There was never a right way for Sean Marks to rebuild the Nets. He took over a team with worse current players than just about anyone else, but without his own draft picks until 2019 traditional rebuilding flew out of the window as well. A lesser GM would’ve made a bunch of high-risk moves trying to win now. And yes, Derrick Rose was available and there are attainable potential stars on the free agent market like Dwight Howard who might have made the Nets a .500 team and improved the optics of trading away their first round picks.
But those picks are a sunk cost, it makes no sense to try to screw over the Celtics and build hype around a team that has no chance to win a championship. So Marks went the other way and tanked, even without his own draft picks in the lottery.
There are benefits to tanking beyond high draft picks, and that’s how Marks is rebuilding his team. Actively trying not to win games usually creates an extraordinarily clean cap sheet. With Thaddeus Young off of the books and Brook Lopez likely to follow the Nets will be devoid of any long-term salary commitments. Forget about using that money in free agency, the real benefit is acting as a facilitator in big trades. Need someone to take on some salary for your blockbuster? Sure, the Nets will do it, but only if a draft pick is attached.
Those picks have real value. The 23rd overall pick Boston just made came from a salary dump by Cleveland two years ago. The Lakers stole the pick that became Larry Nance Jr. from the Rockets as part of the Jeremy Lin traded when Houston thought they were getting Chris Bosh. Picks add up, and a team as desperate as the Nets need as many bites at the apple as possible.
There are also the lineup implications of having a bad team. Normally, a player like Caris LeVert would be drafted in the 20’s and join a playoff team that didn’t really need him. He wouldn’t get minutes, he wouldn’t develop and he would eventually be unfairly labeled a bust. But on a bad team like the Nets he’ll get every opportunity to succeed.
The same goes for every young player on the Nets roster, from first round picks like Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to whatever undrafted free agents they bring into camp. They’ll be able to give minutes and opportunities to players other teams simply can’t, a chance to uncover hidden gems available exclusively to them.
Are they going to be superstars? No, but rotation players on cheap contracts are only going to get more valuable as the cap explodes. Golden State found Anthony Morrow and Anthony Tolliver in the same season from the D-league. If the Nets could unearth two similar players they’d suddenly have two very valuable contracts that costed them nothing to obtain.
That’s going to be the path for Brooklyn. Slow gains like Tollivers and Nances. It will involve a lot of losing over the next few years, but it will prepare the Nets for 2019, when they have their own pick back and can take advantage of their bad team for the first time. By then, they’ll have a stockpile of young role players who can support the foundational pieces the Nets look for in the lottery. They’ll be ready to bring in a star youngster because they’ll have spent three years preparing a roster around it.
It’s going to be ugly, and will require a lot of patience. But it’s the only viable way to build a team under such horrible conditions.