBA draft. They also brought in Nik Stauskas, a former No. 8 pick from the draft before, and a second-round pick. That’s brilliant work to bring in assets at virtually no cost.
Experimenting with these types of big-name prospects makes all of the losing easier to swallow, and it may have already given the team a future All-Star in Russell.
Low-risk, high-upside moves have defined Brooklyn’s 2017.
The Okafor and Russell trades were perfect
Brooklyn is still without its first-round pick for next season’s draft because of the infamous trade with the Celtics. So no matter how well or poorly the Nets perform, it doesn’t have any implications on next season’s draft. Their pick is Cleveland’s. So now is the time to experiment with unwanted talent and see if they can find pieces for the future.
And that’s what they’ve done.
Okafor has been written off by analysts and the Sixers team since the end of last season, despite being just 21 years old. So Brooklyn capitalized, shipping a player it didn’t believe was a long-term fit to cash in on a former top-three pick on the cheap.
They pulled off a similar trade when they landed Russell from the Lakers. At the expense of Brook Lopez and cap room in the name of Timofey Mozgov, Brooklyn stole L.A.’s misfit former No. 2 pick. He’s injured now, but before then was putting up career-high numbers with 21 points and six assists per game. He’s the first-round pick they never had.
They’ve made other high upside, lower-profile moves too
In July, Brooklyn made two big trades for DeMarre Carroll from the Raptors and Allen Crabbe from the Trail Blazers. Both were unwanted by their original teams because of their bloated contracts and up-and-down play. That’s music to the Nets’ ears, who have the patience and funds to withstand both red flags. And again, neither trade cost them much.
In Carroll, they picked up a quality starting talent who had been hampered by injuries, and were also given a security blanket by receiving a lottery-protected first-round pick from Toronto in the deal. They only gave up backup center Justin Hamilton. This was a no-brainer.
In 21 games this year, Carroll is averaging 14 points on 38-percent three-point shooting, and seven rebounds. He’s been good! And this pickup was a throwaway from the Raptors.
Crabbe’s four-year, $75 million contract was too much for the Trail Blazers to bare holding onto with the team already deep into the luxury tax. They needed to unload his salary without taking back much else in return. A 25-year-old who shot 44 percent from three-point range in the year prior, the Nets wisely dealt Andrew Nicholson for him.
Crabbe is scoring 12 points per game and grabbing four boards this season, and he hasn’t done much else to show that he’s improved in other areas of his game just yet. But he’s still the perfect example of Brooklyn taking a chance and buying low on a promising stock.
Eventually, a few of these guys will prove themselves
We saw it with Robert Covington and T.J. McConnell in Philadelphia, and it will happen in Brooklyn. In a league filled with talent, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the non-unicorns. And the Nets are ready to scoop those guys up.
This is the game the Nets will have to play until they can start drafting with their own picks again. And so far they’ve done a great job of it.